QUAERITUR: Good Friday – plain Cross or Crucifix

From a reader:

I need some help.  For years I remember my parish using a beautiful Crucifix for Veneration on Good Friday (nearly 6 ft. tall and everything).  I am now Liturgist there, working alongside a … pastor who insists on using a plain Cross since the title is "Veneration of the Cross" and not of the "Crucifix."  He cites the Latin as being "Lignum Crucis" which is of course correct, but it makes no sense to me to use a bare cross on Good Friday.

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.

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  1. Jayna says:

    I was wondering about that last year in my parish. They used a bare cross. Though it was unsurprising, given that the church doesn’t have a crucifix in the sanctuary anyhow.

  2. xathar says:

    Built of Living Stones, #83, has a different interpretation: “During the veneration of the cross, either a plain cross or a crucifix may be used/”

  3. Mary W says:

    Janyna, it appears that we have the same kind of pastor. Bare cross venerated on Good Friday and no crucifix in the sanctuary.

  4. Ger says:

    The Book of Blessings describes a cross intended for public veneration as “preferably” having a Corpus.
    I don’t think any document with greater authority contradicts this.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  5. Thomas Burk says:

    Sort of reminds me of a story. A Catholic friend and I were walking through the Newark Airport one day, and passed a group of nuns. He muttered something about “protestant nuns”. I asked how he knew, and he said, “No Corpus on their crosses.”

  6. mfg says:

    This is so new Church, so ‘spirit of Vat 2’, so Protestant. Everything traditional must be sanitized or swept away. [This is a little over the top. Using a bare Cross could be an honest mistake rather than a dastardly betrayal of Catholicism.] Why would you venerate two pieces of wood placed at right angles to each other? For Catholics Good Friday signifies the broken, limp, Precious Body of our Saviour nailed to the tree (check out Websters Archaic) where our sins so ignominiously placed Him. The Crucifixion is the central moment in salvation history when Christ paid the price to His Father for all of us, which we memorialize on Good Friday Look at the picture of the Holy Father. Follow him! It’s the Crucifix, people. mfg

  7. Geoffrey says:

    How interesting! Many places probably use a bare cross because of the mis-translation of “crux”. I always thought it could be either a cross or a crucifix, since I have seen both… at one liturgy!

  8. Dave N. says:

    My suggestion would be to go back and consider Egeria on the topic. [That approach would draw you into the trap of a “false archeologizing”.] Our devotional practice is in imitation of what happened in Jerusalem since the time of St. Helena: veneration of the True Cross on Good Friday. Obviously no corpus there. [This the Roman Rite we are talking about, not 4th c. Jerusalem.]

  9. Irenaeus says:

    I want to meditate on the face of Christ when I pray the Mass…. not an empty cross. But that is just me.

  10. trespinos says:

    Another case where hearkening back to earliest Church practice deprives present day faithful of what the sensus fidelium has brought forward: veneration of the crucifix which tends to a deeper meditation on and involvement in the Paschal mystery.

    In the early nineties, as Good Friday approached, I was a visitor at a parish where the bulletin featured a pseudo-wise liturgical explanation of why the Church desired only a bare cross to be used, rather than a crucifix. Besides the historical reason alluded to, there was the statement that (ignorant) pre-VII congregations had focused too much on the suffering Christ, engendering a morbid spirit which depressed people and made their faith fear-filled. The piece carried no signature, so I don’t know if it was written by the pastor or a liturgist in his employ. Regardless, I wrote him a note telling him I couldn’t square what was written with the experience of countless saints down through the centuries, for whom the crucifix was not a symbol of sad fear, but of unspeakable love for all of us sinners. I’m happy to see a crucifix used in my own parish.

  11. Fr Ray Blake says:

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

    Father, if a relic of the True Cross is available, should that be used? [I read in one place that if the reliquary is of a significant size and in the shape of the Cross, and the relic can be seen, then it can be used. That said, I think that in most cases the Crucifix ought to be used, as the rite indicates.]

  12. 14 09 07 says:

    This entry is worth its weight in gold.
    I tried to get my local N.O. pastor to understand this last year, but I was not a WDTPRS follower in illo tempore.

    The result was that the lay people who run that parish called the shots, and they continue to use a bare cross. I e-mailed this to the pastor yesterday but doubt that the e-mail will even be given consideration.

    We can only pray. I don’t think that the pastor is a bad man, but the parish committee(s) appear to have the upper hand. This priest’s library is filled with liberal spin on Vatican II tomes from questionable theologians. The poor fellow probably did not receive a proper formation (he was ordained in 1992).

    We have been steadily attending a TLM for about 9 months. I needed to bring my family (especially my young children) to saftey. Every time I went to mass at this parish, I came home steamed due to the liturgical abuses and happy, clappy music. Now we have proper catechesis, we’re with people of like mind and we’re grateful to have found orthodoxy.

    Thank you Fr. Z for your valuable work.

  13. AM says:


    In my parish(es) I have always heard this “we are venerating the wood of the Cross itself so – no Crucifix” and I always accepted that that was traditional. Silly me.

    Having just looked it up I see some interesting things:
    (a) in the pre-1955 rubric it says “Sacerdos… accipit a Diacono Crucem jam in Altari præparatam”, with no hint as to the Corpus. [Of course. First, a crux is, in this context, Crucifix. Second, it was inconceivable that it would not be a Crucifix.]

    OK, but then (b) in the rewritten 1962 rubrics we’ve “Adhibeatur Crux satis magna, cum Crucifixo, velo violaceo obtecto”. Which could hardly be clearer. It suggests that for whatever reason there was already a need to insist on the Corpus. Hmm, perhaps this no-corpus idea is a couple generations old already. (It also answers Fr. Blake’s question, perhaps, because a relic of the true Cross wouldn’t be satis magna all by itself.)

    Then c) in the OF rubric, rewritten again, it says as we know “Diaconus … affert Crucem, velo violaceo obtectam. … Sacerdos, stans ante altare versus ad populum, Crucem accipit”. Which obviously has some verbal similarity with (b), but in my opinion suggests that the OF envisages the absence of the Corpus: the Curcifixus obtectus has become the Crux obtecta.

    My 2c.

  14. Fr Paul McDonald says:

    Since the Vatican presumably has relics of the True Cross, and yet uses a crucifix on Good Friday for the veneration, I think there’s our answer.

  15. xathar says:

    Ultimately, I wouldn’t go on the carpet for this. While I agree with Fr. Z’s post, the fact is, the Book of Blessings and Built of Living Stones allow for a cross to be used, rather than a crucifix. [Built of Living Stones has various errors of translation, most notoriously their use of GIRM 299. Also, has it not been superceeded? And the Book of Blessings should simply be ash-canned, even though in its Latin form, it is an official book. It does not describe what is done during Holy Week. ] These statements may be an incorrect translation of “crux”, but, nevertheless, the rule is “on the books.” Anyone who wants to have a cross, as opposed to a crucifx, could legitimately appeal to these documents.

  16. Paul Haley says:

    This is so absurd! The cross would have little meaning were it not the instrument of Our Lord’s death, having been the bearer of His Body, Blood, sweat, tears and bodily fluids and in some cases saturated with all those fluids ingrained in the wood of the cross. Egads, people, get real – the crucifix is what we venerate not just a wooden cross. Having made crucifixes myself, the impact of the crucifixion is undeniably etched in my psyche and I find this subject extremely depressing – i.e., venerate the wood but not the crucifix.

  17. ustalumnus says:

    “This is the WOOD of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world.”
    ‘Come, let us worship.”
    – Sacramentary: The Good Friday Veneration of the Cross

  18. Sid Cundiff says:

    Fr. Z.,

    Thanks for this clarification! I’ve seen this frequently abused. Another telltale sign to distinguish Liberal and “confused by liberals” parishes from authentic and traditionalist parishes. [I don’t think it is fair to press it that far. It could simply be a well-meaning mistake.] Put out again your clarification about confessions on Holy Saturday!

  19. John316 says:

    like sand in the Holy Water font… sigh

  20. ustalumnus says:

    xathar: “Egads, people, get real – the crucifix is what we venerate not just a wooden cross.”

    Uh, no… There is a difference between a Cross and a Crucifix. It is called it is called “Veneration of the Cross” in the Sacramentary.

    We venerate the saints, we venerate Mary. We do not venerate Jesus, we worship Him. We venerate the Wood of the Cross.

  21. It’s not Protestant at all to just use the cross. I refer you to this detailed article in the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04517a.htm). “It is certain, then, that the custom of displaying the Redeemer on the Cross began with the close of the sixth century, especially on encolpia, yet such examples of the crucifix are rare.” It goes on to point out that it wasn’t until the 13th century that the way we typically portray the crucifix was reached.

    The Cross in itself is a symbol of Christ for us–has been since very early on in our history and traditions. I urge you not to denigrate its value. We do not sign ourselves with the sign of the corpus but that of the Cross.

    That said, I do *personally* prefer our current representation of the crucifix for all the reasons it was created and because it does stand as a symbol of Catholic identity.

    As a convert (of almost 8 years now), the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday is still somewhat uncomfortable for me. In every parish I’ve gone to, they use a plain cross (I’ve been in many/moved a lot–probly at least six). I think I would feel more comfortable with a crucifix, i.e., venerating a more realistic symbol of our Lord and God. But I think that’s personal–not something I’d try to set up as an objectively better thing…

  22. TP says:


    from the Readings of the documents given here. A crucifix would be very appropriate if not preferred, however there does seem to be an option given. If there is a legitimate option given, we should not criticize those who use that option.


  23. AM says:

    Father, if it’s [I said “was”, not “is”.]inconceivable that the Crux would not be a Crucifix, why do you think the current e.f. rubrics specify a Crucifix? [Because a rupture in the Church’s liturgical tradition has occurred.]

  24. Liam says:

    Built of Living Stones is current; it replaced the unlamented Environment and Art in Catholic Worship in 2000, when the Latin Bishops of the USA approved it. [Right… of course. And it is an improvement, though still deficient in many ways.]

  25. I admit that in my earlier incarnation I used a bare cross. Now, however, I repent of it.

  26. Supertradmom says:

    The University of Notre Dame has a relic of the True Cross in a cross. I would be interested to know if it is still being used on Good Friday, as it once was. However, when I was there, because of the crowd of people in the Basilica, several crucifixes were used at various “stations”.

  27. Dennis Martin says:

    I think it only fair to acknowledge that we are venerating the wood of the cross on Good Friday, the wood itself. But that by no means means that it ought to lack the Corpus. Veneration of the Wood itself is an ancient, ancient tradition with deep theological significance. The “dulce Lignum” language of the Crux fidelis hymn and the very prayers of the Adoration liturgy (upon which hung our Savior) make both points clear: this one time in the church year we are venerating the wood but we venerate it solely, only, because of Him who hung upon it. The Corpus is needed to give the wood itself its deep significance.

    The Dream of the Rood also makes this clear. The poem is about the wood itself but the wood’s significance rests on the courageous Warrior who boldly climbed upon it to save the world. The wood, personified with free will, has the God-given task of carrying out an evil act–the murder of the Son, the Savior. The wood “dare not bend or break,” even though, had it done so, it could have crushed those who were killing the Son.

    Obviously the wood does not have free will and had no real choice but to be used by men who did have free will. Yet because this mere wood was badly used by evil “foes,” God in His freedom brought salvation out of an unjust act. It’s a great mystery that God’s inanimate creatures also play a role in the drama of salvation (as exemplified also by the earthquake and eclipse etc. at the hour of His death). The Dream of the Rood and the Crux Fidelis hymn are making this point.

    The Corpus needs to be on the Wood in order for the Wood itself to be venerated. Please, in our zeal to insist on the Corpus, let’s not lose sight of the marvelous way Sacred Tradition has recognized how all of God’s creatures are implicated in the drama of our salvation (includin the bees in the Exultet).

  28. Dennis Martin says:

    One other point, more tentatively. The Good Friday liturgy has the deacon calling “venite adoremus.” Normally adoro is reserved to honoring divinity, is it not? That would imply that we are adoring Christ on the Cross but also, at the same time, venerating the very wood upon which He was crucified, as the Crus fidelis and the “ecce lignum crucis, in quo perpendit salus mundi” make clear. If it was merely adoration of Christ on the cross, then there’d be no need for “ecce lignum” but if it were merely the wood of the cross, minus the Corpus, there’d be no need for the “venite adoremus”????

    Am I mistaken in my interpretation?

  29. Dennis Martin says:

    Sorry, celebrant, not the deacon, calling “venite adoremus” Had the Exultet still in my head.

  30. Hermeneutic says:

    several crucifixes were used at various “stations”.

    I have seen this before as well, and I.M.H.O. believe this to be in bad taste. Our Lord suffered and died for 3 agonizing hours on the cross for our sins and we can’t be inconvenienced by waiting in a long line to venerate the crucifix ?

    This is a pet peeve, as is some parishes that let people sit down during the reading of the passion (i.e. where this is the norm, I am not speaking of elderly or infirm people sitting because they can’t stand)

  31. Irish says:

    Before the traditional Good Friday services became available, we would go to a NO parish. The veneration changed over the course of 10 plus years, from hand-held crucifixes available at the front of every aisle, to a very large planed, bare cross in the center aisle, to the parish’s Christmas tree cut in half, denuded of branches and made into a “cross.” At that point, I carried a rosary and kissed the crucifix rather than the tree.

    I was reminded of this devolution during the Crucifixion scene in The Passion of the Christ. When the Blessed Mother is allowed to approach the foot of the cross, she kisses the feet of her Son in veneration.

  32. Sacerdos ignotus says:

    Dennis Martin – I am glad to see someone talking sense here! Of course we venerate the wood of the cross on Good Friday, not the plaster/metal/whatever Corpus. Over time the Corpus has become traditional, and an essential reminder of what happened on the Cross – so let’s retain the custom! But let’s also be clear that the focus is on the wood of the Cross, as an exceptional sacramental of the dead and risen Christ. It says ‘Christ’ even louder than the plaster/metal Corpus.

    There is an analogy with the Stations of the Cross. Most people think that the stations consist in the 14 images, but that is quite wrong. The essence of the Stations is 14 wooden crosses (not crucifixes!), the images being there just as an aid to prayer, and sometimes not being there at all.

    And of course the multitude of small crosses on Good Friday is abhorrent, but there are worse liturgical sins, I suppose.

  33. Jayna says:

    Mary W: Jayna, it appears that we have the same kind of pastor. Bare cross venerated on Good Friday and no crucifix in the sanctuary.

    In his defense, it was the former pastor that put the Risen Christ statue in the place of what I believe was a bare cross that had been there before (I didn’t start attending Mass at that parish until about 2 years ago). Apparently the statue was donated in honor of someone’s son who had died, so there are some political reasons for not removing it. (When are there not political reasons for doing or not doing something in any given parish?) As to the bare cross, I have no idea if that is his doing. Most of the time I think he may just be giving in to what he perceives to be the dominant ideology in the parish.

    Unfortunately there’s really nothing I can do in the face of the apathy of the majority of the parish and the stubborn opposition by those who make those kinds of decisions.

  34. James says:

    I’m not sure I agree with you Father. We adore the CROSS because it is an instrument of the salvation brought to us by the Passion of Christ. “Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” One must be careful that we don’t overtly turn this act of reverence into something it is not intended to be. It is very fitting to adore the crucified body of our Lord, but is this what this action at the Good Friday liturgy is calling us to do? I don’t think it is. Humbly…..I submit to thee….

  35. The University of Notre Dame has a relic of the True Cross in a cross. I would be interested to know if it is still being used on Good Friday, as it once was.

    I believe the University President will instead be leading everyone in veneration of Barack Obama this year.

  36. Ann says:

    From the mouths of babes: When I was a child, I wore a crucifix to school and this caused a major scandal amoung my playmates. It was an absolute in all their minds that Catholics wore a crucifix and protestants wore a plain cross and as I was protestant at the time I was causing quite a scandal by wearing a crucifix.

    I think it is interesting that in all the years between that elementary school reasoning and today, that so many can argue about cross vs crucifix, and choose to ditch a crucifix in favor of a plain cross. Adult certainly complicate things.

    I still think the children had it right that a crucifix is something traditional to Catholics.

  37. Maureen says:

    I certainly don’t have anything against venerating a crucifix on the day. I just have never seen anything but a bare wood cross being venerated, and I’m 38. My home parish was not all that progressive in my childhood, either.

    Very interesting point about “adore”. I’ve wondered about that, ever since I found out what it really meant.

  38. In my present parish, a great big plain cross is used. In my home parish of my childhood, we’d go up and kiss the feet of a crucifix (somewhat smaller than the one the Pope is holding in the picture, but not tiny).

    Sort of reminds me of a story. A Catholic friend and I were walking through the Newark Airport one day, and passed a group of nuns. He muttered something about “protestant nuns”. I asked how he knew, and he said, “No Corpus on their crosses.”

    The black and white Dominican cross is without a corpus. It is not Protestant.

  39. TJ says:

    Hmmm . . . this surely isn’t what I was taught in graudate school or in any of my studies for liturgical history. I am curious to find some documents that support this from the 7th and 8th centuries. Can you please help with that?

  40. At the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua (Italy) we have a wonderful reliquary of the true cross, and also three thorns of the crown of Jesus (from the St Louis the IX one kept in Paris). These are sadly no more venerated on Good Friday, but we have documents telling that the True Cross relic was kissed during the celebration. Even before the reform, though, a big cross with the corpus replaced the relic. And the veneration of the holy thorns (on the 5th friday of lent) during a most solemn vespers celebration, had been discontinued for modernist “suspicion” against relics. Very sad. But now, who knows…

  41. Dominican says:

    The nuns at the Dominican monastery in Summit, NJ use a large relic of the true Cross mounted on a Cross for their adoration. The guests of the monastery in the outside chapel use a regular crucifix.

    They go up to adore the Cross barefoot, kneel twice and then they prostrate full length before the Cross before kissing the relic. This is a Dominican custom done by the Friars and the Nuns.

  42. TJ Murphy says:

    In his informative book, “Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year” Msgr. Peter J. Elliott writes
    “unveils the top of the cross but not the face of the corpus…procedure is repeated for the unveiling of the right arm and then the whole corpus.”

    “servers bring purifiers to wipe the feet of the corpus.”

    This shows clearly that it should be a Crucifix rather than a plain cross.

  43. ustalumnus says:

    TJMurphy: If you want to look at something definitive here, look in the Sacramentary. Also look at Father Z’s own words above…

    “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.”

    Read what the prayer REALLY says here: “… on which the salvation of the world DID hang.” The word “did” is the past tense of “do” or “does”. Father Z conveniently changes it to the present tense in his next sentence. The “salvation” HUNG there (past tense) and is not there any longer.

    Father Z also quotes the GIRM above out of context. Paragraph #308 states “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.”

    Now, this paragraph refers to the General Arrangement of the Sanctuary and is not referring to Good Friday. In fact, that cross (crucifix) should be veiled.

    It is not “Ecce Crucis”. It is “Ecce LIGNUM Crucis”.

  44. Immaculatae says:

    Grieving…. as we had a bare wood cross today when we have a beautiful crucifix
    which was no where to be seen today.It is possible they didn’t want anything to happen to it as it is very heavy. Perhaps we just did not have another one to use. We should get one.

    I am grateful that last night we used the beautiful crucifix
    for the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose.

    I think venerating a cross without a corpus is protestant not Catholic. Sad indeed.

    However, in other aspects, there are signs things are slowly improving.
    For example, we had a canopy for the Blessed Sacrament and the Pange Lingua in Latin.

    Don’t even ask about the rest of the music though.
    Do you know the folks who torment us with the protestant music at Mass are paid a good sum to do so? The “entertainers” are exactly that.

    Please pray for all Priests and Bishops. Nothing will improve without prayer.

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