Purpose of the cross
The processional cross has been used for many centuries. Many missionaries would carry a cross before them in the same manner that banners were often carried in front of armies.
It is a symbol to the people of our faith and the great sacrifice Christ made for us.
The processional cross is most often a crucifix and is mounted on a long staff so that it is visible for all.
Carrying the cross has always been the duty of the Altar Server, however in recent times in some parishes where there have not been sufficient Altar Servers the duty of carrying the cross has fallen to the Acolyte.
It has therefore become a tradition that the Acolyte should always carry the cross in procession. Traditions should be respected, however if there are sufficient Altar Servers it is encouraged that they perform this duty.
When is it used?
The processional cross is used in the following situations.
- Entrance procession for mass
- Leaving procession for mass
- Stations of the cross
- Ceremonial processions outside of the church (e.g. Proceeding a procession of a saint around the streets of the parish)
- Proceeding a funeral procession to a grave.
During an ordinary mass the Cross will lead the procession into the church. In special celebrations the cross follows the Thurifer and Boat Bearer who carry the thurible and incense. Depending on the custom of each church (and obviously allowing for room) the procession may then line up at the front of the altar where everyone bows in respect to the altar (see the article titled Objects within the church for information as to why), or else the Cross bearer will pause briefly respectfully bow his or her head in reverence and proceed to place the cross in its customary stand or bracket (again depending on what each church uses).
At the end of the mass the procession will be lead by the Cross Bearer. As stated before the lining up of the altar servers and priest will depend on the tradition of the church (see below for examples of formations) however the order for the exist procession is
- Cross Bearer
- Candle Bearers
- Book Bearer (if one is present)
- Other altar servers
- Other con-celebrating priests
- (If the celebrant is a Bishop, Archbishop or Cardinal and it is a full pontifical mass there may be two more altar servers acting as Miter and Crosier bearers which will follow last
Stations of the Cross
During the Stations of the Cross an Acolyte or Altar Server may be required to carry the cross. Usually the Cross Bearer will proceed the priest from the sanctuary and stop at the first station where the readings and prayer for that station are said (or sung). The Cross Bearer will then proceed to the next station in turn until all the Stations are completed.
In some parishes they still celebrate the feast day of their patronage. This is usually a saint or in some places it is the Blessed Virgin Mary. For example in the parish of St. Brigids in Midland they celebrate the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians while St Jeromes in Spearwood celebrates the feast of St Lucy.
In these parishes it is not uncommon for a procession to take place outside the church. Sometimes within the church grounds sometimes with a procession of devotion through the streets. In both situations the procession is lead by the Cross Bearer.
While not as common these days the Cross can be used at the grave site during a funeral to lead the funeral procession from the cemetery entrance to the final resting place of the deceased. In this instance the Cross Bearer takes the processional cross to the front front of the procession where they will usually be given directions from the Funeral Directors as to where to proceed.
Samples of different entrance and leaving processions in during a mass.
In a normal mass the leaving procession is identical to the entrance one.
The Leaving procession reverts to the Normal Mass Leaving. That is the Thud Boat are left behind and the Altar Servers join the leaving procession behind the candle bearers.