Must there be a crucifix at the altar during Mass? - Catholic Courier
Canonist Jenna Marie Cooper is a consecrated virgin and a practicing canon lawyer. She is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/Jenna Marie Cooper) Canonist Jenna Marie Cooper is a consecrated virgin and a practicing canon lawyer. She is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/Jenna Marie Cooper)

Must there be a crucifix at the altar during Mass?

Q: Our priest has recently stopped using the processional cross, and now we have no crucifix on the altar during Mass or at any other time. I’ve always thought that there is supposed to be a crucifix on the altar to remind us all of the suffering and passion of Christ. (Location withheld)

A: Yes, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the “instruction book” for how Mass is to be celebrated, specifically indicates that “on the altar or close to it, there is to be a cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified” (GIRM, No. 117). Presumably, this is not only to remind us of Christ’s passion, but also to help call to mind how the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the same thing as Christ’s original sacrifice of his life on Calvary. GIRM 117 goes on to tell us that a processional crucifix may also be used for this purpose. But either way, it is clear that a crucifix is required. If it looks as though your own parish is not following this norm, the best thing to do would be to share your concerns directly with your pastor in a respectful way. Sometimes your local diocesan liturgy office can also be a good resource for these kinds of liturgical questions.

Q: We recently sold our house thanks to St. Joseph’s intercession. We buried a statue in the front yard and unearthed it once the house was sold. While moving, the head of the statue broke off. Is it OK to simply glue it back on? (Location withheld)

A: Yes, it’s fine just to glue it back on!

Generally, we say that devotional objects, especially blessed devotional objects, should be treated with a certain degree of respect (e.g., worn or damaged devotional objects should be disposed of reverently and not simply thrown out with the regular trash). Carefully repairing a St. Joseph statue is very much in line with this kind of reverence.

But devotional objects such as statues and images of saints aren’t magical or holy in and of themselves. In a similar way to how family photos can help us recall our loved ones, images of saints remind us of who we are, as the family of the people of God.

In terms of the specific custom of associating a statue of St. Joseph with real estate transactions, we recall St. Joseph’s role as the provider and protector of the Holy Family. St. Joseph made sure that Our Lord and Our Lady always had a roof over their heads, and so it makes sense for us to turn to him when we need help in arranging a safe and comfortable home for our own families.


Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist. Send your questions to CatholicQA@osv.com.

Tags: Catholic Beliefs
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