Crosses in church

Question: What is the rule about the kind of cross that should be placed in a church building? Should it be Christ crucified or Christ risen? Some people in our parish don’t like that the large cross on the back wall is a risen Christ; they want the pastor to change it to a crucified Christ. 

— Name and city withheld, Wisconsin

Answer: There is no conflict between images of Christ crucified and of Christ risen. Good Friday and Easter Sunday belong together. Christ’s death would make no sense without the Resurrection, and Easter takes its fundamental meaning from Good Friday. 

That said, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that the principal liturgical cross in a church should be a crucifix. Among the liturgical furnishings, it says, “There is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside liturgical celebrations” (No. 308). 

This doesn’t mean the image of Christ risen on the back wall of your church should be removed; it is perfectly appropriate. There are no liturgical or theological arguments against this arrangement. However, it does not function as the main liturgical cross. The cross (a crucifix) that is carried in procession at the beginning and end of Mass and other liturgies and placed near (or on) the altar during the liturgy serves as the principal cross. 

Frequency of confession 

Question: When I was a child, we went to confession every two weeks. Since the changes after Vatican II, I’m confused as to how often I should go. Can you advise me? 

— Veronica, address withheld

Answer: Before the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics went to confession at least once a month. Vatican II and Church documents since then have said nothing to discourage frequent use of the sacrament. Indeed, much in the official teaching of the Church, including the writings of the post-conciliar popes, encourages frequent confession. 

Regarding the obligation to go to confession, the Code of Canon Law states: “After having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins once a year” (Canon 989). The word “grave” is equivalent to “mortal.” So, the obligation to confess once a year applies only to those in mortal sin. Technically, one need never go to confession (except for first confession) unless one is in mortal sin. 

However, the Church encourages frequent confession as a means of renewing and developing one’s spiritual life. I’m not breaking the seal of confession by saying that the majority of people who come to confession are not in mortal sin. They come because they want the “grace” of the sacrament — a closer relationship to Christ. Pastors and catechists should emphasize this aspect of the sacrament. 

How often should you go to confession? As often as you want, of course. Going during Advent and Lent is highly recommended. One could add the Saturdays before the following: one’s birthday or baptismal anniversary, the patronal feast day of the parish, one’s own name day or marriage anniversary. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.