The Different Meanings of Cross and Crucifix

While the crucifix is embraced by Catholics, many Protestants favor the empty cross.

BY: Kristen Campbell

 

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The Rev. Christopher J. Viscardi, chairman of the theology department at Spring Hill College in Mobile, offers a different perspective, suggesting that Jesus' suffering and death wasn't simply an historical incident, but an ongoing event.

Guidelines for art and architecture issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops echo such theology, stating that the crucifix "draws us into the mystery of suffering and makes tangible our belief that our suffering when united with the Passion and death of Christ leads to redemption."

Viscardi said the process of redemption is not like building a new library.

"It is something that transcends human history and time," he said. "The kingdom of Christ, while it has been completed in God's time, is still being worked out in human time."

While in one sense the "sacrifice of the cross is finished forever," in another it continues in "an unbloody manner in the Mass," said the Rev. Edwin P. Beachum, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Mobile. "We see that as a continuation of the sacrifice offered on the cross. ... The reason that the sacrifice has value today in the Mass is because of the valor of the sacrifice on the cross. What Jesus did on the cross enables the Mass to have its value."

Viscardi said the New Testament sees Jesus' death on the cross as a fulfillment of Old Testament sacrifices offered with confidence in God's atonement and forgiveness.

"When Jesus at the Passover meal gives the bread and wine that new meaning of his body and blood, that becomes fulfilled the next day when he gives his body and pours out his blood. ... That meal and that sacrifice, in the Catholic view of the New Testament, are very closely intertwined. To eat the Passover lamb, you had to kill the lamb. ... He is the lamb of God."

While the symbol has had a presence in Catholic circles for centuries, Viscardi noted some changes in its representation over the years.

"In Catholic spirituality from the Middle Ages there's been different developments," Viscardi said. "It's moved from (the) extreme to other expressions of the Crucifixion which are more discreet, more subtle, not focusing as much on the violence and the torture of the human flesh as on the self-giving ... surrender of the Son of God in human form even to death, death on a cross."

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