Feast of the Day: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It is almost impossible for Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and many other liturgical Christians to say these words without performing the gesture of blessing – the Sign of the Cross.
I have always liked the stories I first heard in childhood about Constantine’s vision of the Holy Cross –in hoc signo vinces, you will conquer by this sign – and the discovery of the True Cross by his mother, St. Helen.
The images are still fresh in my mind. It is also reassuring to see that there is some historical support for these stories from early church sources. We definitely know that St. Helen (Helena) dedicated the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on September 14, 335 on the site of the Tomb of the Resurrection. The location has the support of many archaeologists as the actual site.
The use of the cross as a central symbol by Christians began early in the life of the church. Early accounts from the first and second century indicate that Christians marked their homes with this sign and blessed themselves and others with it.
For millions of us, this symbolic gesture, like the prayer itself, marks beginnings and endings of liturgy, life, and rites of passage. When we went away on a trip or off to college or on those last steps to our weddings – the parental words still echo – “Here let me bless you” – followed by the sign, the words, a prayer, and a kiss.
My favorite form of the blessing for others came from a Spanish Jesuit. He said that it was used by St. Ignatius’ first companions at times of parting. “May the Holy Trinity bless you, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – And as far as I am able, I bless you.”
Sites of Interest:
How the feast continues to be celebrated: Antiochian.org
Early uses of the Sign of the Cross: Justus.anglican.org
Catholic Encyclopedia: Newadvent.org