U.S. flag at Mass

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Thank you so much for your informative blog. In our parish, the U.S. Flag is included in the Entrance Procession carried by a member of the laity behind the Cross and then placed in a stand at the far end of the Sanctuary on Sunday’s prior to National Holidays. At the conclusion of the Mass, after the dismissal, a member of community  leads the congregation in the Pledge of Allegiance from the Ambo. Once that is complete, the Recessional Song is played and the Clergy start their recession from the Sanctuary. I have many concerns with practice, including that we are a very diverse parish with many nationalities as well as we some how elevate the pledge with the Mass.  What problems, if any does this practice cause?  Thank you.


A: The USCCB has a page on the placement of the flag in churches: https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacred-art-and-music/architecture-and-environment/display-of-flags-in-catholic-churches#:~:text=Neither%20the%20Code%20of%20Canon,the%20discretion%20of%20the%20pastor. . It doesn’t directly answer your question, but it does yield authority in such matters to the diocesan bishop. I’ll share my thoughts, but specific questions belong with your bishop.

There is a custom in the United States to display the flag in places where people gather in public, so the honor given flags in churches is more common here than in other countries.

As for its intersection with liturgical guidelines, GIRM 120c places “other ministers” in the entrance procession after the thurible, candles and cross, and before the reader (or deacon) carrying the book of the gospels. I have argued that the vagueness of the expression “other ministers” creates a space for persons with special roles in the liturgy: candidates for confirmation or first communion, or couples presenting a child for baptism or celebrating their jubilee. I suppose someone could argue that a person bearing the national flag on a holiday weekend serves as a “minister” and therefore may occupy a place in the procession.

However, when the flag is carried in procession outside worship, it deservedly ranks as the center of attention. It prepares Americans to sing our national anthem or to pledge allegiance. In a liturgical procession, Christ ranks as the center of attention, symbolized by the cross and the priest who celebrates the Eucharist. The inclusion of a flag in that procession—to me—diminishes the significance of the flag and confuses the purpose of the procession.

The USCCB’s page focuses its attention on the proper placement of a flag within a space, which—to me—is more to the point. It best occupies a stationary place, not a spot in the liturgical procession. Setting the flag in a place of honor on holidays may help Americans express their thanks to God for the blessings of our country. It may also designate this as a public place, which believers in turn use for the sake of worship.

As for the pledge of allegiance, again, it seems at cross purposes with the liturgy. Its inclusion is not expressly forbidden, but it would be more appropriate as part of the announcements rather than part of the recession. And it should never be led from the ambo. GIRM 309 gives restrictions on the use of the ambo that many parishes ignore, which imperils our appreciation of the singular dignity of the Word of God.

I wouldn’t be too concerned as displays of affection for our country in the presence of persons of other nationalities. Many of the immigrants, migrants and tourists I meet love our country and are impressed with our pride in its emblems.

Again, just my thoughts. Check with your bishop.