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Forgotten Customs of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

But it is fitting that we should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is salvation, life, and resurrection for us, by whom we are saved and delivered. May God have mercy on us and bless us; may He let His face shine upon us; and may He have mercy upon us.
Introit of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Two Feast Days in Honor of the True Cross

Each year the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Originally, this feast day commemorated the day after the consecration of the church on September 13, 335, which was built by Macarius and St. Helena when the good bishop was prevailed upon to elevate the True Cross publicly for the faithful to venerate. It also now commemorates the recovery of the True Cross from King Chosroes of Persia by Emperor Heraclius in 629 AD. As Heraclius attempted to carry the True Cross along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary back to Calvary, a seemingly invisible force prevented him from advancing any further. Commenting on this miracle, Bishop Zachary of Jerusalem, pointed to his luxurious clothing and declared, “Attired in these rich robes, you are far from imitating the poverty of Jesus Christ and His humility in bearing His Cross.” The Emperor cast aside his royal garments and, clad only in a simple cloak, he ascended Mount Calvary barefooted until he ultimately brought the True Cross to the Basilica on Calvary. Providentially, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross also occurs 40 days after our Lord’s Transfiguration, a connection which the abbot Father Peter Funk reflected upon a few years ago.

Traditionally, up until the mid-1950s, there was a second day each year on May 3rd to celebrate the Cross – this feast day was the Finding of the True Cross, also called by some as the “Invention of the Holy Cross.” The second nocturn of Matins for May 3rd in the pre-1955 Roman Breviary recounts how St. Helena used a sick person to discern which of several crosses found buried in the earth was indeed the True Cross of Our Lord. The sick man was healed instantly upon touching the True Cross. In fact, the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross was listed in 1642 by Pope Urban VIII in Universa Per Orbem as a Holy Day of Obligation for the Universal Church, though it was not kept as such in all localities.

Despite the liturgical changes of the 1950s and 1960s that saw this feast day dropped even in the 1962 Missal, the Latin Rite Catholics in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem still observe this feast.  Priests who offer the 1962 Missal may also choose to say the Votive Mass for the Finding of the True Cross on May 3rd.

The Use of the Sign of the Cross in Catholic Life

Let the sign of the cross be continually made on the heart, on the mouth, on the forehead, at table, at the bath, in bed, coming in and going out, in joy and sadness, sitting, standing, speaking, walking. In short, in all our actions. Let us make it on our breasts and all our members, that we may be entirely covered with this invincible armor of Christians.
-St. Gaudentius

The uses of this sacred sign in the life of a Catholic are practically without limit, and this feast is an ideal day to reflect on how often we think about and make the sign of our salvation. We should also reflect on whether our homes have enough crucifixes – ideally every bedroom should have one.[1] In some European traditions, the focal point of the kitchen is also a crucifix which is mounted in the corner of the room. And throughout some Catholic countries in Europe (e.g., the Bavarian countryside in southern Germany) wayside shrines still exist with crucifixes or religious art, giving the passerby a moment to stop and pay respects to Almighty God.

The following excerpt concerning the use of the Sign of the Cross is taken from an article published in 1950 by Didde Printing Company and written by Father Arthur Tonne which was re-published in Sacred Music, Volume 117, Number 4, Winter 1990:

According to many, our Lord and the Apostles used it. Many affirm that our Lord blessed the Apostles with the Sign of the Cross on the day of His Ascension. Certainly, the early Christians used it constantly.

It is used in all the public worship of our Church:

The sign of the cross in some form or other is made about 54 times during Holy Mass.

It is used frequently in the Divine Office or daily prayer of the priest.

It is used in all blessings bestowed by bishop and priest.

It is used in all the sacraments: 14 times in Baptism; 17 times in Extreme Unction. Yes, even in the semi-darkness of the confessional the priest makes the sign of the cross over you.

It is used in everything blessed for the service of God: altars, linens, holy water, etc.

It is used frequently in personal devotions: in the morning and evening to seek God’s help; before and after prayer, against distractions; before and after meals, asking God’s blessing; in dangers of soul, like temptation and occasions of sin; in dangers of body like storms, sickness, travel; before our chief actions and undertakings, to make them pleasing to God and to obtain God’s help in performing them properly.

Father Tonne continues:

An indulgence of 100 days is granted for making the sign of the cross and saying the words. An indulgence of 300 days for making the sign of the cross, with holy water. A love and devotion toward this sacred sign is the mark of a true follower of Christ… Use it frequently, use it thoughtfully, use it lovingly. It will bring you countless blessings.

The Holy Cross Weather Blessing

From May 3rd, the Feast of the Finding of the Cross, until September 14th, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a special blessing beseeching God’s protection against violent and damaging storms may be given with a relic of the True Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As the month of September is often prone to hurricanes and violent storms, it would be most expedient for priests to take time on September 14th to bless the Faithful with the relic of the True Cross. Many parishes have such a relic and, for those who do, publicizing this practice in the weeks leading up to this day would be worthwhile. The following prayers are offered during the Holy Cross Weather blessing:

In Latin:

V. A fúlgure, grádine et tempestáte.
R. Líbera nos, Dómine Jesu Christe.

V. Osténde nobis, Dómine, misericórdiam tuam.
R. Et salutáre tuum da nobis.

V. Dómine exáudi oratiónem meam.
R. Et clamor meus ad te véniat.

V. Dóminus vobíscum.
R. Et cum spíritu tuo.

Orémus.  Quaesumus, omnípotens Deus, ut, intercessióne Sanctae Dei Genetrícis Maríae, sanctórum Angelórum, Patriarchárum, Prophetárum, Apostolórum, Mártyrum, Confessórum, Vírginum, Viduárum, et ómnium Sanctórum tuórum, contínuum nobis praestes subsídium, tranquíllam auram permíttas, atque contra fúlgura et tempestátes désuper nobis indígnis tuam salútem effúndas de caelis, et géneri húmano semper aemulas, déxtera poténtiae tuae, aéreas cónteras potestátes.  Per eúndem Christum Dóminum nostrum.
R. Amen.

V. Sit nomen Dómini benedíctum.
R. Ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.

V. Adjutórium nostrum in nómine Dómini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.

Benedíctio Dei omnipoténtis, Patris + et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti, descéndat super vos, locum istum et fructus terrae et máneat semper.
R. Amen.

English Translation:

V. From lightning strikes, hail, and violent storms.
R. Deliver us, O Lord Jesus Christ.

V. Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy.
R. And grant us Thy salvation.

V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.  We beseech Thee, O Almighty God, through the intercession of Holy Mary, the Mother of God, of the holy angels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, widows, and of all Thy saints, that Thou show us Thy continuing protection, permit tranquil winds, and also pour out to us, Thy unworthy servants, Thy safety from heaven above against lightning strikes and violent storms, and that Thou remain always protective of the human race and crush down the aerial powers by the right hand of Thy power.  Through the same Christ our Lord.
R. Amen

V. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
R. Now and forever.

V. Our help is in the Name of the Lord.

R. Who made heaven and earth.

May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, + the Son, and the Holy Ghost, descend upon you, this place, and the fruits of the earth and remain forever.
R. Amen.

Chaplet of the Five Wounds

Another custom to begin observing on September 14th is the recitation of the Chaplet of the Five Wounds. Included in the Raccolta (the listing of all indulged works published by the Church up until Vatican II) is this Chaplet. Praying these prayers in front of the family crucifix especially for this feast in honor of the Lord’s triumph on the Cross would be a most praiseworthy endeavor. You may find the prayers by clicking here.

Autumnal Ember Days

As an additional reminder, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross “announces” the coming Ember Days. As stated in the 1962 Angelus Press Daily Missal:

At the beginning of the four seasons of the Ecclesiastical Year, the Ember Days have been instituted by the Church to thank God for blessings obtained during the past year and to implore further graces for the new season. Their importance in the Church was formerly very great. They are fixed on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: after the First Sunday of Lent for spring, after Pentecost Sunday for summer, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14th September) for autumn, and after the Third Sunday of Advent for winter. They are intended, too, to consecrate to God the various seasons in nature, and to prepare by penance those who are about to be ordained. Ordinations generally take place on the Ember Days. The faithful ought to pray on these days for good priests. The Ember Days were until c. 1960 fast days of obligation.

May our fasting and abstinence on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after September 14th be for the honor and glory of God and the good of souls.

Priests, encourage the faithful to keep holy the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Encourage us to keep the Ember Days. Remind the faithful of the historical reasons for this feast, the power of the Sign of the Cross, and the opportunities when we should make the Sign of the Cross in our daily lives. Offer the Holy Cross Weather blessing and show us the power of the True Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who truly lives and reigns now in Heaven per omnia saecula saeculurm.

Photo by Thuong Do on Unsplash.

[1] Ensure that a priest has properly blessed your crucifixes using the Rituale Romanum and not simply ad hoc prayers of blessing. There is a specifically beautiful prayer by which a crucifix is blessed. See pages 312 – 315 of the 1962 Rituael Romanum PDF.

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