September 14, 2017: EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
September 14, 2017: EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
Rank: Greater Double.
“Behold the Cross of the Lord, flee away ye hostile forces. The lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David hath conquered.”
“O Great work of mercy! death then died, when life died on the cross.”
O God, who this day fillest thy people with joy by the yearly solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: grant, we beseech thee, that as we believe, in this mortal life, the sacred mysteries of our redemption, we may find the blessed effects of it in the next. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Behold the royal ensigns fly
Bearing the cross’s mystery:
Where life itself did death endure,
And by that death did life procure.
A cruel spear let out a flood
Of water mixt with saving blood:
Which, gushing from the Saviour’s side,
Drown’d our offences in the tide.
The mystery we now unfold,
Which David’s faithful verse foretold,
Of our Lord’s kingdom: whilst we see
God ruling nations from a tree.
O lovely tree, whose branches wore
The royal purple of his gore!
How glorious doth thy body shine,
Supporting members so divine!
The world’s blest balance thou wast made,
Thy happy beam its purchase weighed,
And bore his limbs, who snatch’d away
Devouring hell’s expected prey.
Hail, Cross, our hope! On thee we call
Who keep this glorious festival:
Grant to the just increase of grace,
And ev’ry sinner’s crimes efface.
we praises sing
To thee, from whom all graces spring:
Celestial crowns on those bestow,
Who conquer by the cross below. Amen.
V. This sign of the cross shall appear in the heavens.
R. When the Lord shall come to judge.
A Prayer to the Cross, to be recited during the chastisement (3 days of darkness)
Given to Marie-Julie Jahenny on January 17, 1922 A.D.
“I hail, adore and embrace you, adorable Cross of my Saviour. Protect us, guard us, save us. Jesus loved you so much. After His example, I do love you. May your holy image appease my fears! Let me experience nothing but calm and confidence!”
‘Through thee the precious cross is honoured and worshipped throughout the world.’ Thus did Saint Cyril of Alexandria apostrophize our Lady… 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, October 27, 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.’ Thus sang the Greek Church yesterday, in preparation for the joys of to-day; for the east, which has not our peculiar feast of May 3, 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 September 13, 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 into 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 Resurrection; now it is the Resurrection that introduces us to the cross. Resurrection and cross: trophies of our salvation!’ And the pontiff then developed the instructions resulting from this connexion.
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 September 14 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.
A century earlier, St. Benedict had appointed this day for the commencement of the period of penance known as the monastic Lent, which continues till the opening of Lent proper, when the whole Christian army joins the ranks of the cloister in the campaign of fasting and abstinence. ‘The cross,’ says St. Sophronius, ‘is brought before our minds; who will not crucify himself? The true worshipper of the sacred Wood is he who carries out his worship in his deeds.’
The following is the legend we have already alluded to.
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 endeavoured 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 the 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.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – in Detail
The miraculous appearance of the cross to Constantine,* and the discovery of that sacred wood by St. Helen, gave the first occasion to this festival, which was celebrated under the title of the Exaltation of the Cross, on the 14th of September, both by the Greeks and Latins as early as in the fifth and sixth ages, at Jerusalem from the year 335. The recovery of this precious instrument and memorial of our redemption out of the hands of the infidels, in the reign of Heraclius, in the seventh century, was afterwards gratefully commemorated on the same day; and the feast of the Invention or Discovery of the Cross has been removed, in the Latin Church, to the 3rd of May ever since the eighth century. The history of the recovery of this sacred relic from the Persians is gathered from the continuation of the Paschal Chronicle, Theophanes, Cedrenus, and other historians.
Chosroes II, the most barbarous and perfidious king of Persia, availing himself of the weakness of the reign of the cruel and covetous usurper Phocas, broke peace with the empire, upon the specious pretence of revenging the murder of the Emperor Mauritius and his family, whom Phocas had most inhumanly massacred. The Persians, meeting with no opposition, plundered Mesopotamia, and part of Syria. Heraclius, prefect of Africa, being pressed by the chief statesmen and senators to assume the purple, and rid the empire of a usurper, went with his forces by sea to Constantinople, after a successful battle made Phocas prisoner, and put him and his children to death in the year 611, the tyrant having reigned eight years and four months. The new emperor, by suppliant entreaties, begged a peace of Chosroes, with the proffer of an annual tribute; but the haughty barbarian dismissed his ambassadors, without an audience, and in the first year of the reign of Heraclius the Persians took Edessa and Apamea, and advanced as far as Antioch: in the second they took Cæsarea in Cappadocia; in the fourth Damascus, and in the fifth (which was the year 614), in the month of June, they possessed themselves of Jerusalem, filling that city with outrages which cannot be mentioned without horror. Many thousands of clerks, monks, nuns, and virgins, were cruelly massacred, ninety thousand Christians were sold for slaves to the Jews, and afterwards many of them were tortured and slain. The churches, even that of the holy sepulchre, were burnt, and all the rich movables were carried away, among which were an infinite number of consecrated vessels, many precious relics, and that part of the wood of the true cross, which had been left there by St. Helen. The patrician, Nicetas, found means, by the help of one of the friends of Sarbazara, the Persian general, to save two holy relics, namely, the sponge with which the soldiers gave our Saviour vine gar to drink, and the lance which pierced his side; both which he sent to Constantinople. The sacred sponge was exposed to the view of the people in the great church, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, on the 14th of September, the same year. The sacred lance was brought thither on the Saturday, the 26th of October; it was publicly venerated in the great church on the following Tuesday and Wednesday by the men, and on Thursday and Friday by the women. The next year the Persians took Alexandria, and plundered all Egypt, and in the year following they conquered Carthage. These losses and calamities forced Heraclius again suppliantly to beg peace of the victorious tyrant, who laughed at his request, and blasphemously declared, “That he would never let those men rest so long as they should adore one who had been crucified by other men, and should refuse to worship the sun.” Heraclius, depending wholly upon the Saviour of the world, whose glory he was to assert, in the extreme poverty of the state, borrowed the gold and silver which was found in the churches, and coined it into money, to raise an army for the protection of his subjects.
The emperor resolved at length to carry the war into Persia itself, to oblige the infidels to return home for the defence of their own country. That he might not leave any enemies behind him, he concluded a peace with the chan of the Turci Avari, who had attacked him on the side of Thrace, and in the year 622, the twelfth of his reign, began his march towards Persia immediately after Easter. When he put himself at the head of his army, holding in his hand a picture of Jesus Christ, he protested to his soldiers that he would never abandon them till death, and set before them how the enemies of God had overrun their country, rendered the cities desolate, laid the countries waste before them, burnt the sanctuaries, profaned the holy altars with blood, and denied the sanctity of the most holy places by their brutal lusts and debaucheries. With this army he defeated the Persians the same year in Armenia, and in the ensuing summer took the city Gazac, in Persia, and burnt in it the fine temple, and the palace of Chosroes, in which was a rich statue of that prince, sitting under a dome, which represented the heavens with the sun, moon, and stars, and round about it angels holding sceptres in their hands, with machines to make a noise like thunder. Leading his army back to take winter quarters in Albania, he there, out of compassion, released fifty thousand Persian captives he had brought with him, and supplied them with necessaries; which act of humanity made them all to pray with tears for his success, and that he might deliver Persia from a tyrant, who, by his cruelty and exactions, was the destroyer of mankind.
On the 12th of December, in 627, Heraclius gave the Persians an entire overthrow, almost without any loss on his side, near the ruins of the ancient city of Ninive, under the command of Rezastes, who was himself found among the slain, with his shield and armour of massy gold; and with him fell most of the field-officers and the greatest part of the Persian army. The proud Chosroes was drove from town to town, yet continued obstinately deaf to all proposals of peace. The disdain with which Chosroes rejected all means of peace, even though Heraclius was master of the greatest part of Persia, extremely exasperated his subjects; and his general, Sarbazara, who was near Chalcedon, upon information that his master had condemned him to die, openly revolted from him to the Romans. Chosroes locked himself up with his wives and children in the strong city of Seleucia, on the Tigris, and being there seized with a dysentery, declared Mardesanes, or Medarses, his son, by Sirem, the most beloved of his concubines, his successor, and ordered preparations to be made for his coronation. His eldest son, Siroes, provoked at this injustice, appealed to the nobles, took up arms, released the Roman prisoners, whom he sent back to Heraclius, seized on his father, bound him in chains, and threw him into a strong dungeon which Chosroes had lately fortified to keep his treasures in. Exasperated more and more at his father's arrogance, even though the tyrant saw himself in his power, Siroes set no bounds to his rage, allowed him only a small quantity of bread and water for his subsistence, and bade him eat the gold which he had amassed by the oppression of so many innocent people. He sent his satrapes and his enemies to insult him, and caused Mardesanes, whom he would have crowned, and all the rest of his children, to be murdered before his eyes. In this manner was the old king treated for five days together, during which time he was frequently shot at and wounded with arrows, but not mortally, that his death might be the more lingering. He expired on the fifth day of these wounds. Siroes then concluded a firm peace with Heraclius, released all the Roman prisoners, and among the rest, Zachary, patriarch of Jerusalem; restored the provinces which the Christians had lost, and, among other spoils, the true cross, which had been carried into Persia fourteen years before, by Sarbazara, when he took Jerusalem.
The emperor brought this precious relic with him to Constantinople, where he made his entry with a most splendid triumph. In the beginning of the spring of the following year, 629, he embarked to carry the cross again to Jerusalem, and to return thanks to God in that holy place for his victories. He would carry it upon his own shoulders into the city with the utmost pomp, but stopped suddenly at the entrance of the city, and found he was not able to go forward. The patriarch, Zachary, who walked by his side, suggested to him that his pomp seemed not agreeable to the humble appearance which Christ made when he bore his cross through the streets of that city. “You,” said he, “walk in your gaudy imperial robes, he was meanly clad; you have on your head a rich diadem, he was crowned with a wreath of thorns; you go with your shoes on, he walked barefoot.” Here upon the emperor laid aside his purple and his crown, put on mean clothes, went along barefoot with the procession, and devoutly replaced the cross where it stood before. It still continued in the silver case in which it had been carried away, and the patriarch and clergy, finding the seals whole, opened the case with the key, venerated it, and showed it to the people.
“About seven days before the 1st of August, the holy cross (i.e. that large portion which Constantine the Great deposited in the imperial palace at Constantinople) was taken out of the holy treasury in which it was kept with other precious relics and rich holy vessels, betwixt the third and sixth ode of matins then singing. It was laid on the ground, that the protopapa or chief priest of the palace might anoint it all over with balsam and precious perfumes. Then it was set up in the church of the palace of our Lady of the Pharos, exposed to the veneration of the people. After matins, the clergy of the palace assembled before it, singing hymns in praise of the cross, called Staurosima, or of the cross. Then the princes and lords came to venerate it before they assisted at the Sunday's procession, in which they attended the emperor every Sunday and holiday to the divine service in the church of the palace, or on certain great festivals to some other principal church in the city. The chief priest then took up the cross on his head, having on a purple cassock, and over it a rich scaramangium (or great cope which covers the whole body), and, attended by the clergy and others in procession, carried it through the golden hall, before the oratory of St. Basil, placed it to be venerated by all the senate; then proceeded to the palace of Daphne, and exposed it in the Church of St. Stephen. On the 28th of July, the priests began to carry the cross through all the streets, and to all the houses, and afterwards round the walls of the city, that by the devotion of the people, and their united prayers, God would, through the cross and merits of his Son, bless and protect the city and all its inhabitants. On the 13th of September it was brought back to the palace, and placed on a rich throne in the Chrysotriclinium, or golden hall, where the clergy sung the hymns in praise of the cross during its exaltation there. It was afterwards carried through all the apartments of the palace, then deposited in the chapel of St. Theodorus. In the evening it was delivered back to the keeper of the sacred treasure. Next morning it was carefully cleansed by the protopapa and the keeper, and again deposited in the rich case in the treasury.” See the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogeneta, lib. ii. c. 8. In the eleventh chapter he writes, with what devotion and pomp the three great crosses kept in the great palace were taken out in the third or middle week of Lent, and exposed to veneration; one in the new church of this great palace, another in the Church of St. Stephen, in the palace of Daphne, the third in the patriarchal Church of St. Sophia. All were brought back on Friday in the same week with a procession, torches, adoration of the princes, senate; hymns, &c, as above.
Our divine Redeemer is the spiritual king of our souls, and it is by the love and spirit of his cross that he must reign in them. By this happy instrument he has rescued us from the power of sin, and conquered death and hell. But do not our sloth and malice still hold out against him? Have the boundless excess of his love, and the omnipotent power of his grace, yet triumphed over our hearts? Is his holy cross planted there? Does it daily grow and spread itself in our affections? The spirit of the cross, or of Christ crucified, is the spirit of that perfect humility, meekness, charity, patience, and all other virtues, which he preaches to us by his cross. Can we look on a crucifix, or form the cross on our foreheads, without being pierced with grief, and covered with shame and confusion to see ourselves so little acquainted with it, and its happy fruits, so filled with the contrary spirit of the world? Let us most earnestly and assiduously conjure our loving Saviour, by his holy cross, and by his infinite love and mercy, to subdue our obstinacy, to extinguish in us whatever opposes his sweet reign, perfectly to form his spirit in our hearts, and entirely to subject all our powers and affections to himself. Then we shall begin to taste the most sweet hidden manna that is found in the cross, that is, in the devout remembrance and contemplation of that mystery, and in the participation or imitation of it by patient suffering. Then shall we understand the glory, the happiness, and unspeakable advantages and treasures that are its portion.
Conversion of Constantine – The First Christian Emperor of Rome
How weak soever the church appeared in its infancy, the whole power of the Roman empire, exerted against it with the utmost fury, was not able to stop its progress, much less to extinguish it. The little flock of Christ grew by its own losses, and gathered strength from the most violent persecutions; the very emperors who had so long waged war against the cross, confessed themselves vanquished, laid down their arms, and became its votaries and protectors. This wonderful change was not the work of men, but of God; nor was it effected without miracles, though it was itself most miraculous. Christ, who conquered the world, not by the sword, but by the ignominy of his cross, was pleased to make Constantine triumph by that sacred sign, that he might know the hand by which he was raised. This emperor marched from the border of the Rhine through Gaul and part of Italy by Verona to Rome, against the tyrant Maxentius, who had declared war against him, and was at Rome with an army much superior to his. Constantine, though he was not yet a Christian, earnestly invoked the one true God, both on his march, and the day before he gave battle, and Christ was pleased by a double vision to show him from what power he received the empire of the world. Constantine, just after he had put up an earnest prayer to the true God, was travelling with part of his army at midday, says the martyr Artemius; about noon says Socrates; most accurately Eusebius, a little after midday, the sun beginning to decline, when he and all those that were with him, beheld with astonishment in the sky, above the sun, a bright cross of light, as has been related in the Notes on the Life of St. Helen (t. ii. p. 250), and that of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (t. i. p. 360). The night following, Christ appeared to Constantine in his sleep, with the same sign, and commanded him to have a representation of it to be made, and to make use of it for his standard in battle. The emperor rose very early the next morning, imparted this second vision to his friends, and gave orders for the famous imperial standard to be made in that form. It was known by the name of Labarum, the etymology of which word is very uncertain. It was a pole plated with gold, upon which was laid horizontally a cross bar, so as to form the figure of a cross. The top of the perpendicular shaft was adorned with a crown wrought with gold, and ornamented with sparkling precious stones. In the middle of this crown was a monogram representing the name of Christ by the two initial Greek letters, X Chi, equivalent to our CH, and P Ro, equivalent to our R. This last-mentioned letter was formed in the Chi, and rose a little above it. A purple veil of a square figure hung from the cross bar, spangled with bright jewels, which dazzled the eyes of the beholders. Above the veil were afterwards set the images of the emperor and his children.
The emperor chose fifty men of the stoutest and most religious among his guards, to carry this banner by turns; it was always borne before the emperor in battles. Constantine caused banners of the same fashion, but less, to be made for every legion, and had the monogram of the same of Christ framed, in the form of a cross, on his helmet, and in the shields of his soldiers. Julian the Apostate changed on his medals this sacred monogram into the old letters, S. P. Q. R. But Jovian and the succeeding emperors restored it.
Lactantius, who was preceptor to Crispus Cæsar, Constantine's son, ascribes Constantine's victory over Maxentius to the miraculous vision which he had in his sleep before the battle. Philostorgins, an Arian contemporary historian, in certain fragments of his history preserved by Photius, describing Constantine's vision of the cross in the air, says the heavenly sign extended very wide in the East with a wonderful light, and with the following inscription, “By this conquer.” In several ancient medals it is expressed in Latin: In hoc victor eris. Among the Protestants some pretend the history of this apparition to be a forgery and an imposture… At so harsh and extravagant a censure other Protestants are shocked. For who can hear without indignation a religious emperor (who embraced the divine faith in opposition to the Roman senate and the principal orders of men in the whole empire, and a faith which declared war against all his passions), charged in this very action with hypocrisy, imposture, and perjury? Could he, moreover, impose upon the senses of his whole army? Could so many historians and monuments of the same age be made to conspire in a fact which was either publicly notorious or manifestly false? To defeat this miracle John Albert Fabricius, and John Andrew Schmidius, have endeavoured to explain the diurnal apparition by a natural solar or lunar halo. A halo is a circle of light, often red, which compasses the sun and moon at a small distance. It differs from the rainbow, which consists always of the seven colours, and appears in opposition to the sun; also from a parhelion, which is a second or a false sun, formed by an image of the sun reflected by a light cloud. But light is not more distant from darkness than a circular halo from the figure of a cross. If, by an oblique reflection of certain pencils of rays, a halo might form a cross in its middle, on the solar disc (which Fabricius does not show ever to have happened), what affinity has this with a cross appearing above the sun? not to mention the inscription and many other circumstances. Whence Mosheim, at this day the oracle of the German protestants in ecclesiastical history, having mentioned these opinions of Tollius and Fabricius, says: “It is easy to confute both those who call this apparition a forgery of the emperor, and those who ascribe it to the natural causes of a halo,” &c. Those likewise show their distress for an answer who would have this vision pass for a dream, and seem themselves asleep if they imagine Constantine and his army to have dreamed all together in the midst of their march. The connection of the diurnal and nocturnal visions, and of the event, remove all cavil about this miracle (Benedict XIV’s Rules for distinguishing Supernatural Visions).
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
By the Sign of the Cross deliver us, O God, from all our enemies!