Back in September, as the Church celebrated The Feast of the Cross, I headed to Mass anticipating readings and a homily focusing on the significance of the crucifix, the very shape of which is a reflection of Christ’s humanity (the horizontal) and Christ’s divinity (the vertical). Indeed, the Scripture readings from Numbers, Philippians, and John’s Gospel all illuminated the anticipation and realities of the Cross of Our Lord. And the priest’s homily, I thought, got off to a pretty good start, giving historical perspective and tying the three readings together. But then something interesting happened.
The priest pointed out that the crosses of our Catholic churches bear the image of Our Crucified Lord, whereas crosses in protestant churches typically do not. This difference, he put forth, is the result of a difference in theological “focus.” Catholics, so he stated, focus on the Passion and Death of Christ (while never denying the importance of the Resurrection), whereas protestants focus on Jesus’ Resurrection (while not denying the significance of His Passion and Death). He likened this phenomenon to that of two car enthusiasts admiring a classical automobile. One of them might be more interested in the body and design of the vehicle, while the other might be more intrigued by what’s under the hood. Simply two different yet equally valid ways of looking at the same thing. And on that note was the homily concluded.
I walked out of Mass thinking, “Wow, talk about a confused message.” While it’s true that the differing Catholic and protestant crosses reflect differing theologies, it makes little sense to say that these theologies share equal validity. (Actually, it makes no sense, since protestantism is based upon a rejection of the authority that Christ conferred upon His Church.) It’s one thing to try to be ecumenical by finding common ground with our separated brethren, and leading them from that point toward the fullness of Mother Church. But it’s something quite different to talk about any religion that denies the truths of Catholicism as if it could be equally true.
In the end, it actually makes a good deal of sense that the crosses of protestant churches are devoid of the image of the body of Our Lord, since these churches are also devoid of the Real Presence of Our Lord’s Body in the Eucharist.