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The Cross Vs. The Crucifix

Return to Prayers & Devotions Section

Plain Cross

The Cross

Vs. The

Crucifix

Crucifix

Cross [contains no Corpus (body)]

Crucifix [contains Corpus (body)]


"Take the holy crucifix in your hands, kiss its wounds with great love, and ask Him to preach you a sermon. Listen to what the thorns, the nails, and that Divine Blood say to you. Oh! What a sermon." (St. Paul of the Cross)

  


Introduction

In recent history, some persons in the Church have attempted to replace crucifixes with plain crosses. This is generally done to please - or avoid offending - those outside the Church (e.g. Protestants) who reject the image of Christ on the cross. Such persons may criticize the crucifix and argue that since Christ has risen, He should not be portrayed on a cross. They may also point to the early Christians who often drew simple crosses, rather than elaborate crucifixes. Sadly, such persons may have taken crucifixes from churches, hospitals, etc. and replaced them with plain crosses or "Resurrecifixes" (e.g. a cross behind an image of the Risen Jesus). In sum, these persons have chosen to discard the many benefits associated with crucifixes in order not to "offend" those outside the only true Church of Christ. [It should be noted that a "true crucifix" contains Christ Crucified - not a Risen Jesus. The risen Jesus was never on a cross. Also, it should be noted that a true representation of Christ Crucified - terribly bloody and expressing deep agony - may be too difficult for many to bear.] 

While Catholics do not condemn a plain cross - it was our Catholic ancestors who drew the plain crosses indicated above - we also see the rich rewards which the use of a crucifix can bring. While we surely know there is a place for a plain cross, it is clear that a crucifix is truly irreplaceable and that it - rather than a plain cross - may be much more appropriate in various places. It is clear that those who attempt to replace the crucifix with a plain cross often do a great disservice to the faithful. 

Catholics should be aware that the crucifix has many advantages, such as those indicated below.

The Crucifix...

  • Helps produce contrition for sins.

  • Helps us to adore Christ.

  • Reminds us of the seriousness of - and consequences of - sin.

  • Represents an historical reality - the most important reality in the history of the human race. An empty cross is not what saved us!

  • Helps us in Mass to focus on the Holy Sacrifice!

  • Comforts us in our sorrows.

  • Inspires us to bear suffering patiently.

  • Shows us the price Jesus paid for us.

  • Helps increase our gratitude towards Christ.

  • Teaches us about Christ's Passion. It is sometimes called a "book". "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 2:2)

  • Is the model of true love. It doesn't hide the reality that love is sometimes painful.

  • Sets us apart as Catholics.

  • "The crucifix is the sign of victory over the devil". The demons are said to "tremble and flee" when they see a crucifix.

Furthermore... 

  • "We are told to be perfect and follow Christ - a crucifix is the best representation of how to do this." 

  • A crucifix is a "gospel in miniature" even for the illiterate and uneducated. 

  • We are all expected to take up our cross - a crucifix is a reminder of what this entails. 

  • We need the crucifix to remind us daily of many deep and important truths of our faith.

  • Jesus said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself." (Jn. 12:32) (DR trans.) Surely, this is best represented by the crucifix as there is no one on an empty cross.

  • The crucifix helps one to reflect on the actual sufferings of Jesus. It makes one more aware of the consequences of sin, and more grateful. 

  • The crucifix clearly reminds us of the truth of Christ's words in the Gospel of John: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (Jn. 15:13)

  • "We follow Christ on the cross in order to get to resurrected Christ. What good is it to follow a plain cross - a cross with no nail marks or blood? Remember that even when the Cross was 'empty', Mary was in its shadow holding her crucified Son."

  • "A plain cross has no blood and no nail holes - it has no trace of suffering - yet '[It was the] love of a suffering God that saved the world' (Pope Pius XI)". When a cross is plain, "we are deprived of seeing this truth...we are deprived of being reminded of how much God loves us and how He has proved his love...we are deprived from the comforts of seeing this and we may turn in towards ourselves rather than to our Crucified Lord."

  • When one researches methods of crucifixion, one may find that evidence indicates that a 'plain cross' never actually stood upright (e.g. the body of the crucifixion victim was affixed prior to erection of the cross and was removed after the cross was lowered). Therefore, a plain cross standing erect would actually be an inaccurate portrayal of an historical event.

  • "We humans are forgetful and need to be reminded. We need to remember what our sins cost God and what we owe Him. We need to be reminded about how grateful we should be. As in court when one hears the arguings of the defendant, it is also necessary to balance this by seeing his victim." 

  • "Catholics don't want to remove the Passion from our lives - in fact, we want it always in front of us - it is our glory! (cf. Gal. 6:14)"

  • "The crucifix is a reminder that it alone is the way of life that brings us ultimate happiness. It reminds us that we must practice self denial and sacrifice in our own lives."

  • "The crucifix serves as a reminder and helps to obtain true repentance for sins. We must learn to appreciate how much Jesus suffered physically due to our sins - He truly suffered beyond what we can imagine." 

  • At least one "Catholic" hospital has equipped its patients' room with plain crosses. Sadly, the hospital is denying its patients what they need most at this time - a model of how to suffer, a reminder of the seriousness of sin, a bold proclamation of our faith... Who knows how much suffering will be wasted - and even how many souls may be lost - due to their desire not to "offend".

  • "The Church is 'in love with death' (Benson) in a sense - it is the supreme goal of all peoples to die rightly." Considering that "how one dies, that is how one remains forever" [or biblically: "If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be." (Eccl.11:3)] it is supremely important to prepare for a good death. And surely, "the way to prepare for a good death is to model our deaths upon the death of Jesus Christ" - so clearly illustrated by the crucifix.

As the Popes / Saints / Etc. Have Said...

  • "Let the crucifix be not only in my eyes and on my breast, but in my heart." (St. Bernadette Soubirous)

  • St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church, pointing to his crucifix: "This is the source of all my knowledge. I study only Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

  • "Let Him Who was fastened to the cross be security fastened to your hearts." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

  • "You should carry the passion of God in your hearts, for it is man's consolation in his last hour." (St. Nicholas of Flue)

  • "Let us go to the foot of the Cross and there complain (of our sufferings) - if we have the courage." (St. Madeleine Sophie Barat)

  • "Before the crucifix we feel true sorrow for sin and fixing our gaze on it we also feel the greatest comfort." (St. Mary Joseph Rossello)

  • "Let us go often to the foot of the Cross...We shall learn there what God has done for us, and what we ought to do for him." (St. John Vianney)

  • "Look at His adorable Face. Look at His glazed and sunken eyes. Look at His wounds. Look Jesus in the Face. There, you will see how He loves us." (St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church)

  • "Certainly, you are not unaware of how much the path of love can cost. Christ Himself reminds you of it from atop the Cross." (Pope John Paul II)

  • "O what inspiration there is in the Crucifix! Who could find it hard to persevere at the sight of a God who never commands us to do anything which he has not first practiced himself?" (St. John Vianney)

  • 'Take the holy crucifix in your hands, kiss its wounds with great love, and ask Him to preach you a sermon. Listen to what the thorns, the nails, and that Divine Blood say to you. Oh! What a sermon." (St. Paul of the Cross)

  • "Never let your home be without a crucifix upon its walls, to the end that all who enter it may know that you are a disciple of a Crucified Lord, and that you are not ashamed to own it." (St. John Vianney)

  • "You cannot better appreciate your worth than by looking into the mirror of the Cross of Christ; there you will learn how you are to deflate your pride, how you must mortify the desires of the flesh, how you are to pray to your Father for those who persecute you, and to commend your spirit into God's hands." (St. Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church)

  • "In that one and the same event, there is the sign of sin's utter depravity and the seal of divine forgiveness. From that point on, no man can look upon a crucifix and say that sin is not serious, nor can he ever say that it cannot be forgiven. By the way He suffered, He revealed the reality of sin; by the way He bore it, He shows His mercy toward the sinner." (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

  • "Besides these incomparable blessings, we have also received another of the highest importance; namely, that in the Passion alone we have the most illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue. For He so displayed patience, humility, exalted charity, meekness, obedience and unshaken firmness of soul, not only in suffering for justice' sake, but also in meeting death, that we may truly say on the day of His Passion alone, our Savior offered, in His own Person, a living exemplification of all the moral precepts inculcated during the entire time of His public ministry." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

  • "From what We have already explained, Venerable Brethren, it is perfectly clear how much modern writers are wanting in the genuine and true liturgical spirit who, deceived by the illusion of a higher mysticism, dare to assert that attention should be paid not to the historic Christ but to a 'pneumatic' or glorified Christ. They do not hesitate to assert that a change has taken place in the piety of the faithful by dethroning, as it were, Christ from His position; since they say that the glorified Christ, who liveth and reigneth forever and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, has been overshadowed and in His place has been substituted that Christ who lived on earth. For this reason, some have gone so far as to want to remove from the churches images of the divine Redeemer suffering on the cross. But these false statements are completely opposed to the solid doctrine handed down by tradition." (Pope Pius XII, "Mediator Dei", 1947)

  • "If every devout Israelite in contemplating Jerusalem saw only the Temple, then we must believe that Jesus, zealous as He was for His Father's honor and ever prostrate in adoration before Him, gazed from His Cross at the house of His Father in a spirit of ardent worship, mingled with unspeakable sorrow. His Cross was situated to the west and His face was turned almost in exactly the same direction as the Temple, of which He thus saw only the back. Given the season of the year and the time of day, the shadow of the Cross would, if extended, have covered the sacred edifice and the altar beyond. These striking calculations may easily be verified on the spot; they are no fruit of the imagination. Fantasy on this subject would be out of place." (Sertillanges) [Note: In other words, the very shadow that was projected onto the temple during the Passion was the Crucifix - not an empty cross.]

In closing, it should be noted that there are many advantages to crucifixes and that the Catholics should greatly treasure this precious image. A crucifix is instructive, truthful, comforting, and very beneficial to our spiritual lives. While not rejecting the plain cross, Catholics may sometimes argue that an empty cross - a cross with no signs of Christ's suffering - is incomplete or "somewhat like a picture of a chair without a person in it." Noting that "Protest-ants" don't reject the image of a plain cross, but do protest against the image of Christ on the Cross, Catholics may be left wondering, why is that? Could it be that the empty Cross more accurately represents the religion they have created? "For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (1 Cor. 1:22-25, emphasis added)

Also See...

The Crucifix (Church Talk Reflections)

Crucifix in the Home (Catholic Life Reflections)

Stations of the Cross / Way of the Cross

Catholic Devotions, Sacramentals & Pious Practices

Catholic Basics


  

"When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 2:1-2)

"Never let your home be without a crucifix upon its walls, to the end that all who enter it may know that you are a disciple of a Crucified Lord, and that you are not ashamed to own it." (St. John Vianney)

  


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