Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – 14 September, also called Feast of the Triumph of the Cross and Holy Cross Feast.
This feast was observed in Rome before the end of the seventh century. It commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross, which had been placed on Mount Calvary by St Helena and preserved in Jerusalem but then had fallen into the hands of Chosroas, King of the Persians. The precious relic was recovered and returned to Jerusalem by Emperor Heralius in 629.
The lessons from the Breviary tell us that Emperor Heraclius carried the Cross back to Jerusalem on his shoulders. He was clothed with costly garments and with ornaments of precious stones. But at the entrance to Mount Calvary a strange incident occurred. Try as hard as he would, he could not go forward. Zacharias, the Bishop of Jerusalem, then said to the astonished monarch: “Consider, O Emperor, that with these triumphal ornaments you are far from resembling Jesus carrying His Cross.” The Emperor then put on a penitential garb and continued the journey.
In celebration of the discovery of the Holy Cross, Constantine ordered the construction of churches at the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. Those churches were dedicated on September 13 and 14, 335 and shortly thereafter the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross began to be celebrated on the latter date.
The feast slowly spread from Jerusalem to other churches, until, by the year 720, the celebration was universal.
The liturgy of the Cross is a triumphant liturgy. When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Mother Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His suffering and Cross.
We make the Sign of the Cross before prayer which helps to fix our minds and hearts to God. After prayer we make the Sign of the Cross to keep close to God. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross. At Baptism we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, signifying the fullness of redemption and that we belong to Christ. Let us look to the cross frequently, and realize that when we make the Sign of the Cross we give our entire self to God — mind, soul, heart, body, will, thoughts.
WHY DO WE CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS?
It’s easy to understand that the Cross is special because Christ used it as the instrument of our salvation. But after His Resurrection, why would Christians continue to look to the Cross? Christ Himself offered us the answer: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The point of taking up our own cross is not simply self-sacrifice; in doing so, we unite ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ on His Cross.
When we participate in the Mass, the Cross is there, too. The “unbloody sacrifice” offered on the altar is the re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. When we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we do not simply unite ourselves to Christ; we nail ourselves to the Cross, dying with Christ so that we might rise with Him.
“For the Jews require signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block and unto the Gentiles foolishness . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Today, more than ever, non-Christians see the Cross as foolishness. What kind of Saviour triumphs through death?
For Christians, however, the Cross is the crossroads of history and the Tree of Life. Christianity without the Cross is meaningless: only by uniting ourselves to Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross can we enter into eternal life.
O cross, you are the glorious sign of victory.
Through your power may we share in the triumph of Christ Jesus.