Question corner: Why images of crucifixion and work on Sundays
Jan 2, 2020
Q. Most of my family is Protestant, but I became an adult convert four years ago and was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith. Members of my family often ask me questions about Catholic beliefs, and usually I can answer them, but recently my mother asked me one that I need your help with. She said, “Since Jesus is now resurrected and sits at the right hand of God the Father, why do Catholics keep Him crucified on the cross in your statues, religious jewelry, pictures, etc.?”
A. The image of the tortured body of Jesus on the cross has been used by Christians as a devotional symbol since the early centuries of Christianity. The purpose, of course, is to illustrate the immense love that Christ had for us and the sacrifices He endured to redeem us. The crucifix serves, too, to remind us that we are called to make our own sacrifices on behalf of others.
In one of his sermons, St. Augustine (354-430) gave the underlying rationale for the use of the crucifix, writing, “The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon Himself the death that He found in us, He has most faithfully promised to give us life in Him, such as we cannot have of ourselves.”
This depiction of Christ on the cross takes its inspiration from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, where St. Paul writes, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). What you might want to say to your mother is that the Catholic Church honors her perception that Jesus now shares in glory – so much so that some Catholic Churches today choose to portray the image of Christ on the cross dressed in the white robes of His resurrected glory.
Most crosses that adorn Catholic Church steeples and bell towers display only the cross, not the body of Jesus; likewise, Catholics are not averse to using such religious symbols as the Jerusalem cross or the Celtic cross. So, Christians of all denominations, though their devotional symbols may sometimes differ, clearly reverence both the passion of Christ as well as his resurrection.
Q. My wife sometimes travels on work assignments on a Sunday and is not able to attend Mass. I am wondering whether she is committing a sin.
A. The obligation for Catholics to attend in Mass on Sundays does admit of exceptions. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor” (No. 2181).
I, and every priest I know, would view your wife’s work assignments as a “serious reason.” But she might feel more comfortable if she spoke to her pastor and was formally dispensed from the Sunday obligation. This does not dispense her, however, from the responsibility every Catholic has to pray and worship regularly. Is it possible that she could attend a weekday Mass, so as not to be deprived of the unique strength that comes from the Eucharist?
When the opportunity does present itself again for Sunday worship, she should of course go to Mass; and meanwhile, she should not forget to pray. The Church’s Code of Canon Law notes that when one is deprived for a grave reason of the chance for Sunday worship, it is “strongly recommended” that a person “devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time” (Canon 1248.2)
Pope Francis has, on more than one occasion, lamented the fact that some no longer set Sunday aside as a special day for worship and rest. At a Wednesday audience in December 2017, he urged Catholics to go to “Sunday Mass to encounter the risen Lord, or better still, to allow ourselves to be encountered by Him.”
In that same talk, the pope said, “The Sunday encounter with the Lord gives us the strength to experience the present with confidence and courage, and to go forth with hope.” And Sunday Mass teaches us “to entrust ourselves during the course of the week to the hands of the Father,” he added.
(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.)
The latest local and global Catholic news delivered to your inbox.