The Crucifix is gradually vanishing from our churches
Below is a picture taken on February 8, 2009, at the dedication of a new church to St. Gonsalo Garcia in Vasai when Most Rev. Thomas Dabre, Chairman of the CBCI’s Doctrinal Commission was Bishop. There were other bishops in attendance.
St. Gonsalo Garcia was CRUCIFIED to death, like his Lord Jesus, for his faith. So, how was he honoured at this dedication of the new church building to his memory? By relativising Christianity, the faith he died preaching — juxtapositioning the Cross between the Hindu “OM” and the Islamic crescent.
On November 20, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI had appointed
Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai
as member of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue!!! And this is what he presides over!!!
But it gets worse.
There appears to be no crucifix on the altar at the dedication Mass.
And there’s no crucifix on the wall of the sanctuary behind the altar.
We have increasingly been encountering the phenomenon of the “Risen Christ” on a cross — the “Resurrecefix“* — except that in this church they’ve ventured further and done away with the Cross.
According to the rubrics of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (G.I.R.M), the presence of a crucifix is mandatory for Holy Mass, and “appropriate … even outside of liturgical celebrations“.
From the (G.I.R.M):
#117: Also on or close to the altar, there is to be a cross with a figure of Christ crucified.
#308: “There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.”
“The crucifix is the principal ornament of the altar. It is placed on the altar to recall to the mind of the celebrant, and the people, that the Victim offered on the altar is the same as was offered on the Cross. For this reason the crucifix must be placed on the altar as often as Mass is celebrated (Constitution, Accepimus of Benedict XIV, 16 July, 1746). The rubric of the Roman Missal (xx) prescribes that it be placed at the middle of the altar between the candlesticks, and that it be large enough to be conveniently seen by both the celebrant and the people (Cong. Sac. Rit., 17 September, 1822). If for any reason this crucifix is removed, another may take its place in a lower position; but in such cases it must always be visible to all who assist at Mass (ibid.)”
So, for the Chairman of the Doctrinal Commission of the CBCI, who was also at that time the diocesan Bishop, to have celebrated Mass with a crucifix neither on the altar nor near it, visible to all, was a flagrant violation of the rubrics of the GIRM.
Indian Christ worshipped in Kerala temple!
Thiruvananthapuram, January 29, 2007
The Kollam (Quilon) diocese has opened a chapel inaugurated by Kollam bishop Stanley Roman where Christian theology embraces Indian religious motifs….
Dan Brown could take an idea or two from a chapel in Kerala for his next bestseller. This modern version of the Renaissance classic has Jesus Christ and his disciples eating out of plantain leaves. The thirteen men, squatting on a tile-paved floor, are definitely Indians. They could be feasting anywhere in Kerala, with two traditional lamps around.
Surprises don’t end with the altar painting at the Jagat Jyoti Mandir near Kollam.
Eclipsing the conventional crucifix, Christ is sculpted in a sitting posture. He meditates in Abhayamudra under the shadow of a peepul tree.
Borrowing in faith: Kerala church creates ripples
By Nandagopal Nair, Kollam, Kerala, March 20, 2007 NDTV.com, March 19, 2007
NDTV.com, March 19, 2007
A new church in Kollam district in Kerala has adopted the motifs and religious practices of other faiths during its various ceremonies.
It is an attempt on part of the Latin Catholic church to promote inter-faith dialogue and understanding, but it has been received with caution.
Fr. Romance Antony
conducts Sunday Mass at the
Jagat Jyoti Mandir
in Neendakara Panchayat.
Both the priest and his congregation sit cross-legged on the floor listening to bhajans. The pulpit and pews are missing. There isn’t even a crucifix behind what should have been the altar.
Bishop Stanley Roman and his priest Fr. Romance Antony have, like Bishop Dabre, violated the G.I.R.M.
Why wouldn’t they? Read about the National Bishops’ Conference’s “temple” at Bangalore:
In Bangalore, the almost five decades old Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s (CBCI) National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC) mandir (temple) has a ‘kalasam’ or inverted pot in place of the Cross on the top of its structure which Hindus call a “gopuram”. In the Hindu religious tradition, the kalasam is a sacred object that houses the temple’s deity. They believe that, according to agamic rites, it becomes an embodiment or sacramental in-dwelling of the deity of the temple.
The late Bishop Visuvasam of Coimbatore in a pastoral letter (April 1994) wrote, “Pastors of souls whose prime duty is to guard the purity of faith and worship ought to see that the agamic concept and practice of kalasam is against the First Commandment, and hence no kalasam may be used anywhere”.
The Bishops’ Conference meeting in Ranchi in 1979 took note of the bitter feelings of Catholics at the kalasam and absence of a Cross on top of the NBCLC temple and said, “As there is no liturgical ruling in the matter of a Cross on the roof of a church, we do not see the imperative need to have a cross on the top of the dome.”
Brian Michael of Bandra, Mumbai, in a pictorial book published and distributed by him in the mid 1990s, wrote, “It is humbly suggested that since the POT has replaced the Cross, in future all Indian Bishops hang a POT round their necks instead of the golden pectoral Cross that they now wear.”
According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Directory, the
National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre is “a National Centre sponsored by the CBCI“.
Traditionalist Michael Davies reports in “On This and That” on his visit to the NBCLC:
The Bishops did not remove the POT on top, giving the excuse that there are many churches in the world without a cross on top! The bishops did not say if there is any Catholic church anywhere in the world with a POT on top! Thus Hindu signs and symbols get encouragement from the Bishops Conference of India!
Among the time-bombs in the Second Vatican Council texts none could have wreaked greater devastation than #37 and #38 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
Number 37 includes the following:
Anything in these people’s way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error, she studies with sympathy, and, if possible, preserves intact. She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.
#38 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states:
Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman Rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in the mission countries.
Well, if we interpret Number 38 strictly, the Council cannot be used as a justification for the pagan church in Bangalore, the “substantial unity of the Roman Rite” has certainly not been preserved. Not only does the so-called church appear to be a Hindu temple, but the rites conducted within its precincts appear to be Hindu ceremonies. The most profound Catholic writer of this century was probably Christopher Dawson. Unfortunately, he never achieved the popularity of Chesterton, Belloc or Ronald Knox. Dawson observed that culture and religion tend to be synonymous. This is certainly true in India, where the national culture is inextricably bound up with the religion of the overwhelming mass of the people, Hinduism.
Take note of the NBCLC’s depiction of the crucified Jesus as, left, a Nataraja-like “dancing Jesus” and right, a saffron-robed “dancing Jesus” but this time superimposed on a stylized cross. (Nataraja is the dancing aspect of the Hindu deity Shiva, centre. It was installed in the NBCLC temple but was removed because of Hindu litigation against its presence in a Catholic “church”) There is no semblance to a crucifix in either picture.
Representations like these, in lieu of the Crucified Jesus, are becoming more and more popular:
The problem is not confined to the Indian Church; it appears to be universal:
No crucifix in my church
Catholic Answers forum, June 9, 2004
Q: I wrote to my new parish about why there was no crucifix either behind the altar on the wall of the sanctuary or on the processional cross. I received a response that the archbishop at the time had approved the plans and thank you for my concern. Also the deacon who responded quoted the GIRM:
The General Instructions of the Roman Missal #270, dated 1983, in print when this church was built states:
“There is also to be a cross, clearly visible to the congregation either on the altar or near it.”
Was I wrong to assume that there must be a crucifix, not just an empty cross or depiction of the Risen Christ, somewhere in the church?
A: You are correct. There must be a cross (with a corpus) on or near the altar. If the sanctuary cross was designed and built before January 11, 2002, then it does not require a figure of Christ crucified upon it. However, the use of the crucifix remains obligatory during Mass, “positioned either on the altar or near it, and . . . clearly visible to the people gathered there.” (GIRM 308). In the case where a crucifix is not in the sanctuary, the processional cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it would fulfill the obligation.
The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:
308. There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.
The document, Built on Living Stones, says:
§91 The cross with the image of Christ crucified is a reminder of Christ’s paschal mystery. It draws us into the mystery of suffering and makes tangible our belief that our suffering when united with the passion and death of Christ leads to redemption.113 There should be a crucifix “positioned either on the altar or near it, and . . . clearly visible to the people gathered there.”114 Since a crucifix placed on the altar and large enough to be seen by the congregation might well obstruct the view of the action taking place on the altar, other alternatives may be more appropriate. The crucifix may be suspended over the altar or affixed to the sanctuary wall. A processional cross of sufficient size, placed in a stand visible to the people following the entrance procession is another option. If the processional cross is to be used for this purpose, the size and weight of the cross should not preclude its being carried in procession. If there is already a cross in the sanctuary, the processional cross is placed out of view of the congregation following the procession.115
And, Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaem says,
“The use of the crucifix is obligatory during the celebration of Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in No. 308 requires the use of a “cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.”
This specific call for the use of the crucifix was probably inserted into the new GIRM to counter a movement which favored the use of simple bare crosses or even images of the risen Christ.
While such symbols may have a role in churches, they may not substitute the crucifix. Use of the crucifix during Mass serves as a reminder and a sign that the Eucharistic celebration is the same sacrifice as Calvary.
The Cross Vs. The Crucifix
Cross [contains no Corpus (body)] Crucifix [contains Corpus (body)]
In recent history, some persons in the Church have attempted to replace crucifixes with plain crosses. This is generally done to please – or avoid offending – those outside the Church (e.g. Protestants) who reject the image of Christ on the cross. Such persons may criticize the crucifix and argue that since Christ has risen, He should not be portrayed on a cross. They may also point to the early Christians who often drew simple crosses, rather than elaborate crucifixes. Sadly, such persons may have taken crucifixes from churches, hospitals, etc. and replaced them with plain crosses or “Resurrecifixes” (e.g. a cross behind an image of the Risen Jesus). In sum, these persons have chosen to discard the many benefits associated with crucifixes in order not to “offend” those outside the only true Church of Christ. [It should be noted that a “true crucifix” contains Christ Crucified – not a Risen Jesus. The risen Jesus was never on a cross. Also, it should be noted that a true representation of Christ Crucified – terribly bloody and expressing deep agony – may be too difficult for many to bear.]
While Catholics do not condemn a plain cross – it was our Catholic ancestors who drew the plain crosses indicated above – we also see the rich rewards which the use of a crucifix can bring. While we surely know there is a place for a plain cross, it is clear that a crucifix is truly irreplaceable and that it – rather than a plain cross – may be much more appropriate in various places. It is clear that those who attempt to replace the crucifix with a plain cross often do a great disservice to the faithful.
Catholics should be aware that the crucifix has many advantages, such as those indicated below.
Helps produce contrition for sins.
Helps us to adore Christ.
Reminds us of the seriousness of – and consequences of – sin.
Represents an historical reality – the most important reality in the history of the human race. An empty cross is not what saved us!
Helps us in Mass to focus on the Holy Sacrifice!
Comforts us in our sorrows.
Inspires us to bear suffering patiently.
Shows us the price Jesus paid for us.
Helps increase our gratitude towards Christ.
Teaches us about Christ’s Passion. It is sometimes called a “book”. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:2)
Is the model of true love. It doesn’t hide the reality that love is sometimes painful.
Sets us apart as Catholics.
“The crucifix is the sign of victory over the devil”. The demons are said to “tremble and flee” when they see a crucifix.
“We are told to be perfect and follow Christ – a crucifix is the best representation of how to do this.”
A crucifix is a “gospel in miniature” even for the illiterate and uneducated.
We are all expected to take up our cross – a crucifix is a reminder of what this entails.
We need the crucifix to remind us daily of many deep and important truths of our faith.
Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” (John 12:32) (Douay Rheims translation) Surely, this is best represented by the crucifix as there is no one on an empty cross.
The crucifix helps one to reflect on the actual sufferings of Jesus. It makes one more aware of the consequences of sin, and more grateful.
The crucifix clearly reminds us of the truth of Christ’s words in the Gospel of John: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
“We follow Christ on the cross in order to get to resurrected Christ. What good is it to follow a plain cross – a cross with no nail marks or blood? Remember that even when the Cross was ’empty’, Mary was in its shadow holding her crucified Son.”
“A plain cross has no blood and no nail holes – it has no trace of suffering – yet ‘[It was the] love of a suffering God that saved the world’ (Pope Pius XI)”. When a cross is plain, “we are deprived of seeing this truth…we are deprived of being reminded of how much God loves us and how He has proved his love…we are deprived from the comforts of seeing this and we may turn in towards ourselves rather than to our Crucified Lord.”
When one researches methods of crucifixion, one may find that evidence indicates that a ‘plain cross’ never actually stood upright (e.g. the body of the crucifixion victim was affixed prior to erection of the cross and was removed after the cross was lowered). Therefore, a plain cross standing erect would actually be an inaccurate portrayal of an historical event.
“We humans are forgetful and need to be reminded. We need to remember what our sins cost God and what we owe Him. We need to be reminded about how grateful we should be. As in court when one hears the arguings of the defendant, it is also necessary to balance this by seeing his victim.”
“Catholics don’t want to remove the Passion from our lives – in fact, we want it always in front of us – it is our glory! (cf. Gal. 6:14)”
“The crucifix is a reminder that it alone is the way of life that brings us ultimate happiness. It reminds us that we must practice self-denial and sacrifice in our own lives.”
“The crucifix serves as a reminder and helps to obtain true repentance for sins. We must learn to appreciate how much Jesus suffered physically due to our sins – He truly suffered beyond what we can imagine.”
At least one “Catholic” hospital has equipped its patients’ room with plain crosses. Sadly, the hospital is denying its patients what they need most at this time – a model of how to suffer, a reminder of the seriousness of sin, a bold proclamation of our faith… Who knows how much suffering will be wasted – and even how many souls may be lost – due to their desire not to “offend”.
“The Church is ‘in love with death’ (Benson) in a sense – it is the supreme goal of all peoples to die rightly.” Considering that “how one dies, that is how one remains forever” [or biblically: “If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place so ever it shall fall, there shall it be” (Eccl.11:3)] it is supremely important to prepare for a good death. And surely, “the way to prepare for a good death is to model our deaths upon the death of Jesus Christ” – so clearly illustrated by the crucifix.
As the Popes/Saints/etc. have said…
“Let the crucifix be not only in my eyes and on my breast, but in my heart.” (St. Bernadette Soubirous)
St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church, pointing to his crucifix: “This is the source of all my knowledge. I study only Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
“Let Him Who was fastened to the cross be security fastened to your hearts.” (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)
“You should carry the passion of God in your hearts, for it is man’s consolation in his last hour.” (St. Nicholas of Flue)
“Let us go to the foot of the Cross and there complain (of our sufferings) – if we have the courage.” (St. Madeleine Sophie Barat)
“Before the crucifix we feel true sorrow for sin and fixing our gaze on it we also feel the greatest comfort.” (St. Mary Joseph Rossello)
“Let us go often to the foot of the Cross…We shall learn there what God has done for us, and what we ought to do for him.” (St. John Vianney)
“Look at His adorable Face. Look at His glazed and sunken eyes. Look at His wounds. Look Jesus in the Face. There, you will see how He loves us.” (St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church)
“Certainly, you are not unaware of how much the path of love can cost. Christ Himself reminds you of it from atop the Cross.” (Pope John Paul II)
“O what inspiration there is in the Crucifix! Who could find it hard to persevere at the sight of a God who never commands us to do anything which he has not first practiced himself?” (St. John Vianney)
‘Take the holy crucifix in your hands, kiss its wounds with great love, and ask Him to preach you a sermon. Listen to what the thorns, the nails, and that Divine Blood say to you. Oh! What a sermon.” (St. Paul of the Cross)
“Never let your home be without a crucifix upon its walls, to the end that all who enter it may know that you are a disciple of a Crucified Lord, and that you are not ashamed to own it.” (St. John Vianney)
“You cannot better appreciate your worth than by looking into the mirror of the Cross of Christ; there you will learn how you are to deflate your pride, how you must mortify the desires of the flesh, how you are to pray to your Father for those who persecute you, and to commend your spirit into God’s hands.” (St. Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church)
“In that one and the same event, there is the sign of sin’s utter depravity and the seal of divine forgiveness. From that point on, no man can look upon a crucifix and say that sin is not serious, nor can he ever say that it cannot be forgiven. By the way He suffered, He revealed the reality of sin; by the way He bore it, He shows His mercy toward the sinner.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)
“Besides these incomparable blessings, we have also received another of the highest importance; namely, that in the Passion alone we have the most illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue. For He so displayed patience, humility, exalted charity, meekness, obedience and unshaken firmness of soul, not only in suffering for justice’ sake, but also in meeting death, that we may truly say on the day of His Passion alone, our Savior offered, in His own Person, a living exemplification of all the moral precepts inculcated during the entire time of His public ministry.” (Council of Trent)
“From what We have already explained, Venerable Brethren, it is perfectly clear how much modern writers are wanting in the genuine and true liturgical spirit who, deceived by the illusion of a higher mysticism, dare to assert that attention should be paid not to the historic Christ but to a ‘pneumatic’ or glorified Christ. They do not hesitate to assert that a change has taken place in the piety of the faithful by dethroning, as it were, Christ from His position; since they say that the glorified Christ, who liveth and reigneth forever and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, has been overshadowed and in His place has been substituted that Christ who lived on earth. For this reason, some have gone so far as to want to remove from the churches images of the divine Redeemer suffering on the cross. But these false statements are completely opposed to the solid doctrine handed down by tradition.” (Pope Pius XII, “Mediator Dei”, 1947)
“If every devout Israelite in contemplating Jerusalem saw only the Temple, then we must believe that Jesus, zealous as He was for His Father’s honor and ever prostrate in adoration before Him, gazed from His Cross at the house of His Father in a spirit of ardent worship, mingled with unspeakable sorrow. His Cross was situated to the west and His face was turned almost in exactly the same direction as the Temple, of which He thus saw only the back. Given the season of the year and the time of day, the shadow of the Cross would, if extended, have covered the sacred edifice and the altar beyond. These striking calculations may easily be verified on the spot; they are no fruit of the imagination. Fantasy on this subject would be out of place.” (Sertillanges) [Note: In other words, the very shadow that was projected onto the temple during the Passion was the Crucifix – not an empty cross.]
In closing, it should be noted that there are many advantages to crucifixes and that the Catholics should greatly treasure this precious image. A crucifix is instructive, truthful, comforting, and very beneficial to our spiritual lives. While not rejecting the plain cross, Catholics may sometimes argue that an empty cross – a cross with no signs of Christ’s suffering – is incomplete or “somewhat like a picture of a chair without a person in it.” Noting that “Protest-ants” don’t reject the image of a plain cross, but do protest against the image of Christ on the Cross, Catholics may be left wondering, why is that? Could it be that the empty Cross more accurately represents the religion they have created? “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25, emphasis added)
“Take the holy crucifix in your hands, kiss its wounds with great love, and ask Him to preach you a sermon. Listen to what the thorns, the nails, and that Divine Blood say to you. Oh! What a sermon.” (St. Paul of the Cross)
“When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2)
“Never let your home be without a crucifix upon its walls, to the end that all who enter it may know that you are a disciple of a Crucified Lord, and that you are not ashamed to own it.” (St. John Vianney)
Why Catholics have crucifix rather than cross
A question often posed by non-Catholics is, “Why do Catholics have a crucifix in your churches?” This is a very good question to ask! As Catholics, the crucifix plays a special role in the liturgical tradition of the Church. In most of our parish churches, the crucifix is given a place of honor and prominence, usually located centrally above the altar or tabernacle. When you walk through the doors of the church, the crucifix is one of the first things to grab your attention: The open arms of our Savior gladly welcomes and receives us into His Presence.
In many non-Catholic churches, a simple cross is often used to adorn the “altar” area. There is a growing trend in many churches not to have any type of religious Christian symbol visible on the interior or exterior of the church, especially the cross. So why is the crucifix (a cross which holds an image of the crucified or suffering Jesus) so important in our Catholic tradition? Why not a simple plain cross, as is the custom in other Christian traditions?
The Church requires that a crucifix be visible during the celebration of Mass to remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the cross, which is made present for us each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. A simple cross doesn’t have the same visual or spiritual impact. Many non-Catholics will state that “my Savior is risen” and that “having an image of the suffering Jesus on the cross takes away from the power of the Resurrection.” Catholics also believe that our Lord is risen, but we also need to be reminded of what Christ had to endure before the Resurrection could take place, namely his Passion and Death on the cross. The crucifix helps us better understand and appreciate our “theology of redemption.”
For some non-Catholics, the image of the crucifix is somewhat “offensive” and perhaps a source of “discomfort.” Spiritually speaking, the crucifix can help us better accept and live the words of Christ to “deny yourselves, take up your cross daily, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). When some type of suffering comes our way, the image of the crucifix can give us spiritual strength and inspiration. We know that the Crucifixion of Jesus is a one-time event that can never occur again in history. But it is an event which should never be forgotten. The image of the crucifix, whether it be placed in our homes, our churches, our schools, or our hospitals, makes sure that this sacrifice of our Lord for us is not forgotten. Sometimes key moments and events in history which can never be repeated are memorialized forever through a piece of artwork.
One such image which comes to mind is the Iwo Jima statue located on the outskirts of Washington DC. This beautiful and inspiring sculpture memorializes the courage and bravery of the Marines who fought so gallantly in this important battle of World War II. As Christians, when we gaze lovingly upon the image of our suffering Lord on the cross, we are reminded of the depth of Christ’s redeeming love for us. A plain cross just doesn’t have the same impact. The crucifix is a visual reminder of Christ’s battle over sin, a battle in which He is the Victor!
While Christ’s Death is memorialized forever in the image of the crucifix, we believe that our Risen Lord is with us, especially in His Sacramental Presence in the Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. As we gaze upon the crucifix, we see what Mary saw when she stood at the foot of the cross. What thoughts go through your mind when you look at the image of the crucifix? We know what Christ was thinking about when He hung upon the cross. He was thinking about us!
Rules for a crucifix at Mass
Catholic News Service, September 26, 2013
Over the years, I have visited a considerable number of Catholic churches, and most of them have a crucifix on the wall of the sanctuary behind the altar as well as one which is carried in the entrance procession when Mass is celebrated. Occasionally, though, I have been in a church that had no crucifix at all — neither on the wall of the sanctuary nor in the entrance procession.
What is the rule? Where should the crucifix be in a Catholic church? (And also, why do Protestant churches have only a bare cross, while Catholic churches show Christ’s body on the cross?)
A. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, a cross bearing the figure of Christ crucified should be affixed on or close to the altar in a Catholic church. (Usually it is mounted on a wall; rarely would it be placed on the altar table itself, lest it obstruct the congregation’s view of the Eucharistic sacrifice.)
One option permitted liturgically and used in some churches is to have a processional crucifix, which is carried into the sanctuary at the beginning of Mass and then placed near the altar. When Mass is not taking place, that cross remains in a stand near the altar as a reminder of the “saving passion of the Lord” (GIRM, 308).
As to your “cross vs. crucifix” question, the Catholic Church has always given preference to the crucifix because it sees the death of Christ as redemptive. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented, its merits applied to those who participate in the Mass, and the crucifix stands as a visible sign of what is taking place on the altar.
Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as Rome bureau chief for CNS and as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
2 readers’ comments
1. I was told that Protestant churches have a bare cross because they consider Christ’s resurrection to be more important than his crucifixion. (Anyone can be crucified, but only Christ can be resurrected).
2. Father did not answer the question about not having a crucifix. That is a liturgical abuse common at CINO parishes whose leaders do not accept the fullness of Catholic doctrine. When encountering this one has to bring it to the attention of the local ordinary.
Avoiding the crucifix
By Michael Pakaluk, Catholic Answers forum, Crisis
According to tradition St. Thomas Aquinas once asked St. Bonaventure how he had acquired the deep theological wisdom he displayed in his writings. St. Bonaventure pointed to a crucifix and said that he had learned all he knew from contemplating it.
If there are any prayerful Catholics in our pews with St. Bonaventure’s talents or dispositions, they are going to be deprived, for it is nearly impossible to find a crucifix in a Catholic Church in the United States. This became quite clear to me when I visited Mexico. The large crucifixes there, suspended over the main altar, set up in side chapels, or even placed at the entrances to churches, so that the faithful can piously kiss the bloodied feet of Christ, are powerfully realistic. They possess a photographic vividness. A friend of mine was deeply affected by one such crucifix in the Church of Santo Domingo in Mexico City: “You can see that they tortured Him,” he said.
In our land of comfort and theological shallowness, where death is an unmentionable, we have “Risen Christs.”
These, of course, are not crucifixes at all. “Crucifix” means “affixed to a cross.” The “Risen Christs” float on air in front of crosses. They are not realistic so much as surrealistic. When He was on the cross, Jesus hung, when He was on the ground, he stood. He never floated. What specific event in the life of Jesus does the “Risen Christ” represent? After Jesus rose from the dead, He left the cross behind Him – He didn’t hover about it. The “Risen Christ” is a religious image a Docetist might invent, not calculated to inspire reflection on the “theology of the body.” Those who believe in flesh and blood and the resurrection of the body cannot be satisfied with it.
Does anyone know the meaning of the “Risen Christ”? Has anyone explained its significance to you? Probably not. Perhaps you, like me, pretend – or, rather, hope – that it is a crucifix. Perhaps you also supply the details in your mind and continue to think of the “Risen Christ” as a kind of polite crucifixion. But what does it represent?
One problem is that what it represents can be said in one sentence: “Christ reigned on the cross.” It is an image which aims to state a proposition, and it says no more than that. It appeals to the head, not the heart: no one could possibly be moved to tears of pity by contemplating it. It is a one-dimensional, man-made sign; the crucifix, in contrast, is God’s sign, ordained by Him as the image of His love for us. It represents not a proposition but a mystery that a million Bonaventures could not exhaust.
Another problem is that the “Risen Christ” simply cannot express well what it intends to say. The reign of Christ on the cross was in reality a bloody crucifixion. The best way to express that reality would be to hold up a crucifix. For Christ reigned in suffering; it is not that His suffering was one thing and His reign another. The “Risen Christ” suggests wrongly that, while the body of Christ was suffering, the soul of Christ was confidently triumphant. We would do better to apply here a saying of Wittgenstein: the best image of the human soul is the human body. That applies to Christ on the cross above all.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Jesus was referring to the time when God punished the Israelites with a plague of serpents. To heal them, God instructed Moses to put a bronze serpent on a staff and set it up among the people so that “everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). It would have been foolish, of course, for Moses to depart from God’s instructions and make a symbol more to his liking; how much more foolish, then, are we for tinkering with that image which the serpent on the staff merely foreshadowed.
There is no point at all in trying to pretty up a crucifixion. Take death by electrocution to be a modern analogue: it would be absurd to hang electric chairs in our churches, but have happy and serene figures sitting in them. The cross was an instrument of torture. If we are scandalized by that, what keeps us from pursuing the logic of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who say that to venerate the Cross is as perverse as venerating the murder weapon that killed a dear relative? Do we have secret sympathy with that point of view because we imagine that the Cross was a mistake or an accident?
Perhaps having supposed that the elimination of suffering is the aim of life and of morality, we are confused by the suggestion that Christ desires to suffer, that His purpose in life was to die for us. That Jesus loves us is a consoling thought, but that He loves us that much disturbs as well as consoles. A God Who gives that much might in fact ask that much. Catholicism without crucifixes is so much tamer.
Why is our timing so bad with these misguided reforms? Surely we need to be reminded more than any generation that Christ is crucified anew among us. Do we recoil from the crucifix the way our society recoils from pictures of aborted children? Violent crime surrounds us and stalks us, yet we remove what can be our only solace – the murdered God. Can there be some correlation, strangely, between the absence of violence in our crucifixes and the presence of violence in our society? No culture since the Romans has found the murder and slaughter of fellow human beings as entertaining as we.
We should take our clue from the early Christians: while their pagan countrymen in the coliseum watched thousands of murders for entertainment, they in their catacombs meditated on a single murder as worship. It is necessary for us to sanctify violence, so to speak, by dwelling on it only under the right conditions. The crucifix is the proper instrument through which to view it. Certainly no one who meditates on the suffering of all of humanity in the person of Christ can then flippantly watch violence for pleasure.
To be sure, canon law requires only that a cross be present at the Mass. (Webmaster’s note: Canon law says nothing on this topic. The actual law may be read at http://www.catholicliturgy.com/law/crucifix.shtml).
But a church should be used by the faithful for prayer as well as Mass, and often the choice of the legal minimum is not the best choice. It is even sometimes the case (as in the Reformation) that a choice for the cross alone implies a choice against the crucifix.
We should put the crucifixes back. Whatever the reason they were removed from the churches after the Council, it was a mistake. Our friends around us – we can see this clearly – are suffering dearly from their abortions, divorces, loneliness, drug abuse, and materialism. The superficial trendiness of bourgeois Catholicism won’t draw them into our churches, but we can hope that prayer before the wounds of Christ will.
Michael Pakaluk, assistant professor of philosophy at Clark University, is the editor of Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship (Hackett).
Crucifix, Requirement to Use
The Catholic Liturgical Library
Q. Is a crucifix with the figure of the crucified Lord required at all Masses? Can it be replaced by a crucifix with the risen Lord on it?
Can a plain cross be used in place of a crucifix on Good Friday?
A. According to the Book of Blessings, n. 1235 “The image of the cross should preferably be a crucifix, that is, have the corpus attached, especially in the case of a cross that is erected in a place of honor inside a church.”
According to the General Instruction, n. 79 “There is also to be a cross on or near the altar. The candles and cross may be carried in the entrance procession.” The Ceremonial of Bishops comments that the image on the cross is to face forward. (n. 128) In the Latin version, which is the authoritative version, “cross” is “crux” meaning a crucifix. This has always meant a crucifix. The same word is used in documents before and after the Second Vatican Council. Had a new interpretation of this word been intended, mention would have been made somewhere.
A risen Christ crucifix is an oxymoron and does not fulfill the requirement for a crucifix since a risen Christ is not a crucified Christ. There is nothing wrong with having an image of a risen Christ or a plain cross elsewhere in the Church or even behind the altar as long as during Mass a crucifix is “on or near the altar.”
On Good Friday, the primary focus of the entire Church is on the crucifixion. On this day, more than any other, the practice of venerating the crucifix should be encouraged. I can think of no logical argument to use a plain cross instead of a crucifix. This matter was discussed with Mr. Dennis McManus, Associate Director of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy and he could not think of any rational to replace the crucifix with a risen Christ.
Some Traditionalists are condemnatory of even what they derogatorily call the “bent crucifix crozier” or “broken cross” used by recent Popes, commencing with Pope Paul VI and maintained by Popes John Paul I and II, erroneously claiming that it is the “Satanic symbol of anti-Christ”.
According to them, Pope Benedict XVI began his pontificate using the “bent crucifix crozier” but later began to use the “traditional cross crozier”, while Pope Francis began with the “traditional cross crozier” but switched within a week of his installation to using the “bent crucifix crozier”.
There are other variations of the aberration. See
DISTORTED CRUCIFIX TO BE INSTALLED AT ST MARYS CHURCH DUBAI-01
25 NOVEMBER/5 DECEMBER 2013
DISTORTED CRUCIFIX INSTALLED AT ST MARYS CHURCH DUBAI-02
28 OCTOBER/10 NOVEMBER 2014
DISTORTED CRUCIFIX LITURGICAL ABUSES AT ST MARYS DUBAI-PRAKASH LASRADOS FALSE CLAIMS EXPOSED
10/12/13 NOVEMBER 2014
The Resurrected Christ is superimposed on a cross on the high altar of the Cathedral Basilica National Shrine of St. Thomas in the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore. However, towards the side and adjacent to the free-standing altar, there is an equally large CRUCIFIX. Also, ON the free-standing altar a foot-high brass cross (not crucifix) is placed at its centre. I suppose that the requirements of the GIRM are met by the tall crucifix.