In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A crucifix adorns every Church building because it is meant to be a sign of hope for Christians. The Cross is the source of salvation, and by looking upon it,…
A crucifix adorns every Church building because it is meant to be a sign of hope for Christians. The Cross is the source of salvation, and by looking upon it, we know that the death of Jesus is not the last word. This means the Cross points toward the hope of the Resurrection as well. While we are familiar with the idea that the Cross saves, perhaps we are unfamiliar with how the Cross accomplishes salvation.
The Cross’ salvific nature necessitates that we are saved from something — namely, sin and death. God did not ordain these realities; rather, from the beginning, they were a consequence of our disobedience against God — a misuse of our freedom. Because of sin, we were separated from God and unable to repair the relationship ourselves. God’s love, however, proves itself for us “in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8).
If, then, the Cross is the means by which we are reconciled to God, how does the Cross save us? There are two aspects for us to consider: What happens on the Cross, and how that is extended to us.
In the Incarnation, Jesus takes on our nature. While he does not know sin, he submits himself to our sinful condition and its consequences. We are not isolated and alone, but united by a common nature. Thus, through God’s action, the Incarnation effects a change in our nature. The humanity of Jesus becomes the means for our being close to God. As God, Jesus takes all of sinful humanity with him to the Cross. He takes on a humanity like ours after the fall: subject to death, able to be tempted. His humanity is subject to the same conditions ours is, except He never sins. This is what happens on the Cross: Christ offers himself, not just his humanity — but all of human nature is offered through, in and with him.
In order to save us from the death as the wages of sin (cf. Rm 6:23), when Christ dies, he enters into enemy territory and defeats it from within. God is life, so then when Life Himself enters the realm of death, it cannot hold him in — He is there to defeat death with His life. By entering the realm of the dead — which the Church calls Holy Saturday — Christ appears to those who have been waiting for the Messiah, waiting for him. They are presented with the choice to follow his way, the way of this crucified savior. Those who went with him are now in heaven, and those who rejected him enter the place of rejection of God, which is hell.
And how does this salvation extend to us? We know that the Cross is salvific by virtue of Christ’s Resurrection, whereby He is the victor over death. In Christ, we are no longer separated from God. In Christ, we have traveled from death to life. In Christ, we have been crucified with him. In Christ, we have been raised with him. We know the victory has already occurred, and now he lives out the mystery of his life in us in order to draw us along his way to the victory of the Resurrection. The salvation of the Cross is manifested in our Baptism, where we are sacramentally united to Jesus. By baptism, we are conformed to Jesus so that He lives out the mystery of his life, death, and resurrection in us, and gives us the sacraments as the principal means of encountering that salvation. Thus the act of love He offered 2,000 years ago is encountered continually today, in mystery through the sacramental life of the Church — by which we are given the grace to be saved.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison.
Of course, every benefit was secured at the cross in the sense that we, who were dead in our sins (see Col 2:13), are restored to life spiritually. However, evangelicals…
Of course, every benefit was secured at the cross in the sense that we, who were dead in our sins (see Col 2:13), are restored to life spiritually.
However, evangelicals are most concerned about the question of grace, and how grace is received and applied. Many evangelicals are suspicious that Catholics think that grace is only applied or “received” when we do certain “works.” This is not our teaching.
The grace of forgiveness of sin is offered freely to all who will seek it from Jesus. And while saving grace does summon us to works prepared for us by God (see Eph 2:10), our works are the result of grace, not the cause of it.
Where evangelicals struggle in understanding grace is that they have a very juridical sense of what took place on the cross and how it is applied to us. To them, at least those who hold that classical Protestant view, justification and salvation are merely imputed. That is to say, they are legally declared of us, but do not actually change who we are. Martin Luther spoke of the righteousness we receive as a justitia aliena (“an alien justice”).
We are not actually made just, we are only said to be just, because Jesus took the punishment we deserved, and He paid the price. But the justice we receive is “alien” because it belongs to Jesus and does not really make us just. To them, the Blood of Jesus “covers” our sin, but we are still wretched and depraved. So we are declared innocent and have innocence legally imputed to us by Jesus, but classical Protestantism still considers us depraved. Our depravity is only covered. Some in classical Protestantism have used the image that we are a dunghill, covered with snow. In Jesus, the Father overlooks our sin, as if we were covered with snow, or covered with the Blood of Jesus, but underneath we are still sinful, still a dunghill.
The Catholic theology of grace, however, sees grace as truly transforming us. Our sin is not merely covered, it is actually taken away, and we are really made holy. It is true that we tend to slip back into sin, but confession, holy Communion and living the life of faith are graces that assist us to become what we truly are, holy and righteous in God’s sight (see Eph 1:4). We actually are those who are to share the glorious freedom and nature of the Children of God (1 Jn 3:2).
Finally, then, at the cross we are saved from the deadly effect of sin. But more than saved, we are sanctified. And this sanctification is more than some mere legal imputation, it is an actual transforming work of grace that is begun in us and will be brought to completion (see Phil 1:6) so that we might become the very “holiness” of God (Lk 1:75; 1 Thes 3:13; 4:7; 2 Cor 7:1). These blessings reach us by grace working through faith, and cause us to walk uprightly in righteous deeds prepared for us by God (Eph 2:10).
Rev. Msgr. Charles E. Pope is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Catholics of a certain age recall crosses and statues draped in purple throughout Lent, an unmistakable sign of the penitential season the Church had entered and invited us to embrace….
Catholics of a certain age recall crosses and statues draped in purple throughout Lent, an unmistakable sign of the penitential season the Church had entered and invited us to embrace. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, / in quiet and in trust shall be your strength” (30:15). Removing distractions from church interiors was one way to focus our minds on God’s call to a deeper interior life with his Son.
Things have changed somewhat today, but covering images remains an option, and the rubrics in the Missal for the Fifth Sunday of Lent state: “In the Dioceses of the United States, the practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from this Sunday may be observed. Crosses remain covered until the end of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, but images remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.”
Massgoers will notice subtle — but important — changes in the liturgical texts beginning the Fifth Sunday of Lent: a new Preface, and prayers calling us to pay closer attention to Jesus’ passion. Covering statues on this Sunday underscores a deeper step we take with Christ on his Lenten journey.