The Catholic Defender: Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The universal symbol of the Christian faith, the cross represents Christ's victory over death. The feast celebrates the redemptive transformation of a barbaric instrument of torture into a divine “tree of life” that brings hope to humankind.
This could also be a great day to go through your home and ensure that each room has a cross or crucifix in it, which is an old Catholic tradition. Pray the stations of the cross– another perfect prayer activity for today!
Early in the fourth century, Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the second-century Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher on that spot. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.
The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”
To this day, the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.
The cross is today the universal image of Christian belief. Countless generations of artists have turned it into a thing of beauty to be carried in procession or worn as jewelry. To the eyes of the first Christians, it had no beauty. It stood outside too many city walls, decorated only with decaying corpses, as a threat to anyone who defied Rome’s authority—including Christians who refused sacrifice to Roman gods. Although believers spoke of the cross as the instrument of salvation, it seldom appeared in Christian art unless disguised as an anchor or the Chi-Rho until after Constantine’s edict of toleration.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates major historic events associated with the Cross, all which took place in Jerusalem: the triumphant return of the True Cross relic on March 21, 630; the first public veneration of the True Cross relic at the Basilica of the Anastasis on September 14, 335; and the discovery of
We see Jesus lifted up on the Cross for all to see. We see Him using horrible suffering to eliminate suffering forever. We see Him using death to destroy death itself. Ultimately, we see Jesus become victorious on that Cross and, therefore, forever we see the Cross as an exalted and glorious throne!
Bless us who find salvation In the cross of Christ; May we always recognise his glory In the weak, suffering and condemned of the world. We ask this through Christ, crucified and exalted, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus, you say that you came to bring us life, and life to the full. Through your death and resurrection, you brought hope to life. You gave us access to heaven and the limitless goodness and wisdom of the Father. Give me the desire today to seek you and teach me to value you above anything else.
Lord, may nothing separate me from You today. Teach me how to choose only Your way today so each step will lead me closer to You. Help me walk by the Word and not my feelings. Help me to keep my heart pure and undivided.