Exaltation of the Holy Cross


The Liturgical Calendar lists September 14 as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It’s interesting that this feast comes at a time of year when we so often think about starting new things: a new school year, a new wardrobe, a new season. Even if we’re no longer in school ourselves or have children starting a new school year, we still get that “itch” to start something new, to progress to the next level, to begin a new project.

Does that remind us of another time of year in which we look forward to beginning anew? Sounds a bit like Lent, doesn’t it? We clean out the closet of our hearts and fill it with a new spiritual wardrobe so that on Easter Sunday, we can start new things, a new season of growth.

It’s a great help to me to have this beautiful feast of the Cross placed mid-September. It reminds me that there would be no new beginnings without Christ’s Crucifixion. That’s why this is such a hopeful feast – we exalt the Cross, not mourn over it. In some circles, the feast is called the Triumph of the Cross. I can’t think of a better word for it. With the Crucifixion, Christ triumphed over evil. He carried his Cross first so that we could carry ours, not mournfully but triumphantly.

May you be blessed by our Crucified Lord on this feast day!

In case you’re not familiar with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, here’s a little background from AmericanCatholic.org:

Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.

The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”

To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.

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