HEN it comes to “progressive” liturgy, the Collegeville PrayTell Blog is second to none. To put it mildly, it’s not a website I consider to be healthy reading. However, I was recently made aware of an outrageous article which—in my humble opinion—must be condemned. Someone named “Fritz Bauerschmidt” wrote as follows:
I am deeply troubled by the idea that our common orientation should be toward the crucifix (even though I know that Joseph Ratzinger has endorsed it), which is simply a humanly fashioned symbol. Shouldn’t our common orientation be toward Christ really present in the Eucharist? Here we have not simply a symbol, like the crucifix, but an efficacious sign—not an object we have made, but a person who has made himself present to us. […] I would say that identifying the crucifix rather than the Eucharist as the point of orientation skirts the edge of idolatry. This point seems so obvious to me that I wonder what is going on with those who continue to put forward the idea of common orientation toward the crucifix. Could this be a case of a poor idea gaining momentum simply because it has been suggested by an authoritative source (i.e. Pope Benedict).
Skirting the “edge of idolatry,” eh? He’s dead wrong.
The history of the Catholic Church shows that holy activities have never been considered as “taking away” from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Father Valentine Young, OFM, often reminded us that Pope Leo XIII told Catholics to pray the Rosary during Mass (at least three separate times). A dubium was sent to the Sacred Congregation of Rites asking “whether these words should be understood as the Rosary to be said at the same time of the celebration of the Mass.” The Congregation answered: “Affirmative.” Moreover, the Roman Missal explicitly tells the priest to look at the Crucifix at various times during the Holy Mass. This has never been considered an affront to the Sanctissimum. Indeed, the laws of the Catholic Church specifically mandate a Crucifix for the Altar.
In the solemn rites for Good Friday, there is a ceremony called by various names: the “Solemn Veneration” of the Holy Cross; the “Adoration” of the Holy Cross; or the “Worship” of the Holy Cross. To understand what this means, consider what is printed in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which bears an IMPRIMATUR (1909) by Most Reverend John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York:
The ignorant may allege grave disorder in the act of adoration of the Cross on bended knee. Is not adoration due to God alone? The answer may be found in our smallest catechism. The act in question is not intended as an expression of absolute supreme worship (latreia) which, of course, is due to God alone. The essential note of the ceremony is reverence (proskynesis) which has a relative character, and which may be best explained in the words of the Pseudo-Alcuin: Prosternimur corpore ante crucem, mente ante Dominium. Veneramur crucem, per quam redempti sumus, et illum deprecamur, qui redemit (“While we bend down in body before the cross we bend down in spirit before God. While we reverence the cross as the instrument of our redemption, we pray to Him who redeemed us”). —Note: I owe this citation to the Saint Isaac Jogues Illuminated Missal, Gradual, and Lectionary.
Another Roman Catholic book—The Office of the Holy Week, According to the Roman Missal and Breviary (1796AD)—has this to say about the Solemn Veneration of the Cross:
Next, both Priest and people adore Jesus Christ crucified, expressing their adoration by kneeling thrice before they kiss the sacred wounds represented by the figure on the cross. This ceremony is a great stumbling-block to Protestants, who think us guilty of idolatry by it, especially when the Rubrick calls it, “the Adoration of the Cross,” and the Choir at the same time sing, We adore thy Cross, O Lord, &c. But we presume they will give us leave to know the meaning of our own words and actions, and believe us, when we tell them, that our genuflexion, and kissing of the cross, are no more than outward expressions of the love and adoration which we bear in our hearts to Jesus Christ crucified; and that the words “adoration” and “adore,” as applied to the Cross, signify only that respect and veneration which is due to things relating to God and his service.
The same is affirmed by Sir Walter Kirkham Blount, whose English hymns appear in the Brébeuf hymnal. Sir Walter published a Roman Catholic “Holy Week Book” in 1670AD which says: “The Adoration is not terminated in wood of the Cross, but in Iesus-Christ fastened thereon.” You can see this with your own eyes:
Page 333 of The Roman Missal for the Use of the Laity according to the Use of the Holy Roman Church containing also the Masses proper to this country in their respective places was published in Birmingham (1845) under the approval of the Roman Catholic bishops, and reads as follows:
The intention of the church in exposing the cross to our veneration on this day is that we might the more effectually raise up our hearts to Him who expired thereon for our redemption. Whenever, therefore, we kneel, or prostrate ourselves before a crucifix, it is Jesus Christ only whom we adore, and it is in him alone that our respects terminate.
The team which created the Brébeuf hymnal included several outstanding theologians from all over the world. If you turn to “Gloriosi Salvatoris Nominis Praeconia” you will see a footnote. (For the record, I had nothing to do with such footnotes, because I’m not a theologian.)
The footnote reads as follows:
Verse 4: “Jesus, we thy name adoring”—Christians adore the name of Jesus because it is His name, and whatever belongs to God the Son is, by virtue of that same propriety, adorable. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 3rd part, Q. 25.
Mr. Bauerschmidt, it’s not wrong to look at the Crucifix during Mass. Adopting the “Benedictine Arrangement” is much better than having priest and congregation stare at each other throughout Mass. Nor does gazing at the Crucifix imply a rejection of Church teaching on the Blessed Sacrament. You describe your notion about idolatry as “so obvious,” but—if I might be allowed to express my own opinion—I find your idea disgusting and sacrilegious.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
I’m not sure why the quotation by Mr. Bauerschmidt doesn’t end with a question mark. On the other hand, PrayTell has historically struggled with the English language. Even today I see an egregious error—it should be “whom.” PrayTell exists primarily to goad serious Catholics, so maybe I should not have responded, since it gives them exactly what they crave.