The Death of Jesus (La mort de Jésus) by French artist Jacques Joseph Tissot.  Tissot painted more than 300 paintings from the New Testament, a third of which are owned by the Brooklyn Museum, New York.
The Death of Jesus (La mort de Jésus) by French artist Jacques Joseph Tissot. Tissot painted more than 300 paintings from the New Testament, a third of which are owned by the Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Editor’s Note: Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will celebrate the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday, April 10, at 3 p.m. in St. Rose Church, Belmar. The service, which will be livestreamed without a congregation, can be viewed at TrentonMonitor.com, the Diocese’s YouTube channel and all other diocesan media outlets. 

The following is Bishop O’Connell’s message:

A crucifix or cross hangs somewhere in almost every Catholic home, in every Catholic school and institution.  The crucifix or cross is the central and most widely known symbol of Christianity and has been for over 2,000 years. 

In a world where little seems permanent, where things come and go easily, where passing fads are commonplace, where so much is considered relative, the fact that a symbol has endured for so long everywhere should convey something to everyone who sees it, even to those who do not believe in Christ or Christianity or religion.

The cross, or better, the crucifix – the difference being that the crucifix displays Jesus’ brutalized body – has endured because it depicts and represents the turning point of humanity and life in this world as we have known it.  The Lord Jesus Christ – the Word made Flesh, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, God Himself – was put to death by us, by those He came to save, the saddest admission we have to make.  But, the most hopeful admission we have to make is that He died for us, and in His death, He did save us.  Nothing more important has ever happened in the history of the world than the moment of His death, which we remember in a dramatic way today, Good Friday, and every time we look at the crucifix.  And we who believe, who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, also know that His death was not – is not – the end of the story.

Think for a moment about the cross: two beams of common, simple wood.  Originally, it had no other purpose than to be an instrument of death.  What brings those beams together, what makes the cross a crucifix, is not the intersection of wood upon wood, no.  What brings those beams together and makes the cross a crucifix is the intersection of wood and flesh: a body stretched on a vertical wooden beam; arms outstretched on a horizontal wooden beam, a body with its furthermost extensions attached by nails.  This instrument of death was reserved for criminals and those considered unworthy of human life and human breath.

The cross that we behold, the crucifix that is the central symbol of our faith, held the body of the One whose only crime was that He loved us without condition or reservation and that He was willing to show the depth of His love with the ultimate and absolute sacrifice. "Greater love than this no man has than that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15: 13)." 

This was the love of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for us, His friends.  It was He, this criminal who was considered unworthy of human life and breath and, so, put to death on a cross, it was He whose death made all human life worthy, whose sacrifice made every human breath holy.

In Jesus Christ, God’s love was made real, visible, tangible.  God’s love makes no exceptions.  As Jesus Christ walked to His crucifixion, He carried on His shoulders not only a cross but also the weight of us all.  "It was our infirmities he bore, our sufferings he endured ... he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins … the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all (Isaiah 53: 4-6)."

My sisters and brothers, the crucifix is not a decoration or merely a symbol.  The crucifix is the most powerful reminder of the greatest love the world has ever known: one wooden beam pointing from the earth to the sky, pointing our attention to God; another wooden beam pointing from east to west, pointing our attention to our fellow human beings.  And what brings those two wooden beams, those two directions, together is a single body, His body, Jesus Christ, whose life of suffering and transforming love was a life and a love for all: a crucified love that has endured and will continue to endure.  A love that turns the wood of a tree, the tree of defeat and death, into a tree of life and victory.

And now we go to the tomb.  And wait.