The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on Sept. 14 on the Church calendar, is very special. Although not well-known in many places, it is a day set aside to celebrate the triumph of the cross over sin and death. Christ’s death on the cross broke the chains of sin and death for all of us who put our hope in him and follow his teaching until we, one day, see him face to face.
Let me give you a little history. Constantine, who was the first Roman emperor to profess the Christian faith, had a very devout mother, St. Helena. When her son became the emperor, Helena set out to see if she could find the sites significant to the early Christians. Those sites had been destroyed after the death of Christ, but she learned that pagan shrines had been built over them. As a result, St. Helena was able to find some of those shrines close together, and discovered that these were believed to be the sites surrounding the crucifixion and burial of Christ in 33 AD. (Modern archaeologists believe she may well have been correct). Constantine ordered the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as it is known today, over these sites. The church was dedicated on Sept. 14, 335.
Therefore, this feast celebrates three historical events: the finding of the true cross by St. Helena; the dedication of 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 in the seventh century.
It has become a day to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. Good Friday is the most important and appropriate day for mourning the death of Christ for our sins, but Sept. 14 is a day when we can rejoice and thank him for the power of the cross and Christ’s willingness to embrace that cross for each of us that we might have eternal life.
Here are four ways to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:
- Begin again to make the sign of the cross: before meals, before prayer or when praying with another, before going to bed or upon waking in the morning. Sign and seal your mind, your body, your emotions with the sign by which Christ triumphed over death for you. Always make the sign of the cross – slowly – as you dip your hand in the holy water fount when entering a church. Many make the sign of the cross haphazardly or carelessly – or not at all. Take a moment and mean what you do as well as what you say.
- Say a short prayer: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Lord, may all I do here or all I do today be done in your name and for your honor and glory.” This kind of prayer is a way of acknowledging that you know and believe that all your gifts or talents have come from his creative hand. You are not the source. You are the steward of the gifts given. You sign yourself with the sign of the cross to indicate to whom you belong and that you want your thoughts, words and actions to give him glory.
- Decide how you will honor and thank Christ on this day for his suffering and death, which set you free from eternal punishment and gave you the hope of eternal life.
- Contemplate how you can grow in a quiet, unobtrusive prayerful habit of making the sign of the cross.
May the power of the cross “invade” your life and bring you the joy no one can take from you.