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.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a theologian but one of the things that has confused me is why we take present customs that may have developed to the present state over time and try to re-adopt ancient costums that require too much explaining to the faithful. And WHO decides which ancient customs we should go back and re-adopt (prior to organic development) vs. which ancient customs we should NOT go back and re-adopt? What is the axiom for these decisions? It often leaves a sense of confusion and an impression that the "Catholic Church got it wrong again and needed to self-correct". There is cleary a liturgical divide in this country. And both extremes of the liturgical paradimn are very skilled at pushing their preferences. To make it easier on all of us, WHY CAN'T WE JUST FOLLOW THE LITURGICAL PRACTICES OF THE HOLY FATHER, BENEDICT XVI? If you watch papal masses on EWTN, he is trying to teach the universal church something about liturgy. Can't liturgical leaders be aware of their own liturgical biases and preferences AND try to follow the Pope's lead with regards to liturgy? Are the biases so deep-rooted that there is an unwillingness to even read the Pope's "Spirit of the Liturgy"? More balance is badly needed in the realm of liturgy and the Pope is the one to give us the balance that is so badly needed.

Mark said...

It is true that the first widespread use of the crucifix dates to roughly the beginning of the second millennium. It is my understanding that in the very beginning of the first millennium, Catholics viewed the cross as an execution instrument. Thus, they may not have been psychologically predisposed to use even the cross as a symbol of our faith, and would opt for more abstract symbols.

Two thousand years later, we don't have as visceral a reaction to this execution instrument as early Catholics had. For this reason, I think that for us today, the crucifix, rather than the cross, is the more powerful symbol of our Lord's sacrifice. When contemplated, it is an immediate and powerful reminder of His suffering for our sins.

Today, on the other hand, the empty cross risks becoming an overly intellectualized symbol that may lead away from the events at Golgotha. Also, it seems to me that the more appropriate symbol of our Lord's Resurrection would be the empty tomb, not the cross. Resurrection took place there, and not on the cross, In my view, the tomb has the deeper association with the apparent finality of death overcome by the Resurrection of our Lord, whereas the cross points to His suffering and the execution method.

Stu said...

I'll go with Father Z on this one. Always good to refer to Latin, the official language of the Church.

He writes...

No, it makes no sense to use a bare Cross on Good Friday.

The Latin in the 2002MR does use Crux throughout.

Crux here means "crucifix", not just bare "cross".

Traditionally in the Roman Rite a Crucifix is used.

When the rubrics refer to a Cross, Crux, on or near the altar, which is what this is, a Crucifix is meant. We gain clarity from GIRM 308 which says (my emphases):
308. Item super altare vel prope ipsum crux, cvm effigie Christi crucifixi, habeatur, quae a populo congregato bene conspiciatur. ... Likewise, on the altar or near it there is to be a Cross with the likeness of Christ crucified, which is easily seen by the congregation. ...
The point of Good Friday is not merely to venerate the Holy Cross of our salvation. There is a feast for that… on 14 September. The point of Good Friday is to venerate Christ crucified: Christus Crucifixus.

In the Ecce lignum Crucis sung three times, the priest sings "in quo salus mundi pependit.. on which the salvation of the world did hang".

The "salvation" hanging there is the Body of the Lord on the Cross, the one who is Crucifixus.

We venerate the Crucifix.

Historically the adoration of the Cross developed from veneration of a relic of the true Cross in those places where one was kept, especially Jerusalem. This spread to Rome. The veneration of Good Friday is in the Gelasian Sacramentary. Where a relic of the Cross was not available, a Crucifix was used. On Good Friday the veneration given to the True Cross is given to the Crucifix. Thus the threefold genuflection on Good Friday.

If there is no relic of the True Cross available for veneration, then the Crucifix should be used.. not a bare Cross.

Stu said...


Take a look at how Pope Benedict XVI carries out this devotion.

Surely he has it right. Don't we all agree?

jim g said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jim g said...

Why do you insist on having half of Christ. The crucifiction is the reason why Christ came into the world. Christ suffering is the price he paid for our sin. Like it or not this is our faith.
This is the time when most Catholics meditate on this mystery. If Good Friday is not the day for this, what day would you recommend? And if you choose to ignore this part of Christ life, I ask again Why do you want half of Christ

Patrick Cavanagh, said...

What is not explained here is how the Office of Worship can (justly) be more restrictive than the US Bishops Conference and their own document "Built of Living Stones?"

I recognize the effort to persuade but, more than that, it seems here that we can see an attempt to discourage, perhaps even suppress, a lawful and highly traditional practice popular in our own area for centuries as well as throughout the world. The Church in Richmond is older than this present generation and Summorum Pontificum clearly tells us that the Holy Spirit was active during the Middle Ages and early modern period too.

Perhaps we could have a poll - which of the following would bring the most horror to a liturgical progressive?
a. bells at the consecration,
b. a deacon kneeling at the consecration,
c. a crucifix on Good Friday,
d. a lace alb
e. a glass chalice
f. incensing the altar, celebrant, and people during the offertory,

Actually - it was a trick question. (e) actually is a liturgical and pastoral abuse.

Seriously - I would like Ms. Combier-Donovan to address liturgical minimalism. It appears that the traditional liturgical and devotional practices of our people are frequently suppressed unless we are in an ethnic parish with a specialized apostolate.

Does the Office of Worship recognize that minimalism is a widespread problem in our diocese and, if so, how should we address it?

Anonymous said...

Great point, Pat. May I add the question: Does the "no-corpus-on-the-cross rule" apply to the distorted YMCA-corpus crucifix as well? Or are distorted crucifixes exempt from this rule? I know how we can solve this Jesus-on-the-cross problem. Let's just scrap all crucifixes and replace them with banners displaying images of hands. Images of hands move the soul to contrition and humility more than the image of our Savior nailed to the cross. GET WITH THE PROGRAM PEOPLE! IT'S ALL ABOUT BANNERS AND HANDS.

Katie Beaumont said...

I don't see how the wooden cross ceases to be a multivalent symbol by simply having a corpus on it. In no way does a crucifix negate the Resurrection. In fact, the Resurrection is the result of the Crucifixion. Does the cross cease being wooden when a corpus is placed on it? Are the crosses that are used in this diocese relics? I'm a little confused. It just seems a little odd that in this diocese they want to take Christ (in the Tabernacle) out of the sanctuary and now they want to take Christ's image off the cross. What's the point of constantly removing Christ and his image from our sanctuaries and worship?

Mark said...

September 25, 2009 4:44 PM Anonymous asks a salient question:

"And WHO decides which ancient customs we should go back and re-adopt (prior to organic development) vs. which ancient customs we should NOT go back and re-adopt?"

It is my experience that such questions are usually resolved at the parish level by the local liturgical committee. More likely than not, this is where the power to make such decisions resides.

It is also my experience that liturgical committees are in the habit of informing the people in the pews of their decisions to change the local style of worship only after the important decisions have already been made.

Most likely it is the local liturgical committee that holds the power to decide which ancient customs to throw out, and which (if any) to keep.

standing maryanna said...

Hello everyone,

First of all, thank you for keeping your comments civil. I will only remove posts that are disrespectful or argumentive. I noticed that there was a double post and I see the author has removed it.

Realize that Ms Combier-Donovan has responded to a specific question from the original list. Please don't feel slighted if she does not use the combox to address your further remarks on this particular subject. She may or she may not. However, I feel certain that she will read your comments.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me that the need to eliminate Christ on the Cross on Good Friday has been implemented in this dioceses. It is very strange to me as I observe the secular world and how it uses imagery to drive sales, form opinions and direct almost every aspect of our lives. Yet, this diocese feels a need to eliminate imagery and many of the the traditions which have assisted many in their journey towards Christ. Quite honestly because of the ELIMINATION of Christ on the cross, veneration of a cross no longer holds any significance for me. To remove the image of Christ from His Cross, the instrument He chose, is illogical, and strips Good Friday of all its meaning. It is to easy to forget the cost Jesus paid for our Salvation. Suffering is a part of human life, you can not separate the suffering/cross from the Resurrection. We all must follow in the path of Christ sometime in our lives. I find promise in the Crucifix and lament the desire of many to try to distract from the great price Our God paid for our redemption. If you have ever known suffering in your life you will know that gazing on the suffering Christ brings much consolation, it teaches us we do not walk this path alone. It is unfortunate some find the image of Christ suffering distasteful or not fashionable when suffering is so much a part of our human condition. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light. He is the teacher and the divine physician. He must never be separated from the Cross because through his Crucifixion we have been redeemed. It is not the wood that redeemed us but a God/Man who loved the world so much that he became flesh and deigned to die such an ignominious death for us. I have decided I can no longer attend Good Friday services in this diocese but will travel to Arlington or to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Tridum. In my parish, all signs of Jesus Crucified is removed on Good Friday, how sad is this, that on the day Our Lord died for us I can find no imagery to remind me of the great price he paid for my salvation.How much joy is diminished on Easter Sunday when we find the empty Cross but so easily forget the reason we celebrate the Resurrection.

Anonymous said...

Also, as I thoughtfully and respectfully read the documents from the USCCB I came across the following: Please read carefully, it clearly states the unveiling of the right arm and in referring to veneration once again it states right and left arm.So while the word Cross is utilized its clear meaning is a Crucifix.

How does the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday begin?
The Veneration of the Cross begins with one of two forms of the Showing of the Cross. The first form begins as the deacon or another suitable minister goes to the sacristy and obtains the veiled Cross. Accompanied by two ministers with lighted candles, the veiled Cross is brought to the center of the sanctuary in procession. The priest accepts the Cross and then, standing in front of the altar and facing the people, uncovers the upper part of the Cross, the right arm, and then the entire Cross. Each time he unveils a part of the Cross, he sings This is the wood of the Cross. In the second form of the Veneration of the Cross, the priest or deacon goes to the church door, where he takes up the uncovered Cross. Accompanied by two ministers with lighted candles, he processes to the sanctuary, stopping at the door of the church, in the middle of the church, and before entering the sanctuary, to sing the acclamation, This is the wood of the Cross.
How is the cross venerated by members of the congregation on Good Friday?
After the showing of the Cross, the priest or deacon may carry the Cross to the entrance of the sanctuary or another suitable place. The first person to adore the Cross is the priest celebrant. If circumstances suggest, he takes off his chasuble and his shoes. The clergy, lay ministers and the faithful then approach the Cross. The personal adoration of the Cross is an important feature in this celebration and every effort should be made to achieve it. The rubrics remind us that “only one Cross” should be used for adoration. If the numbers are so great that all cannot come forward, the priest, after some of the clergy and faithful have adored the Cross, can take it and stand in the center before the altar. In a few words he invites the people to adore the Cross. He then elevates the Cross higher for a brief period of time while the faithful adore it in silence. It should also be kept in mind that when a sufficiently large Cross is used even a large community can reverence it in due time. The foot of the Cross as well as the right and left arm can be approached and venerated. Coordination with ushers and planning the flow of people beforehand can allow for this part of the liturgy to be celebrated with decorum and devotion.

standing maryanna said...

This seems soooo very clear to me: "The priest accepts the Cross and then, standing in front of the altar and facing the people, uncovers the upper part of the Cross, the right arm, and then the entire Cross. Each time he unveils a part of the Cross, he sings This is the wood of the Cross. "

I doubt that the "right arm" refers to the arm of a corpus but the right part of the crosspiece.

The priest sings "This is the WOOD of the cross"... and that is what he sings each time.

This is not to discourage the veneration of a crucifix since that is an option but it seems strange to me that the priest would sings about the WOOD and not mean the wooden cross.

Anonymous said...

Strange as it might seem Maryanna, the song you have referred has always been sung before the removal of the Corpus became acceptable. Further I feel you are stretching it a bit when the document published by the Bishops clearly refers to the foot and right and left arm. I would tend to say the verbiage could have easily read the uncovering of the left side of the cross then the right side etc. if this was the Bishops' intent. I also find it quite interesting to note the Richmond Diocese is counted amongst one of the very few diocese in the Country who have adopted this practice of the removal of the corpse.
My observation: If the Holy Father deems it acceptable to venerate a crucifix, we should follow the visible vicar of Christ as our example and cease with the minimalism which proceeds this diocese reputation for innovation after all we are still the Roman Catholic Church Right??????

Stu said...

I believe this is yet another example of how much the Church has lost by getting soft on requiring priests to really know latin. Given the latin word for "cross" and "crucifix" is the same (a fact of which many are ignorant, including priests), its no surprise that in this day and age many erroneously run to what seems to be the answer ("crux" means "cross" right?) without properly considering tradtion.

I would be interested to hear what His Excellency, Bishop DiLorenzo, thinks on this matter especially given the very public demonstration by the Bishop of Rome. By that act alone, it "seems soooo very clear to me."

Mark said...

Yes, it would be interesting to know what our Bishop thinks about the issue of the cross vs the crucifix, and other similar issues.

On the other hand, I think that for many parish lay leaders this question is almost irrelevant. Many seem to think of themselves as independent operators of a loosely organized franchise, who also subcontract with presiders to perform the consecration and homily services.

Few months ago at a funeral Mass I attended, a lay leader informed the gathering in a rather stern tone that at this parish it is "the tradition" to stand during Consecration, to receive communion standing, and to stand during the entire distribution of communion. The presider didn't comment on this announcement. Everyone stood during the Consecration, received communion standing and in the hand, and then stood afterwards. It was a "standing" service.

Talking with some of these lay leaders about a variety of issues (such as Summorum Pontificum), one gets the impression that they feel empowered to make important liturgical decisions affecting "their" parish. The thought that the Bishop may or may not ratify their decisions doesn't seem to exist.

Luke Kirby said...

It is worth considering how this directive echos what is known as the hermeneutic of rupture. We are being told that we should not venerate the crucifix that our own fathers' and grandfathers' venerated despite the fact that the Pope and parishes all over the world continue to venerate the crucifix on Good Friday. This also runs contrary to "Summorum Pontificum" where we are reminded that the devotions of our near ancestors are good and right for us too.
Additionally, this directive from the Office of Worship has made Good Friday another moment of consternation and visible division during our public worship. The bare cross on Good Friday is an icon of rupture and a symbol of liturgical minimalism - it is a reduced sign.

standing maryanna said...

Isn't the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) supposed to be the standard that we are to follow? As well as, whatever has been allowed with permission in the United States?

It appears to me that our diocese is following what we are permitted. Remember that the option is the cross or the crucifix. At least this is how I understand the issue.

Anonymous said...

Really? My parish was sent a letter from the office of Liturgy and Worship which clearly stated the Cross should be venerated. No option was given. My parish no longer venerates a Crucifix which I personally find appalling. Truth is Maryanna if it was optional then a directive did not need to come from the office of worship. I no longer give any money to the Bishops appeal and neither do many of my friends until this diocese decides to follow the directives of Rome then I will cease supporting their programs.

Stu said...

Built of Living Stone says, "The celebration of the Lord's passion on Good Friday has its particular spatial requirements. After the proclamation of the passion and the General Intercessions, the entire assembly rise to venerate the cross or crucifix."

Guidance from the Office of Worship says,"During the Veneration of the Cross, only one cross (preferably a bare cross, not a crucifix) must be used; using additional crosses diminishes the symbolism of the “one” cross as the symbol of victory and salvation. "

So at the very least, the diocesan Office of Worship discourages the use of a Crucifix depicting our Lord on the Cross. Clearly, the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father, believes that the use of traditional Crucifix is the proper choice. I would be interested to hear from our Bishop on his point of view.

Anonymous said...

THIS IS our Bishop's point of view. All of you need to stop fooling yourselves by thinking that he's not aware diocesan worship. He is fully aware and does not have a problem with it. If fact, the current practices are exactly what he wants in place. Just because he's against gays does not mean he's against other modern trends. All you complainers are nothing but thorns in the pews to the Bishop, so he ignores you; because he can. The Vatican does not have the time or interest in addressing the dissatisfaction of a few squeeky wheels in this diocese. The way it is now, is the way it will be for ever and ever. It's time for all you complainers to accept the things you can not change. The current liturgical practices of this diocese cannot be changed. They have now become Richmond diocesan dogma.

Stu said...

I am not so convinced that the Office of Worship speaks for the Bishop. I have often found that "leadership by committees" leads to the leader being out of the loop on many issues. So he very well may be in agreement with this position, which is certainly his prerogative, or may be preoccupied with other issues. Either way, when leading by use of committees it behooves the leader to be the one ultimately speaking on the more controversial matters. Something I do have some very practical experience in dealing with.

That being said, even with what appears to be a poor understanding of the latin (to include how it carries over to the GIRM) their are provisions to use a plain cross during the Good Friday liturgy. The Holy Father chooses to use a Crucifix and as a Catholic faithful to Christ and His Church, I am puzzled why we don't look to Rome on such issues.

Also, I do believe the Vatican cares. But Rome moves slow. Further, I don't believe I am a thorn in the side of the Bishop. Rather, it is my duty to respectfully point out what I see as incongruent with the Church. At the end of the day, I am confident that we are on the path of restoration in the Church. You see signs of it everywhere. The orthodox parishes are flourishing (to include many children given we endeavor to follow ALL of the teachings of the Church) while the vestiges of the hippy-dippy 60s/70s are the ones dying out. Holiness and orthodoxy attract. And for that, I am happy.

Stu said...

The Pope certainly cares. The question is, do we care?

"Papal liturgies, broadcast internationally, are a model by which all liturgical celebrations can be measured...papal ceremonies should be liturgical paradigms for the entire world. Those who follow papal ceremonies probably use them as a measure of accord by which the liturgy must be measured. In this way, the liturgy is transformed into a path through which the Pope teaches the Catholic faithful, giving them a proper idea of what they should expect [from the liturgy]."

- Pope Benedict XVI in a recent talk to the Choir of the Pontifical Chapel as quoted in Miles Christi Report, No. 107, September 2009

Anonymous said...

I don't blame anyone who has decided to cease from contributing money to the Bishop especially in light of this:
I suggest Mrs.Donovan ask the Bishop to address this and do so immediately.

Katie Beaumont said...

I fail to see how attacking the USCCB Campaign for Human Development is really going to make them turn a willing ear to anything any of us has to say. I took a peek at that report and even IT acknowledged that these funds were SCHEDULED, not actually given. I know. I know. Nothing should be given to a group acting in opposition to the Church; however, I think the report would need to prove that the bishops were fully aware of any misfunding and did it anyway. I STRONGLY DOUBT that the bishops would KNOWINGLY follow through on something uncatholic. We need to stay away from fox-news-tactics when trying to have an intelligent discussion. We need to avoid conspiracy-sounding viewpoints, we need to avoid sensationalizing incidents in hopes of gaining more influence or persuading people who cannot be persuaded. Let's just be practical and intelligent in our discussions while asking intelligent questions. Sorry for sounding like I'm lecturing, but sometimes BOTH sides of the spectrum can get it wrong.

jim g said...

The Bishops have a confused fascination with Socialist. The hear the words and get intoxicated by the thought that an omnipotent government will magically create programs that will solve all the needs of the community. All this will be done without any real pain, if only the well off will give a little of their excess. This is an anti Catholic fantasy. the wealthy already support the poor through their taxes and personal charity. Likewise the poor when left to assume all property is a right become bitter and despirited. All hope of personal growth and the satisfaction of providing for ones self and family is destroyed. The Bishops need to focus on ways of lifting people from these conditions. Government only makes these conditions worse.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Katie, I resent the reference about Fox news, considering they are the only news agency uncovering the deplorable antics of organizations like Acorn and investigating the background of some of our president's advisors. Please take note I would say that regardless of who served in the presidency. I will not place my head in the sand not when it comes to my country and certainly not when it pertains to my faith. If someone presents to me facts,and it is accompanied by videos, transcripts and audios I would be a fool not to accept it as solid documentation. I can and will not dismiss solid evidence because people have chosen to dismiss its source. Facts are facts, which leads me to the video in question. May I suggest you view this video in it entirety and visit its web site before you dismiss it contents as inaccurate or misleading. There in no reasonable argument for our Bishops to be entertaining giving contributions to any of these organizations and entertain they did. I am grateful for whoever uncovered this information and pray they continue to investigate before we find ourselves amidst another crippling scandal. It is time for our Bishops to represent the tenants of our Church in its entirety. Grants should not be given to any institution which is contrary to church teachings. Make no mistake the USCCB is entering into a direction they have no business, they should stay within the bounds of church teaching and render to the government what is the government and to God what is God.
Say what you will, I believe the courageous people who uncovered this information of funding being directed to prostitution, homosexuality etc did not do this flippantly. Remember the truth is the truth and in this country many lawyers exist who would take on the task of proving false statements and accusations in a court of law. Would you like to wager no one will dispute these facts? Now, my next question will the Bishops? So far the silence is deafening!