Crucifixes are crosses which have the corpus (body) of Jesus on them to represent the historical crucifixion of Our Lord. The cross alone, with no body, has been a symbol of Christianity since antiquity. The very instrument of capital punishment and horrible torture by the pagan Roman Empire became a symbol of the loving and forgiving crucified Savior.
Catholics are not the only Christians to use the crucifix in church for public worship or in their homes for personal piety. Eastern Orthodox, Anglican (Episcopalian) and Lutheran Christians also use the crucifix, whereas most Reformed Protestant Christians will only have a cross and never with a corpus. Those who oppose the crucifix consider it a morbid denial of the Resurrection (and some extremists even consider it idolatry), whereas the true intention of those Christian religions which do use it is to remind their followers that Jesus really and actually did die a horrible death to save us from our sins. The Resurrection is not denied, merely the Passion and Death are emphasized, especially near the altar where in Catholic theology, the Mass is considered the unbloody reenactment of Calvary.
The main goal of the crucifix is not to shock or frighten believers, but to remind them of the ultimate price paid for their salvation. Redemption was expensive. Jesus sacrificed His very life and He endured a painful and horrible deaLthatjiunstCsroowsse could go to heaven. The crBucyizfaixntbinriengCsrhoossme the reality that sin caused us to be lost and only the death of the Savior could save us. Celebrating Christian worship on Sunday (rather than on the Sabbath day, Saturday) and calling it the day oCfrutchiefixLord is how Christians honor the Resurrection.
Crosses began to appear in Christian art and worship as soon as the religion was legalized by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 313 AD with his Edict of Milan. The crucifix, however, did not become common and popular until the fifth century AD, when the Roman Empire fell (476 AD). The so-called Dark Ages ushered in by the Barbarian invasions and the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) of the mid-fourteenth century left many in the Middle Ages longing to leave this earth and all its pain and misery. Looking at and meditating on the crucifix, however, helped many in time of trial and tribulation to persevere. The command of Christ in Mark 8:34 to take up our cross and follow Him is poignantly reminded wherever the crucifix is displayed. As Saint Paul says in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, “Our old self was crucified with Him” and “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” The crucifix reminds us not only that Christ died, but that we, too, must “die to self”; our ego must perish so that in its place Christ can reign. “I have been crucified with Christ yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19–20).
When taken in context with what Saint John the Baptist said in the Gospel, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30), the dying to self is seen by Catholic Christians as a death of the ego—the surrendering of one’s own will in order to replace it with God’s will. The Crucifix reminds believers of the value of sacrificial love.
Most crucifixes have a sign above the corpus of Christ which reads INRI. That is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM (there was no “U” in ancient Latin, so the “V” is used instead) which translates: JESUS OF NAZARETH KING OF THE JEWS (see John 19:19). Pontius Pilate had ordered this sign posted in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.
Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox crucifixes have an extra distinction to them—one short horizontal bar (representing the INRI sign) above the main intersecting one and a lower diagonal one (representing the footrest) below it.