Q. Why do some Catholic churches have a crucifix, yet others have the Risen Christ or only a plain cross? Has the Church simply gone through different phases where one style was more popular than another, or was there some deeper reason behind it?
A. This is a relatively modern phenomenon and, like most modern phenomena in the Church, it was entirely unintended. The idea behind displaying a crucifix (a cross with the corpus, or image of Christ crucified) in our churches is for the sake of drawing our attention to the fact that, at each celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are witnessing the re-presentation of Jesus’ crucifixion. During the consecration of the bread and wine, we do not actually see what took place on Calvary. But by seeing the crucifix, we are more easily reminded.
Replacing crucifixes in our churches with what some have sarcastically called “resurrexifixes,” diminishes this assistance to our prayer. The prevailing mentality is that we are people who look past the crucifixion towards the Resurrection. Therefore, we should turn our gaze away from the horror of Christ’s death and focus upon His triumph over the grave. But by our celebration of the Eucharist, we do just that: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.”
Some would say that displaying an image of the Risen Christ demonstrates His glorious victory over death. But the glory of Christ’s victory is shown forth no more brilliantly than by seeing Him overthrow death by means of death itself. There is no Resurrection without the crucifixion, so we cannot look past it. However, as St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14).