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Papal Crucifix Enduring Symbol of Papal Legacy

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No holy official carries more weight than the office of the Pope, and as such it is incumbent that the requisite instruments of papal office reflect the responsibility and dignity of the Pope. The Papal Crucifix, also known as the Papal Cross, is only one such instrument.


Often the Papal Crucifix is carried by the pontiff in ceremonial processions. To some it symbolizes the staff utilized by shepherds tending their flock, as the Pope uses his pastoral staff, or Papal Crucifix, to symbolically tend his flock. Indeed, the responsibilities of the papal office are great and far-reaching and the flock of followers is immense. And for this reason, the sitting Pope often utilized a very stylized design to distinguish his Papal Crucifix.


The Papal Crucifix is in reality an elaborate variation of the cross design, and it originally featured three horizontal sections, or bars, near the top. The three horizontal bars distinguished the Papal Crucifix from that of an arch-bishop or lesser ecclesiastical office. The three crossbars were also said to represent the three crosses on Calvary, and were typically sized in an ascending order, the smaller bar on top with the widest bar at the bottom. Pope Paul IV (papacy from June 21, 1963 until August 6, 1978) was the first to carry a single-barred crucifix, and each succeeding Pope has maintained the single-barred Papal Crucifix since. Current Pope Benedict XVI uses a Papal Crucifix carried by Popes Piux IX and Pius XII, and this particular crucifix has been accepted as a standard instrument for the papal office.


The crucifix is a powerful symbol to Christians, particularly to those who profess to be followers of the Roman Catholic faith. Roman Catholics commonly seek out places of worship in order to kneel in prayer before a crucifix. Often the follower kneels with head bowed and eyes closed in meditative reflection, praying to Christ to hear their words. The sign of the cross is used to close out this act of worship and prayer. Many priests commonly use this holy symbol in their services in keeping with the teachings of the Scripture: “preach Christ crucified”, and the crucifix will typically be carried at the head of any procession that precedes a significant ceremony or service.


Today, as the crucifix bears the weight of secular controversy, it is at times banned from public places with regard to the separation of Church and State or out of consideration of other polytheist faiths. To some, there is a concern that too much emphasis is placed on the material item itself. They fear that faith can be misplaced in such a material item, and that the worship of this item is nothing more than a variation of pagan idol worship. In early days, the papal office was responsible for settling such disputes; however, there has been a growing shift in focus toward spiritual matters and less focus on secular issues. The Papal Crucifix, to many, remains the ultimate symbol of religious authority and holy purity.


This article was published on Friday 22 May, 2009.

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