November 7, 2011

In Praise of the Sick Call Crucifix

In one of the parishes where I have been helping out, confessions are heard in a little room that probably used to be sacristy storage or a flower room or something like that. Sitting in there the other day (there were no customers) I was looking at the crucifix on the opposite wall. I noticed that it looked like one of those old-fashioned 'sick call' crucifixes. I had only seen them in pictures, so with all of my convert curiosity (may I never lose it, Lord!), I took it off the wall to investigate.

Sure enough, the crucifix proper slid up to reveal the cruciform base with holes for candles on the arms and a slot to display the crucifix on top. In the middle cavity were the two little candles and a tiny bottle that I supposed was for holy water (I couldn't tell if there was anything in it.) These were wrapped in cellophane with some folded paper. I was very curious to know what was on the paper, but I didn't want to open the little package.

I put the thing back together and returned it to the wall. As I continued to sit there, I just reflected on it as an object. (There still weren't any customers.) I began to think about how intense and effective a symbol this sick call crucifix could be in someone's home--the rituals and prayers for the occasion of death being contained within the image of the Lord's own passion and death.

Indeed, it is our sanctification and our salvation that our own death--whether we are talking about the death we live in because of sin or the bodily death to which it all tends--is gathered into the death of Jesus Christ. As an object of practical devotion, the sick call crucifix held this fundamental good news of our faith within its own practical design. The moment of prayer and sacrament offered at our death is contained in his. The sick call crucifix displayed reminds us that our bodily death, whenever it comes, is nothing to fear, because we already died in Christ at our baptism. Like the little candles hidden in the crucifix, our death has been hidden in Christ since that day.

1 comment:

pennyante said...

The little package might have contained some cotton so the priest could wipe the oils off his hands...