IT IS EASY to “go through the motions” as Catholics, and one of the easiest gestures to forget is the genuflection. Often we will find ourselves mindlessly walking into church, finding a pew and kneeling quickly on one knee before sitting down. So why do Catholics genuflect when they walk into a church?
Historically speaking, the act of genuflecting on one knee comes from court etiquette and was done while in the presence of a medieval king as a sign of respect and a pledge of service. Christians adopted this custom over time, and it became fully integrated into the liturgy of the Roman Rite by the 16th century.
And so we bend on one knee whenever we pass in front of the tabernacle. As Catholics we believe that Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist and so when we genuflect, we do so because we are in God’s presence. This also means that Catholics should only genuflect when there is a tabernacle present with the Precious Body within it. But on Good Friday, for example, when the tabernacle is emptied and the doors are open, we do not need to genuflect. A simple bow is substituted whenever the Eucharist is not present.
So when you enter a church, look for the red sanctuary lamp. If it is lit, that means Jesus is present and the proper response is to genuflect to show your love and honor.
Philip Kosloski, Why Do Catholics Genuflect in a Church?
Original in Aleteia.org, March 20, 2017. Used with permission.