The Exaltation of the Holy CrossThis festival was instituted in commemoration of the day on which the holy Cross of Christ, was, with great solemnities, brought back to Jerusalem. Chosroes, king of Persia, had invaded Syria with a powerful army, and had conquered Jerusalem, the capital. He caused the massacre of eighty thousand men, and also took many prisoners away with him, among whom was the Patriarch Zachary. But more painful than all this to the Christians was, that he carried away the holy, Cross of our Saviour, which, after great pains, had been discovered by the holy empress, St. Helena. The pagan king carried it with him to Persia, adorned it magnificently with pearls and precious stones, and placed it upon the top of his royal throne of pure gold. Thus was the holy Cross held in higher honor by the heathen king, than Martin Luther would have manifested; for, in one of his sermons, he says of it: "If a piece of the holy Cross were given to me and I had it in my hand, I would soon put it where the sun would never shine on it." Heraclius, the pious emperor, was greatly distressed at this misfortune, and as he had not an army sufficiently large to meet so powerful an enemy, he made propositions for peace. Chosroes, inflated by many victories, refused at first to listen to the emperor's proposal, but at length consented, on condition that Heraclius should forsake the faith of Christ and worship the Sun, the god of the Persians. Indignant at so wicked a request, the emperor, seeing that it was a question of religion, concerning the honor of the Most High, broke off all negotiation with his impious enemy. Taking refuge in prayer, he assembled all the Christian soldiers of his dominions, and commanded all his subjects to appease the wrath of the Almighty, and ask for His assistance, by fasting, praying, giving alms and other good works. He himself gave them the example.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
After this, he went courageously, with his comparatively small army, to meet the haughty Chosroes, having given strict orders that his soldiers, besides abstaining from other vices, should avoid all plundering and blaspheming, that they might prove themselves worthy of the divine assistance. Taking a crucifix in his hand, he animated his soldiers by pointing towards it, saying they should consider for whose honor they were fighting, and that there was nothing more glorious than to meet death for the honor of God and His holy religion.
Thus strengthened, the Christian army marched against the enemy. Three times were they attacked by three divisions of the Persian army, each one led by an experienced general; and three times they repulsed the enemy, so that Chosroes himself had at last to flee. His eldest son, Siroes, whom he had excluded from the succession to the throne, seized the opportunity, and not only assassinated his own father, but also his brother, Medarses, who had been chosen by Chosroes as his associate and successor. To secure the crown which he had thus forcibly seized, Siroes offered peace to Heraclius, restored to him the conquered provinces, and also sent back the holy Cross, the patriarch Zachary, and all the other prisoners of war. Heraclius, in great joy, hastened with the priceless wood to Jerusalem, to offer due thanks to the Almighty for the victory, and to restore the holy Cross, which the Persians had kept in their possession during fourteen years, to its former place. All the inhabitants of the city, the clergy and laity, came to meet the pious emperor. The latter had resolved to carry the Cross to Mount Calvary, to the church fitted up for its reception. A solemn procession was formed, in which the Patriarch, the courtiers and an immense multitude of people took part. The clergy preceded, and the emperor, arrayed in sumptuous robes of state, carried the holy Cross upon his shoulder. Having thus passed through the city, they came to the gate that leads to Calvary, when suddenly the emperor stood still and could not move from the spot. At this miracle, all became frightened, not knowing what to think of it. Only to St. Zachary did God reveal the truth. Turning to the emperor the patriarch said: "Christ was not arrayed in splendor when He bore His Cross through this gate. His brow was not adorned with a golden crown, but with one made of thorns. Perhaps, O emperor, your magnificent robe is the cause of your detention." The pious Heraclius humbly gave ear to the words of the patriarch, divested himself of his imperial purple, and put on poor apparel, he took the crown from his head and the shoes from his feet. Having done this, the sacred treasure was again laid on his shoulder: when, behold! nothing detained him, and he carried it to the place of its destination. The holy patriarch then deposited the Cross in its former place, and duly venerated it with all who were present. God manifested how much He was pleased with the honor they had paid to the holy Cross of Christ, by many miracles wrought on the same day. A dead man was restored to life by being touched by the sacred wood; four paralytic persons obtained the use of their limbs; fifteen who were blind received sight; many sick recovered their health; and several possessed were freed from the devil by devoutly touching it.
I. The Cross on which Christ had died was raised and greatly honored by all the faithful. I suppose that if you possessed a particle of the true Cross, you would greatly honor and cherish it. But why do you not love and honor that cross, those trials which God sends you? They are, in a spiritual sense, a particle of the Cross of Christ, which will be most beneficial to you, if you bear it patiently. Christ, the Lord, called His crucifixion an exaltation, saying: "The Son of Man must be exalted; "because by it He was exalted in heaven and on earth, as He bore His sufferings and His death out of love for His heavenly Father and for the salvation of men. You also will be exalted in heaven, if, in carrying your cross, you follow the example of Christ. Many carry their crosses, like the thief on the left of Christ, with murmuring and impatience, others, like the one on His right, with patience and resignation, knowing that they deserve them. Jesus carried His Cross not only with patience, but, according to the words of the Apostle, with joy, although He was innocent. With whom do you carry yours? With whom will you carry it in future? If you carry it with the first, you will not be exalted, but precipitated into the depth of hell.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross from the Liturgical Year, 1903
"Through thee the precious Cross is honoured and worshipped throughout the world (Cyrill, Alex. Hom. iv. Ephesi habits.)." Thus did St. Cyril of Alexandria apostrophize our Lady on the morrow of that great day, which saw her divine maternity vindicated at Ephesus. Eternal Wisdom has willed that the Octave of Mary's birth should he honoured by the celebration of this Feast of the triumph of the holy Cross. The Cross indeed is the standard of God's armies, whereof Mary is the Queen; it is by the Cross that she crushes the serpent's head, and wins so many victories over error, and over the enemies of the Christian name. By this sign thou shalt conquer. Satan had been suffered to try his strength against the Church by persecution and tortures; but his time was drawing to an end. By the edict of Sardica, which emancipated the Christians, Galerius, when about to die, acknowledged the powerlessness of hell. Now was the time for Christ to take the offensive, and for his Cross to prevail. Towards the close of the year 311, a Roman army lay at the foot of the Alps, preparing to pass from Gaul into Italy. Constantine, its commander, thought only of revenging himself for an injury received from Maxentius, his political rival; but his soldiers, as unsuspecting as their chief, already belonged henceforward to the Lord of hosts. The Son of the Most High, having become, as Son of Mary, king of this world, was about to reveal himself to his first lieutenant, and, at the same time, to discover to his first army the standard that was to go before it. Above the legions, in a cloudless sky, the Cross, proscribed for three long centuries, suddenly shone forth; all eyes beheld it, making the Western sun, as it were, its footstool, and surrounded with these words in characters of fire: IN HOC VINCE : by this be thou conqueror!
A few months later, 27th October 312, all the idols of Rome stood aghast to behold, approaching along the Flaminian Way, beyond the Bridge Milvius, the Labarum with its sacred monogram, now become the standard of the imperial armies. On the morrow was fought the decisive battle, which opened the gates of the Eternal City to Christ, the only God, the everlasting King. "Hail, O Cross, formidable to all enemies, bulwark of the Church, strength of princes; hail in thy triumph! The sacred Wood still lay hidden in the earth, yet it appeared in the heavens announcing victory; and an emperor, become Christian, raised it up from the bowels of the earth (Ap. Graec. Menae. in profesto Exaltationis)." Thus sang the Greek Church yesterday, in preparation for the joys of today; for the East, which has not our peculiar Feast of the 3rd of May, celebrates on this one solemnity both the overthrow of idolatry by the sign of salvation revealed to Constantine and his army, and the discovery of the holy Cross a few years later in the cistern of Golgotha.
But another celebration, the memory of which is fixed by the Menology on the 13th September, was added in the year 335 to the happy recollections of this day; namely, the dedication of the basilicas raised by Constantine on Mount Calvary and over the holy Sepulchre, after the precious discoveries made by his mother St. Helena. In the very same century that witnessed all these events, a pious pilgrim, thought to be St. Silvia, sister of Rufinus the minister of Theodosius and Arcadius, attested that the anniversary of this dedication was celebrated with the same solemnity as Easter and the Epiphany. There was an immense concourse of Bishops, clerics, monks, and seculars of both sexes, from every province ; and the reason, she says, is that the Cross was found on this day; which motive had led to the choice of the same day for the primitive consecration, so that the two joys might be united in one. Through not being aware of the nearness of the dedication of the Anastasia, or Church of the Resurrection, to the feast of the holy Cross, many have misunderstood the discourse pronounced on this feast by Sophronius, the holy patriarch of Jerusalem. "It is the feast of the Cross; who would not exult? It is the triumph of the Resurrection; who would not be full of joy? Formerly, the Cross led to the Resurreotion; now it is the Resurrection that introduces us to the Cross. Resurrection and Cross: trophies of our salvation (Sophron. in Exaltat. venerandae Crucis)!" And the Pontiff then developed the instructions resulting from this connection. It appears to have been about the same time that the West also began to unite in a certain manner these two great mysteries; leaving to the 14th September the other memories of the Holy Cross, the Latin Churches introduced into Paschal Time a special feast of the finding of the Wood of Redemption. In compensation, the present solemnity acquired a new lustre to its character of triumph by the contemporaneous events which, as we shall see, form the principal subject of the historical Legend in the Roman Liturgy.
About the end of the reign of the Emperor Phocas, Chosroes king of the Persians invaded Egypt and Africa. He then took possession of Jerusalem; and after massacring there many thousand Christians, he carried away into Persia the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which Helena had placed upon Mount Calvary. Phocas was succeeded in the empire by Heraclius; who, after enduring many losses and misfortunes in the course of the war, sued for peace, but was unable to obtain it even upon disadvantageous terms, so elated was Chosroes by his victories. In this perilous situation he applied himself to prayer and fasting, and earnestly implored God's assistance. Then, admonished from heaven, he raised an army, marched against the enemy, and defeated three of Chosroes' generals with their armies. Subdued by these disasters Chosroes took to flight; and, when about to cross the river Tigris, named his son Medarses his associate in the kingdom. But his eldest son Siroes, bitterly resenting this insult, plotted the murder of his father and brother. He soon afterwards overtook them in flight, and put them both to death. Siroes then had himself recognized as king by Heraclius, on certain conditions, the first of which was to restore the Cross of our Lord. Thus, fourteen years after it had fallen into the hands of the Persians, the Cross was recovered; and on his return to Jerusalem, Heraclius, with great pomp, bore it back on his own shoulders to the mountain whither our Saviour had carried it. This event was signalized by a remarkable miracle. Heraclius, attired as he was in robes adorned with gold and precious stones, was forced to stand still at the gate which led to Mount Calvary. The more he endeavored to advance, the more he seemed fixed to the spot. Heraclius himself and all the people were astounded; but Zacharias, the bishop of Jerusalem said: Consider, O emperor, how little thou imitatest the poverty and humility of Jesus Christ, by carrying the Cross clad in triumphal robes. Heraclius thereupon laid aside his magnificent apparel, and barefoot, clothed in mean attire he easily completed the rest of the way, and replaced the Cross in the same place on Mount Calvary, whence it had been carried off by Persians. From this event, the feast of the Exaltation of the holy Cross, which was celebrated yearly on this day, gained fresh lustre, in memory of the Cross being replaced by Heraclius on the spot where it had first been set up for our Saviour. Prayer: The victory thus chronicled in the sacred books of the Church, was not, O Cross, thy last triumph; nor were the Persians thy latest enemies.
At the very time of the defeat of these fire-worshippers, the prince of darkness was raising up a new standard, the Crescent. By the permission of God, whose ensign thou art, and who, having come on earth to struggle like us, flees not, before any foe, Islam also was about to try its strength against thee: a twofold power, the sword and the seduction of the passions. But here again, alike in the secret combats between the soul and Satan, as in the great battles recorded in history, the final success was due to the weakness and folly of Calvary. Thou, O Cross, wert the rallying-standard of all Europe in those sacred expeditions which borrowed from thee their beautiful title of Crusades, and which exalted the Christian name in the East. While on the one hand thou wert thus warding off degradation and ruin, on the other thou wert preparing the conquest of new continents; so that it is by thee that our West remains at the head of nations. Through thee, the warriors in those glorious campaigns are inscribed on the first pages of the golden book of nobility. And now the new orders of chivalry, which claim to hold among their ranks the elite of the human race, look upon thee as the highest mark of merit and honour. It is the continuation of today's mystery, the exaltation, even in our times of decadence, of the holy Cross, which in past ages was the standard of the legions, and glittered on the diadems of emperors and kings. It is true, men have appeared in France, who have made it their aim to overthrow the sacred sign, wheresoever our fathers had honoured it. This invasion of the servants of Pilate into the country of the Crusaders was inexplicable, until it was discovered that they were in Jewish pay. These, as St Leo says of the Jews in today's Office, see in the instrument of salvation nothing but their own crime (Homily of the 3rd Nocturn ex Leon. Serm. viii de Passione); and their guilty conscience makes them hire, to pull down the holy Cross, the very men whom they formerly paid to set it up. The coalition of such enemies is but one more homage to thee! O adorable Cross, our glory and our love here on earth, save us on the day when thou shalt appear in the heavens, when the Son of Man, seated in his majesty, is to judge the world!"
Devotions to the Holy Cross (Saint Thomas Aquinas)
By the sign of the holy Cross, deliver us from our enemies, O our God
The Cross is my sure salvation.
The Cross it is that I worship evermore.
The Cross of our Lord is with me.
The Cross is my refuge
"Take Up Thy Cross"
"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY and follow Me."
"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY and follow Me."
Charge not thyself with the weight of a year,
Child of the Master, faithful and dear;
Choose not the cross for the coming week,
For that is more than He bids thee seek.
Bend not thine arms for tomorrow's load;
Thou may'st leave that to thy gracious God.
Daily only He said to thee,
"Take up thy cross and follow Me
."The Cross Our Badge"
We Catholics have a great share in this Exaltation of the Cross. It is our special trust, our badge, our glory. Like the first Christians, it is ours to honor, to use, to be known by. Those who have fallen from the true faith have laid it aside as childish and not fit for the mature. But the Gospel was preached to the childlike, and the Kingdom of Heaven reserved for them. So we will keep our childlike ways, and loyally use the sacred sign. We will make it with reverence, with confidence, with joy. And the day will come when we who are signed with the Sign of the Cross upon our foreheads will go forth to meet our Redeemer, and He will acknowledge us to be His own. Like Constantine, by that sign we shall conquer.