Humans have five senses that can be utilized for enhanced spiritual experiences. This is why the Catholic Church has stunning cathedrals, beautiful stained glass windows, incense, bells, sacred music, bread, and wine. It's also why there's a large crucifix above the altar, front and center, in every Catholic Church. The senses are the aid of the soul as the soul contemplates the divine.
Of course, this also works in the home. This is why so many Catholics have wall crucifixes in their homes, usually above doorways and in each bedroom.
Having a crucifix is a benefit for the Catholic home because it's a constant reminder to pray and ensure all our actions have love for Christ as their end. Now, when you actually use a crucifix as an object to pray with, the crucifix becomes an especially powerful aid to prayer. Having a crucifix before your eyes is a great way to meditate on the passion of Jesus so that you can be more closely united with him in it.
Many saints attest to this—and probably became saints because they had the habit of prayer with a crucifix. Each of these saints had deep mystical experiences with Jesus while praying before a crucifix:
- St. Francis of Assisi: St. Francis of Assisi was praying before the now famous San Damiano icon cross (pictured) when he heard Jesus speak from the crucifix and commission him to rebuild His Church.
- St. Paul of the Cross: St. Paul of the Cross had a special love and devotion to the Passion of Jesus, always carrying a large wooden crucifix around with him which earned him his name. One day he heard Jesus speak to him from the crucifix, saying, "Thy soul is in my heart."
- St. Thomas Aquinas: After his defense of the doctrine of the Eucharist, St. Thomas placed his work before a crucifix and prayed that Jesus himself would judge its merit. The voice of Christ came from the cross saying, “Thomas, You have written well of Me. What will you have as your reward?” to which he responded, “Only yourself, LORD.”
- St. Gemma Galgani: While working in her family kitchen she would often stop to reflect and pray before the family's large wall crucifix. One day, the cross became animated as she entered into a vision and had an intimate conversation with Jesus.
Undoubtedly, there are many more saints who had similar experiences while praying before a crucifix. It's not the crucifix itself, but the love and devotion in the individual heart as it responds to the passion and self-giving love of Jesus that the crucifix depicts.
If you haven't used a crucifix when you pray, just try it for awhile and see if it does indeed function as an aid to greater divine contemplation. If you don't have a wall crucifix and it isn't prudent to hang one, there are other options. First, there are smaller wall crosses that you can hold in your hands as you pray. Second, there are small standing crucifixes that can easily travel around with you. Third, you can use a rosary that has a particularly large and detailed crucifix on it. To help you get started with this new prayer habit, here is a traditional Catholic prayer before a crucifix:
Prayer Before a Crucifix
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Your face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul pray and beseech You to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope, and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment; while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Your five wounds, pondering over them within me, and calling to mind the words which, long ago, David the prophet spoke in Your own person concerning You, my Jesus: "They have pierced My hands and My feet; they have numbered all My bones."
You can also read our related post, Jesus' Promise for Praying with a Crucifix. Do you already have a habit of praying with a crucifix? Do you find it to be an aid to prayerful meditation?
St. Francis of Assisi