Why do Catholics have Crucifixes?

Many non-Catholic Christians are uncomfortable with the display of a crucifix--a cross with an image of Christ's crucified body. They prefer to display an empty cross. If Jesus was raised from the dead, they reason, why should we depict him still on the cross?

First, we shouldn't forget that Catholics also sometimes display simple crosses without the corpus (image of Christ's body). Next, we must note that historically, discomfort with the crucifix has often had more to do with anti-Catholic sentiment than with genuine concern that Jesus' resurrection is being forgotten. Despite clear references throughout the New Testament to the importance of the cross as a sign of Christ's victory over evil (see 1 Cor 1:17-18), many early Protestants rejected any use of the cross at all--even an empty one--as a sign of "popery."

Nevertheless, those who are genuinely concerned that, in the crucifix, the resurrection is unduly overshadowed by the Crucifixion should read the messianic prophecy of Zechariah: "They shall look on him whom they have thrust through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn" (Zec 12:10). St John confirms that this passage represents a foretelling of Christ's crucifixion (see Jn 19:37)

When the people look on their crucified Lord, the prophet says, God "will pour out" on them "a spirit of grace and petition" (Zec 12:10). Catholics have long found this to be true whenever they gaze with love on this image of Jesus' sacrificial death. The crucifix inspires in them the graces of a deeper gratitude for this greatest of gifts (see Ps 116:12-13), as well as a more intense aversion to sin, which led him to the cross (see Rom 6:1-12).

No wonder, then, that in the old legends, the demons, vampires, and other evil creatures cannot bear to look at a crucifix. It reminds the forces of darkness that they have been defeated by Christ's death on the cross (see Col 2:13-15)!

Finally, we should note that when we are suffering, meditation on a crucifix comforts us by recalling that Christ suffers with us (see 2 Cor 1:5-7). Our sufferings have great value when we join them to his (see Col 1:24)

Other related scriptures: Mt 16:24-25; Acts 2:23-24, 36-39; 1 Cor 1:17-25; 2:2; 2 Cor 13:4; Gal 2:19-20; 3:1; 5:24; 6:14; Phil 2:8-11; 3:18; Col 1:19-20; Heb 12:2.

 Catechism of the Catholic Church: 562; 571; 598; 616-618; 1668; 2015; 2029; 2427.

*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com

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