The Cross of Christ

This evening in RCIA class we toured the Church sanctuary, and Father spoke of the meaning behind all the ritual items the Catholic church uses during Mass and displays in the church. I’d not visited the church yet (our RCIA classes had been held in a separate building up till now) and I must say I was a little disappointed. The church was so bare! I’ve visited many small Catholic churches as well as large cathedrals, and both types can be beautiful, but our local Catholic church is not very beautiful at all — so plain. *sigh* The only thing that distinguishes it from a plain, bare Protestant church is the Stations of the Cross along the side walls.

And the large crucifix in the front of the church. That struck me very powerfully. One of the questions handed out tonight, after the tour, was “Does the difference between the cross and the crucifix say anything to me?” It’s late at night, so I’ll only put down my first impressions. The cross is the symbol of Christianity and of Christ’s sacrifice for us sinners, and we can in turn use it as a personal symbol of our identity as Christians (in the same way that the Arabic nun is being used today in Iraq to identify Christians). It’s the means by which Christ’s sacrifice was accomplished — on a cross.

A crucifix is an actual depiction of Christ’s sacrifice, of what he actually did for us, and serves as a compelling reminder of that truth. A crucifix is a worthy object of contemplation and veneration, because it depicts Christ crucified, whereas the cross was the Roman method of torture and execution, and although now a symbol of Christianity, in itself shouldn’t be an object of adoration.

Alonso Cano's La Crucifixión at El Museo Nacional del Prado

Alonso Cano’s La Crucifixión at El Museo Nacional del Prado

“The cross did not of itself redeem us. Scripture tells us that the person, Jesus Christ redeemed us on the cross. This act of our redemption was intensely personal on the part of the Redeemer and on the part of the redeemed. The crucifix conveys this in a way that the cross alone simply does not. We do not dare to ignore what He endured. We do not dare to tidy up His passion. We worship Him in precisely the unsightly, bloody appearance of His self gift.” Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

I believe I will be spending a lot of time meditating and worshiping before that crucifix…

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