Friday, November 28, 2008

Why do Catholics have the crucifix?

I’ve heard it said that Catholics “keep Jesus on the cross” by our use of the crucifix. The point is that Protestants only use a bare cross, which they say symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection. Protestants serve a risen Christ, who is in heaven at the right hand of the father, not nailed to a cross.

Well, we Catholics serve a risen Lord too. And a baby Lord. And a fetus Lord. And a young adult carpenter Lord. And a crucified Lord.

While Jesus was on earth, he was all of these things and more. He didn’t become divine upon the resurrection; he was divine from before conception. The stages of his earthly life have absolutely no bearing on how divine he is or on what Jesus we’re worshiping.

What strikes me as odd is the very people who say the above put out a Nativity scene during the Christmas season. Wait, baby Jesus is in the manger, I thought you only served a risen Lord? Isn’t that odd?

Catholics use the crucifix to remember the Passion of our Lord. We remember what he went through for our redemption. We have one, no more and no less, in each church because when we celebrate Mass, we participate in the Passion of Jesus Christ. We don’t re-create it, we don’t symbolize it. We are there, at Calvary in a sacred mystery.

We don’t keep him on the cross, but we do honor and revere his sacrifice. Anyone who’s gone through the octave of Easter knows we celebrate the resurrection and ascension of Jesus just as passionately as the rest of his life.

As a parting shot, during the Reformation the Protestants hated all icons, whether cross or crucifix. They meant the same thing in the eyes of the reformers. To this day, many churches in Europe have a weather vane on top of them, which was put up after the original cross (not crucifix) was torn down. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that Protestants started using the cross as a symbol again; and for a different reason than it originally was intended.

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