In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  The Roman Missal has for 25 March, The Annunciation of the Lord (2010 Catholic Truth Society edition, page 881):  “The Creed is said. At the words and was incarnate all genuflect.”

For 25 December, The Nativity of the Lord, it has for the four Masses (pages 193-199):

“The Creed is said. All kneel at the words and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate.”

One has “genuflect” the other “kneel”. Does this reflect a difference in the Latin?

If genuflect is correct, it seems to be at odds with the times to genuflect in Ceremonial of Bishops n. 69 and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal n. 274. The Blessed Sacrament might not be present at this part of the Mass.

The word “genuflect” also appears in the English translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 137: “At the words et incarnatus est, etc. (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and become man) all make a profound bow; but on the Solemnities of the Annunciation and of the Nativity of the Lord, all genuflect.”

On 25 March and 25 December, should one kneel on both knees or genuflect on the right knee, during the Creed?


A:  March 25 and all the Christmas Masses use the same word, genuflectitur.

GIRM 137 uses a different expression: genua flectunt. The noun is plural: they bend the knees—but that could still imply that all bend a single knee, multiple knees, therefore, being bent.

The verb appears in GIRM 43 in the active voice genuflectant, where it describes when to kneel (both knees) during the Mass.

GIRM 274 uses the noun form to describe a genuflection on one knee: genuflectio, but also uses the active verb when describing the reverence made when passing the Blessed Sacrament, presumably bending a single knee before the tabernacle.

CB 69 and 72 use both the noun and the active verb.

On Good Friday during adoration of the cross, the phrase is different: omnes in genua se prosternunt et parvo moment in silentio adorant. To me, that more clearly specifies kneeling.

On the same day, it is customary for people to kneel at the proclamation of the death of Christ near the end of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and the lectionary calls for it. The rubric appears neither in the missal nor in the Ordo Lectionum Missæ, but it is in the first Latin edition of the multi-volume lectionary with the words genuflectitur et pausatur aliquantulum. In that case, it probably means to settle on both knees for a while.

Prior to the conciliar reforms, the verb genuflectitur appeared in the Creed for every occasion when the Creed was recited. Today it appears only on the two instances you mention: Annunciation and Christmas. From what I recall, the custom was to make a genuflection.

Latin uses the same verb for kneeling and genuflecting, and the context determines which applies. It appears to me that one kneels for a longer period of time, but genuflects for actions such as passing the tabernacle and reciting the Creed on the aforementioned days.