Episco-Fact #10
August 21, 2016

What is genuflection? Do Episcopalians do it? If so, when?

This is another posture question, one which is not described or referred to in the BCP 79, and one which has all sorts of practices around it. Based on its omission from any instruction in any service in the BCP, genuflection is definitely a matter of personal piety and definitely follows the rule: "all may, some should, and none must" perform this act during a BCP service.

Genuflecting is the kneeling on one knee as a sign of respect to a person or reverencing an object. It is an act more often associated with the piety of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches than a Reformation church like the Episcopal Church.

Who or what should be respected in this way? In the liturgy the only one deserving of genuflection is Jesus, to whom every knee should bend in heaven and on earth (see Philippians 2:10).

Therefore, the who and what are:

  1. At the tabernacle (the place on the right hand side of the altar table where the blessed sacrament is kept in reserve for use in emergency care between Sundays) when entering the worship space for the first time and when exiting for the last time, when, of course, reserve sacrament is present in the tabernacle.
  2. Whenever the name of Jesus is said out loud in the service, whether during the prayers or read from the lessons.
  3. When the cross passes during the processional.

In the Episcopal Church where reverencing does occur, generally speaking in High Church/Anglo-Catholic parishes, it is done by a solemn bow rather than a kneeling. It is likely reasonably common at Holy Comforter in Vienna and almost non-existent at St. John's, McLean, a Catholic piety versus an Evangelical one, respectively.


The Rev. David Lucey