Skip to comments."Redemptionis Sacramentum" - the Crucifix, Bowing and Hand Gestures
Posted on 06/02/2004 5:32:44 AM PDT by NYer
ROME, JUNE 1, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: 1) Is the crucifix essential to the celebration of the Mass? 2) When the priest comes to the altar, does he bow toward the altar? At the end of Mass, the priest venerates the altar; does he bows toward the crucifix or the tabernacle? 3) During the consecration prayer ("Take this ...") the concelebrants extend their hands, but they do not do this uniformly. Some extend the hand with palm downward, while others extend it with palm open toward the ceiling. Which is correct? -- G.C., Bangalore, India
A: As there are several questions I will try to answer them in order.
1. The use of the crucifix is obligatory during the celebration of Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in No. 308 requires the use of 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."
This specific call for the use of the crucifix was probably inserted into the new GIRM to counter a movement which favored the use of simple bare crosses or even images of the risen Christ.
While such symbols may have a role in churches, they may not substitute the crucifix. Use of the crucifix during Mass serves as a reminder and a sign that the Eucharistic celebration is the same sacrifice as Calvary.
Yet, there are many different acceptable forms of liturgical crucifix which may be used at Mass.
2. If the tabernacle is present in the sanctuary, then the priest and ministers genuflect toward it at the beginning (before kissing the altar) and at the end of Mass (after kissing the altar), but not during the celebration itself -- even though they may cross in front of it.
It may be an approved custom in your country, India, to substitute a deep bow for a genuflection if this gesture has the same significance of adoration implied in the genuflection.
If the tabernacle is not present in the sanctuary, then the priest and ministers bow toward the altar (not the crucifix) at the beginning and end of Mass.
3. Your third question reflects a long-standing debate regarding this gesture which has occasioned rivers of ink to be spilt among liturgists -- without really clearing anything up.
I would first observe that, unlike the pronunciation of the words of consecration, the gesture of extending the hand at this moment may even be omitted and is not required for the validity of the concelebrants' celebration.
The crux of the debate is to determine whether the gesture of extending the hand is merely indicative -- a pointing toward the sacred species -- or whether it is directly a sign of the concelebrants' power of consecration.
Those who favored the indicative meaning favor the palm pointing upward, usually at a slight angle.
Others, such as the late Benedictine Cipriano Vagaggini (who actually had a hand in composing the new rite of concelebration), favored the epicletic (invocative) gesture of palms downward in the same manner that all priests do at the beginning of the rite of consecration when they extend both hands and call upon the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood.
After a few years it became apparent that the debate was going nowhere and, absent an official declaration from the Holy See, everybody more or less agreed to disagree.
This does not mean that when some priests act one way and others another they are expressing some profound theological disagreement. It probably does no more then reflect the opinion of whoever taught liturgy in the seminary.
Man, you folks have an amazing number of rules and regulations!
In my (former) NO parish, I approached the pastor on several occasions regarding the absence of a Crucifix "on or near the altar", to no avail. During Lent, however, he would replace the Risen Christ with a beautiful Crucifix, purchased "for the season". In other words, he viewed the Crucifix as a 'prop'. Last September, the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14 fell on a Sunday. The pastor set up a beautiful display of the Crucifix, adjacent to the altar. Following mass, I pointed out to him how perfectly placed and suitable was the display, suggesting that it remain permanently, in conformity with GIRM #308. He smiled at me. The following Sunday, like the lenten Crucifix, this one had also been removed. When he eventually decided to permanently consign the processional cross to a closet, I walked.
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