Is there a “Catholic” Cross?
It is very common to see people wearing a cross necklace. Some are plain, some are ornate and some feature an image of Jesus on them. Among all these options is there a “Catholic” cross? The answer of course, is both yes and no.
Let’s start with the “no”. The basic and traditional cross, often referred to as the Latin cross, is comprised of two-lines intersecting at right angles with the vertical line longer than the horizontal line. The horizontal line typically crosses the vertical line about 1/3 down from the top. This is a traditional cross and is not uniquely Catholic, as it is the symbol embraced by nearly all Christians.
Among Protestants the plain cross is preferred sometimes as it is understood as an expression of the risen Jesus; no longer on the cross, or as part of their rejection of images and statues as a form of idolatry. The plain cross also has a home in the Catholic Church. Distinctly Catholic groups such as the Carmelites, and Capuchin Franciscans, among others, use a plain cross. It is a reminder for them to take up their cross each day.
There are, however, distinctly Catholic crosses. The most common has an image of Jesus on the cross. This cross with Jesus on it is known as a crucifix and is a decidedly Catholic representation of the cross. In a Catholic home you will often see a wall crucifix hanging in many different rooms, particularly the living room, dining room and over the beds in a bedroom. In addition, while a cross necklace is the most popular form of religious jewelry, the preference skews decidedly toward a crucifix necklace when the wearer is Catholic.
The crucifix is unquestionably the most popular from of the cross for Catholics. However it’s popularity does not mean it is the only option. As mentioned before, certain religious orders use a plain cross for specific reasons. Other Catholic religious orders, have their own individual style such as another Franciscan cross, known as the Tau cross. The Tau cross does not have the top element of the cross above the horizontal beam. It looks like the letter T, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Some variations of the Franciscan cross will feature crossed arms (those of St. Francis and Christ) or hands (alluding to the call to service).
There are hundreds of different styles of crosses, each with different stylistic elements, some decorative and others linked to deeper meanings. A few examples are: the Eastern Orthodox cross, featuring three crossbeams, the Celtic cross recognized for its intricate scroll and knot work, the Maltese cross, with four equal members that are flared at the ends, and the Jerusalem cross, also symmetrical in design which has the appearance of crosses inside of crosses. The list goes on and on. Most of those just cited could be called Catholic crosses because of their relationship to different religious orders and sects within the Catholic church.
So, yes, a cross is Catholic, some designs more so than others. The key for any Catholic to remember about a cross or crucifix is that it is more than a popular type of religious jewelry. It is a sacramental, a symbol created by the Church to help the believer recall his or her faith or religious duties. On the wall or on a chain around the neck, it is this distinction that truly makes a cross Catholic.