A Vincentian View: The Cross and the Crucifix

by | Jul 13, 2016 | Formation, Reflections | 3 comments


A Vincentian View

Fr. Patrick J. Griffin, CM

 “The Cross and the Crucifix”

How close are you to a cross at this very moment?  Could you reach into your pocket and find the cross on the end of your rosary?  Is one attached to your collar or around your neck?  Is there one (or more than one) hanging on the wall of this chapel or in the room where you live?  Is there one in your office, on your bicycle, in your car, on your desk?  The sign of the cross is the Christian symbol.  It is the way in which we begin and end our prayer.  Sometimes, when I stand in the back of a Church before mass, I can watch parents arrive with their infants in arms and make the sign of the cross on their tiny foreheads; sometimes, I see them with larger children dipping their little hands into the holy water font and clumsily moving these hands around the sign of the cross on their bodies.  I have marked children at Baptism with the holy oils in the form of the cross, and I have used these sacramentals to anoint those who are sick and dying.  I have drawn the cross on foreheads with ashes, oil and water, as well as with nothing special; I have formed it over the book of the Scriptures, the elements to be consecrated at Eucharist, and couples to be blessed in marriage.  We can carry out similar gestures in various circumstances:  the sign of the cross is a very important symbol of our Christian faith.  It needs to be expressed and understood by us.  It needs to be at the center of our commitment. I think it is specially understood by those who are poor. It needs to be our symbol.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians on July 3, he spoke to us about the power of the cross in his life.  Listen to what he says:

Brothers and sisters:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. . . . From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

For Paul, the cross was the heart of his theology.  His boast was never in the number of Churches that he founded or the number of people whom he converted, but always in his willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.  This truth arises from the fact that his first encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus took place with the revelation that Jesus was found among those who were persecuted Paul resolves to find him there, to witness to him in this ministry characterized by affliction.  He holds the cross high in his thinking and preaching.

The simple cross has power for me.  The crucifix (the cross with the body of the Lord) raises additional feelings.  I confess that it is a difficult symbol for me when I give it close physical examination.

Sometimes, we see scenes of the crucifixion portrayed in museums and they contain that genius of detail which stirs in us a sense of the horror of the act.  I appreciate the extraordinary talent which creates such works of art, but I cannot spend too much time with them.  The cruelty of the crucifixion and the concerted effort to portray the suffering of Jesus evokes too much in me.  I need to look away.  The same can be said of the portrayals of the crucifixion or the Stations of the Cross in some Churches.

Yet, I know that I need to spend time near both the cross and the crucifix.  I know that I need to learn the lessons which Jesus has to teach in this ultimate act of being one of us and dying for us.  Many people in our world still experience the pain and abuse of crucifixion.  I need to allow the sacrifice of the Lord to give motion to my mind and heart and hands and feet.  I cannot run away from the truth or the particular lesson of the moment.  But, I cannot absorb everything easily.  The violence of the scene stirs a terror in me.

I wonder what non-Christians see when they come into our churches or schools or homes and see a cross/crucifix.  Sometimes, it may be worn around our neck or tattooed on our skin.  What do they think?  They have a legitimate right to wonder and feel uneasy.  At St. John’s University, numerous images of the cross and crucifix appear throughout the Campus.  One can also find pictures and statues of men and women—our Vincentian saints—suffering cruelly.  I could not have such images in my room.  I have a crucifix, but only one, and it is very modestly sized.  It is my, so-called, vow cross (which is a crucifix!).

I realize that I can be fickle.   I distinguish between a crucifix and a cross.  The cross itself does not stir the deep feelings of a crucifix.  The cross can lose its meaning for us more easily than a crucifix—sometimes, it seems like a design.  We put crosses on everything which can obliquely connect to the Church or religion.  That is not helpful.

And so, what is my point?  I am grateful for Paul who reminds us about the importance of the cross in our faith.  I am in total and passionate agreement with him.  This cannot be an intellectual exercise.  I am also appreciative of his desire to put the crucified Lord in the foreground.

Paul calls the community of Galatia and us to lift up this core symbol of our faith with reverence and devotion.  And we do so, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


  1. Paul Parackal cm

    Thanks dear. good article.

    • Sister Honora Remes

      Dear Pat, You hit it on the head. THANK YOU for the real, honest, and challenging look at the heart of our faith. In the Exercises of St. Ignatius, we are asked to kneel before the CRUCIFIX and ponder some very deep questions about our relationship with Christ. You’ve put us there again where truth unfolds.

  2. William Graham

    Thank you for a great article. I attended mass at a church in Richmond Virginia in January this year. There was a crucifix on one side of the church next to the candles. The only thing behind the alter was a meaningless stained glass window. I found this disturbing and distracting.
    I told the pastor I was uncomfortable without a Crucifix. He told me there was a good reason for it not being there. I told him not to bother explaining that I understood his reasons.
    I don’t pray to a Crucifix or statue but it is a reminder of who I am praying to or asking to intercede for me.

    On the other hand I attended a church in Panama City Florida and it was so good with a vibrant pastor and parish and chapels open 24/7.
    I have never seen a picture of Pope Francis saying mass without a crucifix and he is my hero.
    Kindest regards, Bill

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This