Numbers 21: 4 – 9
Psalm : 78
John 3: 13 – 17
This liturgical feast has been celebrated since early times. In the 4 th century, two
churches in Jerusalem were dedicated to the cross on this day and the occasion was
commemorated annually. Adopted by the Church in Rome during the 7 th century, the
feast commemorates both the dedication of the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
335 and Christ’s victory over death.
The Paschal Mystery , i.e., the life, passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ, is the source and promise of eternal life. The ultimate and abiding
symbol of this glorious of all Mysteries is the Cross on which hung the world’s salvation!
The victory of the cross over sin and death was total. And it is the totality of this victory,
this joyful triumph that the Church celebrates in this feast.
The feast was originally known as the Exaltation of the Cross. The word “exaltation”
meaning placing high, according high importance, lifting up, the feast has a four fold
significance for every believer.
The lifting up of the Cross, on Calvary Hill that fateful Friday had involved much
suffering and shame. Yet , it was a sacrifice for the love of the Father, and for the love
the Father bore all humankind. Raised high up, Jesus made the cross a pulpit whence he
preached , by word and example, the most stirring sermon of his entire ministry on earth
– he forgave and he gave. Out of every one of his wounds flowed grace. From his side
was born the Church. And before he breathed his last he gave to all humankind the gift
of his own mother, Mary. The cross is indeed the sign of his triumph, the vertical beam
linking man to God; the horizontal beam that stretches across the vertical, linking man to
man and inseparably to God.
The erection of the Cross in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: It was in 326 that St.
Helena the Empress, and mother of Emperor Constantine, discovered three crosses on
Calvary. A miracle worked by touching a cripple to each of the three crosses in turn,
helped identify the true cross. Consequently, she had the Cross exalted in her palace in
Rome which she got converted into the monumental Church of the Holy Cross. Thanks
to her efforts, innumerable fragments of the cross found their way to every part of
Christendom and, according to St. John Chrysostom, were so reverenced as to be encased
in gold and worn around the neck.
A portion of the True Cross was also kept in Jerusalem14. But in the year 614, the city as
invaded by Persia, which had in its army a massive number of Jews, who given a free
hand, laid siege to all vestiges of Christian sovereignty in their once holy city, destroying
every Christian sanctuary. The Persian King Khurshroo triumphantly carried away the
silver casket containing the relic of the True Cross to Iran. However, about 629, when
the Emperor Heracilus recaptured Persia, he retrieved the sacred relic and brought it first
to Constantinople and then to Jerusalem where he had it exalted for public veneration
and reaffirmed Hadrian’s old law forbidding entry of any Jew into Jerusalem. This was
when the feast was incorporated into the Roman Church.
The triumphal sign of the Cross at the last judgement: Jesus said to Nicodemus,
“…just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted
up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3: 14 – 15). As on Good
Friday the Cross divided those present on Calvary into two groups, so too when on the
last day, “ the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven” (Matthew 24: 30), all of us
shall know whether our place is on the left or on the right.
The acceptance of and dedication to the cross of Christ by every believer: The
Crucifix has a place of honour in every Christian heart, home and place of worship. It is
in and with the sign of the Cross that we begin our actions. Indeed, whatever we do, as
our part in bearing the Cross of Christ and thus share in the redemption of the world.
Jesus raised human suffering to a higher level by endowing it with the power to become
redemptive. In this respect, the redemptive mission of Jesus continues. St. John Paul II
says that the redemption, which Jesus accomplished through perfect love, remains open
to our loving participation and can even be expressed in human suffering.
Saint Paul says that we complete the suffering of Jesus in our own bodies (Col 1:24).
When we unite our suffering to Jesus, we are participating in his ongoing redemptive
mission. This act is our yes to God, our worship, our sacrifice. It is how we give
ourselves back to Him and enter into His inner life through the logic of the Cross.
May our faith, hope and charity in the glory of the Cross take us closer to Jesus who died
on the cross for our salvation.