Adoration is due to God alone. This is one of the certainties in every Christian Church. Adoration implies worship. We do not worship Mary and the saints. We do not worship statues or images. We venerate Mary and the saints. We worship God alone.
There are different liturgical gestures which capture some of these different levels. For example, on Holy Thursday, when the tabernacle is empty, the priests arrive at the sanctuary steps and bow to venerate the altar. However, when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle then the proper gesture is genuflection. Nodding one’s head means respect. Bowing subtly is a show of respect. Bowing from the waist (a profound bow) is a show of deep respect. And genuflection is due to our King and Lord only.
The Blessed Sacrament is adored and worshiped because the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The altar is a sacramental symbol of Christ standing in the midst of His people and thus is incensed and kissed. The Book of the Gospels is incensed and kissed because it is the written Word of God. The Paschal Candle is in an exalted place and is incensed as well.
In the Church, there is a concept known as liturgical actualization. Rather than trying to explain this deeply, I will give an example. At Mass, when the readings are proclaimed, the events and persons proclaimed become truly present to us. When we hear of the crossing of the Red Sea, we are there. When we hear of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, we are there. When we listen to the Sermon on the Mount, we are there on the hillside with our Lord.
This is not metaphorical. These events become present.
It is more than a mere remembrance, it is a memorialization in which the thing signified actually becomes present. Another word for this type of remembrance, in Greek, is anamnesis. When we hear the words of Christ of consecration during the Eucharistic prayer, we are at the Last Supper.
When the bread and wine are consecrated separately it shows the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ separated. When the Body and Blood are separated, there is death. The Cross is present to us at every Mass.
When the priest takes a piece of the consecrated Host during the Fraction Rite and puts it in the Chalice, the Resurrection is made present. Christ is one again, never to die or be separated again. This is why every particle of the Host and every drop from the Chalice is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the whole Jesus Christ.
All of this explanation brings us to the true Cross of Jesus Christ, the instrument of our salvation on which hung the Savior of the world. On Good Friday, there is a very special instance of liturgical actualization.
With all of the other crosses in the church covered, the priest or deacon enters with one Cross and says, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world (Roman Missal).” He says this three times, lifting the Cross high. In the liturgy, this one Cross makes the one Cross of Christ on Calvary present to us.
This is why in the Roman Rite, we do not say the “Veneration” of the Cross. Rather we actually use the term “Adoration.” How can we understand this except in the context of liturgical actualization?
The Cross of Jesus Christ which became so soaked with the Precious Blood of Christ almost becomes a part of Him at His death. He Himself is the altar of sacrifice, the priest, and the victim. On the Cross, the sacrifice takes place. When we adore the Cross by kissing or touching it in the liturgy, we are kissing or touching the true Cross of Christ. This is because the worship that we are offering the Cross is transferred immediately to Christ Himself.
Some events are so powerful and important as to become unfixed from time. By the power of Almighty God, the Cross comes to us at every single Eucharist in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But on Good Friday, we enter into communion with Christ by adoring Him through His holy Cross which is physically in front of us.