Kneeling And Genuflecting
A common Catholic practice, usually seen in our Churches, is kneeling and genuflecting. But where does this practice come from? Is it part of Christianity? What does it mean?
Genuflection is a Latin word and it literally means the "bending of the knee". The New Testament tells us how St. John, overcome at the sight of an angel, started to genuflect; but the angel stopped him declaring, "Don't do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God! (Rev. 22:8-9)
As Christians we should genuflect only to God. When several people approached Jesus an bent their knees before him, Our Lord did not stop them. It is right to worship Jesus, because He is true God as well as true man! We read that a leper came and worshipped Jesus (Matt. 8:2), and when Jesus had calmed the storm, the disciples worshipped Him saying He was the Son of God. (Matt 14:33) After Jesus had healed the blind man, He revealed Himself to be the Son of God. The man said he believed, and he worshipped Jesus. (John 9:38)
In the Book of Revelation we read that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is worshipped in the same way as God the Father. First we read of the worship of the Creator:
"And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crown before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (Revelation 4:9-11)
Then the worship of Jesus, the Lamb of God:
Then I looked and heard the voices of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" The four Living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshipped. (Revelation 5:11-14)
When we kneel and genuflect to Our Blessed Lord, we are joining all of heaven in this act of adoration. The Eastern Rite Catholics bow rather than genuflect, but it is a deep and very reverent bow. In the West we express our faith in the Divinity of Jesus, present in our tabernacles, with a genuflection. In Australia the custom when coming into the presence of Jesus in the Monstrance is to genuflect on both knees. Catholic kneeling is a sign of loving humility. St. Paul wrote: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named." (Ephesians 3:14-15)
St. Paul kneels before God, a gesture which demonstrates two things: first, that we must adore God not only with our thoughts and our actions, but also with our bodies, and second, that kneeling before God is a sign of great reverence. When someone is genuinely struck by the presence of God, he is immediately overcome by the desire to bow down and adore him.
The practice of kneeling was common in pre-Christian times and connected also with pagan worship and with honoring the Roman emperor. For that reason it was not used in the early days of Christianity. About 150 AD, kneeling became a common way to pray, but genuflection came even later, as a sign of reverence for Popes, Bishops and for the Crucifix and altar. St. Ambrose wrote in the fourth century, "By genuflecting, one expiates one's offenses against God, and divine grace is called for." Kneeling and genuflecting also calls to mind the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, "At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow; every tongue shall confess Jesus as Lord". (Philippians 2:10-11)
As with the sign of the Cross and the use of holy water, kneeling and genuflecting and bowing need to be from the heart, expressing a living faith and love for Our Lord.
Source: Catholic Contact magazine.