Q&A – Rules for a crucifix at Mass and how far does forgiveness go?

| September 26, 2013 | 2 Comments

Q. Over the years, I have visited a considerable number of Catholic churches, and most of them have a crucifix on the wall of the sanctuary behind the altar as well as one which is carried in the entrance procession when Mass is celebrated. Occasionally, though, I have been in a church that had no crucifix at all — neither on the wall of the sanctuary nor in the entrance procession.

What is the rule? Where should the crucifix be in a Catholic church? (And also, why do Protestant churches have only a bare cross, while Catholic churches show Christ’s body on the cross?)

Father Doyle

Father Doyle

A. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, a cross bearing the figure of Christ crucified should be affixed on or close to the altar in a Catholic church. (Usually it is mounted on a wall; rarely would it be placed on the altar table itself, lest it obstruct the congregation’s view of the eucharistic sacrifice.)

One option permitted liturgically and used in some churches is to have a processional crucifix, which is carried into the sanctuary at the beginning of Mass and then placed near the altar. When Mass is not taking place, that cross remains in a stand near the altar as a reminder of the “saving passion of the Lord” (GIRM, 308).

As to your “cross vs. crucifix” question, the Catholic Church has always given preference to the crucifix because it sees the death of Christ as redemptive. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented, its merits applied to those who participate in the Mass, and the crucifix stands as a visible sign of what is taking place on the altar.

Q. In Matthew 18:21-22, we are given a standard of forgiveness which I interpret to mean that we are to forgive always (“not seven times, but seventy seven”). I’m at a loss, though, as to how to apply that in my case. For a long time, I’ve had a terrible relationship with my mother, who lost custody of two of her three children (including myself) for continually putting us in unsafe and inappropriate situations.

I’ve never had a problem feeling compassion for my mother and I often pray for her. But I decided a long time ago that when I had children of my own, I would love my mother from a distance and not give her the chance to hurt or influence my children. A few times since then, I’ve tried giving her opportunities to redeem herself only to find out that I was wrong — to the detriment of my children’s well-being.

Despite this, I am forever being asked by friends and family to give my mother another chance by allowing her some controlled interaction so that she’ll know the blessing of grandchildren. What I’m struggling with is this: Is it enough that God knows I’ve forgiven my mother, or must I show it by giving her another chance with my children?

A. You are correct in thinking that the mandate for a Christian is to strive to forgive always. From the facts as you’ve explained them, I believe that you’ve done that. (Bringing the person before the Lord in prayer is a good first step to forgiveness, because it reminds us that all of us are flawed and in need of God’s help.)

I hope that your mother knows you’ve forgiven her, and I imagine you’ve been able to communicate that to her.

Forgiveness, though, does not demand that you put your children in peril, and you, as their parent, are in the best position to know what would cause them harm.

It is difficult for me to make a clear call here with limited information: I have no idea what your mother’s original missteps were that caused her to lose custody, nor what damage you perceived when you tried giving her the chance to be an active grandmother, nor what sort of “controlled interaction” your friends and family are now suggesting.

In situations like this, you are probably best advised to have a face-to-face discussion with a priest or other trusted counselor where all of the circumstances can be reviewed.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as Rome bureau chief for CNS and as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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