[ WordBytes on FAQs & Teachings of the Faith ]

Question:

“I’ve been told that we are no longer allowed to genuflect when receiving Holy Communion. We were concerned with this and would like to know what source document this came from. We receive Holy Communion kneeling, not only out of humility, but also to remind everyone that it is Jesus we are receiving and that we should show Him the greatest reverence. We await your response. Thank you.”

Answer:

People genuflect when receiving CommunionIn the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), there are degrees of required compliance, which means the weight of the norms vary – indicated by “must”, “should”, or “may”. We’re to be neither overly rigid nor overly lax in using the instructions.

What the GIRM says about posture in the Communion line is not meant as a rigid law but as a preferred guideline, and it forbids (a stronger rule) the denial of Communion to those who choose to kneel instead of bow. It also leaves the local bishop in charge of deciding how to implement the GIRM, allowing them room to make adaptations. We are supposed to obey our local bishops, but there is still room for us to follow our consciences. In most cases, the bishops’ and pastors’ rulings that we don’t like are based on something good and right. If we learn the reasons behind the rules or guidelines we dislike, we come to appreciate them and our consciences tell us to comply with them.

GIRM #42 states the reason why we should comply with the local parish’s use of the GIRM: “A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.”

#160 states what the local parish should expect all participants to comply with: “The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing.” (This rules out kneeling.) As a US citizen under the authority of the US bishops, I wrote this WordByte with that in mind. Since you are from Canada, you’ll want to ask your local parish for a copy of the Canadian version of the GIRM to see what it says in #160. For the most part, there is very little difference between the US and Canadian GIRMs.

#160 also says: “When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament.” This means instead of genuflecting before receiving the Eucharist.
However, #160 also says: “Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister.”

Here is a copy of the most recent version of the US GIRM:
usccb.org/…/general-instruction-of-the-roman-missal/

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© 2010 by Terry A. Modica
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