• Readings for today's Mass

Why the Cross?

Summary of main ideas

Our familiar crucifix does not portray the full reality of crucifixion, a horrendous and degrading execution - a "stumbling block" for St Paul when first encountered the Christian faith. For several centuries Christians represented the Cross without the crucified Jesus, as a trophy of the Saviour, triumphant over all evil. Later Christian art in the West shows a dramatic shift, with emphasis being given to the sufferings the Saviour underwent for the sins of the world.

A contrast in the outlooks of East and West developed after the 12th century. In the West, Christ's suffering and death were seen as the reparation necessary for our sins – following a line of thought developed by St Anselm of Canterbury. In the East – following the teaching of the Church Fathers – the Cross has been seen as an expression of God's love and mercy for a world sinking into ruin: the One through whom the world was made came to restore a world which was destroying itself.

The interpretation adopted by the West has profoundly influenced the outlook of believers. The place of the Resurrection in Christ's work of salvation – so basic to the message of the New Testament - was lost sight of. And, as the Gospel message of God's generous love for the world was seriously obscured, the God of Christian faith could easily come to be seen as hard and demanding. The way the biblical themes were interpreted reflected this unfortunate approach.

In our day, Vatican II has stressed the theme of the Paschal Mystery: Christ's death and resurrection are an expression of divine love and generosity. God comes to share our human condition and experience, that in our flesh and blood – through the Resurrection -God's final masterpiece may be brought forth: a healed, restored and glorified humanity.

Appreciation of the "logic of love" finding expression in the Paschal Mystery can bring renewal of our faith and hope, inspiring a new relationship with God. This is confirmed by the teaching of John Paul II.