Genuflecting when attending other events at a Catholic Church?

This is a pretty minor question, but I’m curious as to what is proper in this situation:

I know that it is the usual practice for Catholics, when entering the sanctuary of a church, to dip their fingers in the holy water and cross themselves, and then to genuflect before entering the pew. Is it still proper to do this if you are entering the sanctuary for purposes other than attending Mass (e.g., to hear a speaker or attend a concert)?

I ask because I recently attended a sacred music concert held at a Catholic Church, and I didn’t see anyone doing the usual crossing and genuflecting. (Of course, that might have been because the concert was attended by many non-Catholics.)

I am not sure about anyone else, but I would or if not sure do a little one, just to show respect. As the Lord’s presence would still be there.

When I visit the city’s Cathedral, there is always a few tourists in there but I always genuflect when I enter, even if I am going past to toward the back to the Ladye Chapel. I walk up and genuflect.

If Christ is present in the tabernacle, generally signified by a red candle next to the tabernacle, I will genuflect. Occasionally the body of Christ will be removed from the tabernacle for special events, then I would not genuflect.

Let me clear up a minor detail here. When you say “sanctuary”, it always refer to the part of the Church where the altar is. The pews are in the nave.

The genuflection is reserved for Christ alone who is present in the Blessed Sacrament. If the Blessed Sacrament is not present or reserved in the tabernacle, there is no need to genuflect. Did you check if the tabernacle was open and empty? Usually when the tabernacle is empty the door is left open. Also, there is a red light that is lit near the tabernacle to indicate the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. If there is no red light, there is no Blessed Sacrament, no need to genuflect.

You may always bless yourself if there is holy water.

As others have said, a genuflection is called for if the Blessed Sacrament is present. If a Catholic Church is used for a concert it is often the case that the Blessed Sacrament is temporarily removed.

Ah, I didn’t know that. (In the most Protestant churches, the whole “worship area” is usually referred to as the sanctuary.) Thanks.

I recommend the following.

  1. When entering the church, make the sign of the cross with holy water. If the crucifix is immediately visible, then bow slightly.
  2. Before entering the pew, scan the sanctuary and find the red candle. Genuflect toward the candle and to the tabernacle that contains the Eucharist - body of Christ.
  3. When navigating through the sanctuary and nave during the stay:
    a. If passing directly before the crucifix, turn toward it when front and center, and make a slight bow.
    b. If passing before the tabernacle, stop directly in front of it, and genuflect reverently
  4. When leaving, and exiting the pew, genuflect again toward the tabernacle.
  5. Bless yourself with holy water again as you leave with the sign of the cross.
  6. I bow again to the crucifix.
  7. If a crucifix is near the exit on a wall, touch the feet of Christ. You can gain a partial indulgence I believe for this and can award it to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

If anyone has a “manners” reference for church, that covers these points, please let me know. This is what I was taught and learned by observation.


Usually if a public event is taking place in a Church, they will remove the Tabernacle, so there would be nothing towards which to genuflect. But if Jesus is present, then obviously we should genuflect towards Him (not towards the pew, or any other article of furniture).

Wouldn’t you bow to the altar?

I would.

And speaking of entering the sanctuary (as apposed to the nave), I would also genuflect before entering the sanctuary (going up the step[s]).

Aside: While there is a requirement to have a sanctuary lamp, there is no requirement that it be red. In my experience, red and white are the most common, but I have also seen other colors.

Just FYI.


If I enter a Catholic Church, at the pew I look around, try to find the tabernacle, and genuflect toward that. Jesus Christ is there. If I do not find the tabernacle, I genuflect anyway.

You always show respect if HE is there. no matter what.
if mass is not on at that time, the place and items are still holy.
God could be sitting there in a bathrobe and reading the newpaper,
he is still GOD.


I was told that there was this Catholic in that semi darkness as he found the row of his seat in the movie theater, instintively genuflected before seated himself. How very Catholic! I thought of asking, did he automatically extend his hand to dip it into the holy water as he entered the darkened room?

Habit seems surely die hard.

Nothing to lose by genuflecting, is there?


Thanks to this thread, I actually checked -properly- for the red candles!

I do it anyway…if they are there or not

A sense of the sacred…?
A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

God is everywhere, but he is not present in darkened rooms, in protestant churches – Let alone in movie theatres – In the same manner as he is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

A genuflection on the left knee may be made to men, eg to the pope or another bishop.


Agreed. :slight_smile:

The last remark, Nothing to lose by genuflecting, is there?, means when in doubt just genuflect in the Catholic church.

Do you have a link for that quote? I think it’s in the IGMR, but if you know where it is…

But its also good to know why we genuflect and to whom we genuflect. Some people actually just copy those who genuflect and haven’t the faintest idea why and to whom. Proper reverence means we are aware to whom our reverence is directed. If one is aware that he/she is genuflecting towards God, then yes even if the Blessed Sacrament is not there then its good.

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