On 14 September, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, in the red vestments that recall the blood shed by Jesus, celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. The Mass was presided over, as per tradition, by the Vicar of the Custody, fra Ibrahim Faltas, in the Latin chapel of Calvary. For the whole time of the celebration, a relic of the Cross was displayed on the altar, under the large mosaic that portrays the moment when Christ was nailed to the Cross.
The origins of the feast day
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross has its origin in Jerusalem and is linked to the finding of the true cross (Inventio Crucis) by St Helena. It is a feast day which in Jerusalem continues to be celebrated on 7 May – the only place in the world, as in 1960 Pope John XXIII eliminated the solemnity from the Roman calendar. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross falls on the day of the dedication of the two Constantinian basilicas built –following the finding of the True Cross - on Golgotha (ad Martyrium), and in the Holy SEpulchre (Anastasis), on 14 September 335.
“A day of joy and of glory”
The feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is “a day of joy and of Glory” says the introduction to the Universal Prayer. “The exaltation of the Cross,” fra Ibrahim said in the homily, “is not the exaltation of pain, but the exaltation of giving oneself up totally for others. It is not focusing on the suffering of Jesus but on the total donation of Jesus as an act of love for us that has no limits.” This is why every Christian can find a meaning in the large and small crosses of their life in the world, upset by wars, hatred and violence.
At the foot of the cross
“On this day,” fr. Ibrahim said, “the Christian, at the foot of the cross, asks God for the gift of hope, the same that Mary had at the foot of the cross: pain and death will never have the last word.” At the end of the Mass, the ancient hymn “Vexilla Regis” (“The Royal banner forward goes/ the mystic Cross refulgent glows”) was sung and the relic of the Cross was carried in procession to the chapel of Mary Magdalene, where there was the act of adoration by all those present.