Q: Why does the Catholic Church emphasize Christ crucified instead of Christ risen? I assume this is to remind us of his suffering for our sins and our redemption. However, this emphasis makes people feel guilty from the time that they are innocent children. I find the Risen Christ much more inspiring, giving unlimited hope for redemption to everyone, even the worst if we change.
Don’t the Orthodox Churches instead emphasize the Risen Christ as central to their beliefs and art? Doesn’t this show us what union with God ultimately means?
A: The Catholic Church sees the paschal mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, as a single mystery. Although not more important than Easter, Good Friday is an essential part of it.
Already by the year 60, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “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 1:23-24).
Some crucifixes have images of an obviously suffering Christ; others show Christ in priestly vestments, inspired by the Letter to the Hebrews. The San Damiano cross that spoke to St. Francis of Assisi was heavily influenced by the Gospel of John and Byzantine art; that cross has very few drops of blood on Jesus.
Modern crucifixes influenced by Spain, Portugal, Italy and countries that they colonized are more likely to show a bleeding Jesus. The reason is not to foster guilt but rather to show the great love that sustained Jesus even amid terrible suffering. Isaiah 53:3 describes the suffering servant as “one of those from whom men hid their faces.”