Flags in Church?

Question: 

I would appreciate your posted thoughts on having flags in the church, especially the sanctuary. Some people at our parish insist that we have the papal and U.S. flags flying 365 days a year, but others believe it seems out of place and puts a wrong focus on things. What are we supposed to do?

--Contemplating in California

Answer: 

This was not even a question before World War II when Bishop Fulton Sheen, against any liturgical query or consultation, advised church members to put a flag in the sanctuary to remember those at war. In fact, this only seems to be an American church issue.

The USA Bishops Committee on the Liturgy document Environment and Art in Catholic Worship [1978] advised us for years saying in paragraph 101:

Although the art and decoration of the liturgical space will be that of the local culture, identifying symbols of particular cultures, groups, or nations are not appropriate as permanent parts of the liturgical environment. While such symbols might be used for a particular occasion or holiday, they should not regularly constitute a part of the environment of common prayer.

The current document on liturgical art and norms for the United States, Built on Living Stones, does not address the issue at all.

We celebrate our Christianity in church and not our nationality. Additionally, the Order for Christian Funerals states that a flag is removed from the casket when entering into the church for the same reason. Also, a flag represent a country and its laws, beliefs and values. Many laws, beliefs and teachings of a nation may not be in harmony with the Catholic Church and its teachings. {For instance, life issues and laws in the United States are not in harmony with church laws and teachings] Also the United States Flag Code itself suggest the inappropriateness of the flag in a worship space in Section 175k. [See the American Legion for flag codes.]

Another reason why flags may not fly in church
By Fr. Thomas Welbers, Claremont, CA
-Reprinted from Our Sunday Visitor, December 12, 2004 edition:


Another reason the US flag is not appropriate liturgical worship space comes from the respect due to the flag itself. According to the US Flag Code, whenever the flag is displayed in a public place, it should be given a place of honor, to the right of the speaker. In church, that place honor must go the symbols and furnishing proper to our worship. [What could that be, the altar? The ambo? The chair? We have too many symbolic and important places, first among them the altar.] The flag must never compete with these, yet it does no justice to the flag and its meaning merely to put it somewhere in a corner. Instead, we should be sure that the flag is well displayed in other appropriate gathering places, and there should always be an outdoor flagpole in a prominent place on the parish grounds.

Flags are meant to be flown! And outside!

Currently the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops and their committee on the liturgy also have this comment to say:

http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/q&a/flag.shtml

Also, this website talks about the "papal flag" - click here!

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