Entering a pew

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  A few weeks ago our teachers asked me to review the various liturgical roles the students have during the school Mass. While I was prepared to do that, just as everyone entered the church for rehearsal, one of the teachers asked me to explain what to do before entering a pew. I explained that a profound bow to the altar (because the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary) would be appropriate. Since then the children have done quite well with not only remembering to bow but also bowing well.

However at least one parent was quite upset with me for not teaching the children to genuflect. According to your post, either is appropriate. According to an article on the USCCB website, genuflecting is traditional but there is nothing mandating it or preferring it to bowing. I know that #49 of the GIRM addresses the opening procession to bow before the altar (with no tabernacle in the sanctuary).  Is there anything specific to gesture before entering/exiting a pew?

Any insights you can share would be most helpful – thank you so much!

A:  Liturgical rubrics contain great detail about the ministers and surprisingly few details about the faithful. Whereas the rubrics are clear about the reverences that ministers make upon arriving in the church, they are not so specific for the faithful. GIRM 274 says, “If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is situated in the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself. Otherwise, all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession.” If the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary, then the ministers omit the genuflection and perform the profound bow toward the altar as found in GIRM 49.

The Ceremonial of Bishops, however, adds this: “No one who enters a church should fail to adore the blessed sacrament, either by visiting the blessed sacrament chapel or at least by genuflecting” (CB 71). Therefore, it is appropriate for everyone entering a church to locate the tabernacle and at least genuflect in its direction. Depending on the church, that could be done at the blessed sacrament chapel, on the way to one’s pew, or before taking one’s pew. But the genuflection should be made in the direction of the tabernacle – not toward the altar.

The Ceremonial of Bishops also says, “a bow of the body, or deep bow, is made: to the altar if there is no tabernacle with the blessed sacrament on the altar…” (68b). It does not specify who does this, so the inference is that it applies to all.

In your situation, then, if possible, students should genuflect to the tabernacle upon entering the church and bow to the altar before taking their pew.

There are no similar rubrics for leaving the building. It’s just an oversight. Logic would lead one to conclude that the same reverences performed on the way in are also performed on the way out. Otherwise, you are left to conclude that the GIRM and the CB never allow the people to exit the church. Even though the deacon commands them to go in peace, no rubric tells them to obey him.