“Ask a Priest: Is it bad to wear a cross sideways?”

Q: Is it bad to wear a cross sideways as part of the new jewelry trend? A teacher at a parochial school told a student that it was bad but didn’t say why. -P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good for Catholics to witness to their faith publicly. The ways of witness can span a wide gamut. Acts of charity, conversations rich in spiritual topics, attendance at Mass — all are ways that Catholic can show his faith. Another common way is to display religious items, either in a home or a car or even on one’s person. The latter might include wearing a religious symbol on a neck chain or on a lapel.

My guess is the teacher perceived that the cross being worn sideways was more of a statement about fashion than about faith. And this brings us to the heart of the issue.

The Church doesn’t say much officially about the wearing of religious items. The Code of Canon Law (that is, Church law) touches on a related topic in No. 1171. “Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.”

Strictly speaking, this canon applies more to items used at Mass, such as chalices and vestments. But the idea of treating sacred objects with reverence could logically be applied to items such as crosses and rosaries.

This doesn’t ban someone from wearing a cross, of course. But a complication would arise if someone uses a cross (especially in an odd way) for the purpose of making a fashion statement. That could be construed as a “profane or inappropriate use.”

Even if a person intends no disrespect, it would be good to ask how others might perceive it. Will others see it as a mere fashion statement (which in itself denigrates the cross) or, worse, as a willful jab at religion?

Christians are exhorted not to give scandal, after all. “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2284). Unfortunately it is not uncommon nowadays for celebrities to use religious symbols in a deliberately disrespectful way.

Someone who wants to wear a cross sideways should ask himself why he is wearing it, and whether wearing it would give scandal. To display it merely as jewelry would not be very respectful.

Ideally the use of any religious item should help both wearer and audience raise their hearts a little closer to Our Lord.

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