Catholics are often questioned as to their motives in wearing crucifixes, which are crosses to which a “corpus” or the Body of Christ is attached versus just wearing and adorning themselves, their rosaries, their homes and their churches with “plain crosses”. I had a Protestant Christian friend once ask me in a church something to the effect of, “Why is Jesus still up there on that cross? He has risen from the dead.”
The answer really, is quite simple, overwhelmingly powerful and touching, but quite to the point: Catholics embrace crucifixes as an intensely visible reminder that Christ Jesus suffered, died and rose again for each one of us, every single individual human soul of the human race that ever was, is, or will be and knew us all more than we know ourselves, as he sweat blood in his agony, as he endured the scourging, the humiliation of the crowning with thorns, the pain of the carrying of the Cross, and his cruel and incomprehensibly painful crucifixion out of an eternal loving thirst for the salvation of each one of our souls. The Catechism Of The Catholic Church, in its typically passionate forcefulness, drives home this point to us, “The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.’ "
Do we truly comprehend the fact that Jesus would have lived, died, and rose again even if there were not billions of us, but instead only the one of us? He cares for each human soul as the pearl of great price that it is. How horrifically tragic then it is for a human soul to be lost for all eternity when God desires no one to go to Hell, but to embrace the eternal life that Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh, opened for each of us, by his life, death and resurrection. Therefore, Catholics wear crucifixes because they constantly remind us that Christ’s Once-For-All Sacrifice, which truly redeemed the human race, must be applied to each of us individually in our acceptance of his Grace and Mercy. It seems to me that all Christians, not just Catholics should be embracing crucifixes instead of plain crosses due to our unified recognition of the very moving and consoling fact that Jesus died for each of us as if we were the only one, strengthening our resolve to continue running the race, to always ask the Lord to grant us to the grace to be able to keep the faith, to never reject Him and what he has done for us. It is the crucifix, not an unadorned cross, which most vividly underscores this fact.
For Catholics, usage of crucifixes finds ultimate expression inasmuch as they are connected to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for it is there that we find the Eucharist, Jesus himself fully present, “The source and summit of the Christian Life” as proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium. On a related note, Catholics are sometimes, rather often in fact, accused by certain other Christians of not having a personal relationship with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This has always been a confounding and curious accusation in my estimation, since we have such tender devotion to Jesus apparent even in our widespread reminders through crucifixes and other imagery of him. And even more critically, and as a foundation to the importance we place upon crucifixes in the first place, Catholics proclaim and know in Truth themselves to have the most personal relationship with Jesus possible, since we receive really and truly receive Our Lord body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist at Holy Communion, the closest union with Jesus on Earth, and one that flows over (more or less, hopefully more) into our personal prayer life.
When Jesus sat at table the last time with his disciples, he told them in Luke 22:19,“Do This In Remembrance Of Me”. What he gives us there, for all the ages, was not a request to simply memorialize what he said and did at the last supper, he commanded the Apostles, and all bishops and priests through the ages to offer the Mass in every age and place the world over through a living memorial. Jesus’ words to us in the Greek of the earliest biblical manuscripts (Remember, The New Testament was originally written in Greek) were “touto poieite tan eman anamnasin” and unlock for us Jesus’ intent. His Once-For-All Sacrifice of the Cross was to be made truly and really present at each and every Mass. The word “poieite” or “do” refers to offering a sacrifice, and is seen used in Exodus 29 in reference to the sacrifice of lambs on the altar. The very word that Jesus used for “Remembrance” was “anamnasin”, or anamnesis, calling us to bring to the present a past sacrifice that is not just simply remembered, but that is, by the power of God really and truly made present in the here and now. Crucifixes then in turn, represent this very re-presenting, this being made present now of Christs’s One Sacrifice on Calvary.
Israel recognized that the first Passover of the Hebrews as they were freed from enslavement to the Egyptians was really and truly made present at each Passover Pasch every year when they renewed their covenant with the Lord. In the Church’s commemoration of Christ’s definitive Passover at each Mass, Christ’s Once-For-All Sacrifice really and truly becomes present, and Catholics receive the same Jesus who died for our sins, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This is not a merely symbolic, simple memorial. Jesus is indeed risen from the dead, but our Eternal God who dwells outside time, in entering into time and saving us from our sins on the Cross, can reach out to all of us in every age really and personally, and he does so above all in the Eucharist. Crucifixes depict this 2000 year old, and yet timeless Sacrifice of Love to save all men.
The usage of the crucifix is not trivial, nor is it a morbid preoccupation with Christ's Death. In it we are reminded of how much Jesus loved each of us individually and as a human race as he hung upon the cruel Cross that was transformed from a sign of torture, to the sign of salvation of all Mankind. And 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.