Why do Catholics Have Crucifixes?

By Marta Alves- April 2014

Catholics have crucifixes as a reminder of the love of God for us: By Jesus’ obedience many are made righteous- redeemed- made right with God.

Let us read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church[1], paragraph # 615:

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.

The first thing we learn from Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross is the great Love of God for us. The second thing we learn is the destructive power of sin.[2] But the beautiful conclusion is that Death was destroyed by Jesus’ resurrection. Our crucifix leads us to reflect on the suffering of Christ for us and of Christ great love for us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church[3], Paragraph #618 says:

The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the "one mediator between God and men". But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, "the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to "take up [their] cross and follow (him)", for "Christ also suffered for (us), leaving (us) an example so that (we) should follow in his steps." In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering. Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.

When you meet someone who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and they say “You are going to have just a few days of life,” when you counsel someone who has lost a child to suicide… just imagine counseling the family members of the individuals lost in the flight from Malaysia in March 2014, or counseling the families of the victims in Fort Hood, Texas in April 2014… to them and to us, the crucifix offers consolation.

Look at God, Jesus on the cross. God could have chosen another way to redeem us, but He chose pain, therefore pain has to have redeeming qualities. In contemplating the crucifix, we realize that God, all powerful chose to die for every one of us. God loves us. He wraps His arms around us in love from the pain on the cross.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) said: “God stretched out his hands on the Cross so as to embrace the farthest corners of the universe.”

Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) said; ‘When we look at the Cross, we understand the greatness of his love.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas says: “His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.”

In the New Testament, we read “the importance of the cross is a sign of Christ’s victory over evil.:

The cross was necessary for our salvation.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18, we read: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

In secular media, in monster movies, they present a crucifix and evil backs down- because even evil believes in the power of the cross.

Like St Rose of  Lima (1586-1617) said “Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven”[4]

In the beautiful Apostolic Letter of Salvific Doloris (Salvific Pain) written by Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), he says: “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”[5]

We can offer our pain, as a prayer for someone. It has redemptive value.

There a many miracles associated with the Crucifix, like the miracle that happened to St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis of Assisi entered an old church in Damiano, kneeled in prayer and the crucifix spoke to him: “Calling him by name the crucifix said: "Francis, go, repair my house, which, as you see, is falling completely to ruin." Trembling, Francis was not a little amazed and became almost deranged by these words. He prepared himself to obey and gave himself completely to the fulfillment of this command.”[6]

St. Francis helped rebuild the church and then he realized that God was asking him to help rebuild His church. In later years he developed the stigmata, as a sign of his unity with the suffering of Christ on the Cross.

“Saint John Paul II said the secret of the priesthood of Saint John XXIII, whom he proclaimed blessed in September 2000, was in the ‘crucifix, always jealously kept in front of his bed.’" [7]

I have a crucifix at the head of my bed, and when my husband died, I took the crucifix and placed it in his hands- and he will be walking into eternity with the crucifix that was at the top of our bed. I am very devoted to the crucifix. Years ago I had a vision of Christ on the Cross and that was a life changing experience for me.

From the Apostolic Letter of John Paul II on The Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvifici Doloris), we read:

In the light of the verses of Isaiah, the Passion of Christ becomes almost more expressive and touching than in the descriptions of the Evangelists themselves. Behold, the true Man of Sorrows presents himself before us:

"He had no form or comeliness that we should look
at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray
we have turned everyone to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all"

After the Protestant Reformation, some questioned why the Catholics kept Christ on the Cross, since He had risen. We, Catholic,  have the body of Christ on the Cross to remind us that we are so precious to God, that Jesus Christ suffered the pain, humiliation and death on the cross for us because we are so precious to Him. And if He suffered so much for us, we have to be willing to pick up our cross and follow Him. q


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second Edition (2003) ISBN 0-385-508190

[2] Cf. Socias, Rev. James. Introduction to Catholicism. The Didache Series. Midwest Theological Forum. Woodrige, Illinois. © 2003-2009.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second Edition (2003) ISBN 0-385-508190

[4] St. Rose of Lima, in P. Hansen, Vita Mirabilis [Louvain, 1668].

[5] YOUCAT. Ignatius Press. San Francisco.2011.

[6] http://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20001117_tom-da-celano_en.html

[7] http://www.webshowplace.com/question/Catholic5.html