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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Palm Sunday Procession, Good Friday Cross or Crucifix, and Kiss of Peace

by Catherine Frakas 12 Jul 2002

Palm Sunday Procession, Good Friday Cross or Crucifix, and Kiss of Peace QUESTION from Fr. Martin Farrell, O.S.D on Fr. Martin Farrell, O.S.D Dear Mr. Slavek,
I was browsing again through some of your back correspondence, and came upon a January Question (by Gerry, I think) regarding, a) a priest riding a donkey in the Palm Sunday procession; b)whether to use a cross or crucifix in the Rite for Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, and c) whether the priest ought to leave the Altar for the Kiss of Peace to greet folks in the pews.
Just a few remarks. First, about the donkey: Quite apart from what you've said about the way this trivializes the Liturgy, I believe that doing this kind of thing betrays, more importantly, a deeper MISUNDERSTANDING of what the Palm Sunday Liturgy--and, in fact, all the Holy Week Services--are trying to do. The Palm Sunday Procession with Palms often becomes, at the hands of those who fail to appreciate what the Church really intends, an attempt to re-enact the first Palm Sunday, rather than enter into the ongoing, eternal event to which, at the Liturgy, we all become--we all ARE-- present. It's rather like those folks who re-enact the battle of Yorktown or Gettysburg, as part of a group of civil war or Revolutionary War buffs often do because they honor the original event but couldn't be present 150 or 200 years ago for it. At the liturgy we aren't restricted by time from entering into the original event like those guys in the uniforms are. At the Liturgy, time ends, and we enter into eternity, where each of God's actions on our behalf become present to us once again. We don't cast our minds back to what Jesus did once upon a time, but rather unite with him and all the other folks the world over at the ORIGINAL moment.
In one place I know of, the priest, after blessing the palms, takes the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, mounts a donkey, and leads the procession to the Church while folks put palms and coats on the road ahead of him. When I asked why, I was told that this way, since we have Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, it's more real. WRONG. It's real just because it's the Liturgy. And Jesus is already present anyhow. Just read Sacrosanctum Concillium to learn about all the ways His presence is already real. In the Holy Week Liturgies, the presence of Jesus is especially highlighted in the person of the priest or bishop, who takes the role of Jesus again and again--in the Palm Sunday Procession, the Passion Readings, the washing of the Feet (Mandatum), at the Altar, etc. Using a donkey may make it a bit cornier, but it doesn't make it any realer.
Second, the use of a cross at the Adoration of the Cross, versus a crucifix. Actually, crux DOES mean cross. There's another latin word for crucifix. And the rubrics call for a cross, as do the words of the liturgy: Ecce lignum CRUCIS, in quo salus mundi pependit (Behold the wood of the CROSS, on which has hung the salvation of the world). Now, the US bishops have, I believe, decided it is possible to use a crucifix because it's been in common usage anyway, despite the rubrics. HOWEVER, the use of a Cross is preferrable not just for the reasons given above, but because the whole point of the rite is to point to the cross as the TREE OF LIFE which brings life to the world and destroyed the TREE OF DEATH--the TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL from Eden--which was the instrument of death and Sin. It's a fine example of the juxtaposition of symbols which makes the liturgy so rich and meaningful. Putting a corpus on the cross deflects attention from the cross itself, and, while it may SEEM a small point, it really is not. One thing it does is underscore how the created world participates in the work of redemption, as an indispensible tool of the Redeemer. It calls to mind the words of Tertullian, The flesh is the hinge of salvation. In other words, redemption involves man body AND soul, and so involves the physical world as an essential component of salvation. (This is why none of the Sacraments are purely spiritual actions--they all involve some THING as well).
Finally, the priest leaving the Holy Place to exchange the kiss of peace with the people in the pews. It's UNFORTUNATELY all too common to see that, and, quite apart from how it ignores the rubrics, it ALSO contradicts the theology which the rubrics underscore. In the OLD rite--the Tridentine rite--the Pax WAS given in an hierarchical manner, beginning with the senior cleric--the bishop or priest. Then it went to the deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, etc., all down the line. In the Liturgy of Paul VI, however, it is not done that way. Instead, it forces us to associate the presence of Christ with each person in the room, since, once the instruction Offer yourselves peace (literal translation) has been given, it becomes a spontaneous sharing that originates not from the Altar specifically, but from Jesus present in each Christian there, who is him- or herself an icon of the presence of Christ, each person becoming alter Christus to the other. The priest who insists on leaving the Altar to personally bestow the Pax on everyone in the room is demonstrating not just an improper understanding of or utter disregard for the Rubrics, but a pretty passe' form of clericalism which presumes it can't happen unless Father starts it.
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on March 28, 2002 Dear Rev Fr. Farrell,
Thank you for your input. I believe that the intent of the fathers when originally writing the General Instruction actually was a crucifix for crux, translated into English as cross. I believe this expecially because of the clarficiation in the new instruction which would be very difficult to mistranslate, a crux with an image of Christ fixed on it
Thank you,
Mr. Slavek
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