The use of crucifixes by Catholics follows an ancient tradition that honors the supreme sacrifice of Jesus.
As the empty cross is a common Christian symbol which is used by all Christian churches, Catholics chose to stand out for their frequent use of the crucifix, a cross that shows the tortured body of Jesus Christ.
But why is it so?
The Catholic Church has respected the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross from the initial days of Christianity.
Earlier, this was done in a closed way, using symbolic figures to represent Jesus on the cross. Initially the Greek letters tau (T) and rho (P) were inserted, and it created an abstract image that resembles someone on the cross.
Also, the early Christians used to use a dolphin twisted around a pitchfork, which was a symbol borrowed from Greek mythology that were applied to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
However, once Christianity became legal, artists became more realistic and open, and Christians freely portrayed Jesus on the cross. The inspiration behind this artistic expression comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 1:23), where he writes, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.
The reason behind the crucifix has always been to display the great love Christ has for all humanity and to remind us of the hope of the Resurrection won by that victory of Passion of Jesus.
During the 4th century, St. Augustine gave an excellent summary of why Catholics use a crucifix.
The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; instead, it should be our immense hope and our immense glory. As he took upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such that we cannot have for ourselves.
God loved us so much that, as sinless as he is, he suffered for us sinners the punishment of our sins that we deserved. How then can he refuse to give us the reward we deserve for our righteousness, for he is the source of righteousness?.
Brethren, let us acknowledge fearlessly, and even proclaim openly, that Christ was crucified for us; let us confess it, not in fear but in joy, not in shame but in glory.
Lastly, the crucifix reminds us that there is no resurrection and salvation without the cross, and that we are called to carry our own crosses and follow after Jesus.
He has shown us the example of true Christian and we are to imitate him and also imitate his great love for all humanity, ready to do anything, even if that means sacrificing our lives for another person.