+L’s Little Liturgical Lesson: “Of bended knees and white lights…”

Don’t feel you have to do it like this, though God is indeed awesome!


The white light burns before the ‘aumbry’ which houses the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament
The white light burns before the ‘aumbry’ which houses the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament

You may have noticed that some folk go down on one knee when they enter the church, or as they come up to receive Holy Communion. You might have noticed we priests and servers do it a bit at the altar.

What’s that all about? The technical term for it is ‘genuflection’, which sounds more painful than it generally is!

From the Latin word for kneeling, genuflecting is getting down on one knee as a sign of honour and reverence. The outward sign reflects and encourages the inner sense of devotion in the believer. Of course in our western culture it’s unusual to bow down to anyone or anything, but in former days it was usual, even obligatory before monarchs and emperors (Alexander the Great loved it apparently). Kneeling down to an earthly King is one thing.  Genuflection in the Church is an acknowledgement of the presence of our heavenly King.

In particular, in the Catholic, Orthodox, and in some Anglican and Lutheran traditions, it is the custom to genuflect when Christ is particularly present under the form of bread and wine in the Holy Sacrament, often called the Blessed Sacrament.

And that’s where the white light comes in. We have one hanging at the entrance to the sanctuary that burns 24/7  not just to look pretty, but to signify and tell those who enter the church that the Holy Sacrament is ‘reserved’ there, reserved primarily so that communion can be taken to sick and dying people, but also for prayer and adoration. Genuflection is a sign of honour but also of thanksgiving for the one who is ‘there’ for us, and for whom the white light burns.

Of course, sometimes infirmity prevents physical genuflection, but you can always genuflect in your heart…