In his homily on this feast at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 September 1984 Pope John Paul 11 said: “The Catholic Church celebrates today the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of Christ. Thus the crucified Christ is lifted up by faith in the hearts of all who believe, and he too lifts up […]
In his homily on this feast at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 September 1984 Pope John Paul 11 said: “The Catholic Church celebrates today the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of Christ. Thus the crucified Christ is lifted up by faith in the hearts of all who believe, and he too lifts up those same hearts with a hope that cannot be destroyed. For the Cross is the sign of the Redemption, and in the Redemption is contained the pledge of resurrection and the beginning of new life: the lifting up of human hearts.” Patrick Duffy writes about the background to this feast.
St Helena, the mother of Constantine, is credited with the discovery of the true cross on 14th September 320. On 13 September 335 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection, was dedicated and the cross that St Helena discovered was venerated there the next day.
Good Friday in Jerusalem
We know how the cross was honoured in Jerusalem from the description of Egeria’s a woman pilgrim to the Holy Land about 381–384. Egeria, who was possibly a nun from Galicia in Spain, describes the liturgy of the veneration of the cross as she experienced it on Good Friday in Jerusalem at that time.
“The bishop takes his seat. A table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the silver-gilt casket, which contains the holy wood of the Cross, is set before him, opened. The holy wood and the inscription are taken out and placed on the table. The deacons who stand around it guard it while all the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one, bow before the table, touch the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on. And because someone is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons standing around, in case any one approaching should venture to do so again.”
Stolen and restored
In 614, that relic of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persian King Chosroes II (588-628), but was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628 and restored to the church in Jerusalem the following year.
Exaltation or Triumph
Catholic and Orthodox Churches alike celebrate this feast of the basilica’s dedication, formerly called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on the anniversary. The cross is the paradoxical and central symbol of Christianity. It was the instrument of the humiliating death of Jesus, but on his resurrection the cross became for Christians a source of pride and hope. Hence the use of the word “Triumph” or formerly “Exaltation”, still used by the Orthodox. As a feast of Christ, when it falls on Sunday, it replaces the regular liturgy for ordinary time.