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Monday, December 28, 2009 

Is There A Wrong Way To Use A Processional Cross? I Think So…

Before this weekend I didn’t think there was a way to inproperly use a processional cross and upon visiting a new church this past weekend I discovered I was very much mistaken.

What is a processional cross? A processional cross is usually a crucifix (but sometimes a plain cross with no corpus for those groups or individuals who deem a crucifix too Roman Catholic or offensive) which is carried at the head of a procession and which is mounted upon a long staff or handle to be easily seen by members of the congregation.

What is a processional cross used for? The Altar Guild Manual (available here at Concordia Publishing House) has this to say about the use of the processional cross:

As the name implies, this cross is used in processions. It may be carried in an entrance procession at the beginning of the service, the Gospel procession (when the minister and attendants carry the lectionary of gospel book into the middle of the nave for reading the Gospel), or, if customary, to the gravesite in the service for the Burial of the Dead. When it is not being carried during the service, the processional cross rests in a stand in the chancel or in a bracket mounted on the chancel wall (p. 44).

As I’ve already stated I visited another congregation this weekend and I was having to pay extra close attention to the liturgy or order of service so I didn’t get even more confused than is my normal state. Everything was the same, but very different.

After the first praise song led by what I would deem a pretty well trained praise band the vicar led a childrens sermon that was based on what the Gospel reading of the day. About mid-way through children’s sermon a nice young lady brought the prosessional cross into the sanctuary (the The Altar Guild Manual is only a guide and there are no synod bylaws stating that a MUST be kept up in front of the church or chapel) and stood behind the raggamuffins as they listened and interacted with the vicar. After the vicar completed his task the young lady turned around, lifted the cross up as is the custom when moving from one location to another, and led the children out of the sanctuary before the adults started the worship service with the confession of sins.

I don’t think that the processional cross in traditional orthodox Christianity was ever used to usher children out of church, into a nursury, or away from the adults as they receive God’s divine gifts through the preached Word and administered Sacraments! I’ve made no secret here at POTF on my thought that children should included in the Divine Service as they need those same gifts of Word and Sacrament as much as you and I do!

A processional cross has always been used to announce or hearld the Gospel coming into midst of the faithful and has been done so for as long as people have gather in such large numbers that it was difficult to see what was going on. All the early christians did is to take a page out the military’s handbook when they used a guidon to direct troops in battle or marching in ceremonies. Granted, the first prosessionals used not crucifixes but banners but it was an easy transition for the first Christians.

The more I think about this past weekend the more it bothers me. There is something wrong with marching kids out of church so the adults can do their thing. There is something especially wrong with marching the ragamuffins out with a processional cross as if it were some ceremony that is good and edifying!

The processional cross can and should be used to announce that the Gospel is in the midst of the faithful and not be used to lead children away from the congregation gathered to receive our Lord’s gifts. But that’s just my thoughts on the matter…

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That is seriously weird.

Putting aside the fact of the children leaving the Divine Service (which is no small thing at all, and troubling to me) what sort of symbolism are they portraying by having the cross EXIT the sanctuary before the end of the service, before the proclamation of the word and the celebration of the Sacrament? All kinds of things wrong with that, I would think!

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the processional cross going right past the altar, heading down the ramp and out the door!

It's certainly a nice testimony to what happens when you start messing with the Order of Service. There's always somebody willing to innovate. Hopefully they'll eventually figure out that the cross and the children should remain in the chancel and the nave where they belong.

All I could think of was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, leading the children away...

Sigh.

Praise song? Praise band? Those would be enough to get me to process out the door right from the git go, whether or not I had a processional cross in front of me.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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