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Pope’s Processional Cross

And More on Mass in China

ROME, MAY 13, 2008 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I noticed that the Holy Father is carrying a new processional cross. Can you tell us about that new cross and perhaps why the Holy Father made the decision to carry this new cross rather than the one that he has carried for the past several years — the same one that Pope John Paul II carried? Are there norms and guidelines for what type of shepherd’s staff the Holy Father can carry? — B.D., Columbia City, Indiana

A: I too have noticed this new pastoral cross used by Benedict XVI. While I have no particular insights into the Holy Father’s mind, I doubt that we need to try to dig out profound theological motives. The most probable reason is that he found this cross more to his taste than the other one.

The slightly abstract pastoral staff that John Paul II carried all over the world was first designed for Pope Paul VI, a connoisseur and promoter of modern sacred art. The Italian Pope established a modern arts gallery in the Vatican Museums and commissioned the huge Risen Christ bronze sculpture in the Paul VI audience hall.

Before the conciliar reform the use of a crosier or pastoral staff was almost unknown in papal liturgies.

This was because the practice of assigning the pastoral staff to a bishop did not originate in Rome but, probably, in Spain during the seventh century from whence it spread to the rest of Europe.

The popes never adopted the use of the crosier. Even today the new rite for installing a pope foresees the imposition of the pallium and placing of the Fisherman’s Ring, but not the handing over of the pastoral staff.

Among the reasons adduced for this omission during the Middle Ages was that it would be improper since the reception of the pastoral staff implied investiture on behalf of a superior whereas the popes received their power from God alone.

On some rare occasions, however, such as the opening of the Holy Door and the consecration of a church, the popes did use a staff surmounted by a cross and this custom was adopted after the liturgical reform which foresaw a much more frequent use of the pastoral staff in papal liturgies.

The cross that Benedict XVI has been using belonged originally to Pope Blessed Pius IX and is much lighter than it looks. This is another plus, considering Benedict XVI’s age.

There is no particular law that would oblige the Holy Father to choose one design of cross over another, and it is entirely a question of pontifical artistic sensibility.

* * *

Follow-up: Chinese State-Sponsored Mass

In the wake of our comments on the Catholic Church in China (April 29), a priest with long experience working in Beijing wrote that he was “disappointed” that I might have given the impression that we are dealing with two and not one Chinese Catholic Churches.

I am not totally convinced that what I wrote left such an impression. By placing the word “official” in quotation marks I sought to emphasize that I was adopting a frequently used expression that is not totally accurate.

Also, by drawing a parallel with the situation of the French Revolution I hoped to show that we are not dealing with two Churches but with two ways of responding to an unjustified interference by the state in the Church’s inner life. Some have come to an understanding with the state; others have heroically resisted and have paid, and continue to pay, a severe price for their fidelity to Rome.

However, in deference to the wisdom and personal experience of our correspondent, and to clarify any lingering doubts, I report below the substance of his message.

“Dear Father McNamara, I was disappointed to read your comments about the Chinese ‘official’ church. Though you did not state anything that is false, the ‘impression’ you left gives me cause to respond in charity and clarification.

“The fact is: the official Vatican position has always been that there is only one church in mainland China — but as John Paul II reiterated time and time again, it is a ‘divided’ church. The Chinese ‘official’ church is not a schismatic church. Its sacraments are valid but illicit.

“Secondly, as most Sinologists will tell you, about 97% of the current bishops have been ‘legitimized’ by the Vatican. To ensure the safety of the Chinese bishops, the Vatican never mentions who has been legitimized.

“However, in some cases, at the consecration of certain bishops, the legitimization letter of the Pope has been read either before or after the letter of appointment by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. For example, the recently consecrated bishop of Beijing, Li Shan Joseph, was approved by the CCPA and legitimized by the Vatican. In my recent visit to Beijing, I noted that the … priest who took over after me for the pastoral care of the foreign Roman Catholics, had obtained permission from Bishop Li to confirm.

“Benedict XVI’s letter was a ‘watershed’ moment in the history of the Chinese Catholic Church…. It recognizes that an underground church is not consistent with our history and encourages legitimized bishops ‘when it is convenient’ to admit their legitimization.

“I would ask you to please paint an accurate picture of the Chinese Catholics.”

All I can say in conclusion is to invite all of our readers to pray so that the unity and harmony that Pope Benedict XVI desires for the Catholic Church in China be achieved as soon as possible.

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