Which knee should I genuflect on?

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Q:  Growing up, I was always taught to genuflect with the right knee. But now I see more and more people using their left knee. Has there been a change that I am not aware of? Is it permissible to alternate knees? (Johnstown, Pa.)

A: Right is right. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, "a genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament" (No. 274).

The custom was approved formally by the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century. (Note that it is only practiced in the Western Church; Eastern Catholics and members of the Orthodox Church use instead a profound bow as a sign of their deep reverence.)

Genuflection on the left knee was used to pay honor to kings and emperors (and, at certain times in the church's history, to the bishop of one's diocese), but the right knee is reserved to God alone as a sign of divine worship.

I can't resist revealing one further thought when I receive a question like this one. I wonder if it really matters a lot to God whether someone uses the right knee to genuflect or the left — especially when, according to the United Nations, about 21,000 people in the world die each day from hunger. I believe that God pays more attention to our hearts than to our knees.

Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, N.Y. 12203.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017