A Question

I have a question.  I’ve always been concerned at the Good Friday service by the language: “Behold the wood of the cross… Come let us worship.”  I have on good authority that the Latin used is the word for worship and adoration.  I do not know if Latin allows for such Greek distinctions as dulae, hyperdulae, and latria.  I’m uncomfortable with worshiping wood, even the wood of the cross, I think for obvious reasons.  Any help?


22 Responses to A Question

  1. Sam says:

    I’m not sure if the Latin rules this help out-of-bounds, but I’d point out that the formula “Behold the wood of the cross, on which has hung the savior of the world: come let us worship” in no way commits us to worshipping the wood of the cross. Beholding the wood moves us to worship the savior who hung on it.

  2. Thanks. I guess I don’t see how the prepositional phrase, “on which…” changes the object of worship. It still seems that the phrasing is meant to indicate worship of the wood of the cross. It is the wood, without a corpus on it, that is exposed when the priest chants these words.

  3. Sam says:

    It’s not just the preposition (at least as I hear it, and heard it today). “Come let us worship” is a command or invitation without a specified object, so we’re not required to suppose the object is the wood. There are two commands or invitations: behold and worship, and the second is a response to the first, but both are oriented towards Jesus as their fundamental object.

  4. Keith says:

    You know, I don’t think the service I was at today used those words at all, more just a general invitation to come up. It seems that you point to a larger problem than just the wording, but potentially the practice itself (at least to my mind it’s hard to make these two distinct issues). Anyways, it might be helpful to reflect some on what the crucifixion means theologically in order to sort this out. This clearly doesn’t get passed the issue of the specific wording, but it might be a good place to start.

  5. My assumption would be, Nathan, that you access one
    of our Jesuit scripture scholars, or theologians
    into such language interpretation, from both its
    liturgical application, and nuanced historical meaning….

    As for me in its Lay-person’s surface meaning, it is
    both literal, and mystical: both phenomenon underpin
    all Catholic liturgical Rites, because our rites
    are a living witness to the mystery left us to
    administer, and follow, and be influenced thereby.

    Northrop Frye reflects that Easter in its Christian
    application, integrates cycles of nature: plants
    hibernate in winter (die) and come BACK to life
    in spring. Precisely what trees do, and therefore
    the symbolism of the wood AS THE TREE of Life: Christ!

    Secondly, to me, the mystical ramification of WOOD
    is permanently changed BECAUSE it was USED to effect
    the Salvation Plan from eternity: to accomplish the
    Pascal Mystery, definitively. Our God, did not make
    us have to go up to meet, to encounter, Him. No, He
    came down and not only joined humanity, but became
    one of and with humanity, making both flesh and
    wood no longer the same from their time of creation…

    Both flesh, and wood are made holy, now, and forever!

    Therein therefore, we have been kidnapped by God
    from birth and never sought ransom. Because Christ
    paid it. We were never created out of nothing:
    we were created OUT OF love! Hence we are recipients
    of being, rather than beings: because we are destined
    not for temporality here, but for eternity hereafter.
    To join Him.

  6. Sam, that just doesn’t seem to do justice to the ritual, which is called “The Veneration of the Cross.” Then a cross is brought forward with these words chanted three times. And then we all go up and kiss the cross. I like what you’re saying, but I see no justification for doing those linguistic gymnastics. The intention seems to be to worship the wood. But maybe you’re right.

  7. Linda G says:


  8. Linda G says:

    Hairsplitting. As a writer I do it too but this takes it to the extreme and I am smiling broadly as I say this.

    As I said on another web site, were Christ to have died through modern death penalty (abolished here), there would be another device, not wood. We cherish the device because it held our Redeemer. It is the Redeemer we cherish. Hem of garment.

    Happy Easter from Canada!

  9. Sam says:

    (I hope this isn’t multiply posted: WordPress didn’t seem to be accepting the comment form.)

    Nathan, I think it turns out that we’re both a bit wrong, at least according to St. Thomas. I knew that I had seen a reference to this issue before, and here it is:

    ST III, q. 25, a. 4: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4025.htm#article4
    Found via this post: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/03/o-cross-of-christ-our-only-hope.html

    St. Thomas says that because of the ways the cross is united to Christ, our veneration is in fact adoration (latria, in Greek) because that is proper to Christ. (I think the question you raised is equivalent to objection 2.)

    So our the “come let us worship” is a summons to worship *the cross*, but the cross understood in its union with Christ — so we have real worship of the wood of the cross (not just a sign of the internalized worship) but it’s still real worship of Christ.

  10. Henry says:


    Hmm… do you believe that Christ, through His Church, would encourage you – or any of us – to engage in idolatry?

    I am asking this because there seems to be an assumption underneath your question which exhibits a detachment from your experience; or, better, a fuzziness about the relationship between Christology and Ecclesiology.

    Keep in mind that obedience is born as a reasonable attitude, an attitude born from the certainty that Christ is the one that fulfills even when we don’t understand what He is saying or doing. Think of the disciples when Christ told them to eat His body and drink His blood. Which group was more reasonable, the group that left or the group that stayed?

    Just some questions to stimulate your reflection my friend.



    P.S., I am not implying that one shouldn’t ask questions, I am talking about something deeper.

  11. Linda G says:

    I take the “cross” to mean the idea behind the cross (Christ). “Bring it to the cross,” a priest said to me.Literally I can’t take an issue to anywhere. How would I carry an issue”? In an envelope? A wheelbarrow? A written page? Nor can I adore a piece of wood. Nor would I.

    It means very simply, tell your issues to God.

    Wood means no more than the frame around a photograph of a loved one, nor does the photo inside. The subject holds our meaning, and we love the subject.

  12. Thanks Sam, that’s what I was looking for. Appreciate it. Happy Easter.

  13. Here’s the full text from the Summa. Thanks again Sam. It is the contact with Christ’s limbs through which latria is extended to the cross; because it has been drenched with his blood.

    Article 4. Whether Christ’s cross should be worshipped with the adoration of “latria”?

    Objection 1. It would seem that Christ’s cross should not be worshiped with the adoration of “latria.” For no dutiful son honors that which dishonors his father, as the scourge with which he was scourged, or the gibbet on which he was hanged; rather does he abhor it. Now Christ underwent the most shameful death on the cross; according to Wisdom 2:20: “Let us condemn Him to a most shameful death.” Therefore we should not venerate the cross but rather we should abhor it.

    Objection 2. Further, Christ’s humanity is worshiped with the adoration of “latria,” inasmuch as it is united to the Son of God in Person. But this cannot be said of the cross. Therefore Christ’s cross should not be worshiped with the adoration of “latria.”

    Objection 3. Further, as Christ’s cross was the instrument of His passion and death, so were also many other things, for instance, the nails, the crown, the lance; yet to these we do not show the worship of “latria.” It seems, therefore, that Christ’s cross should not be worshiped with the adoration of “latria.”

    On the contrary, We show the worship of “latria” to that in which we place our hope of salvation. But we place our hope in Christ’s cross, for the Church sings:

    “Dear Cross, best hope o’er all beside,
    That cheers the solemn passion-tide:
    Give to the just increase of grace,
    Give to each contrite sinner peace.”
    [Hymn Vexilla Regis: translation of Father Aylward, O.P.]
    Therefore Christ’s cross should be worshiped with the adoration of “latria.”
    I answer that, As stated above (Article 3), honor or reverence is due to a rational creature only; while to an insensible creature, no honor or reverence is due save by reason of a rational nature. And this in two ways. First, inasmuch as it represents a rational nature: secondly, inasmuch as it is united to it in any way whatsoever. In the first way men are wont to venerate the king’s image; in the second way, his robe. And both are venerated by men with the same veneration as they show to the king. If, therefore, we speak of the cross itself on which Christ was crucified, it is to be venerated by us in both ways–namely, in one way in so far as it represents to us the figure of Christ extended thereon; in the other way, from its contact with the limbs of Christ, and from its being saturated with His blood. Wherefore in each way it is worshiped with the same adoration as Christ, viz. the adoration of “latria.” And for this reason also we speak to the cross and pray to it, as to the Crucified Himself. But if we speak of the effigy of Christ’s cross in any other material whatever–for instance, in stone or wood, silver or gold–thus we venerate the cross merely as Christ’s image, which we worship with the adoration of “latria,” as stated above (Article 3).

    Reply to Objection 1. If in Christ’s cross we consider the point of view and intention of those who did not believe in Him, it will appear as His shame: but if we consider its effect, which is our salvation, it will appear as endowed with Divine power, by which it triumphed over the enemy, according to Colossians 2:14-15: “He hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross, and despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently, in open show, triumphing over them in Himself.” Wherefore the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 1:18): “The Word of the cross to them indeed that perish is foolishness; but to them that are saved–that is, to us–it is the power of God.”

    Reply to Objection 2. Although Christ’s cross was not united to the Word of God in Person, yet it was united to Him in some other way, viz. by representation and contact. And for this sole reason reverence is shown to it.

    Reply to Objection 3. By reason of the contact of Christ’s limbs we worship not only the cross, but all that belongs to Christ. Wherefore Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv, 11): “The precious wood, as having been sanctified by the contact of His holy body and blood, should be meetly worshiped; as also His nails, His lance, and His sacred dwelling-places, such as the manger, the cave and so forth.” Yet these very things do not represent Christ’s image as the cross does, which is called “the Sign of the Son of Man” that “will appear in heaven,” as it is written (Matthew 24:30). Wherefore the angel said to the women (Mark 16:6): “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified”: he said not “pierced,” but “crucified.” For this reason we worship the image of Christ’s cross in any material, but not the image of the nails or of any such thing.

  14. Happy Easter to all! I just want to mention that I think this post was a good example of some of you, both here and in private correspondence, not giving me the positive interpretation. There was some implication that by asking this question, I was seriously questioning the Church. I want to make it clear that it is precisely because I know that the Church has a reason for everything she does that I feel free to ask questions like this one. Many put a tone on it – i.e. of skepticism and disbelief – that was not my motive. Especially in blogging, let’s be careful about imputing motives. I feel that by asking my question, I learned something new about Aquinas and the Church, and presumably you did as well. Thanks.

    • Henry says:


      I, for one, did engage in “mind-reading” and I apologize for not engaging in “positive interpretation.” A blessed Easter to all!



    • Pete Lake says:

      Nathan, great point. I did not give you the positive interpretation in this case (nor did I do so in your blog about Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ). As readers of your blog we should keep this in mind. (Perhaps as the blogger you could too.) I, too, learned something new about the Veneration of the Cross because of this blog entry. Happy Easter to all! And while we’re asking questions in the spirit of faith and reason, can anyone tell me what our crucified Lord meant by “this day” when he told the good thief that he would be with him in paradise? I presume that “this day” must necessarily be after the ressurection and so not actually “this day” (i.e., the date of the death on the cross)?

  15. Linda G says:

    I see this as your exercise in intelligent thought. You ask, you receive. You are quite right in your hairsplitting. I do it all the time and happily drive folk nuts but that is what thought is for.

    Happy Easter!

  16. Linda G says:

    Yep this writer is guilty of that one. I expect people to know what I am thinking when I speak too.

    So what is the “next good thing” (my favourite line) here now? Will this blog continue past Easter?

  17. Linda G says:

    This day means the day you are standing in. Future and past are referred as that, not this. Although it is possible for this question to have existed in the past and to exist in the question at which times that would be also present as a this.

    Jesus is/was God and existed before he was incarnated so he existed in the past as well as he exists future and exists present.

  18. Gregory Benedict says:

    Why was I censored, Was I being punished for previous comments?

  19. Gregory, I’m not sure what you mean. Are you referring to my changing your “hellcare” to “healthcare?” I thought that was a little over the top and sensational.

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