Devotional images and liturgy

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Our pastor has a huge collection of religious art. He believes it should be shared with the faithful at Mass so they can meditate on it. So, for example, he places pictures of Mother Theresa, or Mary, or a large framed poster of the Popes in front of the Ambo. For a long time, he had a statue of St. Maximilian Kolbe in front of the Ambo.  On the floor in front of the tabernacle, there’s a framed picture of the face of Jesus (the shroud). Recently he’s been placing a large framed picture of the crucified Jesus in front of the altar (on the floor, leaning against the table). 

As I prepared the space for the First Sunday of Advent, I removed the picture of the crucified Christ.

So today, he carried in his own crucifix… 18″- 20″  had it under his arm during the homily, placed a huge wooden cross near the altar (laying up against the baptismal font) and made reference to how liturgically appropriate it is for him to carry a cross around because John of the Cross did it all the time. Mind you, there is a large, fixed crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar in the sanctuary, a processional crucifix in a stand off to the side, and a small crucifix on the altar. 

I’ve read the GIRM, the CSL, your posts about crucifixes and crosses and every other document I know. Help! Which documents should I reference when I discuss this with him? Isn’t there something about duplicating symbols? Which crucifix is the one necessary for Mass? Since the fixed one is on the wall, is the processional crucifix technically the “Mass crucifix,” and therefore the one on the altar is not necessary? Or should we place the processional crucifix out of the way after the procession and use the small one on the altar as the “Mass crucifix?” Or should we just consider the large fixed crucifix the one necessary for Mass?? (I read what you said about Pope Benedict and the priests who prefer a crucifix for their own meditation since the large crucifix is behind them on the wall.) 

Thanks for all you do!! I have found your blog so helpful!!

 I’m certain the details and ignored rubrics bother very few other people… but somehow, I feel called to make a difference in the way we implement the Liturgical guidelines in our space.  Again, thank you for any guidance you can provide!


A: GIRM 318 discourages the duplication of images, but you probably have a larger issue there. Your pastor has an admirable love for religious art, a charitable desire to share it, but a misunderstanding of the relationship between devotional images and liturgy.

You might find helpful the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.

Here’s an older post on the altar cross:

May God bless your patient ministry.