Empty Cross or Crucifix?
Some Protestants accuse us Catholics that because we put up a Crucifix (a cross with Jesus Christ in it), we are still crucifying Jesus. According to them, we should put up instead an empty cross because Jesus had already risen.
The first thing to note is that Catholics also believe that Jesus had already risen. In fact, Catholics celebrate Easter Sunday. We value the Easter Vigil as the highest liturgical celebration of the year. Our Easter Season runs for 50 days, starting Easter Sunday until Pentecost – longer than any Protestant celebration of Easter. And every Mass for the whole year is a celebration of life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I can sympathize with our Protestant brethren regarding their desire to focus on Christ’s resurrection. I affirm that it is good, and in fact, an empty cross is also part of Catholic iconography for the past 2,000 years. However, let us pause and think about it. Is an empty cross really the sign of Christ’s resurrection?
Isn’t an “empty tomb” the real sign of Christ resurrection? Because after all, an empty cross simply means that Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried. An empty cross doesn’t tell us that Jesus is alive. An empty tomb does.
But more that an empty tomb, a better sign of Christ resurrection is the risen Christ himself. That is why Catholics put up an image of the risen Jesus in his glorified body to our churches during Easter Season. If our Protestant brethren want to highlight Christ’s resurrection, why not put up an image of risen Christ himself?
Of course, they will not do that, because an image of Christ is for them a “graven image” (Exodus 20:4). But an empty cross is also a graven image! Their empty cross is a “likeness” of the cross used by Christ 2,000 years ago. Moreover, Jesus is the real living God, not an idol (like Zeus or Baal or some imaginary and nonexistent gods, cf. 1 Cor 8:4).
On the other hand, Catholics know that an empty cross cannot save us. Jesus on the cross can. The cross is not our savior, it is Jesus Christ. An empty cross is merely a burden without a Reliever.
Jesus Christ dying on the cross is the sign of how far God would go for you and for me. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate sign of God’s love. It is the sign that we are his friends (John 15:13). It is through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that we are saved from sins.
So between the crucifix and empty cross, the crucifix is the better Christian image.