Growing up, one of the first things that I was taught was to genuflect before sitting in the pew. I never really understood it, but I did it simply because it was what everyone else was doing. As I grew in my faith, I realized that this simple bend of a knee actually carries so much importance — it is a way that we reverence Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament each time we enter His house.
But I speak from experience when I say that genuflecting in church can sometimes become second nature, and it is easy to forget why exactly we do it.
During medieval times, a servant going to visit the king would prostrate himself upon entering the presence of royalty. He did this out of reverence and to remind himself that he is below the king.
Genuflecting before the tabernacle does the same thing. We, the lowly servants, lower ourselves when we enter the presence of Jesus to, as Thomas Aquinas put it, “signify our weakness in comparison with God.” This is just a small way to give Jesus the honor and glory that He deserves.
Genuflecting also reminds us that we are entering a house of prayer and a place where Jesus is truly present. It helps to put us in the mindset of why we came to church in the first place, and can ultimately prepare us to receive the Holy Eucharist with a humble heart.
But how can we remind ourselves of the real reason we genuflect? An IHM Sister that I know once suggested that every time you bow toward the tabernacle, say, “Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I adore you.” I now do this every time I enter a church or bow before entering the sanctuary to serve at the altar or read as a lector.
For me, it is a personal reminder and profession of faith in the Saving Mystery of the Eucharist that stands as the core of our Catholic faith.
Though genuflecting may seem like merely something we are “supposed to do,” when we put our heart behind the action, we give honor to Jesus, the only King in our lives.