A processional cross is simply a crucifix which is carried at the head of a procession, and which, that it may be more easily seen, is usually mounted upon a long staff or handle.
From an archaeological point of view this subject has already been briefly dealt with under Cross. It will suffice to note here that the processional cross does not essentially differ from what may be called the cross of jurisdiction which is borne before the pope, his legates, and metropolitans or archbishops. The pope is entitled to have the cross borne before him wherever he may be; a legate's cross is used only in the territory for which he has been appointed, and that of an archbishop within the limits of his province. All these crosses, including that of the pope, have in practice only one bar. The double-barred cross is a sort of heraldic fiction which is unknown in the ceremonial of the Church. It is supposed that every parish possesses a cross of its own and that behind this, as a sort of standard, the parishioners are marshalled when they have to take part in some general procession. It is usual also for cathedral chapters and similar collegiate bodies to possess a processional cross which precedes them in their corporate capacity; and the same is true of religious, for whom usage prescribes that in case of the monastic orders the staff of the cross should be of silver or metal, but for the mendicant orders, of wood. In the case of these crosses of religious orders, confraternities, etc. it is usual in Italy to attach streamers to a sort of penthouse over the crucifix, or to the knob underneath it. When these crosses are carried in procession the figure of Christ faces the direction in which the procession is moving, but in the case of the papal, legatine, and archiepiscopal crosses the figure of our Saviour is always turned towards the prelate to whom it belongs. In England, during the Middle Ages, a special processional cross was used during Lent. It was of wood, painted red and had no figure of Christ upon it. It seems probable that this is identical with the "vexillum cinericium" of which we read in the Sarum Processional.
As, according to the requirements of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, the altars of a church and especially the high altar should be covered by a baldacchino, and the bishop's throne etc. should be honoured with the same mark of respect, so canopies are used in processions and solemn receptions not only for the Blessed sacrament but also under certain circumstances for bishops, legates, and princes of the blood royal. The principal occasions on which a bishop has the right to use a canopy are at his solemn reception in his own cathedral city, and when he makes his first pastoral visitation to any town or parish within his jurisdiction the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (I, ii, 4) directs that in these receptions the bishop is to ride on horseback wearing his mitre, and under a canopy which is in the first instance to be carried by some of the principal magistrates of the town. Excepting in the rare case of separate portions of the True Cross or of the instruments of the Passion, relics borne in procession are not to be carried under a canopy. In processions of the Blessed Sacrament the colour of the canopy must always be white. For transporting the Blessed Sacrament from one altar to another or for taking the Holy Viaticum, to the sick, it is customary in many places, e.g. in Rome, to use an umbrella, or ombrellino, as it is called in Italian, which is simply a small canopy with a single staff.
Processional banners have also been in common use in the Church since medieval times. In England before the Reformation they are frequently referred to, though it does not seem clear that these vexilla were floating draperies, such as we are now accustomed to understand by the name. The woodcuts which appear in some early editions of the Sarum Processional rather suggest a rigid frame of wood or metal. In the Rogation processions and some others two special vexilla were carried, representing the one a lion, the other a dragon (Rock, "The Church of Our Fathers", 1904, IV, 292). The use of a number of richly embroidered banners in religious processions of all kinds is now customary in most parts of the Church, but the Rituale Romanum (tit. IX, cap. i, 4, 5) seems to contemplate only a single banner. "At the head of the procession let a cross be carried, and where the custom obtains a banner adorned with sacred devices (sacris imaginibus insignitum), but not made in a military or triangular shape".
We may recognize a particular class of hymns which in the early Middle Ages were specially composed to be sung in processions, as distinct from the breviary hymns. These processional hymns were nearly always provided with a refrain. England was specially rich in such hymns, and several are to be found in the Sarum Processional. In the Roman liturgy we still retain the "Gloria, laus et honor" sung in the procession on Palm Sunday, and in the ceremony of the consecration of the oils on Maundy Thursday we have the hymn "O Redemptor, sume carmen temet concinentium". Both these have a refrain, as has also the Easter hymn "Salve festa dies", which in different forms appears in the Processionals of both Sarum and York. The hymns "Vexilla Regis" and "Pange lingua", though sung in processions, lack a refrain and are less properly processional hymns.
BARBIER DE MONTAULT, Traite pratique de la Construction etc. des Eglises, I (Paris, 1878), 382-499; ROCK, The Church of Our Fathers (2nd ed., London, 1904), II, 337 sq., IV, 262 sq.; WORDSWORTH, Salisbury Ceremonies and Processions (Cambridge, 1901).
APA citation. (1911). Processional Cross. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12448a.htm
MLA citation. "Processional Cross." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12448a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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