Exaltation of the Holy Cross
“For the Jews, the cross was a tree of shame and for the Romans, it was an instrument of execution. But for the Christians the cross became the symbol of victory and salvation, an object of special veneration. The Primitive Church provides us with sufficient and definite evidence of the veneration of the Holy Cross. With the granting of peace by Constantine I and the discovery of the true Cross by Christ (about 326AD), the veneration of the Holy Cross became very public and very popular”
(Byzantine Leaflet Series no.8)
Tradition holds, as recorded by St. Ambrose, that the True Cross was found by St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Twenty years later, St. Cyril of Jerusalem preached at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and mentioned it in his writings, “Catecheses” in 348.
Later in 380, a pilgrim named Eteria wrote in the “Diary of a Pilgrim” that the dedication of the two Constantine Basilica, which took place on September 335 “is observed with great solemnities, since the Cross of the Lord was also found on that day.” From these records, the Church established September 14 as the Feast of the Veneration of the Holy Cross.
St. Gregory the Great began to celebrate the Feast in Rome during his pontificate in the late 5th century, and therefore became a “Universal” Feast, being observed in the East and West. Later, Jerusalem was sacked in 614 by the Persians. The relics of the True Cross were taken at that time, but returned in 629. The Byzantine Emperor, Heraclitus, defeated the Persians and carried them himself personally all the way back to Jerusalem. The restoration of the True Cross greatly increased its prominence and celebration.
Why do we celebrate the Cross?
The Cross is the greatest symbol of Christianity because of what it represents: Christ's life-giving sacrifice and victory over death. We use the Cross in our devotions:
- Praying the Way of the Cross (Stations), especially on Fridays and during Lent
- Making the Sign of the Cross
- Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday
- Making the “little” Cross at the Gospel reading during Holy Mass
- Placing a cross or crucifix in our homes
- Wearing a cross or crucifix on our person
Christ implored, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt 10:38,39).
Keeping the Cross visible in our lives helps us to meditate on his Passion and Death, and gives us hope for everlasting life.
Adoramus te, christe, et benedicimus tibi,
quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum.
We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee,
for by thy Cross, thou hast redeemed the world.