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Where Altar Crucifixes Should Face

And More on the Easter Vigil

ROME, MAY 3, 2006 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: When an altar crucifix is used during the celebration of Mass, ought the corpus to be facing toward the priest or toward the congregation? -- D.V., Washington, D.C.

A: The indications in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal are sparse regarding the direction of the figure of Christ on the cross:

"No 308. There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations."

Taking our cue from Monsignor Peter Elliott's liturgy manual, we might add that the crucifix should be located on, next to, immediately behind or suspended above the altar. It should be visibly related to the altar as viewed by the people.

As Monsignor Elliott comments: "The liturgical crucifix is not primarily for the private devotion of the celebrant but is a sign in the midst of the Eucharistic assembly proclaiming that the Mass is the same Sacrifice as Calvary."

Thus, strictly speaking, the altar crucifix is in relationship to the altar, and not just to the priest, and for this reason the "corpus" is usually turned toward the altar.

An altar crucifix can be somewhat off-putting for the faithful who can see only the reverse of the cross. This is a relatively new problem as, before the liturgical reform, the whole assembly, priest and people, faced both altar and crucifix in the same direction.

For this reason the best solution appears to be either the large crucifix permanently behind or above the altar.

If this is not possible, then the very flexibility of the norms would allow for a processional cross, or a larger but movable crucifix on a stand, which is placed near the altar in such a position that clearly relates to the altar while remaining visible to the faithful.

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