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Monday, January 17, 2011

Why do Catholics use crucifixes?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why do Catholics use crucifixes?  Why do you keep Jesus on the cross when He is risen? 

Short answer (courtesy of Fr. Vincent Serpa):  because we are saved by Jesus, and not by a cross.

Long answer:  The objection is often raised by non-Catholics in this way:  "We Christians serve a Risen Christ, not a bloody, suffering victim as seen on your crucifixes."

The Catholic response is, as most Catholic answers are:  it's not an Either/Or but a Both/And.

There is no need to say we can only serve a Risen Jesus OR a Suffering Christ.  With all due respect, Catholics are quite capable of doing both! 

However, we can't have a Resurrection without a Crucifixion, and, as Fr. John Corapi states, (paraphrasing) "If you ever hear a gospel which proclaims the Resurrection without the Crucifixion, or an Easter without a Good Friday, run away as fast as you can, for this "good news" is a great DECEPTION!"  Many Christian denominations seem to focus on health/wealth and success as the expected entitlement of becoming a Believer.  However, the suffering, death and crucifixion ought not be looked at as a defeat, but as a triumph. 
In fact, Jesus tells us in this upcoming Sunday's Gospel to expect suffering if one becomes a Believer: "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." -Luke 14

One cannot look at a crucifix without seeing Great Love.  For, as Christ said,
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.-John 15:13When Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" came out I remember my pastor getting quite annoyed with the mainstream media's criticism that the film focused too much "on the suffering of Jesus and not enough on LOVE.My pastor was incredulous--how could you watch that film and see anything but LOVE--that was the entire message of His Crucifixion--he loved us so much he endured all of that for our sake!  And that is what we are proclaiming when we display and venerate the crucifix.  LOVE!

(My opinion:  when modern day Christians (and usually it's "educated" liberal professor-types teaching at Catholic universities, sadly enough) object to Catholicism's veneration of the Crucified Christ rather than "the message of love, forgiveness and tolerance that Jesus came to spread", they are completely missing the point of Christianity.  Jesus did not come to preach a moral code--truly, he did not say anything new when he said "do unto others" or "turn the other cheek; he did not come to heal the sick--he really only cured a handful of people; he came to be the Lamb of God who took away our sins through his atoning death on the cross.  THAT'S why all of this focus on a bloody, suffering victim by Catholics--it's 'cause we know it's not only about his message of forgiveness, however important it was, nor about the miracles of healing, however wonderful those were.)

Finally, Catholics no more "keep Jesus on the cross" than all Christians "keep Jesus an infant" when they display statues/photos of a baby Jesus in a manger at Christmastime.
For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online
Apologist John Martignoni's "2-minute response" to this question

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15


  1. Hi.
    I didn't see anywhere you addressed the issue of images in the church in relation the the Commandments of God.

    I will appreciate if you put more light on that- the bible (10 commandments) condemns the making of image in the likeness of anything in heaven or on earth.

    I am a Catholic.

    1. hey, i realise this was a long time ago but I understand as someone who wants to know the answer to this as a Catholic, we need to help each other.

      Deut. 4:15 - from this verse, Protestants say that since we saw "no form" of the Lord, we should not make graven images of Him.

      Deut. 4:16 - of course, in early history Israel was forbidden to make images of God because God didn't yet reveal himself visibly "in the form of any figure."

      Deut. 4:17-19 - hence, had the Israelites depicted God not yet revealed, they might be tempted to worship Him in the form of a beast, bird, reptile or fish, which was a common error of the times.

      Exodus 3:2-3; Dan 7:9; Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32; Acts 2:3- later on, however, we see that God did reveal himself in visible form (as a dove, fire, etc).

      Deut. 5:8 - God's commandment "thou shall not make a graven image" is entirely connected to the worship of false gods. God does not prohibit images to be used in worship, but He prohibits the images themselves to be worshiped.

      Exodus 25:18-22; 26:1,31 - for example, God commands the making of the image of a golden cherubim. This heavenly image, of course, is not worshiped by the Israelites. Instead, the image disposes their minds to the supernatural and draws them to God.

      Num. 21:8-9 - God also commands the making of the bronze serpent. The image of the bronze serpent is not an idol to be worshiped, but an article that lifts the mind to the supernatural.

      I Kings 6:23-36; 7:27-39; 8:6-67 - Solomon's temple contains statues of cherubim and images of cherubim, oxen and lions. God did not condemn these images that were used in worship.

      2 Kings 18:4 - it was only when the people began to worship the statue did they incur God's wrath, and the king destroyed it. The command prohibiting the use of graven images deals exclusively with the false worship of those images.

      1 Chron. 28:18-19 - David gives Solomon the plan for the altar made of refined gold with a golden cherubim images. These images were used in the Jews' most solemn place of worship.

      2 Chron. 3:7-14 - the house was lined with gold with elaborate cherubim carved in wood and overlaid with gold.

      Ezek. 41:15 - Ezekiel describes graven images in the temple consisting of carved likenesses of cherubim. These are similar to the images of the angels and saints in many Catholic churches.

      Col. 1:15 - the only image of God that Catholics worship is Jesus Christ, who is the "image" (Greek "eikon") of the invisible God.

    2. Beautifully put, G!

      Yes, it is idolatry to worship any image other than God.

      Images of Mary and the saints are venerated but not worshiped.

  2. Thanks for your comment, chiek.

    The Bible does not condemn the "making of images", but rather the making of "idols".

    Exodus 20: You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth.

    And the statues in Catholic churches are not idols. We do not worship them.

    Incidentally, God actually COMMANDS the making of images in Exodus 25: 18-20: Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the cover; make one cherub at one end, and the other at the other end, of one piece with the cover, at each end.

    So thus we can see that it is not the "making of images" but rather the worship of them that is condemned.

  3. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen so beautifully put it: "Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever." As Exodus 20 plainly puts it, the Catholic Church certainly teaches that commandment. Those who worshiped idols did exactly that: they WORSHIPED them. I have yet to meet any Catholic who worshiped their crucifix. All the other religious images you may find in a Catholic Church (crucifix, statues, stained glass, etc.) are beautiful reminders of God's deep, wide, and great love for His children and also salvation history. Besides, most people back in the earliest days of Christianity were unable to read, so physical, tangible images helped in their evangelization (aside from the fact that bibles were not as readily available and distributed as they are today).

    In regards to Exodus 20: AMEN!

  4. @ Rich: beautifully and eloquently presented!

  5. Is it then a sin to attend mass that has only a cross, for whatever reason, and not a crucifix?