So why is the crucifix, a cross which holds an image of the crucified Jesus, so important in our Catholic tradition? Many non-Catholics say Jesus is risen and having an image of the suffering Jesus on the cross takes away from the power of the Resurrection. And others argue we are keeping Jesus on the cross. Catholics are no more keeping Jesus on the cross than all Christians keep Jesus an infant when they display statues or figurines of a baby Jesus in a manger at Christmastime.
The reasons for crucifixes over crosses are many and are deep and are beautiful much like the whole of the Catholic faith. With crucifixes, we see sacrifice, commitment, redemption and most of all love.
As Catholics we agree with all Christians that God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to take away the sins of the world. He was crucified and died to fulfill His father’s will. The fact that Christ suffered and died in the most horrific way imaginable serves as a lesson that our sins are no small thing. Indeed, our salvation is the result of a willing sacrifice by the very Son of God Himself who chose to endure so much suffering freely because He so loved the world.
Yes, we believe in and trust what comes after the cross. We believe in the Resurrection and that we too will be with Jesus in heaven one day. However, we must make sacrifices here on Earth to serve God, serve our family and to serve those less fortunate than us. The crucifix reminds us that the Christian journey is not all comfort and success. It involves very real sacrifice. Like Jesus, we must sacrifice our time, our money, our possessions, and sometimes even our lives.
Catholics know that the crucifixion of Jesus was a one-time event. But it is an event that should never be forgotten. The image of the crucifix, whether it is placed in our homes, our churches, our schools or around our necks, makes sure that we are always reminded of His sacrifice. His suffering and dying should not and is not looked at as a defeat…it is a triumph.
Christ fully committed to us by offering Himself up on that cross. Catholic tradition is steeped in the fullness of commitment. Look no further than to religious vocations to recognize this. Many religious take lifelong vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and spend their entire lives in absolute service to the Church. The crucifix represents, among other things, our level of commitment to Christ.
Spiritually speaking, the crucifix can also help us better commit our lives and live the words of Christ when He said, “deny yourselves, take up your cross daily, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). When some type of suffering comes our way, the image of the crucifix gives us spiritual strength and inspiration to live out our commitment to Him.
Jesus came to be the Lamb of God who took away our sins and redeem the world. While we, as Catholics, believe that our Lord is risen, you can’t have the resurrection without the crucifixion. We need to be reminded of what Christ had to endure before the Resurrection could take place, namely his Passion and Death on the cross. The crucifix helps us better understand and appreciate our theology of redemption. The open arms of our Savior on the cross gladly welcome and receive us into His Presence. After all, we are saved by Jesus, and not by a cross.
The use of the crucifix is not trivial, nor is it a morbid preoccupation with Christ's Death. With it we are reminded of how much Jesus loved each of us individually and as a human race as he hung upon that cruel Cross that was transformed from a sign of torture, to the sign of salvation of all Mankind. One cannot look at a crucifix without seeing Great Love. For, as Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13. Crucifixes depict this 2000 year old, and yet timeless Sacrifice of Love to save all men.
He loved us so much he endured all of that for our sake! And that is what we are proclaiming when we display and venerate the crucifix. LOVE!
Because of all the reasons above, the crucifix plays a special role in the liturgical tradition of the Catholic Church. In most of our parish churches, the crucifix is given a place of honor and prominence, usually located centrally above the altar or tabernacle. When you walk through the doors of the church, the crucifix is one of the first things that grabs your attention: The open arms of our Savior gladly welcoming and receiving us into His Presence.
The Church requires that a crucifix be visible during the celebration of Mass to remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the cross, which is made present for us each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. A simple cross doesn’t have the same visual or spiritual impact.
At Mass, we are really present at Calvary on Good Friday, and thus, it is the crucifix that intimately reminds us of such an amazing and startling fact. If you do not have a crucifix, perhaps it is time you owned one.