Monday, September 10, 2007

The meaning of the crucifix

“WasWondering” wrote, “In Protestant churches the cross is empty because they believe that Jesus resurrected. How come we don't believe this also in this way?” Your question is a good one. Obviously, the Catholic Church firmly believes in the Resurrection. But, the Resurrection doesn’t deny the Crucifixion. One of the main reasons that crucifixes have the image of Christ’s body is so that we will have a visual reminder that Jesus suffered and died for us. Even though many of them have been “cleaned up” so that they don’t show too much blood, crucifixes help us to remember that Christ really suffered, shed real blood, and died a real death in his human nature.

Please keep in mind that we see the Death and Resurrection of Christ as one event: the act of Salvation. This point is brought out in the following which is an excellent reflection on the meaning of the crucifix from Father W. Thomas Faucher, a pastor in Boise, Idaho:

“Are we too accustomed to the crucifix, too comfortable with it to remember its meaning?One purpose of the crucifix is certainly to remind us of the terror and pain of Christ's suffering and death. But there is more to the crucifix than that.

When we are the ones suffering, the crucifix is also a reminder of our union with Christ.We live in difficult times, fearful times. The threat of nuclear war seems to have faded, only to be replaced by a much more imminent threat of terrorism. There seems to be so much more cancer and so much more of other diseases, and those affected seem to be younger.

Older people who thought their children were raised and out of the home increasingly are taking these children back after a destructive divorce. From the fear of bird flu to actual job loss, the number of people truly suffering physical, spiritual and psychological trauma is getting larger and larger…

The simple crucifix is often a means of great solace and peace for such people. There is something about looking at a crucifix -- or especially holding one -- that brings a sense of unity with Jesus.

"You made it through this, Lord, and so can I" is one of the best prayers ever uttered.What gives the crucifix its power is the reality that it is not the end of the story. The crucifix is a temporary point in the life of Jesus.

The end of the story is Easter. The end of the story is resurrection. The end of the story is the triumph of good over evil.

The reason Catholics prefer the crucifix to the bare cross is that we unite not just with the action which took place on the cross, but with the person of Jesus. We unite with Jesus, we share with Jesus, we live with Jesus. We know we will triumph with Jesus.


At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don’t understand the value of suffering. When I think of suffering on a really large scale, as with the many children all over the world who are orphaned by aids, traumatized by war or dying of starvation, I can’t put my brain in the gear that says this is (in any way) “good” for mankind. It doesn’t bring me closer to God to know someone else is suffering. Granted, I pray for those who are suffering, but it’s with more desperation than peace; I think I am closer to God when I offer my prayers of thanksgiving and adoration- not pleading for His mercy. In my own case- with addiction- I had to suffer in that in order to be willing to give it up (in actual practice as well as give “it” up to God). To be honest about it, I was angry for a long time about my addiction. I know I had free choice and made some poor decisions, but when I’d go to meetings and listen to people talk about this as their “cross”, it sounded like something that was given to me(by God)to bear. When I'd think of God as Father, it would make me angry that he gave me this, for what- to understand that I need Him? It sounds ridiculous to me. I wouldn’t give my child something that I knew would cause them pain so I could heal them. I can, however, understand that there is virtue in the way ones handles their suffering, but it’s hard for me to understand it as some kind of divine gift.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something about yesterday's Gospel really struck me. Jesus says there that you must hate your mother, father, spouse, etc. And we are told that this does not exactly mean that -- that it really means we must love those people less and love Jesus the most. So it's an example of a biblical passage that does not mean what it says explicitly. There are lots of other examples. But when it comes to the passage in John where Jesus says "This Is My Body" we are told that it means precisely what it says -- the host is not just a symbol because Jesus did not say that. You see where I'm headed. Why are we using different interpretive styles for different passages? Is it a result-oriented approach?

At 6:01 PM, Blogger fran said...

For Anon 12:39
Just thought I would share these reflections and prayers from the book "Every Day is A Gift."

"Do not allow yourselves to be overly saddened by the unfortunate accidents of this world.
You are not aware of the benefits that they bring and by what secret judgment of God they are arranged for the eternal joy of the Elect.
-St. John of the Cross

Prayer: Father of wisdom, help me to accept all earthly misfortunes with the sure knowledge that good will come from them. Let me never despair, but trust in Your Providence that governs all things.

"Suffering out of love for God is a signal favor, but we do not realize this.
For we thank God for prosperity and take no heed that afflictions would be a much greater grace.
-St. Joseph of Cupertino

Prayer: Compassionate Lord, teach me to regard all suffering as something allowed by You to make me more like Your Son Jesus. Help me to accept in this light whatever suffering may come to me.

"The cross is the greatest gift God could bestow on His Elect on earth. There is nothing so necessary, so beneficial, so sweet, or so glorious as to suffer something for Jesus.
If you suffer as you ought, the cross will become a precious yoke that Jesus will carry with you.
-St. Louis Grignion de Montfort

Prayer: Lord Jesus, impress upon me that without a cross on earth there will be no crown in heaven. Help me to bear my cross daily for You as You bore Your Cross for me and all human beings.

At 8:16 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

Why are we using different interpretive styles for different passages?

In the one case, using "hate" to mean "love less" is a known, established idiom. The question is one of language: When is the idiom being used, and when is true hatred meant? I think in most instances in the Bible it's an easy question to answer, once you're aware of the existence of the idiom.

In the other case, there is no idiom associated with "this is my body". The question is whether Jesus meant it literally or figuratively, and that's not a question of language but of religious faith.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

As for the "Crucifix or cross?" question, since Christianity was using crucifixes for more than a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation, I think the real question is, "Why don't Protestants use crucifixes?"

And I wouldn't be too quick to take, "Because Jesus is risen," for the answer.

Protestantism is, after all, a protest against Catholicism, and one angle of protest is the use of carved figures in worship. It was a belief that Catholicism practices idolatry, not a refined Theology of the Empty Cross, that first brought down the crucifixes.

More generally, the changes Protestantism imposed on the practice of Christian worship can be seen as moving away from the very incarnational worship traditional of the Church both East and West. Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) is all about God becoming Man, and that means a true human body that truly suffered, truly bled, and truly died.

We can't pass over that as something that happened a long time ago, because at every Mass what happened a long time ago is made present again, right there in church. To get rid of the corpus on a crucifix is of a piece with getting rid of the Real Presence on the altar and of the True Sacrifice of the Mass.

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Catholic girl said...

What exactly is the atonement?

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Catholic girl said...


"Do not allow yourselves to be overly saddened by the unfortunate accidents of this world.
You are not aware of the benefits that they bring and by what secret judgment of God they are arranged for the eternal joy of the Elect."
-St. John of the Cross

Wow, is all I can say.


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