Should a wife kneel to her husband?




Cane Caldo:

Traditionally Catholics kneel in church and when receiving communion to give honour and worship to God. We also kneel when receiving a blessing. I remember one young woman dropping to her knees to get a blessing from a priest. Rather dramatic and unexpected as we were all standing around drinking coffee after mass.

I notice that the Catholic police commissioner in the TV series Blue Bloods kisses the ring on the finger of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York in one episode.

Catholics are used to such signs of reverence.

However the idea of a wife kneeling to her husband, as Cane Caldo suggests, does not feel right. It borders on idolatry.

As I have discussed here before and as women in guest posts have remarked, there are more appropriate ways for wives to show respect should they wish to do so. Curtsying perhaps, although that is mostly associated these days with maids in costume dramas on TV.

17 responses to this post.

  1. It borders on idolatry.

    Does it? Based on our feelings?


    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on June 1, 2016 at 11:30 pm

      A woman guest poster here recently put the matter well when she remarked that a woman is not a child but nor is she a man. I believe in the natural order. And maybe a wife could kneel to her husband to honour his Christlike headship. But it is perilously close to idolatry.


  2. Posted by Jim on June 1, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Yes. She should kneel. That doesn’t’ have to imply worship.


  3. That’s twice you’ve said it’s close to idolatry, but I’d like to see an argument that actually supports it.

    I, too, kneel in church to receive communion. When I am not able to receive communion I go up there and kneel to receive a blessing. When I was confirmed in the church I knelt and got a tap on the cheek. When one does these things he is kneeling not just before Christ, but before a priest. It’s both not either/or.


  4. Isn’t it the case that priests are superiors in Christ (and according to the means of Christ, just as marriage is a means of Christ) also?

    To go further: Most husbands are in many ways superior to their wives; bigger, stronger, smarter, more courageous…the differences are night and day. Certainly there are a number of priests who are in no other way superior to many of their parishioners. How is that these parishioners aren’t bordering on idolatry of their priest?

    You close your last comment by saying that [a husband] is not a priest. I’m not sure that’s totally true in a meaningful sense, but let’s suppose it is for the sake of argument. Where do you get the idea that it is good to kneel to a priest, but bad to knee to a husband? What about kneeling to a king? Is Christendom’s story one of nearly 2,000 years of rank idolatry?


    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on June 2, 2016 at 12:07 am

      I have to go now and attend my mother-in-law’s funeral. I will think about the topic some more and reply later.


    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on June 2, 2016 at 10:33 am

      I think that when one kneels to a priest, one is recognising that he is a conduit of God’s power. For example, His forgiveness in Confession or the priest’s power to give a blessing from God. I did kneel once to kiss the newly-consecrated hands of a priest, along with other members of that Latin Mass congregation. But that was to honour his priestly power from God, not the man.

      I suppose one could argue that the father and husband is the “priest” of the family. I certainly feel that. But not perhaps in the formal sacerdotal sense.

      I believe a wife should respect her husband, in line with scripture, but she is respecting his headship, not Christ himself, although he represents Christ in a sense. The danger of idolatry lies in her putting her husband in the place of Christ. It is a delicate balance.

      My reading of the New Testament is that a wife should do at least two things. 1) Call her husband by a respectful title (“husband” will do – NOT “partner”). 2) Show him reasonable deference in line with societal norms (as my wife said to someone today, “I married him and I took his name”). I believe that reasonable deference can include things like seating her husband at the head of the table, for example.

      (I understand that in the old Sarum Rite of marriage, the wife would kiss the right foot of her husband. This is the kind of thing that would no longer be culturally appropriate.)

      Kneeling to her husband seems outside normal cultural practices to me. And it is too easily confused with idolatry. Another problem is that it is too easily confused with a sexual act. There is nothing wrong with bedroom behaviour which enhances the natural roles and hierarchy in a marriage; but something that is appropriate in the bedroom is not necessarily appropriate outside it.


      • With regards to kneeling to a priest.. for a blessing for instance. The priest acts “in persona Christi Capitis” Pope Benedict succinctly addressed this in a general audience 6 years ago.

        “In order to understand what it means for the priest to act in persona Christi Capitis in the person of Christ the Head and to realize what consequences derive from the duty of representing the Lord, especially in the exercise of these three offices, it is necessary first of all to explain what “representation” means. The priest represents Christ. What is implied by “representing” someone? In ordinary language it usually means being delegated by someone to be present in his place, to speak and act in his stead because the person he represents is absent from the practical action. Let us ask ourselves: does the priest represent the Lord in this way? The answer is no, because in the Church Christ is never absent, the Church is his living Body and he is the Head of the Church, present and active within her. Christ is never absent, on the contrary he is present in a way that is untrammelled by space and time through the event of the Resurrection that we contemplate in a special way in this Easter Season.

        Therefore the priest, who acts in persona Christi Capitis and representing the Lord, never acts in the name of someone who is absent but, rather, in the very Person of the Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his truly effective action. He really acts today and brings about what the priest would be incapable of: the consecration of the wine and the bread so that they may really be the Lord’s presence, the absolution of sins. The Lord makes his own action present in the person who carries out these gestures. These three duties of the priest which Tradition has identified in the Lord’s different words about mission: teaching, sanctifying and governing in their difference and in their deep unity are a specification of this effective representation. In fact, they are the three actions of the Risen Christ, the same that he teaches today, in the Church and in the world. Thereby he creates faith, gathers together his people, creates the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal Church; and sanctifies and guides.”

  5. […] « Should a wife kneel to her husband? […]


  6. Posted by Zeta on June 2, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    In different cultures it is a sign of respect to superiors. In oriental countries the child is trained that as soon as they arise they should bow down to both father and mother, and later to their spiritual preceptor. Because the mother is considered as good as God and the father is considered as good as God and spiritual preceptor is as good as God. But of course it is understood that they are not God but rather His representatives. And when the child is brought into a place of worship they are taught to bow down to God directly. This continues through out life not just in childhood. And when the girl is married she is instructed that now her husband is both her spiritual and worldly guide and is thus to her as good as God being His representative on earth for her to serve as practice in how to serve and worship God. Of course the husband knows that he is not God but as a representative of God he is duty bound to try his best to protect and provide for his wife and family in order to be as good a representative of God as possible. That is the husband’s service to the Lord. So it is not idolatry but respect shown to the representatives of the Lord in this world. It is the same principle that is applied when we respect the ambassador of a country as being as good as that country because he is representing that country even though they are not that country.


  7. Posted by Julian O'Dea on June 7, 2016 at 3:10 am

    “Submission is action, not symbolism is his take. “Your job is what I tell you it is. Do that with respect and you’re submissive enough”, to quote him directly. If I breach the marital commitment my kneeling might be in order, but it may or may not convince him of anything when weighed against my actions.

    We know too many couples where the wife is “submissive” but her attitude towards her husband is anything but. He is left dreadfully cold by symbolism.”

    Yes. Most of wifely submission is lived. There is nothing wrong with symbolism, but there are plenty of wives who, for example, take their husbands’ surnames but are not good wives in reality.


    • Posted by Trina on September 6, 2016 at 4:21 am

      I feel a need to comment. I have been married for 26 years and sadly, most of those years, even though I am a Christian and was raised in church from birth and taught to reverence my husband, I did not. Not until recently. I have been studying my Bible more seriously than ever before and it is changing my heart. I thought I was a submissive wife and most of the time I did submit as far as not doing hugs that I knew my husband would not approve of. However, it was often done wih a wrong attitude and there were many, many times that I would argue with him if I felt like I wasnt being heard. That is not true submission and it is definitely not reverence. In the recent weeks, God has caused me to see the error of my actions and He is truly causing me to see how to reverence my husband. Since Then I have asked my husband to forgive me and I have asked God to forgive me and I have been truly trying to reverence my husband. God has given me an overwhelming love for my husband like never before. When I began to recognize my husband as my authority, I saw myself as his subordinate and I had a sudden desire to kneel to him out if reverence and submission. I do not believe I should worship him as I would worship the Lord but you can kneel without worshiping. I don’t kneel just to be bowing down to him but rather if I have done him wrong in any way I would kneel to ask his forgiveness or I would kneel if I had a serious request to ask him to show that I know he is the ultimate authority on any request I might make and if he says no I will submit to his will. One simple hing I hAve had a burden to do is to kneel and put his shoes on and take them off when he comes home. He has never demanded it nor even suggested it but I love doing it for him. It makes me remember our positions as husband and wife- that he is my leader and I am his willing follower. Our marriage has never been better. I wish I would have know this 26 years ago. It amazes me how much of a difference it makes in my heart to be willing to kneel at his feet and show him proper reverence. My husband told me that my actions towards him are a reminder to him of how his relationship to God should be. He has been the husband I have always dreamed of having since I became the kind of wife I should be.


  8. Posted by Trina on September 6, 2016 at 4:32 am

    My previous post should say “as far as not doing the kind of *things* my husband would not approve of”. Instead is saying “the kind of *hugs* that my husband would not approve of”. Silly auto-correct!


    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on September 6, 2016 at 4:38 am

      Thank you Trina for your interesting comments.

      If you are interested in writing a fuller account for a guest post for this blog, please email me on with your name in the subject line.

      Thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: