One of the canards some Protestants repeat about Catholicism is that the Catholic Church ‘keeps Jesus Christ on the cross’ by using Crucifixes instead of bare crosses (our family Crucifix is pictured as an example to the right). Most/all Protestant Christian communities use a cross without the Corpus (body) still present.
First and foremost, the cross—with or without Christ on it—is a perfectly valid Christian symbol. While Melissa and I have become Catholic, we are not getting rid of the crosses we had before. Maybe they take a less prominent role now, but they are certainly not invalid. Both forms of the cross remind us of the brutal Roman method of execution that was used to put Jesus to death about 2,000 years ago.
Many Protestants would say that their crosses, with Jesus no longer present, remind them that the Lord is risen . . . and indeed, he is risen. But Catholics would point out that it is the moment of Christ’s death that Jesus brought about atonement for the sins of the world. It is his death on the cross that ultimately brings us life. It is his death on the cross that brought about the New Covenant with man and made possible the entire Christian movement.
For me, personally, the Crucifix presents a constant reminder that Jesus Christ—the human incarnation of God—paid the ultimate sacrifice for me. He accepted pain and suffering unlike anything I can imagine, and he did so for my sake. In doing so, Jesus conquered death and sin. An empty cross, as valid as it is as a Christian symbol, does not serve so powerful a reminder of what God has done for us.
After all, St. Paul did not preach Christ resurrected . . . he preached Christ crucified.
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”—1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (NAB), emphasis added.