Our March Bulletin contained a number of frequently asked question surrounding the Sacred Triduum, one of which asked whether “a cross or crucifix to be used for adoration on Good Friday?” (Adoremus Bulletin, March 2021, Volume XXVI, No. 6). Before examining many of the relevant details, our response claimed that “The answer to this question is unclear, either from the documents, from history, or from recent practice.”
We have received a number of thoughtful responses to our answer in the meantime, two of which are printed here for your consideration.
The Crux of the Matter for Good Friday
With all due respect, whoever wrote the answer to “Is a cross or crucifix to be used for adoration on Good Friday?” should have done some additional research.
The answer starts with, “The answer to this question is unclear, either from the documents, from history, or from recent practice.”
I believe the answer is quite clear if one refers to the Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings, Chapter 35: Order for the Blessing of a New Cross for Public Veneration.
In the Introduction, Paragraph 1234 says, “On Good Friday the cross is presented to the faithful for their adoration and on the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, 14 September, it is honored as the symbol of Christ’s victory and the tree of life. But the cross also is the sign under which the people gather whenever they come to church, and in the homes of the baptized it holds a place of honor. When the times and local conditions permit, the faithful erect a cross in public place as an attestation of their faith and as a reminder of the love with which God has loved us.”
The following paragraph, 1235, says, “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.”
Now, granted that Paragraph 1238 mentions that this particular blessing (in Chapter 35) is meant only for the solemn blessing of a cross erected in a public place (such as in a cemetery, grotto, indoor or outdoor chapel or shrine, etc.) or the principal cross that occupies the central place in the body of the church (such as one above or behind the main altar installed after the church has been dedicated or blessed), I believe that the above paragraphs, 1234 and 1235 (I italicized the pertinent parts) refer to crosses generally since it mentions crosses not only in churches but in homes as well.
Chapter 44: Order for the Blessing of Religious Articles would be used for the blessing of small crucifixes such as those people put in their homes in a prominent place—above the front door, over the beds, in a “prayer corner,” etc.—and those that they wear.
So, bottom line: in my humble opinion, the Good Friday cross should be a crucifix!
—Timothy Suspanic, Pine Mountain, GA
Good Friday Adoration—by the Books
Lacking an authoritative interpretation, it should be conceded that the 2011 Roman Missal provides leeway for the use of a bare cross—it could have specified that the cross have a corpus upon it, but unlike the 1962 Missale Romanum it fails to do so. The initial rubric of the Adoration of the Cross, for instance, states simply: “Then, accompanied by two ministers with lighted candles, the Priest or the Deacon carries the Cross to the entrance of the sanctuary or to another suitable place and there puts it down or hands it over to the ministers to hold. Candles are placed on the right and left sides of the Cross.”1
Nonetheless, the Roman Church has not traditionally deployed a specific word for a cross-with-a-corpus as we, in English, use the term “crucifix.” Instead, the word crux, which is correctly translated as “cross,” is what is, in the vast majority of rubrical occurrences, used to refer to the crucifix employed in the rites. Unsurprisingly, then, other places in the Missal imply the presence of a corpus upon the cross. For instance, rubric 21 of Good Friday indicates that: “When the adoration has been concluded, the Cross is carried by the Deacon or a minister to its place at the altar. Lighted candles are placed around or on the altar or near the Cross.”
That Cross has originated in the sacristy (First Form) or entryway (Second Form) and, while perhaps held near the altar (First Form), it is certainly not yet set down near it. So how could we know its proper place “at the altar” when we’ve not been told anything about that place? Presumably, because it is taking the same “place” of the cross required during Mass, which the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) requires to have a corpus: “Likewise, on the altar or close to it, there is to be a cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified. The candles and the cross with the figure of Christ crucified may also be carried in the procession at the Entrance.”2 Much like the “cross, with the figure of Christ crucified” of which the GIRM states: “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.”3
Since there should be only one cross at the altar,4 we can infer that the cross adored on Good Friday should also have a corpus. Precisely because the Missal does not use the word “crucifix” but instead specifies the nature of its required cross as having “the figure of Christ crucified upon it,” we find that the cross-with-the-Crucified of GIRM 122 is referred to simply as a “cross” in the following paragraph: “The Priest goes up to the altar and venerates it with a kiss. Then, if appropriate, he incenses the cross and the altar, walking around the latter.”5
GIRM 188 likewise omits explicit reference to the corpus on the processional cross specified by an earlier paragraph of the GIRM: “In the procession to the altar, the acolyte may carry the cross, walking between two ministers with lighted candles. Upon reaching the altar, however, the acolyte places the cross upright near the altar so that it may serve as the altar cross; otherwise, he puts it away in a dignified place.”6
All told, the citations provided here after a quick search of the Missal reveal a total of three paragraphs requiring a cross “with the figure of Christ crucified” (GIRM 117, 122, 308), while those three paragraphs determine the meaning of a further 19 paragraphs or rubrics in the GIRM and Order of Mass.7 Consequently, it is not at all out of character for the Missal to make mention of a cross when it intends to indicate what English speakers would refer to more precisely as a crucifix. The convention of the Latin editions of the Missal and other Roman liturgical books, past and present, is to use “Crucifixus” and its various declined forms to refer to the image of “the Crucified One,” and to refer to “the cross” on which that image is placed simply as the “crux.”
Thus the 1886 edition of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum describes the incensation of the altar cross,8 three chapters before informing the reader that the altar cross, not only on the main altar but also any other altars in the church, must more specifically be a cross with an image of the Crucified.9 In a similar way, the Missale Romanum of 1920 mentions in its general rubrics only the need for a “cross” in the middle of the altar,10 yet mentions the presence of an image of the Crucified as a matter of course when defining the direction of the celebrant’s initial bow at the outset of the Ritus servandus.11 Although the 1962 Missale eliminated the ambiguity by specifying the need for an image in the general rubrics themselves,12 we have already seen that the current Roman Missal has returned to the practice of delaying mention of a corpus until well past the first reference to a cross.13
The rubrics for Good Friday do not present an exception to this customary language. The 1886 Caeremoniale, between introductory summary and actual numbered paragraphs, refers to the cross used for adoration as a crux seven times14 before finally mentioning, at the second stage of unveiling, that the bishop uncovers “the right arm of the cross and the head of figure of the Crucified.” 15 It reverts to crux throughout unless speaking specifically of the image. The 1920 Missale, for its part, does not mention the image of the crucified, but its concordance with the Caeremoniale is clear from the fact that both expect the cross to have begun the liturgy on the altar,16 to return to the altar after the Adoration of the Cross,17 and to be incensed as the altar cross in the customary fashion later in the rite.18
The 1955 reform of Holy Week called for the cross to be brought from the sacristy rather than beginning the liturgy on the altar, so it makes sense that the 1962 Missale would specify the need for a corpus on that cross rather than trust that the use of the altar cross will naturally fulfill this requirement.19
Nonetheless, it then follows standard form in referring to the cross (rather than a crucifix) 11 more times before specifying that the right arm to be uncovered during the showing of the cross is not merely that of the cross but of the Crucified.20 Having seen how the current Missal continues the tradition of using cross to mean crucifix, it is hard to see why, given the suggestions of a crucifix already present in its Good Friday rubrics, we should not resolve the ambiguity through recourse to the traditional practice of the Roman Rite.21
In fact, this is precisely what the Roman Pontiffs have done in their own Celebrations of the Passion of the Lord. Thus, while the option for a plain cross in the modern liturgy cannot be ruled out authoritatively, the weight of tradition and parallel places quite strongly suggests that the faithful ought to adore a crucifix on Good Friday.
—Aaron Sanders, PhD, Grand Rapids, MI
Image Source: AB/Archdiocese of Boston on Flickr
- Roman Missal, Good Friday 17.
- GIRM 117; cf. GIRM 308.
- GIRM 308.
- Ibid., 122: “The cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified, and carried in procession, may be placed next to the altar to serve as the altar cross, in which case it must be the only cross used; otherwise it is put away in a dignified place.”
- Ibid., 123. Cf. other incensations of the cross at GIRM 49, 75, 144, 173, 178, 190, 211, 276, 277; Order of Mass 1, 27.
- That is, specified by GIRM 122. In addition to the mention of GIRM 188, GIRM 119, 120, 274, and 350 refer to the processional cross without mentioning its corpus.
- GIRM 49, 75, 100, 119, 120, 123, 144, 173, 178, 188, 190, 211, 274, 276, 277, 297, 350; Order of Mass 1, 27.
- I.9.5: crux altaris.
- I.12.11; I.12.16: cum imagine [Sanctissimi] Crucifixi.
- 1920 Rubricae generales XX: Super Altare collocetur Crux in medio.
- 1920 Ritus servandus II.2: Cum pervenerit ad Altare, stans ante illius infimum gradum, caput detegit, biretum ministro porrigit, et Altari, seu imagini Crucifixi desuper positæ, profunde se inclinat.
- 1962 Rubricae generales 527.
- GIRM 49 and 75 both refer to the incensation of the altar cross, and GIRM 100 to the processional cross, merely as “the cross” before the GIRM makes any explicit mention of “a figure of Christ crucified” (GIRM 117).
- 1886 Caeremoniale Episcoporum II.15.
- 1886 Caeremoniale II.15.23: brachium dexterum crucis, et caput figurae Crucifixi.
- 1886 Caeremoniale Episcoporum II.15.2 and 23; 1920 Missale Romanum, Good Friday [rubrics are not numbered in this edition]: Sacerdos deposita casual accedit ad cornu Epistolae, et ibi in posteriori parte anguli Altaris accipit a Diacono Crucem jam in Altari præparatam.
- 1886 Caeremoniale II.15.28; 1920 Missale: et finita adoratione, Crucem reverenter accipit, et reportat ad Altare.
- Ibid., II.15.33; 1920 Missale: deinde imponit incensum in thuribulo absque benedictione, et incensat Oblata, Crucem et Altare more solito, genuflectens ante et post, et quandocumque transit ante Sacramentum.
- 1962 Missale Romanum, Good Friday 14.
- Ibid., Good Friday 16.
- As we would to clarify the gestures and postures expected of clergy and faithful per GIRM 42.