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Why Catholics Venerate the Crucifix Rather than an Empty Cross

The crucifix is an incredible reminder of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, which are all central aspects of the Catholic faith.

But have you noticed that the crucifix is not the universal symbol of Christianity? A simple cross is.

Among the many differences between Catholics and Protestants is the use of a crucifix or cross.

The crucifix includes the crucified Christ, whereas a plain cross is empty.

The presence of a crucifix remains a notable distinction between a Catholic parish and a Christian worship space or chapel.

Msgr. Charles Pope provided some background in his answer on Our Sunday Visitor:

“What likely began among Protestants as a simple preference for simplicity developed into a certain theological stance by some who used the plain cross to emphasize that Jesus had risen and was ‘no longer nailed to a cross.’ To many of them, the cross was now empty and our renditions of it should look that way. Some went so far as to say that Catholics thought Jesus was still on the cross. This, of course, is not true. We are fully aware and solemnly confess every Sunday in the Creed that Jesus is risen from the dead and sits in glory at the Father’s right hand. The crucifix is a depiction of the event of the Passion of our Savior, Jesus, a once, for all and perfect sacrifice (cf. Heb 10:14) that reaches across time but is accomplished.“The use of a crucifix (not a simple cross) is mandated in the Catholic liturgy and of both the processional and altar crucifixes. This is because holy Mass makes present the crucifixion of Jesus.”

Some Protestants see this difference as deeply troubling– a sign that Catholics dismiss the resurrection or want to “keep Jesus on the cross.”

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Instead, as Catholics, we focus on the complete story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We proclaim Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23).

Mary Beth Kremski from Catholic Answers offered her perspective on the matter:

“Does the Catholic Church cling to the crucifix because it would rather avoid the resurrection? Consider this: My Protestant church celebrated Easter for one day. The Catholic Church celebrates Easter for 50 days—not including each Sunday of the year, which are seen as ‘little’ Easters. The Mass never fails to proclaim the resurrection of Christ. And the Church’s daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, is filled with Scripture and prayers rejoicing in the resurrection.The idea that the Catholic Church downplays the resurrection is so obviously erroneous that anyone can unmask this misconception with only minor effort. But my fellow Protestants and I hadn’t made that effort. Instead, we professed to know the answers before we asked the questions.”

Here is a brief history of the crucifix from Catholic News Agency:

“In difficult moments, I will fix my gaze upon the silent Heart of Jesus stretched on the Cross, and from the exploding flames of His merciful Heart, will flow down upon me power and strength to keep fighting.” – St. Faustina

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