In the Catholic understanding of liturgical signs and symbols the word “cross” refers simply to the symbol without the body or figure of Christ. The word “crucifix” refers to the symbol with Christ’s body or figure.
In many Catholic churches there are crosses at the back of the huge or dominant figure of the resurrected body of Christ. This symbol emphasizes the resurrection without the passion and death of Jesus or it relegates the latter to a non-important aspect of salvation history. It seems that this is what we find in most of the Protestant churches. But most of our churches have the crucifix as the prominent symbol in the sanctuary. The implication of this difference was discussed in my previous column, The Cross with Christ or Cross without Christ?
It was reported that a national congress on the liturgy a controversy arose on which of the two symbols should be present in every celebration of the Mass. Pope Benedict XVI resolved the issue by explaining the theology of the Paschal Mystery where he emphasized the crucifix as the more meaningful image of the mystery being celebrated.