For instance, the candles are in the back right of the nave and the tabernacle is in the front left. If I just go in to light a candle do I genuflect? If so when and where?
I would say that when the large red candle is lit then that signifies that the Holy Sacrament is reposing in the tabernacle, and to be mindful that your Creator and Redeemer is miraculously and lovingly right there for you. There's no hard and fast rules regarding making a sign of reverence in genuflacting or bowing, although customarily people will do so whenever they cross in front of the tabernacle. Lighting a candle and saying a prayer for a loved one is a very good thing to do.
It doesn't really matter if one enters a church for Mass or for private prayer or even to clean. The standard practice is to genuflect (on the right knee) whenever the Presence-Lamp is lit, which it normally is.
It is red by custom, but this is not required. I have seen tabernacle lamps in the style of an “eternal flame” as well.
It is also recommended practice to genuflect on both knees when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, whether it is during the Mass after the Consecration until the vessels are purified, or during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The GIRM specifies that anyone not moving in procession must genuflect to the tabernacle. I see many people simply bowing, and while this is correct in some situations, such as bowing to the altar when approaching the ambo for a reading, a genuflection should be made when entering and leaving one’s seat and when crossing the center aisle (if the tabernacle is in the center).
Please understand that this is not an “exact science” so answers are going to be general.
I would say that the acceptable thing to do is to genuflect at least once while you are in the “same room” as the tabernacle. Depending on such things as, where you walk in the room, whether or not you enter a pew to stay for some time, and where the tabernacle is located, you might end up genuflecting more than once. In a certain sense, genuflecting is similar to saying, “Excuse me,” when you come into the presence of, leave the presence of, or cause some disruption in the business of someone you consider to be of higher social status than yourself.
If you enter the building directly into the narthex and and never leave the narthex you might not need to genuflect at all.
In the case where the tabernacle is located in the nave of the church and you enter the nave, it is customary to genuflect once prior to entering a pew, and once upon leaving the pew. If this is for Mass (or some other communal activity) then you do not genuflect during Mass because anything you do during that activity is “scripted” already.
If you are there for a private reason then the “rule” is that you genuflect on entering and leaving the pew if you are staying for a while. But if during the course of that visit you should get up and walk directly in front of the tabernacle (other than to enter or leave) then you make an additional genuflection while making that crossing. If you enter the nave and never actually enter a pew then the “rule” is that you genuflect at least once but possibly more than once if while walking around the nave you cross directly in front of the tabernacle on multiple occasions.
Now that I have probably completely confused you…
During a private visit, you can’t go wrong if you genuflect each time you enter and exit a pew. But if your visit does not include entering a pew then you can genuflect at least once while entering the nave and once again while leaving after concluding your business. If you enter the nave and simply walk right back out again (perhaps you are looking for someone) then a single genuflection at some point would be sufficient. If during the course of a private visit, you temporarily leave the pew and walk directly in front of the tabernacle, then it is customary to genuflect at that point.
When going to confession it is usual that people take a seat in a pew, pray for a while, get up and confess their sins, then take a seat again to pray. Unless one passes directly in front of the tabernacle while going to and from the pew to the confessional it would only be necessary to genuflect while first entering the pew and eventually leaving the pew to exit the church. But there would be no harm done if the person were to genuflect each time the pew is entered and exited.
This is not intended as a direct response to your question, but just a commentary on the issue in general with specific reference to my own parish.
The parish is Little Flower in St. Louis, a church in the round, built long before Vatican II. At one time, the reserved Sacrament was kept, I am told, at the main altar, which is in the center of the church. (Imagine, if you will, the altar here as the hub of a wheel.) Eventually, following Vartican II, the tabernacle was moved to one of the chapels on the “rim” of the wheel.
Accordingly, it is no longer appropriate to genuflect when approaching the main altar. Bowing is perfectly appropriate. Afterall, this is where the Eucharist is confected. But genuflecting is appropriate only when entering (or perhaps even passing by the door to) the chapel containing the Blessed Sacrament.
But many people, both old and new, still genuflect at the main altar. Seems odd. But nobody says anything. No harm, no foul?
However, if elderly, or, have physical problems, a profound bow (bow of the body) is acceptable. Some of our elderly, and/or handicapped parishioners can’t genuflect. Father has told us, “Do what you can, as long as, it’s respectful.”
Our church is small and it’s really hard NOT to cross in front of the Tabernacle no matter what you are there for. If I come into the church and go to the back without crossing in front of the Tabernacle, I bow at the doorway.
Please don’t forget that some people cannot genuflect. Having had a broken back when I was young, there are times that if I tried to genuflect, it would take someone lifting me up because of the pain, so I bow when I cannot physically genuflect. The elderly often bow because they are unable to genuflect.
When a sacristan is taking things to the altar in preparation for mass, and their hands and arms are full, they are not required to genuflect.
If you are in the church for any reason and you cross in front of the Tabernacle at any point, you should bow or genuflect as long as the light next to the Tabernacle is lit.
Certainly nobody is expected to hurt themselves just to conform. But I think the problem is that the young and able-bodied are copying the elderly people and not learning for themselves what is right and proper.
This is certainly the case in my choir. We decided at one point that we will stand for the consecration (everyone else kneels). I pointed out that if we are standing, profound bows must be made when the priest genuflects. But there is an elderly woman who is a faithful member of the choir and joins us for at least two Masses in the weekend. Even standing for that length of time is too much for her, so when everyone kneels, she sits. There is also a woman in a wheelchair. A 19-year-old woman has decided to copy the first woman, and she sits at the same time. Therefore I look like the silly one, as I am the only one left standing. Personally, I would rather kneel like everyone else. But I plan to have a talk with the 19-year-old about regulated posture and the ability to assume them.
A lack of education. We have a section of our bulletin dedicated to education tidbits about the Mass, Catholic news or Catholic Tradition.—Genuflection, bowing, crossing oneself with the thumb (forehead, lips, and heart) 3X before the Gospel, etc. It’s a gentle reminder, and well received.
I do think, you have to consider, there are people who simply won’t do it. I’m sure, your parish is like mine–filled with do-ers, and the no do-ers.
I always genuflect towards the tabernacle no matter what when arriving at and leaving Mass. I do the same for Adoration, Exposition, and Benediction. I will do the same when I have to sit in a pew to wait my turn for Confession but only do so once then genuflect when returning to my pew to say my penance.
[quote=gh4;9448361Having had a broken back when I was young, there are times that if I tried to genuflect, it would take someone lifting me up because of the pain, so I bow when I cannot physically genuflect. The elderly often bow because they are unable to genuflect.
That would be me as well. I try to genuflect, but mine are more of a curtsy. I tend to bow instead.