QUAERITUR: two-sided Crucifix for Mass “facing the people”

From a reader:

Our parish priest, who says the NO in the parish church and the EF in
another church in the parish , came up with this idea.   For the Mass in
English he places a crucifix on the altar with a corpus on each side –
so both he and we are facing the Lord.   What do you think?

I think he should, after a period of catechesis, simply shift to ad orientem worship. 

That would solve the dilemma without involving a confusing symbol.

I think a two-sided crucifix is theologically … odd.

As I read this, at the same time as I had admiration for the priest – who is clearly trying to do good things for his people, I had the image of a man who has a pebble in his shoe but decides to walk on his hands rather than apply the more obvious solution. 

"But Father! But Father!", you will object.  "It is probable that the priest would get into trouble if he tried to change to ad orientem worship.  What if he can’t make that bold move?"

Fine, I respond.  Build brick by brick, patiently.

I still think a two-sided Crucifix is … odd.

Go with the regular Crucifix with the corpus toward the priest… and then start the catechesis including the point that ad orientem worship would allow them all to face the Lord together.

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  1. I could be mistaken here, but I believe this is the case at the EWTN chapel…a two-sided Crucifix at the altar.
    This could be the origin of Father’s decision…who knows?
    I, myself, found this a bit odd when I first saw it.
    But, then again, I’m not the expert here!
    Thanks, Fr. Z. for confirming my own “questions”.

  2. patergary says:

    Where can I buy a double sided crucifix for the altar. I’m looking for thi but always no luck. Thanks!

  3. revs96 says:

    The first thought that entered my head is that EWTN uses a two-sided crucifix, but that is because of a ban on ad absidem (i.e. ad orientem)worship on TV in the OF in the Diocese of Birmingham that forces EWTN to do the TV mass the way it does. The shrine in Hanceville is never on TV in the OF because EWTN doesn’t allow vs. populem worship there at all, which is a much more accurate representation of EWTN’s way of doing things. These situations make it clear that vs. populem worship is itself two-sided and too circular and should be phased out in favor of ad absidem worship, which unifies the Church at the foot of Calvary, although a two-sided crucifix is better than no crucifix.

  4. patrick_f says:

    This is the case…somewhat..in St Bernard Abbey, where I stayed on retreat two summers ago. Except that the Crucifix was Suspended…I cant remember if it was far enough forward for the priest to be truly facing it, BUT the opposite side faced the choir stalls, so for the office I suppose it made sense?

  5. Justin from Ohio says:

    I also had questions about the Crucifix I see on the EWTN masses from their chapel in Alabama. They use the Benedictine arrangement on the altar, but there is a corpus on the side of the cross facing the people. I don’t know whether they have a two-sided Crucifix, but I know that a corpus definitely faces the people.

    Here’s an image I found of a Mass from EWTN using the Benedictine arrangement:


    This certainly seems like a questions that needs a solid answer, as many more conservative parishes are already implementing the “brick by brick” approach and are first starting with the “Benedictine arrangment” on the altar to draw attention to Christ and away from the “priest as guest speaker or entertainer” model.

    Is the Crucifix in St. Peter’s in Rome only a one-sided one? If so, does the corpus face the Holy Father when he celebrates Mass there?

  6. Justin from Ohio: From what I remember seeing countless times in the Masses from St. Peter Basilica, as well as other Papal Masses, the Crucified Lord faces the Pope.
    Pope Benedict’s point here is that the priest (celebrant) face the Cross together; the people are facing the Cross. The Crucifix is mandated to be on or near the altar; not necessarily facing the congregation AND the celebrant.

  7. Jaybirdnbham says:

    Yes, the crucifix on the altar at EWTN’s chapel has a corpus on both sides. Been there, seen it. It really does seem a little odd to me though, almost as if they’ve cloned Jesus or something equally weird.

  8. The crucifix suspended in the balachino of the high altar at Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, Arkansas, is two-sided, as it was installed in the Abbey Church in 1957. The choir is a retro-choir and the altar stands between the nave and the choir. In the EF, Mass could be said from either side of the altar, for the monastic community, or for the parish.

  9. jt83 says:

    I don’t find a “double-sided” crucifix THAT odd, having only seen it on EWTN’s broadcasted Mass. For all intents and purposes, each side still only see’s one image of Our Lord

  10. Victor says:

    The Cross of Lothair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_of_Lothair), in the treasury of Aachen Cathedral, Germany, is two-sided, but the two depictions are rather different. This is because this cross used to be a processional cross: the actual front side is the one with Christ crucified, Moon and Sun are mourning, and the hand of the Father gives him the laurel as sign of victory. On the other side, which faced the people following the cross, Christ is represented by an antique gem of Emperor Augustus, the “Prince of Peace”, under whose reign there was peace for fourty years. Surrounding him are 144 jewels, representing the Celestial Jerusalem.
    We can see here that two-sided crucifixes were not unheard of even in the year of 1000; but of course, the situations are very different…

    (Sorry, I don’t know how to embed links. If you want to, please correct this, Fr. Z.!)

  11. Mark M says:

    you could always have something akin to the massive hanging Crucifix in Westminster Cathedral – our Lord on one side, the B.V.M. on the other (stabat mater…).

  12. pseudomodo says:

    The closest parish to my home is a 1960’s cross shape with pews on three sides facing the centre where the altar is. The old arrangement was that the sacristy /vestry and a storage room closed in one of the cross ends with the tabernacle and priests chair on that end.

    The new pastor removed the sacristy/vestry and storage room and relocated the tabernacle to the rear of the cross. The Altar remains where it was, in the centre. There are now extra pews behind the altar. I remarked on this arrangment that he now has a 25% ad orientum arrangement by default.

  13. RichR says:

    How about a double-sided Priest that can face the people and God in the tabernacle behind him at the same time………..or just offer the Mass ad orientem.

    Many problems are solved by seeking continuity with tradition.

  14. NDPhys says:

    A chapel of which I know and in which I have spent much time had a metal crucifix on the altar in the Benedictine arrangement, with the corpus facing the priest. The back side was lightly engraved with an image of Our Lord crucified. Perhaps it could be thought akin to a “compromise” two-sided crucifix.

  15. Dubya Ay-See says:

    There was, in the mid-1990’s, a double-crucifix at the Archabby in Latrobe.

    There is also one on the double-altar (an altar with a mensa that passes through the altar screen so that mass may be said on either side) at the local Poor Clares here in my town.

  16. Dubya Ay-See says:


    Reminds me of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC. The church is perfectly square, with seating on every side of the central altar. After Vatican II, the priests felt they had to go around to the other side of the altar to say mass for some reason – they were still facing just as many people.

  17. Breck says:

    I well remember a military chapel, way back in the 50’s, in which the cross/crucifix could be rotated on its base. For Protestant services, Our Lord was turned to the wall; for Catholic Mass He came out from hiding.

  18. Norah says:

    I’m in favour of the two sided crucifix for the OF. A couple of Christmases ago I went to Mass at our one Opus Dei parish and they had a crucifix in the centre of the altar but all that the congregation could see was the unfininshed back.

  19. patrick_f says:


    The crucifix suspended in the balachino of the high altar at Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, Arkansas, is two-sided, as it was installed in the Abbey Church in 1957. The choir is a retro-choir and the altar stands between the nave and the choir. In the EF, Mass could be said from either side of the altar, for the monastic community, or for the parish.
    Comment by Father Gregory — 15 January 2010 @ 3:46 pm ”

    Thanks Fr. Gregory! Actually i recall the suspended Crucific I mentioned is meant to be a copy of that one. Your mentioning the abbey jogged my memory

  20. Our parish’s hanging crucifix is similar — it has two sides, so that whether Mass is being celebrated only on the church side, only on the school chapel side, or with the partitions open as a single big church, everybody can see a prominent crucifix. Since you really can’t see both sides at the same time unless you’re almost directly below it, it doesn’t seem to cause any weird thoughts.

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