Q. Our parishioners recently finished building a new parish center. We planned to place in it a beautiful new plain wooden cross to memorialize the work everyone had contributed. Unfortunately, we were told that what we planned to place there is not a "Catholic cross." What exactly is a Catholic cross? Does it need to have a corpus to be Catholic? (Indiana)
A. I’m not sure what a "Catholic" cross is. Some people would identify a cross without a corpus as "Protestant." Perhaps it’s true that most Protestant congregations usually display a simple wooden cross, but many non-Catholic churches and institutions display the cross containing the body of Christ.
It is unhistorical at least to make an absolute distinction between them, however. First, the practice of portraying the crucified Lord on the cross became common quite late in Christianity, only about 800 years ago.
For some time, Christians didn’t display the cross in art; it was a symbol of shame in Roman culture. Then, during the first centuries after Christ, a cross with the body of Christ was rare. The conviction that the death of Christ was part of the whole paschal or Easter event was so ingrained in the church that heavy emphasis was placed on the resurrection.
Thus, crosses were either bare (without the corpus) or, at least by the fifth century, were adorned with precious jewels, the so-called crux gemmata. When the body of Christ did begin to appear more frequently on the cross, it was often the risen, triumphant Lord that was shown rather than the dying or dead Christ.
Around the 1200s in the wake of major natural and political disasters that swept through Europe, the passion of Christ began to assume a more central role in Catholic theology and spirituality. Crucifixes graphically displaying the suffering Christ became popular, remaining so into our own time.
With today’s renewed emphasis on the entire paschal mystery in the history of salvation, something such as jeweled crosses, crosses with the body of the risen Christ, even bare crosses, are found frequently in present-day Catholic churches.
Q. I have read in your column that married couples share a continuing of their marital love in heaven. I am a non-committed, lifelong bachelor. Will there be something for me to share with "the one that got away" when we both meet in heaven? (New Jersey)
A. Absolutely there will be, even if there was no one special person that just "got away." As I explained in that column, according to Christian tradition, based on what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ, we will be in eternity what we were formed to be by God’s grace in our relationships this side of death.
Every friend and family member and other people we encounter shape to some degree what we are as human beings and children of God. Each of them helps define significantly our humanity as men and women and as Christians.
This is true in a unique way for married people, but the same personal formation is in process in all of us, including people like you. All the mutual love and growth and life-giving that took place here will shine in our sharing the presence of God in eternal life.
A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.