Catholics always have a crucifix in the church. Other Christians prefer a cross. While we all recognize the power of the cross, the instrument of our salvation, not all appreciate the lesson of the crucifix. The crucifix reminds us of the passion and death of the Lord Jesus. The value of the crucifix is in understanding how great that suffering was. Even though we clean up the image greatly for sensitivity, it still shows the wounds and the tortured body. Our salvation did not come cheap.
Catholics have a devotion to the five wounds of Christ. Some saints have born the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, on their own bodies. In the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, we meditate on the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion.
In our churches we have the Fourteen Stations of the Cross where we journey with Jesus from his condemnation to his burial. While the Stations of the Cross are more traditional than scriptural, the basic story is a lesson in the suffering of Jesus for our sins. There are several events recounted in the Stations of the Cross that the gospels do not mention, Jesus falling three times, Veronica wiping the face of Jesus with her veil, and Jesus meeting his mother on the way. These stories have been handed down over the centuries and provide meditation material as we journey with Jesus.
Crucifixes almost always depict Jesus as dead. You will see the wound of the lance of the soldier that confirmed his death. There is an inscription above his head that may read “INRI,” which is an abbreviation for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Pilate wrote that in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The letters represent the Latin inscription. There is no “J’ in Latin. The letter “I” serves that purpose. The “R” is for “Rex” the Latin word for “King.”
In early Christian art, a skull was often placed at the base of the crucifix. The legend was that it was the skull of Adam. The site of the crucifixion was called Golgotha or “The Place of the Skull.”
When I pray before the crucifix, I see Jesus looking down at me. He knows all my sins and says, “Father, forgive him, he knows not what he does.” When I am feeling judgmental about others, I remember Jesus doesn’t judge us, rather he forgives. At the moment of his suffering, Jesus is thinking of each of us.
Catholics believe this is an eternal and ongoing act of grace. Jesus is offering his sacrifice as an ongoing sacrifice. His death and resurrection is not a once and done act, but an eternal act of salvation for all.
Father Patrick Toner is pastor at Saint Joseph Catholic Church, 140 West Ave., Plain City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (614) 873-8850.