Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Short Reflections on the Feast of the Cross

(Originally written in August 2005)

On 14 September the Church marks the Triumph of the Cross. In the Byzantine Churches the Feast is also called the "Exaltation of the Cross." A clue to the antiquity of the Feast is that both the Byzantine and Roman Churches celebrate the Feast on the same date. For many, the Feast may simply pass by without significance. Yet the history of this commemoration shows it to have significance even today.

St Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 a.d. and showed great generosity to the Church. Indeed, many of our ideas about the very structure of a classical European church building are derived from the fact that Constantine donated imperial Roman government buildings to the Pope and Bishops for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass). Such is the origin of the old Roman Basilica.

In 326, the mother of Constantine, St Helena, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. While there, she collected relics to distribute among the churches now springing up through the Empire. The inhabitants of Jerusalem told her that the site where Christ had been buried was a traditional local gathering place for prayer and worship. Going to the site, St Helena had workers begin digging, and ultimately three crosses were found. Legends provide two alternative explanations about how she chose the True Cross: 1) a dying woman was laid on each of the three crosses, and the True Cross healed her of her infirmity; 2) a corpse was brought forth and laid on each cross, the True Cross resurrecting him. However it was chosen, both St Helena and St Constantine were convinced that they had found the True Cross and a Church was built over the site, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Cross itself was initially taken to Constantinople for the veneration of the faithful, and later divided up between the Church of Roman and several other important Christian Centers.

The importance of the Feast of the Cross lays not so much in the historic details of the finding of the True Cross. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians observe the Feast of the Cross with a fast in honor of our Lord’s great mercy in dying for us and as firm reminder that our salvation is rooted in history. Christianity is not a religion of myths but a Faith in the One God who reveals Himself through historic circumstances. The hard reality of the Crucifixion confronts us with the undying Love of God and the suffering our Lord Jesus was willing to endure for our sakes. The unfolding of our salvation in history assures us that we are not just His creatures but His children, created in His Image and Likeness.

Take some time off this September 14th and go to Mass. Offer thanks to our Lord for the gift of salvation lifted up through the Cross unto Eternal Life.

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