“The Royal banner forward goes / the mystic Cross refulgent glows.”
It is with this ancient liturgical hymn (theVexílla Regis, 6th century) that the procession with which the precious relic of holy wood was carried from Calvary to the chapel of the Apparition of St Mary Magdalene, was concluded, at the end of the solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on 14 September.
The holy mass was presided by Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, at his first official ceremony as Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land: in addition to the community of the Franciscans, many religious and pilgrims from all over the world were present, all wishing to attend, on the site of the crucifixion, Mount Calvary, what is considered a solemnity comparable to that of Easter and the Epiphany.
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which is celebrated in churches on 14 September has its origin in Jerusalem: it is linked to the finding of the true cross b St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, and above all to the construction (and the consequent dedication) of the buildings built by the emperor to protect and pay tribute to the places where Jesus Christ completed his Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection: the Golgotha-Martyrium linked to the death, the Anastasis (Sepulchre) to the Resurrection.
In addition to the liturgy of the adoration of the cross of Good Friday, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is the most important solemnity dedicated to the cross of Jesus which is still celebrated today all over the world: in both, the liturgical colour is red, the colour of blood, that recalls the Passion of Christ.
In Jerusalem, moreover, the tradition has also remained of commemorating the Invention (the finding) of the holy cross by St Helena on 7 May.
“Exalting the holy cross means remembering together the two faces of the redemption made by Jesus Christ the Son of God: death and resurrection,” Fr. Ibrahim Faltas said in his homily. “We do not intend to celebrate the wood of the cross, but the mystery of love that was accomplished on it. In Jesus crucified for love, the cross from an instrument of condemnation becomes an instrument of salvation by dint of the gift of the self. Salvation came to us not from the cross as such, but from the love that took Jesus to die on it.”
The Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land emphasized how the cross is the unit of measurement of the love of God. This is why the cross becomes the symbol of the Christian religion and “good news” for the world: Jesus Christ on the cross spilt his blood to release humanity from the slavery of sin and death. Therefore the cross, from a sign of malediction, has been transformed into a sign of blessing, from a symbol of death to a symbol of love that defeats hatred and generates immortal life.
The cross of Christ urges men to the testimony of life: “We are here, on Calvary, in a unique place in the world,” Fr. Ibrahim Faltas continued, “and it is here that today the Lord, from the vibrant silence of the cross, asks each of us, “Do you want to be my witness?’”
With today’s solemn celebration, Fr. Ibrahim Faltas officially started his liturgical service as the new Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, and he took the occasion to greet and convey, on behalf of all the Franciscans, heartfelt wishes to Fr. Siniša Srebrenović, the new Superior of the Franciscan community of Gethsemane, and to Fr. StéphaneMilovitch, the new President of the Holy Sepulchre (at a very delicate time for the Basilica, concerned by the restoration of the floor of the Anastasis)and lastly, to thanks the Guardian of St Saviour, as well as the Custody’s master of ceremonies, Fr. Rodrigo Machado Soarez, for his invaluable work.