When to bow, when to genuflect
Respecting vs. recognizing
Genuflection is the more profound gesture. Genuflecting is kneeling, but only on one knee to acknowledge God’s presence. To genuflect one brings the right knee completely to the floor as an outward sign of adoration. We humbly adore you O mighty God. We see you, and so we genuflect.
Therefore one would always and only genuflect when attempting to say, “I adore you O Mighty God.” We would not adore any human or any symbol, only the real thing, only God.
We genuflect when entering into and exiting the holy ground where the Lord is present. We genuflect towards the tabernacle when it is filled with the Blessed Sacrament as a sign of adoration of the real presence of the Lord. If it is empty we keep right on walking.
The Celebrant genuflects after elevating the consecrated host for the prayers to see and then again before inviting the prayers to communion. It’s to say God is already here. It’s all adoration of the precious Lamb, the Body and Blood of Christ, the only one worthy of such a deep and humbling movement by a lesser and human being.
Bowing is different. Bowing communicates respect, reverence and gratitude. We are glad to be in the service of the Lord, so we bow. We bow our heads at the very mention of the matchless name “JESUS”. We bow because we are grateful to be in this place, in this moment of prayer. We bow because we are listening and speaking to God. We bow to the altar, to the cross, to any symbol that calls to mind what He’s done for me.
So we bow as a sign of respect when we recognize the symbols of the Lord. We genuflect when we recognize the Lord.