Altar cross

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  Good morning. I hope things are going well for you. Thank you very much for all that you do.

I am interim parish liturgist/director of music for a parish. I have been here a year. We are going into our second year without a parish priest, therefore, we have a different sacramental minister every weekend. We are blessed be have many dedicated priests with varying homiletic prospectives come to pray with us.

Lately, I’ve had a couple of priests demand that I put a cross on the Altar so that they can say the mass better. They have told me that I should always have a cross on the Altar. When I came here a year ago, I noticed that there were a bunch of small crucifixes not visible to the faithful-but only to the priest. So I removed them because of the amount of space they consumed. However, I do know that some priests bring their own small cross and place it on the Altar while saying the mass but remove it when they leave, most with a corpus.

I have re-read paragraphs 117, 122, 188, and 308 of the GIRM. My practice has always been to make sure that there is a Large Crucifix visible near the Altar (fixed the wall of the Sanctuary for all the faithful to see.)

Would you shed some light on this for me? Thanks


A:  Thanks for your kind words.

Following the example of Pope Benedict, many priests and bishops started placing a small cross on top of the altar for the celebration of mass. It is not required. You are correct that a cross with a corpus should be on view of the faithful in the sanctuary for every celebration of mass. But a cross on the altar is not the same thing.

In preconciliar times, the priest facing the wall also faced the tabernacle and the cross. The cross served as a devotional focal point for him. Some priests want to maintain the custom.

Personally, I find it an unnecessary duplication. And when it comes time to incense, most priests will incense the larger cross, not the one on the altar.

If a priest wants to put one on the altar, he will. But I find it hard to defend from the liturgical legislation.