This feast day focus is on the cross itself and commemorates three historical events: the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena; the dedication of the churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Calvary; and the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem by the emperor Heraclius II. After the resurrection of Christ, Jewish and Roman authorities tried to hide the Holy Sepulchre, Christ’s tomb. Earth was mounded up and pagan temples were built on top. Tradition said the Cross on which Christ had died had been hidden somewhere in the vicinity. Saint Helena (mother of the emperor Constantine) was divinely inspired to travel to Jerusalem in 326 to find the True Cross. Three crosses were found. Saint Helena and Saint Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, devised an experiment to determine which was the True Cross. The crosses were taken to a woman who was near death; when she touched the True Cross, she was healed. Another tradition says the body of a dead man was brought and laid upon each cross. The True Cross restored the dead man to life. Constantine constructed churches at the site of the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Calvary. Those churches were dedicated and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was celebrated. The feast slowly spread from Jerusalem to other churches, until, by the year 720, the celebration was universal. In the early seventh century, the Persians conquered Jerusalem and captured the True Cross. Heraclius II defeated them and restored the True Cross to Jerusalem. Tradition says that he carried the Cross on his own back, but when he attempted to enter the church on Mount Calvary, a strange force stopped him. Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem, seeing the emperor struggling, advised him to take off his royal robes and crown and to dress in a penitential robe instead. As soon as Heraclius did so, he was able to carry the True Cross into the church. This feast day, more than anything else, is a celebration of God’s greatest work: His death and resurrection which defeated death and opened Heaven. Christ transformed an instrument of torture and humiliation into a symbol of salvation. The entrance antiphon for this Feast: “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection: through him we are saved and made free.”
Ideas for celebrating this feast day at home:
- Watch this reflection from Deacon Gus Suarez (here)
- Craft project: make and decorate a cross. Build a “yard cross” out of big pieces of lumber or tree limbs. Make sure that blessed crucifixes are displayed prominently throughout your home.
- Eat foods like red tomatoes, and drink beverages such as fruit punch or red wine, reminding us of the blood Jesus shed. Mozzarella cheese is white and reminds us of our baptismal garments (when we were signed with the cross). Cook with sweet basil, which tradition says grew over the place where the True Cross had been buried. Use wooden skewers and make an appetizer of tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese. The wood of the skewers reminds us of the wood of the cross. Idea Or, just enjoy pasta night with the above ingredients!
- Make a dessert in the form of a cross, or decorated with a cross. Although usually made on Good Friday, hot cross buns would also be perfect for today. Recipe
- Pray the Stations of the Cross. The prayer repeated at each station: We adore You, O Christ, and praise You, Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.
- Available on FORMED is a story about St. Helena and the True Cross: watch