To bow – or to kneel?

There has been more than a little confusion recently following the instruction from various Bishop’s (and Archbishop’s) regarding the question of kneeling or bowing before receiving Our Blessed Lord present in the Eucharist.

I suppose Archbishop Nichols started it – in his letter to the faithful he proclaimed the ‘norm’ in the Westminster Archdiocese would be to receive the Blessed Sacrament ‘standing’ and making a ‘bow’.Since then, as Father Ray Blake writes, the Bishop’s Conference has issued similar guidelines.

It is not in anyone’s interest for me to criticise our Bishop’s. They have a Pastoral duty, and for that they (often if not always) deserve our prayers. However, the Holy Father has often referred to ‘kneeling’, and Mgr. Marini, the Holy Father’s wonderful Master of Ceremonies, has frequently commented on this. For me personally, unless there is a physical reason that prohibits the ability to kneel, how else should we come before the King of Kings?

I have reproduced below Father Blakes comments – for the benefit of our readers who may not know Fr. Blake (there is a link on our blog roll):

He who is able to kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Lord’s body cannot fail to be attentive, in the ordinary course of the days, to situations unworthy of man, and is able to bend down personally to attend to need, is able to break his bread with the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned,” …. The Holy Father at Ancona recently.

I know our bishops have “recommended” “bowing” before receiving Holy Communion. I hope I am not being disloyal to by criticising this, but recommendations are often easily ignored and “bowing”, well it doesn’t quite work. Most people simply don’t bow when we are supposed to. In the liturgy there are by tradition different kinds of bow, the tiniest almost imperceptible nod at the name of the bishop or the Sovereign Pontiff, a bow of the head at the invocation of the Holy Trinity and at the names of Jersus, Mary and the name of a saint on his/her feast day.There are the courtesy bows between priest and server, there is the bow made to the altar when the Blessed Sacrament is not present, the bow made by the deacon when receiving a blessing or when the priest prays before proclaiming the Gospel.
Oh yes, there is the bow that replaced the genuflection at the Incarnatus est, which converts from Anglicanism make, is in the rubrics but is invariably ignored.

Problem one with bowing is that it is a little indefinite, how deep should it be: an imperceptible nod or as deep as monk at the Gloria Patri? So which kind of bow are their Lordships recommending? to save the embarrassment of getting it wrong most will ignore this recommendation, with genuflection or kneeling there are no degrees, one either does it or not.

Problem two with bowing is that it is associated not with latria worship but dulia, reverence or honouring of people or objects. In Britain it is still used as a secular gesture when meeting the monarch, and in court or at war memorial.

I don’t know if early Christians literally did genuflect, in the words of St Paul “bend the knee at the name of Jesus”, one could make a good case that some did. In St John’s Gospel whenever Jesus says “I am” people do fall to their knees, in the Apocalypse the Saints,  are always on their knees, in the other Gospels Peter is always falling to his knees, the same with the Magdalen, so it seems possible, at least, that this gesture goes back to the primitive Church and Apostolic Tradition, and possible, it was used in worship.
In the West kneeling is gesture, first of all, of pleading, (do grooms still propose kneeling?) and of deep reverence. It is essentially a gesture of reverence, in the New Testament, it is gesture of acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity.

Bowing to the Eucharist suggests honouring a Holy Thing, like an altar, a person or a statue, genuflecting is much more about acknowledging the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ, God with us. The suggestion that we bow to the Eucharist, especially at the most intimate of the reception of Holy Communion, seems to me, and I acknowledge the Bishops are better informed than me, to be destructive of faith, reducing the Eucharist from a person to an object, from the Presence worthy of worship to a thing that we are merely “recommended” to venerate.

The acknowledgement of the Eucharistic Christ by a physical gesture, getting down on one’s knees, as one ages it gets more difficult, has an interesting catechetical dimension, it is about doing something. Actions are perhaps our best form of catechesis: speaking is less good than showing, showing much less good than doing. Here the Pope unites it directly to the corporal works of mercy. The best form of catechesis is doing, the worst form is telling. In an age when our faith becoming increasingly “private”, public gestures like kneeling, like being able “to bend down personally to attend to need, is able to break his bread with the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned”, are important. As are the newly re-introduced “meatless Fridays” for which I commend our Bishops.


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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3 Responses to To bow – or to kneel?

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    Standing, kneeling, and bowing before the Host are all properly understood as three postures of Humility — the issue being where the Humility itself is not internally realised and understood.

    Kneeling simply because everyone else does so is ultimately as meaningless as standing without a care towards the Sacrament.

    Standing = presenting oneself before God simply as one is, with no outward aggrandisement of one’s own virtues nor vices.

    Kneeling = an outward expression of one’s deep spiritual reverence before God.

    Bowing = an outward expression of deep honour and humility towards God and His Church.

    I was taught to bow during my catechumenate in 2003-2005 — I would kneel if my super annoying disproportionately long legs were a bit less unwieldy … 😉

  2. Kneeling is DEFINITELY “more” reverent than bowing.

    A Very Holy Priest once told me……..”receiving the Holy Communion on our TONGUE is “MORE” reverent than in the HAND”……..and so it is with kneeling and bowing.

    If people are kneeling simply because everyone else is, and they don’t have that feeling of reverence in them, they eventually will, simply because of the “act” itself. Just like when everyone stands up when someone of importance enters the room…….that act tells you something important just happened, or someone important just walked in. You may not “feel” it in you that the person is important, but if you keep doing it eventually you will.

    Kneeling says something to us more than standing, or bowing does. It tells us that we are in the presence of something so much greater than ourselves as human beings.

    We ought to be kneeling when receiving the Eucharist….there is really no ands if’s or but’s about it.

    Our Lord deserves nothing less than the MOST REVERENCE in everything…….and I can’t wait for the Vatican to finally say that we HAVE to start doing this again……”kneeling while receiving the Eucharist” !!!

  3. Stephen Chishala says:

    thanks for your words.

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