Do you have a cross (or better yet, a crucifix) in your house? The cross is such a familiar symbol to us today that it is easy to forget what it originally symbolized: the threat of a long, slow death at the hands of the Roman Empire, with victims’ bodies left to rot as a warning to anyone who would defy its power. No wonder the early Christians didn’t use the symbol of the cross in their art! The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross helps us to recall the true significance of the cross.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena:
According to post-Nicene historians such as Socrates Scholasticus, the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, travelled to the Holy Land in 326–28, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor. Historians Gelasius of Caesarea and Rufinus claimed that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses that were believed to be used at the crucifixion of Jesus and of two thieves, St. Dismas and Gestas, executed with him, and that a miracle revealed which of the three was the True Cross. (Wikipedia)
The cross became an object of veneration immediately, with fragments being distributed widely to various churches. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross entered the Western Church in the seventh century, and is celebrated on September 14, the anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher (built by Emperor Constantine).
Ideas for Celebrating the Feast
To mark the feast with our youngest children, we decided to make a cross out of natural objects: two stout branches, some pretty red leaves, and some yellow flowers. We used twine to lash the branches together in the shape of a cross, then we tied on five bright-red leaves to symbolize the five wounds of Christ (two pierced hands, two pierced feet, and his pierced side). We placed the yellow flowers at the center of the cross to symbolize Jesus’ heart.
We “planted” the resulting cross in our garden (to symbolize the garden in which Jesus was laid in his tomb). This simple activity took about ten minutes—plenty of time to talk about the nature of the cross with our boys.
Here are a few other ideas for marking the feast:
- Go to daily Mass, if you can, or find the readings for the day at the USCCB website.
- If you don’t have a cross or crucifix displayed in your home, consider purchasing one.
- Ask older kids how the First reading and the Gospel reading for the day relate to one another.
- Read the wonderful account of the finding of the True Cross at CatholicEducation.org.
- Send your young children on their own hunt for the true cross with this wonderful Exaltation of the Cross Cookie Hunt from Catholic Cuisine.