Q. 1. What is the Catholic Church teaching regarding Good Friday veneration of the cross/crucifix? Should we venerate a cross or a crucifix?
A. 1. In accordance with tradition, unless the local Church possesses a relic of the true cross of Christ, such being rare, a crucifix must be used during the Good Friday veneration. This clearly echoes that we do not worship a mere cross, but the Person who died on the Holy Cross.
Q. 2. Then why is it that some Churches use a mere cross while others use a crucifix (cross with the "corpus" [body of Christ])?
A. 2. Part of this problem originates from the fact that the Latin word for cross and crucifix are identical. At the same time, during the past centuries, whenever a Vatican document made reference to the "cross," it literally meant a "crucifix."
Considering the fact that the Latin language is no longer mandatory in the studies for the priesthood, nowadays, many priests cannot translate the Latin language, over and above having a lack of knowledge of the Church history and tradition. Combining these two factors, when the word "cross" is used in Latin, they assume it means "cross." Those who can read Latin and know Church history and tradition, they know that the usage of the word "cross" literally means "crucifix" unless specified otherwise.
Q. 3. Does that mean that the usage of a "cross" versus a "crucifix" is contrary to the Catholic Church teachings and requirement?
A. 3. Yes, it is! This new and non-approved practice reinforced the recent attempts by many to introduce figureless crosses into churches. Because of this trend, in the United States, the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) does at times stipulate that the cross used at Holy Mass must have the figure of Christ. This notation has become necessary because of the abuses by those who have been removing the figure of Christ from the Holy Cross.
On Good Friday, Catholics must venerate a crucifix unless their local Church possesses a relic of the true cross of Christ. Then, and only then, may the faithful venerate a cross.