At our last Synod, as the clergy were lining up for the procession, we were given instruction that because we were processing behind the cross we were not to reverence as we moved into our pews. A priest standing next to me said, “You mean we don’t get to reverence the cross?”
This is a very common mistaken notion. I suggest it was perpetuated when the altar was moved off of the east wall. Here is the sequence. When the altar was against the wall, it typically had the tabernacle on it or on the wall beside it (in which case it is called an aumbry). In the tabernacle is placed consecrated bread and wine. Thus when people entered the church, as they were stepping into their pews, they would bow or genuflect to honor the Real Presence of Christ contained in the tabernacle. But when the altar was moved off of the wall, the tabernacle lost its central place on the altar (sadly replaced by the priest) and in some cases the tabernacle was removed altogether. People continued the practice of reverencing but since the tabernacle was no longer central, over time they assumed that they were reverencing the cross. That is done when the cross passes by in procession but we reverence the altar because we believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are veiled in the consecrated bread and wine. Why do we believe that? Because that is what He said.
“This is My Body…this is My Blood.”
“He was the Word that spake it
He took the Bread and brake it
And what the Word doth make it
I do believe and take it.”