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Posted by on Sep 14, 2011

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – An Ancient Feast Still Relevant

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – An Ancient Feast Still Relevant

Feast of the Cross - Russion Icon, 1680

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross dates from the fourth century, when according to tradition St. Helena discovered the True Cross on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in 335 AD and the cross was kept inside the church. The dedication of the church was celebrated on September 13 and the cross was carried outside the church for veneration by the faithful on September 14. As part of the celebration, the cross was lifted up so all could see it. This was the reason the feast came to be called the “Exaltation” or “Raising Aloft” of the Holy Cross or the Precious Cross (depending on whether one spoke Latin or Greek). Another,  more recent, translation of the term Exaltatio is “triumph.”

Beyond the physical practice of raising the cross up so that people could see it and venerate it, the triumph of Jesus over death on the cross has been a source of hope for people through the ages. In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “If I am lifted up high I will draw everything to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

In The Dialogue, 26, St. Catherine of Siena describes God’s explanation to her of Jesus’ role as bridge between the divine and the human.

“… Do you know when it [this bridge] was raised up? When my Son was lifted up on the wood of the most holy cross he did not cut off his divinity from the lowly earth of your humanity. So though he was raised so high he was not raised off the earth. In fact, his divinity is kneaded into the clay of your humanity like one bread. …

When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. I made of that cross an anvil where this child of humankind could be hammered into an instrument to release humankind from death and restore it to the life of grace. In this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn by love. He could not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. …

I said that, having been raised up, he would draw everything to himself. This is true in two ways: First, the human heart is drawn by love, as I said, and with all its powers: memory, understanding, and will. If these three powers are harmoniously united in my name, everything else you do, in fact or in intention, will be drawn to union with me in peace through the movement of my love, because all will be lifted up in the pursuit of crucified love. … For everything you do will be drawn to him when he draws your heart and its powers.”

“His divinity is kneaded into the clay of your humanity” and then all raised up, drawn into the life of the Trinity. What a great gift we have received. We no longer gather in Jerusalem expecting to see Jesus’ cross carried out for our veneration. We celebrate the raising aloft of our lives in union with His gift of life on the cross, drawn by love to that union.

(Image is in the public domain in the United States because its copyright has expired.)

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