The Meaning of the Crucifix

Gospel Reflection, First Sunday of Advent


The Meaning of the Crucifix

I write about a project that we are currently undertaking: to make our fixed crucifix more visible including the corpus, so that it is clearly visible to the congregation.  About five weeks ago, I wrote about how Saint John Paul II in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, writes that we are spiritually brought back to the entire Triduum when we participate in holy communion.  He speculates that the Apostles probably could not fully, in a spiritual sense, understand Jesus’ words to them when he said that this was his body and his blood and commanded them to “Do this in memory of me.”  Only when the events of Jesus’ passion and resurrection unfolded, our late Pope writes, could they have begun to understand his words.  Only when he prayed for them and was arrested, stripped, scourged, and hung on a cross would they begin to understand his total, sacrificial love for them.  My question for reflection is, If this was the experience of the Apostles and if out of this experience developed the crucifix as the central symbol of our faith, how much do we need to clearly see his body on a cross as we pray and come to holy communion in order to form a deeper understanding of the meaning of his body and blood that we are eating and drinking?

I write further about the crucifix as an aid to our reflection upon this question.  Through the cross the loving acts of Jesus, of performing miracles, of healings, and of teaching found their consummation.  As our catechism says (614), this sacrifice completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.  This was the means by which his love was definitively poured out for us.  Ironically, his great suffering for us on the cross is his glory and triumph over sin and death.  By his suffering on the cross in obedience to the Father’s will, the devil was wounded and death was conquered.

The crucifix speaks powerfully to us when we suffer as well.  We know that suffering entered the world as a consequence of sin.  While we naturally try to avoid suffering and come to the aid of those who suffer, we know that in this life we are given a share in his sufferings.  If we try to avoid suffering at all costs and buy into the world’s promises, we find our lives drifting into the dark sensation of meaninglessness.  However, when we suffer, we enter into the very heart of Christ.  The heart of our King is one of compassion, which means, “to suffer with.”  Jesus willingly suffered with us in our sinful and separated state in order to redeem us.  As we read in Philippians 2:6-11, he willingly took the form of a slave for us.  Our sufferings are an opportunity to share his compassion for the world.  We can come to a place of acceptance of our sufferings as supernatural reparation for sin and share in his saving work.  Mothers and fathers do this as they make sacrifices in order to raise their children.  The sick are drawn closer to Jesus in their pain as they accept their dependence on him and others and turn more toward hope in our Lord.  Our late Pope who bore the burdens of the whole world upon his shoulders could only keep writing, preaching, and moving forward for their sakes to the utmost extent that his health would permit.

As we enter the heart of Christ in this way through suffering, we recall the words of Saint Paul, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  We will find life in Christ as sharers in his redemptive work. Having a prominent crucifix at Mass will help us to not only understand and accept our own sufferings, but to glimpse the gravity of our sins and the effect that they have.  By this love poured out for us and by living in this love, we find our salvation.  May God bless you all!

Father Tony