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Lift high the cross

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placeholder September 23, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Lift high the cross

Brother John M. Samaha, SM

Already in the time of the apostles the cross on which Christ died had become the symbol of his redemptive death and a symbol for himself and for Christianity.

On Sept. 13, 335, the Church of the Martyrdom and Resurrection was dedicated in Jerusalem. The next day, in a solemn ceremony, the faithful were shown the cross that the Empress Helen had discovered on Sept. 14, 320. This ceremony was repeated each successive year on Sept. 14 in that church, which possessed a large relic of the cross.

The reverent elevation of the relic of the true cross gave this day its name, "exaltation of the cross." From this gesture we have our popular contemporary hymn, "Lift High the Cross." Later this feast was combined with the memorial of the rescue of the stolen cross from the Persians by the Emperor Heraclius in 628.

The striking prayers of the Divine Liturgy for this day testify to the grace of our salvation as expressed in Christ's promise, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself" (John 12:32).

This Spanish colonial figure of the body of Christ crucified dates from 1660 and is placed in the Chapel of the Suffering Christ in the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.
John Blaustein photo

The tone of the feast of the "Exaltation of the Cross," which more properly is now called the "Triumph of the Cross," is quite different from the somber and sorrowful liturgy of Good Friday. Sept. 14 has a definitely joyous character. It recalls our happiness about our salvation.

Blessed Pope John XXIII had a favorite crucifix on his bedroom wall. He prayed in front of it before retiring, upon arising, and whenever cares awakened him during the night. "A cross," he said, "is the primary symbol of God's love for us."

To give the symbol of the cross prominence in our lives is the most significant "exaltation" and "triumph" of the cross. May the feast and each time we bless ourselves remind us of this.

"We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed us."

(Marianist Brother John Samaha is a retired religious educator who worked for many years in the catechetical department of the Oakland diocese. He now resides in Cupertino.)


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