ASK FATHER: On Good Friday should we venerate a Cross or a Crucifix?

UPDATE 16 April

From a reader…

Father, I know you’re not a fan of the Book of Blessings, [You’ve got that right!] but being an “official” ritual book, these two paragraphs from Chapter 35, “Order for the Blessing of a New Cross for Public Veneration” may be of interest:
#1234 “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 a public place as an attestation of their faith and a reminder of the love with which God has loved us.
#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.

Originally Published on: Apr 16, 2022

John XXIII in 1959
with pre-55 rites, fwiw

From a reader…


I’m engaging in a debate with our parish priests who state that the Roman Missal indicates that a cross (not crucifix) is used in the veneration at the Good Friday service.  I say no, it is a crucifix and a cross is a) too Protestant and b) not what is intended in the Roman Missal. And aside from the fact that the Vatican’s own pictures show a crucifix being venerate by Pope Francis, I can’t get any movement on this.

Am I wrong that it should be a crucifix and not a Protestant cross?

First, let’s recall that in the ancient Church images of the Cross with the crucified Lord were rare.  We find the first depiction in wood on the 5th c. doors of Santa Sabina.   The first liturgical crosses were often highly decorated and are referred to as “crux gemmata”.  While there are crucifixes all along the way in late antiquity to the medieval period, liturgical crucifixes really took off around the 11th c.

Then there is the Roman practice.  In Rome there were the relics of the Cross which Helena brought from the Holy Land.  Therefore, great emphasis was placed on them rather than, at first at least, on a figure of the Cross with the corpus, or body of the crucified Lord.  It is understandable that in the Roman liturgy there remains on Good Friday – a day which preserves the most ancient traces of early Roman worship – an emphasis of the “lignum Crucis… the wood of the Cross” even though over time the crucifix was the primary symbol of adoration.  Not every place could have a relic of the True Cross.  Schuster says that in those places that did not have a relic of the True Cross, a crucifix was substituted, however the words used on Good Friday while unveiling the crucifix were the same as those used in Rome, “Ecce lignum crucis“.

Our liturgical rubrics help to clarify what to use.

In the Traditional Roman Rite, with the 1962 Missale Romanum, the rubrics require a crucifix, “crux satis magna, cum Crucifixo” and people are directed to adore the Cross by kissing “pedes Crucifixi … the feet of the Crucified”.

That is the Roman way.  The manuals for ceremonies I consulted all have a crucifix.

How about the new-fangled Novus Ordo?  What is meant by “cross” in the rubrics?

Just as “cross” in the older rubrics of the TLM, for the altar and processional … and Good Friday cross, I think … are clear: crucifix.

GIRM 117 explicitly mentions a “crux, cum effigie Christi crucifixi. … cross with a figure of Christ crucified” for the altar cross and the processional cross (cf. also GIRM 122, 308).

I think that this is not always followed, in that some processional crosses are in the style of the crux gemmata which often didn’t have a corpus.   Those who are not “archeologizing” use a crucifix.

200MR for Good Friday states that the altar must not have the cross (“sine cruce” which rubrically means the altar crucifix).  Crux means “crucifix”, not just “cross”.   The “adoratio sanctae Crucis” takes place.  As the altar cross is a crucifix, so too the cross of adoration is a crucifix.

Liturgical crosses are crucifixes in the Roman Rite, with the exception I think of consecration crosses on the walls of churches to mark the places of anointing.  Those don’t seem to be liturgical crosses in the strict sense.  They are, like the cross on a steeple, architectural elements that cannot be moved, as an altar cross or processional cross can be moved.

For Good Friday in the Novus Ordo the cross for exposition and adoration is brought “processionaliter … in a procession”.  Processional crosses are supposed to be crucifixes.

The celebrant uncovers the “dexterum bracchium Crucis” and “Ecce lignum Crucis” is intoned.   Yes, “arm” can describe one side of the horizontal beam of a cross, but more simply, there is also supposed to be an arm there, of the Crucified Lord.  And we sing “Behold the wood of the Cross”, emphasis on wood, because in ancient Rome we venerated the wood of the True Cross.  On these highest of holy days, liturgical practices remain stubborn.

I found this interesting tidbit from Durandus, a the 13th c. commentator on liturgy:

“The first unveiling, revealing one arm of the cross while keeping the face of the crucifix veiled, symbolizes the mockery and blows to the face that Christ received while blindfolded in the court of the chief priest. The second unveiling, revealing the face of the crucifix, represents the mockery he received when he was crowned with thorns in the Praetorium. The third and final unveiling, completely uncovering the crucifix, symbolizes the mockery he received from passersby who, wagging their heads, blasphemed him as he hung stripped of his clothes on the Cross.”

Here the concept of the cross and the Crucified Lord merge into one.  The object is a crucifix but the cross as arms and a face.

Anyway, that 13th c. explanation of the symbolism flows from centuries of meditation on the Crucifixion of the Lord.

Can one say that in the Novus Ordo rubrics it is not explicitly stated that the cross for Good Friday exposition and adoration is to be a crucifix?  I guess so.  However, that would be a rupture with the Roman Rite going back a thousand years or so.  Appeal to even more ancient ways and the crux gemmata smacks of the false archeologizing that Pius XII warned against.  Moreover, that appeal would mean not a simple wooden cross but something magnificent of gold and gems, etc.

I think your parish priests are wrong in their guess that the rubrics call for a plain cross without the figure of the Crucified Lord.  Our Roman tradition requires a crucifix and the preponderance rubrics of the Novus Ordo point to “crucifix” for the word “cross”.

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  1. JGavin says:

    I think, for what it is worth , it needs to be a crucifix.
    I also think the vestments need to be black on Good Friday ( as well as for funerals).
    I also think white vestments for funerals is a bad idea. I thought it was dumb idea when I was 10 years old.

  2. TonyO says:

    One wonders about the training such parish priests receive. I know that most seminaries are a bit leftish and all, and wonky on ritual, but even granting that they should STILL give a priest the tools to look up the question and some answers in appropriate authoritative sources, and also should teach them readiness to think that if a honest, devout, and well-trained parishioner “is pretty sure it’s supposed to be a crucifix”, then “maybe I should look it up and not just GUESS or ASSUME whether ‘cross’ means ‘with corpus’ or ‘without corpus’ in this instance.” What are they teaching in schools these days?

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    The corpus on ours is clearly made out of elephant ivory. I always remember the elephant too while I’m venerating the Lord.

  4. Ecclesiae Filius says:

    Hi everybody. Why do we adore the cross or have adoration of the cross? I thought adoration is for God alone. Or do we use the word adore like in the sense of a baby being adorable (that is not real adoration)? I’ve always just tried to justify adoring the cross by telling God that I am adoring any drops of His Precious Blood that are absorbed in the cross. That part of the Good Friday liturgy has always thrown me off. Any thoughts or direction are appreciated.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Dear Ecclesiae filius,

    God is adored. The angels and saints are venerated (including the Blessed Virgin, in a special manner).

    What we have here now is: a material object relating to God Himself, and not any angel or saint, but still of course only a material objects. On this the terminology is unsettled; some, I believe St. Thomas (but I can’t find now where) actually have called that (indirect) latria because it is about God Himself, others, stressing that only God is worshipped, have called it veneration.

    What is not unclear is what happens; it’s just a terminological issue.

Comments are closed.