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Do you know why Pope Benedict kept a Crucifix on the Altar?

The placement of a crucifix in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is mandated to be either on or near the altar. However, there is no precise guideline as to where exactly it should be situated. The crucifix could be a processional cross, a small cross placed flat on the altar, or mounted on the wall.

Nevertheless, Pope Benedict XVI was a fervent advocate for a large and conspicuous crucifix on the altar. His successor, Pope Francis, has continued this tradition, drawing inspiration from Benedict XVI’s example.

In his book, Spirit of the Liturgy, Benedict XVI explained his rationale for his strong belief. The Vatican quotes him as challenging the claim that a crucifix on the altar could obstruct the view of the priest by the congregation.

He elaborated that the crucifix is not a hindrance to prayer, nor is it inappropriate for the faithful to look at the cross. Rather, it is an invitation to collectively gaze upon the Lord. Benedict XVI viewed the crucifix as a unifying symbol for all, rather than an impediment to communal worship.

He emphasized the importance of the altar cross, calling it the “preliminary condition” for a celebration facing the people. Benedict XVI believed that the crucifix distinguished between the liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic prayer. The former was about proclamation and an immediate reciprocal relationship, whereas the latter was about community adoration.

Benedict XVI expressed his dismay at the trend of moving the altar cross to the side to provide an unobstructed view of the priest. He found it “absurd” and questioned the priority of the priest over Our Lord.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is an opportunity for both the priest and the congregation to turn towards the Lord and gaze upon Christ, whose sacrifice is made present through the words of the priest.

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