18 June 2018

Flags

In pictures of the interiors of North American churches, even Catholic churches, one often sees the national flag in the Sanctuary to one side of the Altar.

I have never* seen this in an English church of any denomination. The most you might find would be the ancient 'laid up' colours of dear, long-forgotten regiments hanging from a dark and dusky ceiling, deliberately left to fall apart in cobwebs and sanctity.

I wonder when the American custom arose. To my quaint European instincts it seems an incomprehensible intrusion of transient terrestrial territorial politics into the Place of Eternity.

During the last war ... imagine German POWs being marched to Mass in an English church ... how easily could they have worshipped if the British Flag had been hanging aggressively in front of their eyes? And vice versa.

I believe the pro-Hitler 'German Christians' did it in the 1930s.

Do Ulster Protestants do it?

Do Canadians do it?

Do North American Orthodox or Eastern Catholics do it?

*Exception: In S James, Spanish Place, once the Spanish Embassy Chapel, there is, in one of the side aisles, the Spanish Royal Standard, handily placed so that, if the pp gets a message that His Most Catholic Majesty is about to pay a surprise visit, he can haul it up a rapid flagpole ...

40 comments:

Oliver Nicholson said...

This has surely more to do with the American preoccupation with flags than with a distinctive political theology. Where the Rood once was in the village church here there is a very fine Jacobean sculpture of the Royal Arms, complete with very masculine lion, though repainted to incorporate the Arms of Hanover in a manner probably displeasing to your eyes. This is a particularly fine specimen, but such are not particularly uncommon.

Sprouting Thomas said...

We do often see the Royal Arms on the chancel arch, of course. This can feel rather obnoxious, since they are naturally added to the visual composition of the Sanctuary, if you are looking from the nave. But in absolute terms, they are excluded from the most sacred space.

We have a good number of altars with arms displayed on the frontal; while many of these are ecclesiastical, surely some are not? I don't think it a terribly good practice, even where it is ancient - but if the Duke of Omnium establishes a chantry for his immortal soul, and wishes to have the altar decorated with some insignia of him, on whose behalf the sacrifice is there offered, does it seem excusable?

Perhaps, if they are very attached to the custom, on those occasions when Mass is offered in favour of the American people, certain national emblems could be incorporated into the vestments for that celebration in a subdued manner, e.g. the back of the vimpa, so as to suggest the humble approach of the supplicants to the altar of their salvation? I don't know what the precedent would be...But the flag, a symbol of jurisdiction, allegiance and possession, seems most unwanted. Regimental flags are usually kept at the extreme west.

KnotWilbur said...

Good morning Father,
I believe the custom of having flags in the sanctuary in the US began after the Know Nothing riots of the 1840s and 1850s, in an attempt to show that we Catholics, too, are citizens of this country, and, oddly enough, is commonly echoed by most protestants, as if to say, "Well, if the Catholics can show that they belong here in such a fashion, so can we."

TheOFloinn said...

I think it's b/c Catholics were not considered good Americans in the olden days because they owed an alliegance to a foreign power, viz., the Papacy. So they indulged in such practices to convince the Baptists and Episcopalians that they really were red-blooded Americans.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Certainly the practice in Peru and other SA countries. Often balanced on the other side by the Papl flag.

GOR said...

Yes Father, upon first arriving here I was surprised to see Old Glory displayed in churches – along with the Papal flag. I don’t know the provenance of the custom but I’ll hazard a guess. Back in the late 19th century as the number of Catholics in the US increased there was concern by the non-Catholic establishment that Catholics might not be patriotic enough.

It was thought that they might owe greater allegiance to a foreign power i.e. the Pope. That suspicion still manifested itself up to recent times, as the controversy about Catholic John F. Kennedy’s presidential candidature got under way. Thus I can see the late 19th century episcopate at pains to scotch such suspicions by introducing the flag display to demonstrate patriotism.

Or, as the Papal flag is also displayed, it may be someone’s visual representation of an evangelical “God and Mammon”.

Timothy Graham said...

In the late Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley's church, the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast, there were two flags hanging from poles on either side of the pulpit, a Union flag on one side and the loyalist Ulster flag (the flag of the Ulster province, modified by the addition of a Crown above the Red Hand) on the other side.

At the Catholic cathedral just off the Falls Road in the same city, St Peter's, a large Vatican state flag flew outside the main west entrance gate.

Feed Room Five said...

Once upon a time the placing of flags in the sanctuary was an issue of Churchmanship in the Protestant Episcopal Church. The Low Churchmen wanted them but when a man with Catholic sympathies came along the flags were the first thing to go. Which is not to say that is was just a concern for the clergy. In a country parish where I was rector
the parishioners approached me and asked that the flags, national and denominational, be removed. They sensed that the sanctuary was not a place for displays of patriotism or sectarian allegiance. That and of course they did not care for the previous rector who had restored the flags. Now I might add the place is empty because most of the folks went to the ordinariate parish.

Ben of the Bayou said...

Father,

You have put your finger right upon it: "it seems an incomprehensible intrusion of transient terrestrial territorial politics into the Place of Eternity.". And, so it is.

I became a Catholic some years ago, and was shocked to see what I had never seen in the Methodist congregation in which I was raised: national flags *in the sanctuary.* It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Alas, I blame the Irish-Americans.

--Ben

PaulLong said...

I've seen it enough in here in Canada, but it isn't quite as prominent as in the U.S. I think. In Catholic churches it is normally balanced with a vatican flag.

Titus said...

Very common in American churches. Also common in American protestant churches, where they tend to pair the flag not with the papal standard, but with that odd, vexillologically atrocious "Christian" flag someone thought up, white field with red cross on a blue canton.

Pater Ignotus said...

So the presence of American and papal flags in Catholic churches was intended to affirm both civil allegiance and Catholicity, and to present these allegiances as compatible in principle. You could criticize the two flags as conflating nationalism and faith in an unfitting way. I agree that the presence of the two flags in U.S. Catholic churches could be misunderstood as both exaggerated American nationalism and as an exaggerated ultramontanism (we're not citizens of Vatican City, after all!).

But the two flags could also be seen as a symbolic affirmation, in the American context, of the lawful claims of both God and Caesar. The two flags attempt to avoid both deifying the Republic and delegitimizing it: the Cross and the altar are at the center, civil allegiance and papal authority being symbolically subordinated to Christ on the Cross.

On the whole, the Catholic pattern has been that consecrating our particularistic/national loyalties is better than either denying them or allowing them to become wholly secularized. Leo XIII wanted all Catholic peoples to consecrate themselves to the Heart of Christ. While Leo XIII condemned "Americanism" as ideology or as a universal model, he did not find fault with Americans valuing their own particularity and wishing to retain it, as other peoples are also free to do.

I myself don't especially favor the presence of either the U.S. flag or the papal flag near the altar. There are better ways to make the necessary point about civil and religious allegiance. Besides, the flags (at least as permanent fixtures, rather than on certain civil occasions) are aesthetically not fitting.

Other countries have had similar symbolic gestures. English Catholics have had to find ways to express both Catholicity and civil loyalty in a Protestant monarchy. In France during and after the First World War, there were banners with the Tricolor, having the Sacred Heart superimposed upon it.

I don't know if those banners were in French churches, though; I think they were, at times and in some places. The Tricolor banner with the Sacred Heart superimposed symbolically represents also an acceptance of Leo XIII's ralliement, which encouraged French Catholics to accept the Republic and to work within it.

I believe that the Mexican flag is prominently displayed at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac.

So, in other words, the practice of having the U.S. flag and the papal flag may not be desirable, but it's not, in its context, so different from what happens in other countries, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

Pater Ignotus said...

So the presence of American and papal flags in Catholic churches was intended to affirm both civil allegiance and Catholicity, and to present these allegiances as compatible in principle. You could criticize the two flags as conflating nationalism and faith in an unfitting way. I agree that the presence of the two flags in U.S. Catholic churches could be misunderstood as both exaggerated American nationalism and as an exaggerated ultramontanism (we're not citizens of Vatican City, after all!).

But the two flags could also be seen as a symbolic affirmation, in the American context, of the lawful claims of both God and Caesar. The two flags attempt to avoid both deifying the Republic and delegitimizing it: the Cross and the altar are at the center, civil allegiance and papal authority being symbolically subordinated to Christ on the Cross.

On the whole, the Catholic pattern has been that consecrating our particularistic/national loyalties is better than either denying them or allowing them to become wholly secularized. Leo XIII wanted all Catholic peoples to consecrate themselves to the Heart of Christ. While Leo XIII condemned "Americanism" as ideology or as a universal model, he did not find fault with Americans valuing their own particularity and wishing to retain it, as other peoples are also free to do.

I myself don't especially favor the presence of either the U.S. flag or the papal flag near the altar. There are better ways to make the necessary point about civil and religious allegiance. Besides, the flags (at least as permanent fixtures, rather than on certain civil occasions) are aesthetically not fitting.

Other countries have had similar symbolic gestures. English Catholics have had to find ways to express both Catholicity and civil loyalty in a Protestant monarchy. In France during and after the First World War, there were banners with the Tricolor, having the Sacred Heart superimposed upon it.

I don't know if those banners were in French churches, though; I think they were, at times and in some places. The Tricolor banner with the Sacred Heart superimposed symbolically represents also an acceptance of Leo XIII's ralliement, which encouraged French Catholics to accept the Republic and to work within it.

I believe that the Mexican flag is prominently displayed at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac.

So, in other words, the practice of having the U.S. flag and the papal flag may not be desirable, but it's not, in its context, so different from what happens in other countries, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

John the Mad said...

Not all Catholic churches in Canada do it, but it is not uncommon. Usually, there is a papal flag beside the national flag. My preference would be not to fly a national flag. Give unto God the things that are God's.....

1569 Rising said...

At St Joseph's Gateshead, the fortnightly Missa Cantata always ends with "Domine Salvam Fac Reginam Nostram Elizabeth..." The plainchant notation is readily in "Plainsong for Schools" and in some editions of the Liber Usualis.

That is the way to do it - liturgically correct and in full conformity to Catholic traditions.

Jonathan Dandridge said...

After viewing some random pictures of Eastern Catholic church interiors it appears that a few have an American flag placed discretely to the left of the iconostasis but many do not. I did not see a papal flag in any of the pictures, perhaps because Eastern Catholics although in communion with Rome do not emphasize the relationship to the degree that Roman Catholics do.

Vincent said...

I attended Holy Mass recently at St Stephen's Basilica in Budapest. The Hungarian flag flies in the sanctuary there.

Pater Ignotus said...

I think the practice in the U.S. arose during the First World War of having both the American flag and the papal flag flanking the altar. The purpose was to affirm both patriotic loyalty and Catholicity. Catholics in the USA were largely an immigrant Church and were viewed with suspicion as having divided loyalties, on several levels.

Both Protestants and secularists in the U.S. viewed Catholics as owing an allegiance to the Pope that could conflict with civil allegiance. Also, the less assimilated Catholics did have lingering ties to their countries of origin (the Irish and the Germans especially). German-American Catholics (and German-American Protestants, too) were in a particularly difficult position during the First World War. Catholics wanted to show that they were both good citizens and good Catholics.

The two-flags approach is not the English Catholic way of doing things, but I think that Catholic bishops in the UK have often made declarations of loyalty to the sovereign and offered prescribed prayers, in accord with 1 Tim 2.1-2, since all authority is of God (Rom 13.1) and we are to love God and honor civil authority (1 Pt 2.17). These demonstrations of loyalty were necessary in order to gain toleration and eventual Catholic emancipation.

The two flags are perhaps the American symbolic popular equivalent of making the same point that Newman made in his "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk." I do think there are better ways to go about it.

MaryP said...

Having the American flag in Catholic Churches in America has been the case as long as I can remember (to 1950) but it was always balanced by a papal flag. Lately, that has disappeared. The original intent was to show the Know-Nothing types that Catholics are Americans. Now Catholics are embarrassed to be Catholic, and that triple crown on the papal flag is out of style.

William Tighe said...

Speaking only of my own experience (as one born in 1952 and bred up a Catholic in Massachusetts), I never remember any such thing as "flags in Catholic churches" from my childhood or young adult years, and I think I can say that in the decades since then I have very rarely come across it, and I think never in any churches of the Roman Catholic diocese within the geographical boundaries of which I have lived for over 30 years - but, then, since I am a Ukrainian Catholic and a member of a Ukrainian Catholic parish I have not seen the interiors of a large number of churches of that diocese; and I don't recall ever seeing flags in the actual church section of a Ukrainian Catholic church, although I have seen flags (usually the American and the Ukrainian flags, not, however, the Vatican flag) placed in the Church Hall of such churches.

I read somewhere once that displaying the American flag (originally in some corner of the church well removed from the sanctuary area) in some Catholic churches was a post-WW2 phenomenon, and perhaps an imitation of a somewhat earlier general American Protestant post-WW1 practice (in wealthy "posh" churches, esp. Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and the like) of having a "remembrance chapel" to honor those who died in military service, together with a "book of remembrance" and an American flag In many "evangelical" Protestant churches one sees the American flag on one side of the sanctuary, and something called "the Christian flag" on the other:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Flag

And see also this:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacred-art-and-music/architecture-and-environment/display-of-flags-in-catholic-churches.cfm


Philip Sharpe said...

This is from the United States Conferrence of Catholic Bishops:

USCCB > Prayer And Worship > Sacred Art And Music > Architecture And Environment

Display of Flags in Catholic Churches

Surprisingly to many, there are no regulations of any kind governing the display of flags in Roman Catholic Churches. Neither the Code of Canon law, nor the liturgical books of the Roman rite comment on this practice. As a result, the question of whether and how to display the American flag in a Catholic Church is left up to the judgment of the diocesan bishop, who in turn often delegates this to the discretion of the pastor.

The origin of the display of the American flag in many parishes in the United States appears to have its origins in the offering of prayers for those who served during the Second World War (1941-1945). At that time, many bishops and pastors provided a book of remembrance near the American flag, requesting prayers for loved ones – especially those serving their country in the armed forces – as a way of keeping before the attention of the faithful the needs of military families. This practice has since been confirmed in many places during the Korean, Viet Nam and Iraqi conflicts.

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has in the past encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary itself, in order to reserve that space for the altar, the ambo, the presidential chair and the tabernacle. Instead, the suggestion has been made that the American flag be placed outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the Church together with a book of prayer requests. It remains, however, for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter.

Ian said...

I've seen it in many Canadian churches, except in Quebec of course.

Scott said...

I've experienced debates in more than one parish about what to do with the flag up front. The usual decision is to put it in back instead. In one place, it went to a bracket on the west-end choir loft, with the Episcopal Church flag on the other side of the loft. Easier to ignore them up there, yet for those who wanted to look at them, they looked better, actually, than when standing upright in a base near a sanctuary wall.

Lepanto said...

I recall a newspaper report decades ago about a Catholic priest asking that the Union Jack be removed from a coffin before being received into the Church. The (Irish) priest (ministering in the UK) stated that no offence was intended to Britain but that national flags were not permitted in Catholic churches in any circumstances. I have believed this until I read the above. It should be true.

Romulus said...

I understood from my father, who was a young man at the time, that display of the American flag in Catholic sanctuaries became the default expectation in the war years of the 1940s. Attachment to the civic religion has always been seen as a mark of authentic Americanism, from which Catholics desiring admission to the social and political mainstream -- a fortiori during the war -- could not, would not consider themselves exempt. I think it's time we reconsidered this custom, but have no doubt that removal would spark angry complaint.

Peter said...

The US treats its flag seriously and has rules about how it is used. There are a lot of these.
https://www.almanac.com/content/american-flag-etiquette-rules-and-guidelines

Jhayes said...

Lepanto, the Order of Christian Funerals requires that flags be removed from the coffin before it enters the church. It is usually replaced after it leaves the church.

"38. If it is the custom in the local community, a pall may be placed over the coffin when it is received at the church.A reminder of the baptismal garment of the deceased, the pall is a sign of the Christian dignity of the person.The use of the pall also signifies that all are equal in the eyes of God (see James 2:1-9).

A Book of the Gospels or a Bible may be placed on the coffin as a sign that Christians live by the word of God and that fidelity to that word leads to eternal life.

A cross may be placed on the coffin as a reminder that the Christian is marked by the cross in baptism and through Jesus’ suffering on the cross is brought to the victory of his resurrection.

Fresh flowers, used in moderation, can enhance the setting of the funeral rites.

Only Christian symbols may rest on or be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy. Any other symbols, for example, national flags, or flags or insignia of associations, have no place in the funeral liturgy,".

Woody said...

No flags in our Byzantine Catholic Church.
http://stjohnchrysostom.com

piddingworth said...

Perhaps not quite the same as the issue of national flags, but when I was the padre of a regiment whose regimental church was the Anglican diocesan cathedral, it was and remains the custom especially on Remembrance Sunday that the 'Colours' of the regiment (the Queen's Colour and Regimental Colour) be placed upon the altar by myself and the Dean. Up above in the nave of the cathedral hung several generations and retired of the regiment's colour. At one particular Remembrance parade I was questioned by an assistant bishop in attendance of the practice of laying the colours on the altar. I told him that it is the custom as regimental colours are consecrated. He replied, 'Well I'm consecrated too and you don't see me spread out all over the altar!' Sigh.

motuproprio said...

Replying to Jhayes. Surely the customary place for flags or other insignia at a funeral is outside the door of the church as part of a guard of honour.

Fr Martin Fox said...

As mentioned above, in American history there was a good deal of suspicion about the loyalty of Catholics. As recently as the First World War, there was antagonism against anyone of German descent, who continued to cultivate their language and customs, and lived in neighborhoods with German street names, read German language newspapers, worshiped in churches, Protestant and Catholic, whose names were chiseled in German. I grew up in Cincinnati where, until the outbreak of the Great War, German was widely used in schools. You can see German inscriptions on the facades of many churches to this day.

After World War II, the emphasis was on the Cold War, and the Catholic Church was strongly against communism, so signs of patriotism were still valuable.

That said, in the present I think the practice varies widely. I've assisted in various capacities in six parish churches as a priest, and spent time in several more as a member of the faithful. Seeing the U.S. and Vatican flags in the sanctuary proper is unusual. More common is to see them near the edge of the sanctuary, off to either side, or else toward the back, sometimes mounted on the balcony. In one parish, I moved the flags from the sanctuary to just outside. In my current parish, there are no flags at all, but we do have a flagpole in front, as is very common.

But then, many people in the U.S. likewise fly the flag outside their home, not only on holidays but every day. What's more, residents of the U.S. will often fly other flags, either for sports, or gay identity, or representing their ancestry, or else for whimsy. Seeing political signs and banners on people's lawns is pretty common in the U.S. If you think about it, these things aren't so surprising, but they are probably odd to people from other parts of the world.

Fr. VF said...

Apparently still common, though in the seminary 25 years ago, they could not have discouraged it more emphatically. In my first parish, a small country church, I moved the flag from the sanctuary to the vestibule. I'm sure some people turned irrevocably against me.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I might add, for what it's worth...

When I made a pilgrimage to Mexico City to the shrine to our Lady of Guadalupe, I was startled to see a Mexican flag very prominently displayed right next to the image. I have too little data to form any conclusions from that, however.

Jhayes said...

motuproprio, I was responding to Lepanto's recollection that a priest had required that the Union Jack be bermoved from a coffin before it entered the church. If that was after the Order of Christian Funerals was issued, the priest was simply following the requirement of the section I quoted.

However, the requirement applies only to flags placed on coffins - it dorsn't speak to the more general question of flags inside churches.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

It smacks of the Americanist heresy.

the reader said...

Writing as an American I think I have never been in a Catholic church that didn't have a U.S. flag furled around a pole to the left of the altar, and a Vatican flag to the right. I've never liked it, for the obvious reason: national loyalties have no place in act of Christian worship.

TheOFloinn said...

This is a panorama of my old parish church

https://www.facebook.com/joe.hancaviz/videos/1056316324449399/

Catharine said...

Father Hunwicke,
All of the Catholic churches I have ever been inside of, in this country, have an American flag as well as a Vatican flag, sometimes a state flag. It is not always in the sanctuary, usually it is as far as it is possible to be from the middle of the sanctuary (extreme corner towards the congregation, along the wall).
Sometimes it is completely outside the sanctuary, approx. where the altar rails used to be, again along the outer wall.
In the USA displaying a flag is more-or-less a generic statement as to where one's loyalties lie. Also, given our strong anti-Catholic heritage, including the "know-nothings" who are making quite a comeback these days (their logo is the coiled rattlesnake with the words "don't tread on me," I suspect this started in order to reassure visiting non-Catholics of our loyalty to America. This country has always been much more deist than Protestant, and has extremely deep anti-Catholic bigotry in its roots.

Banshee said...

"Don't Tread on Me," coupled with the Eastern rattlesnake drawing, is an American Revolution flag and symbol. It has nothing to do with the Know Nothings, who came along a great deal later.

One might call it anti-UK, except that it's also anti-US government in some ways. It's reminiscent of "Touch not the cat but with a glove," except it's something every American can brandish against any kind of tyranny or interference.

What do they teach people in these schools?

Josh Hood said...

The Byzantine Catholic parish of which I am a member has both the US and Vatican flags, one to each side of the iconostasis. The local Carpatho-Russian Orthodox parish has an American flag near one of the rear corners of the nave. I don't recall seeing a flag in the either the Greek Orthodox or Orthodox Church in America parish.