Why do Catholics wear and Catholic Churches display a crucifix, instead of an empty cross? Why do we leave Jesus on the cross? Does this mean we worship a “dead” Jesus, and that we downplay the resurrected Jesus?
Not at all.
Catholics worship both the Jesus who died for their sins and the Jesus who rose from His sacrificial death for their sins. We believe that “Christ has died, Christ is RISEN, Christ will come again.”
Jesus says, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus displayed on the Cross displays His unconditional love and infinite mercy for us. Everything Jesus gives to us is through the Cross. In our Christian journey, we, like Jesus, carry our cross. Catholics not only preach Christ Risen, but also Christ Crucified.
The heart of the Gospel message is Jesus, our promised Messiah, died for our sins for the salvation of our soul. St. Paul preached Jesus’ Crucified and tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “. . . but we preach Christ crucified . . . ” But Jesus is risen, what is Paul speaking about? Doesn’t he know that we should not be concentrating on Jesus’ death? Again, in Corinthians 2:2 Paul writes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Here St. Paul says Jesus is our example in enduring the Cross.
Some have expressed distaste at the thought of depicting Jesus at his most vulnerable. Guess what? This should make you uncomfortable. Jesus does not want us to look at His Crucifixion as only a past event. Every lash that he took, every blow that drove the nail into his hands was caused by you and me. Our sins – past, present and future, hung Jesus on that cross. The crucifix is the ultimate expression of the lengths that a loving God will go to reach us. Gazing at a crucifix is a truly humbling experience.
If you really think about it, the next time someone questions you for wearing a crucifix, and not an empty cross, (if you want to get nit-picky) Jesus rose from the tomb, not the cross. In order to represent his victory over death (which is what some claim the empty cross does) one would have to wear a little copy of the tomb or a tiny rock.
Think about when Jesus appeared to the apostles after His Resurrection and in His glorified risen Body. He showed them His wounds from His Crucifixion. (Luke 24:39-40 & John 20:20) Why would Jesus keep those wounds from His Crucifixion if He did not want us to remember His Crucifixion?
Although Jesus is no longer on the Cross, His offering Himself to us as our Savior continues to this day. Jesus says we cannot be His follower (a Christian) unless we pick up our cross to follow Him. (Matthew 16.24) Jesus never promised His followers a Christian life free from sufferings and trials. He promised us the very opposite. He promised that we too would have a cross to carry; and unless we endure our sufferings and trials in faith for Him as He has done for us, we cannot be His follower. We cannot rise in Christ to new life without first dying with Christ on the Cross.
Whether you wear an empty cross, or a crucifix, the cross displays the love our savior, Jesus Christ, has for all of us. I hope this short explanation helps others understand why Catholics love the crucifix so dearly.
So please remember to display your beautiful crucifixes in your home, and wear them humbly around your neck. (Remember to get them blessed!) And remember, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.