At Mass during the recitation of the Nicene Creed and when praying the Angelus, it is common (or required?) for the congregation to bow or genuflect (bend one knee) during these lines:

For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven: By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was incarnate (born) of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us

Why do we genuflect during those lines and not do anything special when other very important aspects of our faith are mentioned?

  • 1
    Why do Catholics genuflect at all? :) This was a question I had when I was dating a Catholic...
    – Flimzy
    Sep 29, 2011 at 18:12
  • 3
    @flimzy one interesting tidbit, is that when genuflecting in obedience to a king, you go down on your left knee, when genuflecting in obedience to God you go down on your right knee. Suffice it to say, that's why we genuflect, to show obedience and reverence through our bodies.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 29, 2011 at 18:28
  • In my Anglican church, we kneel briefly for this part of the creed.
    – gmoothart
    Sep 29, 2011 at 22:53

2 Answers 2


Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was) wrote about this article of the creed for the Mariological Congress in March 1995. The essay is reprinted in Mary: the church at the source by him and Hans Urs von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 2005). He speaks about the centrality of the incarnation to Christian faith:

In manifesting himself, God shows that he is our Lord, not just our idea. His self-manifestation is rightly at the heart of the Creed. The confession of God's history in the heart of man's history is not a departure from the simple profession of faith in God: rather, it is its intrinsic condition. For this reason, the center of all our creeds is a Yes to Jesus Christ: "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." At this article of the Creed we genuflect, because now heaven, the veil surrounding the hidden God, is torn open, and the Mystery comes into immediate contact with us. The distant God becomes our God, Emmanuel - "God with us".

I would imagine that there is also some link with genuflecting to the consecrated Host, for the same reason.

Hugh Latimer expressed a similar opinion in a sermon of 26 December 1552, though in more "English Reformation" terms:

We read a story, (take it as you will, though it be not a true story:) The devil came once into the church whilst the priest was saying mass; and when he was at these words, Et homo factus est, the devil looked about him, and seeing no man kneel down, or bow his knees, he strake one of them in the face, saying, "What! will you not reverence him for this great benefit which he hath done unto you? I tell you, if he had taken upon him our nature, as he hath taken upon him yours, we would more reverence him than ye do." This story is prettily devised; for we should reverence him; we should honour him, and shew ourselves thankful for his inestimable benefits that he hath shewed upon us miserable wretched sinners, in taking upon him our nature.

The footnote says that the story appears in the Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony. This was written in 1374, so there is some history to the idea that it is particularly important to show reverence at this point.


As an Anglican, I was taught to genuflect per the above statements. Also, to reverence the blessed sacrament. I was never taught to “briefly kneel” as someone mentions above.

  • I would have thought there is not much difference linguistically between "genuflect" (literally bend knee) and "briefly kneel"
    – Henry
    Feb 5, 2022 at 16:32

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