A necessary sign?

Question: Until recently at my parish, there was a free-standing crucifix up on the altar. The newer priest decided to put up a cross with a corpus statue on it on the wall behind the altar. This “crucifix” does not have any sign above Jesus’ head (as listed in two of the Gospels with the letters “INRI”). The priest said it is not needed. Is there not some Catholic custom that says a Catholic crucifix must have the sign above his head? After all, without the sign, the corpus statue could be any person, maybe even the thief St. Dismas, who was crucified alongside Jesus. Why would a Catholic priest not want a sign above Jesus’ head?

Dave Brown, Fayetteville, North Carolina

Answer: Though it is common on Catholic crucifixes, the titulus (or INRI) is not required on an altar cross or any cross, per se. INRI is a Latin abbreviation of “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” Regarding the altar cross, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says the following:

“Likewise, either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations, so as to call to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord” (No. 308).

Thus there is no mention of the titulus being required. It is unlikely anyone will be confused or think that someone other than Christ is being portrayed here despite the lack of an INRI.

While your preference for the INRI is understandable, we must all be aware of our tendency to dogmatize our preferences. In this case, since there is liberty to have the titulus or not, charity and respect for the decision of your pastor is what I would recommend. Perhaps he will be more willing to discuss his reasons with you if he does not perceive that you are saying he has done something wrong.

First-century signs

Question: It would seem Jesus’ predictions on Jerusalem’s ruin were fulfilled. However, what of his descriptions of alterations in the sun, moon and stars? Where these fulfilled?

Name withheld, Clinton, Maryland

Answer: Biblical scholars have differing opinions on what elements of the Mount Olivet discourse relate to the destruction of the Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and what might refer to the end of the world. Some of the details quite clearly relate to the events of A.D. 70, such as wars, Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, etc. Even some other details such as earthquakes and famines occurred around that time.

Other details may be references to the end of the world (the sun and moon darkened and the Son of Man coming on the clouds), or they also may have occurred in A.D. 70. Josephus, a historian at that time, describes clouds of smoke as Jerusalem burned, which dimmed the sun, moon and stars. He also described strange wonders in the heavens and strange lights near and above the Temple.

A balanced approach would be to acknowledge that all the signs had a historical reference, but also symbolically point to the end of the world, of which Jerusalem is a sign.

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As for Christ “coming on the clouds,” it is prophetic language and an image of judgment on ancient Israel for lack of faith.

It is also clear that Jesus will come in judgment on this world, as well.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.