UPDATED: Wherein Fishwrap accidentally promotes something good! POLL ADDED

fishwrapUPDATE 20 Sept:

Some of the comments have spurred me to add a POLL to the post.

___ Originally posted Sep 29, 2017

These days I have not been watching nightly news and cable commentary and I am leaps and bounds more cheerful.  Similarly, the less I glance at the National Schismatic Reporter (aka Fishwrap) the happier I am.  However, I more or less have to keep part of an eye on the Fishwrap.  Blech.

Today, however, one of you dumpster-diver readers spotted something fun at Fishwrap.  They have an opinion piece against having American flags in church sanctuaries.  Predictable, right?

However, the op-ed writer at Fishwrap opined:

As a simple step in the right direction, we could stop sending confusing signals and remove national flags from our church sanctuaries. Put them in narthexes or church halls. But removing national flags from our church sanctuaries and emphasizing the importance of turning our gaze to the depiction of Christ crucified at the front of the space would help us to remember who it is we worship and to whom our deepest loyalty belongs.

What is this I read?

Could he be advocating ad orientem worship?!?

If he is serious about turning our gaze to the crucified Lord… that’s the way to do it.

While we ponder that, here’s a shot from a recent Mass in the Diocese of Madison for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross… speaking of focus on the Cross.



So far comments have been added by those who seem to have missed the point.  However, I’m happy to make lemonade from, you know, comments.

Let’s add a poll about flags in church.

Pick your best choice and, if you wish, add a comment, below.  Anyone can vote but only registered, approved participants can comment.

It is acceptable to have a national flag on regular display in a Catholic church?

View Results

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Lighter fare, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, POLLS and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr. John says:

    Father, I fully support the flag being within the church. However, it is my understanding that the positioning of the flag on the left hand side when facing the sanctuary (or stage if in an auditorium) signifies the supremacy of the country, i.e.: over any other flag that may also be present such as a state flag or even the flag of the Holy Roman Catholic Church (which is also present and typically on the right hand side – or the place of subordination to the nation).
    Isn’t the placement of the flags, according to secular tradition problematic for the sanctuary of a Catholic Church? The nation never has supremacy over the Church but flag positioning seems to indicate that it does.

  2. In Ireland one rarely finds any flag in a Catholic church to the point that it is surprising to find one there. Sometimes the Papal flag and perhaps the National flag or ‘Tricolour’ is flown on a pole outside. Perhaps it is due to the protestant (Church of Ireland) practice of having regimental flags etc in their churches that it seems un-Catholic to us. I wonder what the practice is elsewhere in the world.

  3. PTK_70 says:

    @Fr. John….I am not a fan of seeing the U.S. flag in the sanctuary for just the reason you describe. Far better in my mind to display the Stars and Stripes from the choir loft together with the flag of the state wherein the parish exists. Then thorny issues regarding which flag shall have position of honor up in the sanctuary may be avoided altogether.

  4. L. says:

    To me, it seems atavistic to assume that a Catholic Church sanctuary would have a crucifix, since too many, like my parish church, have one of the “Risen Christ” (“Touchdown!”) depictions instead.

  5. Leppert says:

    Flags have a similar connotation even over here in England. I can always distinctly remember a rather crotchety old priest at my childhood parish going on a long, loud, foul-mouthed tirade about how the scout group were making his church hall look like the orange lodge due to flying a Union flag.

    Probably more of an issue here in Liverpool due to the large Irish connections (We still have decently sized orange order processions in the streets each year).

  6. Rich says:

    These guys forget their former talking points as they attempt to put forward new arguments. How is it that turning to the crucifix “would help us to remember who it is we worship and to whom our deepest loyalty belongs”? I thought it was that we are to turn to one another during the liturgy so as to recognize God in each other…what ever happened to that?

  7. Philmont237 says:

    In most churches the Marian altar is on the left (while facing east) and the St. Joseph altar is on the right. It is fitting to follow the flag code with putting the US flag on the left in this case because Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the Patroness of the US while St. Jospeh is the Guardian of the Universal Church. Placing the flags next to their respective patrons is a great way to ask for their intercession.

    In La Catedral de San Juan Bautista in San Juan, PR there is a beautiful statue of Our Lady in front of a backdrop of the flag of Puerto Rico asking for her protection for the island.

  8. Andrew1054 says:

    I think flags should NOT be in the sanctuary. I believe that only God should be glorified in the sanctuary. It is reserved for Him and Him alone.

    [Why does a flag in the sanctuary automatically equate with “glorification”?]

  9. Poor Yorek says:

    and emphasizing the importance of turning our gaze to the depiction of Christ crucified at the front of the space would help us to remember who it is we worship and to whom our deepest loyalty belongs.

    What struck me first about this statement was the implicit abdication by “The Distorter” of any advocacy for a ‘Risen Christ’ in the sanctuary: but maybe I’m just remembering fighting the last war!? :-)

  10. graytown says:

    Fr Z
    It also sounds like the Fishy is advocating moving the tabernacles back to their rightful place.

  11. thomistking says:

    This looks a lot like . . . RIGHT WING CYBER BULLYING! Did Russia pay for that flag?!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. arrowsmith says:

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. There is no place in the sanctuary for any national flag. Our focus should be on the Sacrifice of the Mass. If it were wartime and there was some sort of book of remembrance, as during the second world war, it might be acceptable. However, Catholicism is not a national religion like Anglicanism or most European Lutheran churches.

  13. DavidR says:

    IMO flags do not belong in the sanctuary.

  14. danhorse says:

    I personally don’t have a problem with seeing the Papal and American flags in the Sanctuary when they are inconspicuous. I personally don’t focus on them with more than a passing thought, but within that passing thought I am reminded that I need to pray for both the Church and the Nation and ask God to keep them under His protection.

  15. Knight from 13904 says:

    I love seeing the American flag being displayed everywhere, except one place and that is the sanctuary. I think we would be better off if we fostered the understanding of Christ the King especially in Church and at Mass. Regarding this article in the “fishwrap” I suspect their motivation is most likely totally different. Gee I wonder what person and movement is closely associated with the American flag now??? To me President Trump and nationalism is what comes to mind. Surprising how many on the “enlightened” in the Church have fallen for this one world government & one world religion BS.
    For anyone interested in the topic of Christ as King this is a kick ass video on the topic from Institute of Catholic Culture

  16. Andrew1054 says:

    I would ask why else is it there?

    Besides, you even call the flag Ol’glory.

    I say put it at the back of the Church, say a prayer as you walk past after Mass to go make America Catholic again! ;)

    [Amusing. But the use of the word “glory” is equivocal.]

  17. I think unless a flag is explicitely Catholic, it has nothing to do in church. When the Sacred-Heart was taken out from the French-Canadian flag (or when Québec’s politicians stole the flag while throwing out the Sacred-Heart) the flag went out of the church because it was secularised.

    Actually, most Catholic folks in Canada would see placing the country’s flag in church as a form of heresy, something protestants do. Give to God what is God’s, and Ceasar what is Ceasar’s.

  18. fishwrapALL: I’ve been intrigued by the comments, so far. I’ve added a POLL to the post.

  19. Tony Phillips says:

    The USA has rampant abortion and now gay “marriage”. There’s no place for the flag in a church as long as those abominations continue.

  20. Elizabeth D says:

    Even as accustomed as I am to seeing a flag in the sanctuary, and I’m sure it is well intentioned, I really sincerely don’t think it belongs there. In the Eucharist our identity is universal (Catholic) not national. I wonder if this custom of having a flag in the church in the US was to counter any notion that the Catholic faith was foreign (ie loyal to the Vatican and its head of state the Pope) not American. Having a national flag counters that idea but perhaps at the expense of conveying universality.

  21. Zapf Grakul Akmodan says:

    We do not have flags in our church, but there are two flags depicted in the stained glass windows. The bell tower has a window depicting a flag for the Papal States, and then there is a matching window on the other side of the church depicting the United States flag as it appeared in the 1890’s when the church was built.

  22. cwillia1 says:

    I think it is a mistake to put a flag anywhere in a church building under modern circumstances. The exception historically would be the flag of a nation which was explicitly governed by Catholic principles.

  23. I thought that in the United States, the custom of putting up the national flag in the sanctuary was a response to the Protestant canard that Catholics owe allegiance only to the Pope and not to their country.

  24. acardnal says:

    According to the USCCB – not that their positions carry much authority with me – there is nothing governing the placement of national flags in churches in either Canon Law or other liturgical documents. (I guess goofy banners are okay with them though.)

    I prefer having a national flag in the church but not the sanctuary.

    USCCB link HERE

  25. Gilbert Fritz says:

    The flag can be in the church, but not in the sanctuary. The area past the communion rail represents the court of Heaven, in which there are no nations; there we will all be united under Christ the King. The flag can be somewhere in the body of the Church, to remind us to pray for our country.

    On an interesting note; how bad would a country have to become before it would be wrong to display their flag anywhere near a church, or on private property under a Catholic’s control? I’d have objected to displaying a Nazi flag in Germany or the Hammer and Sickle in the USSR (assuming that I was brave enough to say something!)

  26. Imrahil says:

    I voted, “yes, acceptable on permanent display, outside the Sanctuary”.

    Let me qualify this a bit: First, “Sanctuary” includes the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament if there is one. Second, I do not mind the flag of a State (provided one’s state has a peaceful relation with the Holy Church) even in the Sanctuary (though not in the middle, nor behind the altar) if it is displayed on occasion. (National holidays, especially if celebrated with a votive Mass or at least Second Prayers; election days; visits of foreigners with double display of the national flag of one’s one countries and that of the guests, would be such occasions.) Also, third, I do think even permanent display is acceptable outside the Sanctuary, but whether it’s a good idea is a different question on which I will be, for the moment, silent.

    It is self-evident that the flag must be so displayed in such a manner that both the Church flag if there is one, and the Tabernacle if it were a flag, have position of supremacy over the mere national flag according to flag protocol.

    (Note that in a Federation where religious affairs are not a federal matter, the logical thing would be to display the State flag, and to hinder the crowding of the Church with flags, leave out the federal flag altogether.)

  27. Andrew1054 says:

    Thank you Father! Today is a historical day because it’s the first time I think I’ve actually disagreed with something you wrote on this blog AND agreed with NCR on anything. Yet more proof of how fallen our world is. Thank you for your blog and insights. Your blog helps keep me sane.

  28. Gerhard says:

    Too many indeed. Even one church with a ressurection crucifix is one too many. They even have one in St Therese’s Basilica in Lisieu, horribile dictu!

  29. JuliB says:

    Venerable Bishop Sheen felt strongly about patriotism, love of country. I feel strongly too. I’m happy to see the flag, regardless of where it is in the Church.

  30. Chuck Ludd says:

    As an imperfect analogy, I will compare this to capital punishment — I’m (generally) against it in the U.S. right now because of the culture of death but it is not inherently wrong and may be appropriate in cultures in which life (and death) is more properly understood and life held as more sacred. That time is not now. As noted, a very imperfect analogy.

    I voted for the flag in the church but not the sanctuary mainly to avoid distraction in current times, during which we need a lot of help to stay focused on the sacrifice occurring at the altar. But once there is proper restoration of liturgical respect and focus, I think national flags in the sanctuary are fine and may even be a good thing. A national flag is symbol of a people and a whole variety of flags symbolize communities. I can easily imagine a royal standard and flags of great noble houses adorning a sanctuary showing their submission to Christ the King and symbolically asking for Our Lord’s protection of the peoples who come to worship him.

  31. SKAY says:

    I appreciate the freedoms, especially the religious freedom, that the US flag still represents and I have no problem with it being displayed in Catholic churches.
    I understand your point Tony Phillips, and I would agree if the an administration, using all of it’s government resources, began to force Catholics to have or approve of abortions or insist that priests perform ss marriages. Of course we do have catholics who freely approve and vote to keep
    abortion legal.


    About Charles Carroll of Carrollton (the only Catholic who signed the Declaration of
    Independence) :

    “At the time he signed the Declaration, it was against the law for a Catholic to hold public office or to vote. Although Maryland was founded by and for Catholics in 1634, in 1649 and, later, in 1689 after the Glorious Revolution placed severe restrictions on Catholics in England, the laws were changed in Maryland, and Catholicism was repressed.

    Catholics could no longer hold office, exercise the franchise, educate their children in their faith, or worship in public. With the Declaration of Independence, all this bias and restriction ended. Charles Carroll first became known in colonial politics through his defense of freedom of conscience and his belief that the power to govern derived from the consent of the governed. He was a staunch supporter of Washington, and when the war was going badly at Valley Forge, he was instrumental in persuading the Revolution’s Board of War not to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates.”

    John Carroll, Charles Carroll’s cousin became America’s first Catholic bishop. Daniel Carroll, John’s
    brother, was a signer of the Constitution of the United States.

  32. Geoffrey says:

    I voted: “No, not anywhere in the church. I’m a US citizen.”

    My impression, and I am willing to be proved wrong, is that displaying the national flag everywhere is not as common in other countries as it is in the U.S. I have my own thoughts on why this is, but I shall not go into them here.

    I once heard that American flags made their way into Catholic churches at a time when the Church felt it necessary to “prove” its loyalty to the U.S. The only flag that should be displayed in a Catholic Church is the Papal flag.

  33. Matt Robare says:

    While I answered that the flag should be in church, but not in the Sanctuary, I wanted to clarify my answer. In the first place, I have never seen a flag in a sanctuary that was placed in a way that was distracting.

    In the second place, I mean that the flag should not be left there. It should be flying from a flagpole, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be brought in to the church and even into the sanctuary. Some Knights of Columbus ceremonies involve processions with the flag; on days important in the life of the nation, like July 4 or the Feasts of Our Lady of Guadaloupe or the Immaculate Conception by all means bring the flag in. Italian city-states used their gonfalons in processions and had them blessed, why not the flag?

    Are there any specific rules on blessing a flag or banner?

  34. Pax--tecum says:

    I think I’ve never seen a flag in any of the Catholic churches I have visited (in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany), except for the flag of the Holy See. It reminds me of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church unites people from all the nations of the world.

    Putting up a national flag in church seems to me a very protestant thing to do, as I’ve seen it in some protestant churches. Here in the Netherlands, the protestants used to bury national heroes (e.g. Piet Hein, Maarten Tromp, Michiel de Ruyter, etcetera) on the spot where the high altar had been when those churches were still Catholic. So they have a history of putting national symbols in the place where God should be. The Dutch royal family continues to bury their deceased family members beneath the monument of William of Orange, on the spot where once the high altar with the tabernacle stood.

    Flying the flag from the bell tower, on the other hand: I have absolutely no problem with that and it’s done in most Dutch cities on feast days of national or local importance.

  35. WYMiriam says:

    I voted “either in the sanctuary or elsewhere” — on condition that the Papal flag be present as well (which, understandably, was not an option).

    The argument that the Stars and Stripes should not be present in a Catholic church because abortion in legal in the U.S.A. holds no water for me; that issue is precisely why our flag should be displayed — as a reminder that prayers for our nation are desperately needed. (It ought to go without saying, too, that clear and unambiguous reminders to pray for the end of abortion should be issued from the pulpits of our churches on a regular and frequent basis! Unfortunately, it needs saying. . . . *sigh*) This argument is similar, in my estimation, to the kerfuffle in the NFL over players “taking a knee” when the national anthem is sung before games. According to a t-shirt that I’ve not seen, but have heard about, we stand for the flag, and we kneel for the cross of Christ.

    (Hm! Maybe “taking a knee for Christ” is reason number something-or-other [I’ve lost track of where we are on that count] for the return to the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where we begin on our knees since it’s the penitential part of the Mass, followed by that great hymn of adoration, the Gloria in excelsis Deo. . . )

  36. Stephen Matthew says:

    Just a quick note:

    The flying of the flag of the Vatican seems to me to also be problematic, for the Vatican is a temporal nation-state. The Papal flag is in fact a slightly different flag, but almost everywhere flies the Vatican flag by mistake.

  37. jflare says:

    Considering how one may see people waving their respective nations’ flags at int’l events, including Mass, I’m hard pressed to explain why a flag in the sanctuary would be so horrid.

    For all that I understand peoples’ point RE abortion and the like, I might point out that We, the People, did not agree to these as a populace. These laws were imposed by a not-very-tolerant Supreme Court. I do not believe we should hold Our nation less proudly merely because We have been willfully misrepresented by people who insist they “know better”. If anything, these strike me as being causes for ever more passionate prayer.

  38. Legisperitus says:

    I forget where I read this, but supposedly U.S. Catholic churches started displaying the flag in the sanctuary during World War I, when German Catholics in particular were widely suspected of disloyalty, as our country was fighting not only against Germany but against the “Catholic Powers” of Austria-Hungary. The flag was supposed to be a protestation of national loyalty during the war. I think it served its purpose 100 years ago, but has little point being there today.

  39. Charivari Rob says:

    My childhood parish in NJ divided its Masses between the small parish church and the school gym.

    In the former, there were two classroom flags in a bracket over the sacristy door, which I would call the very edge of the sanctuary. In the latter, the sanctuary (such as it was) was on-stage, and there were three-by-five foot flags on carrying poles in bases at opposite ends of the stage (outside the proscenium arch).

    In both cases, the flags were at equal height and conformed (whether deliberately or by chance) to the convention of the US flag in its own land being rightmost (facing the room).

    They finally got to build a new church several years ago. I’ve visited many times, and I’m sure both flags are still in there, but couldn’t say for sure where – either at the furthest corners of the sanctuary or flanking the doors coming in from the foyer. Really, most folks are just glad that it’s been 9 years since there was a need to have Mass in “Our Lady of the Hoops”.

    Frankly… As a kid, I never thought about it. The static drape of either Vatican/papal flag obscured its details, leaving it as a largely gold field with a seal/crest on it, next to or opposite a US flag. All my school classrooms, gyms and auditoriums had a static-draped, slightly obscured state flag (NJ – yellow/gold field with a seal/crest) – next to or opposite a US flag. God’s Church was independent of and above nations – why would I think it had a flag?

  40. un-ionized says:

    Stephen Matthew, you are right, that would violate the flag code.

  41. Patti Day says:

    I voted in the sanctuary; however, my parish doesn’t have one there. The flag is flown on a pole outside. It is almost completely obscured unless you are looking directly at the church, which is almost impossible, since it faces west and sits right on a 60 MPH highway that runs north and south.

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