Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cross or Crucifix on Good Friday? ~ by Catherine Combier-Donovan

Catherine Combier-Donovan, Director
Office of Worship, Catholic Diocese of Richmond

Cross or Crucifix on Good Friday?

Built of Living Stones
[1] states that on Good Friday the assembly may venerate the cross or crucifix. The GIRM[2] and the Roman Missal, however, consistently refer to the “cross” and not “crucifix” as the object of veneration. The GIRM, as we know, does not mince words when it means to be specific. The Book of Blessings specifies a corpus when erecting a cross in a church. Here too, the new GIRM is specific about there being a cross with a corpus in a church. This is different from the ritual of the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

Perhaps the best way to understand why the cross is preferable to the crucifix on Good Friday is to understand the history of this devotion.

On Good Friday, it has always been the wood of the cross that we venerate. “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung our salvation.” This has been a tradition in the church since at least the end of the 4th century, when the Spanish pilgrim Egeria wrote about celebrating Good Friday at Golgotha. She spent Holy Week in Jerusalem not too long after St. Helena's discoveries of the true cross. The cult of the cross flourished and relics of the true cross were being disseminated and venerated. Pilgrimages to sacred sites multiplied and Egeria recorded in her journals detailed descriptions of the celebration of the Adoration of the True Cross at Golgotha. Good Friday celebrations included the Adoration of the Cross in those places where fragments of the True Cross were kept, in Antioch for example, and soon spread beyond the holy places.

“Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross. The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table.

Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again.

And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through.”

Note that in the descriptions of the Veneration of the Cross, it is the relic of the True Cross that is the object of veneration, not a crucifix. Listen closely to the language of the prayer texts used on Good Friday.

At a USCCB national meeting a few years ago, a bishop attempted to bring a vote to the floor specifying that it should be a crucifix that is venerated on Good Friday. It was promptly voted down after several of his colleagues reminded him of the venerable history and meaning of this tradition. Nevertheless, the option to use a crucifix remains. The devotion to Christ crucified appears in art in the post-medieval period. Literary evidence of the crucifix replacing the cross as object of adoration appears only in 1364.

We celebrate the Lord’s Passion with the Resurrection in mind. Veneration of the bare cross takes us from the tree to the instrument of the death of Jesus to the bare cross from which Christ is free – a powerful multivalent symbol.

[1] USCCB. Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship. 2000, 83
[2] USCCB. General Instruction of the Roman Missal. 2002
[3] English translation of Louis Duchesne's Christian Worship (London, 1923)
[4] Patrick Regan, “Veneration of the Cross,” Worship 52 (January 1978), 8.

A response to a question is on its way!

I am sure you will be pleased to hear that I received an article today from Ms Catherine Combier-Donovan, Director of the Office of Worship of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Ms Combier-Donovan wrote in part:

"...I ask patience of your readers for I take time to carefully craft each one since it seems that what I write is often scrutinized to the nth degree. I also want to be sure that my responses are both orthodox and pastoral. Because I’m a liturgical historian as well as a pastoral liturgist, you’ll find that I will reflect on the past to help us understand the present. All of this to say you will not receive too many brief answers, unless it is to direct people to answers already on the Worship website or elsewhere."

The article is titled: Cross or Crucifix on Good Friday? I will place it on the blog as soon as I can.

Feel free to comment; but obviously, in a respectful manner. A question and answer format on a blog may be something unique. If it is, it is in our best interest to make certain that it can work. Thanks to you all for your questions.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Patiently waiting...

I haven't added any more articles to the blog recently because I am patiently waiting for the promised response from Ms Catherine Combier-Donovan, Director of the Office of Worship, to the question about tabernacles and their place in or near the sanctuary...

If you wish to contact her personally with your concerns, Ms Combier-Donovan's email address which can easily be found on the Contact Us page at the Office of Worship website is the following:

I look forward to hearing from her soon.