Ps 63 R/. My soul thirsts for you, O Lord my God.
No. 308 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which provides the rules for Mass, states that,
“…either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations…”
Sanctuary, Holy Name Church, Christmas 2016
That’s why, whenever you enter a Catholic church, a crucifix is the focus of your field of vision (or at least it should be).
So why an image of this cruel day, of this moment of torture, pain and death? Why not just an empty cross, clean and elegant? Well to put it simply: it’s not the Cross that saves us; it’s Christ! So then, why not an image of the risen Christ? Because it’s by His Death on the Cross that Jesus saves us, a Death He freely accepted. The Cross is His throne of glory! And so a Crucifix is a statement of faith, a proclamation of the divinity of Christ Jesus.
This is made clear in today’s Gospel reading, for as soon as Peter makes the confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, Jesus begin to talk about His upcoming Passion and Death. And not just any kind of death: but specifically the Cross. The man who never sinned, the man who didn’t deserve to die, was to die a most horrible and humiliating death. And Jesus knew this was to happen; He knew this was His mission.
And it’s this very Passion and Death, along with His Resurrection, that we celebrate on the Altar at every Mass. And the Crucifix is there to remind us of that one sacrifice and of our participation in it. That’s why we gather and celebrate Mass facing the Crucifix; ideally I, too, would be facing it with you, when celebrating, offering with Christ His sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving and worship.
But it’s not just for this reason. In today’s Gospel, as He predicts His own Passion, Jesus also tells us that we, His disciples, must also share in His Passion, because, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading today, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). We’ve been joined to Him by this wonderful Sacrament; therefore we, too, must take up our cross (Lk 9:23).
We must follow in the footsteps of our Lord, offering ourselves to the Father, growing in discipline and virtue through self-denial, bearing patiently with suffering and persecutions, all the while remaining faithful to the Father’s love for us. This is the only way to Heaven: the way of the Cross.
And no one said this would be easy! That’s why elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus refers to it as the narrow gate (Mt 7:13). But that’s why Jesus spent so much time in prayer, to show us how to do it, and that we cannot do it without Him. So we, too, must spend much time in prayer —everyday —, asking the Father to give us the grace to persevere; asking Jesus to forgive us our sins and strengthen us with His grace; asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom; and asking blessed Mary to comfort us along the way.
But it’s also why we journey as a community, because we’re not alone in carrying our cross. Just as Jesus had the help of Simon of Cyrene, so, too, we have each other to help us along the way. So it’s okay to ask each other for prayers and for help; it’s okay to offer someone a shoulder to cry one; it’s okay to speak of our struggles and ask for advice. In fact, it’s necessary for us to do these things!
This isn’t always easy, and it makes us very vulnerable, but this is how we grow closer to Christ and to each other; this is how we become a community in the true sense of the word: a group of people united to each other in truth, in faith, and in love. This is the way of the Cross; this is the way to Christ.
Jesus isn’t some mere prophet, teacher or leader; He is the Son of God, our Lord and our Saviour. He gave His life for us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8), and He invites us to give Him our lives in return. Through His grace, may we have the courage and the faith to embrace the Cross He shares with us for our salvation. Amen.