THE DISCOVERY OF THE HOLY CROSS
God having restored peace to His Church, by exalting Constantine the Great to the imperial throne, that pious prince, who had triumphed over his enemies by the miraculous power of the cross, was very desirous of expressing his veneration for the holy places which had been honored and sanctiﬁed by the presence and sufferings of our blessed Redeemer on earth, and accordingly resolved to build a magniﬁcent church in the city of Jerusalem. St. Helen, the emperor’s mother, desiring to visit the holy places there, undertook a journey into Palestine in 326, though at that time near eighty years of age; and on her arrival at Jerusalem was inspired with a great desire to ﬁnd the identical cross on which Christ had suffered for our sins. But there was no mark or tradition, even amongst the Christians, to show where it lay. The heathens, out of an aversion to Christianity, had done what they could to conceal the place where Our Saviour was buried, by heaping on it a great quantity of stones and rubbish, and building on it a temple to Venus. They had, moreover, erected a statue of Jupiter in the place where Our Saviour rose from the dead. Helen, to carry out her pious design, consulted every one at Jerusalem and near it whom she thought likely to assist her in ﬁnding out the cross; and was credibly informed that, if she could ﬁnd out the sepulchre, she would likewise ﬁnd the instruments of the punishment; it being the custom among the Jews to make a hole near the place where the body of a. criminal was buried, and to throw into it whatever be longed to his execution. The pious empress, therefore, ordered the profane buildings to be pulled down, the statues to be broken in pieces, and the rubbish to be removed; and, upon digging to a great depth, the holy sepulchre, and near it three crosses, also the nails which had pierced Our Savior’s body, and the title which had been ﬁxed to His cross, were found. By this discovery they knew that one of the three crosses was that which they were in quest of, and that the others belonged to the two malefactors between whom Our Saviour had been cruciﬁed. But, as the title was found separate from the cross, it was difﬁcult to distinguish which of the three crosses was that on which our divine Redeemer consummated His sacriﬁce for the salvation of the world. In this perplexity the holy Bishop Macarius, knowing that one of the principal ladies of the city lay extremely ill, suggested to the empress to cause the three crosses to be carried to the sick person, not doubting but God would discover which was the cross they sought for. This being done, St. Macarius prayed that God would have regard to their faith, and, after his prayer, applied the crosses singly to the patient, who was immediately and perfectly recovered by the touch of one of the three crosses, the other two having been tried without Effect. St. Helen, full of joy at having found the treasure which she had so earnestly sought and so highly esteemed, built a church on the spot, and lodged the cross there with great veneration, having provided a ‘extraordinarily rich case for it. She afterwards carried part of it to the Emperor Constantine, then at Constantinople, who received it with great veneration; another part she sent or rather carried to Rome, to be placed in the church which she had built there, called Of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, where it remains to this day. The title was sent by St. Helen to the same church, and placed on the top of an arch, where it was found in a. case of lead in 1492. The inscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is in red letters, and the wood was whitened. Thus it was in 1492; but these colors are since faded. Also the words Jesus and Judæórum are eaten away. The board is nine, but must have been twelve, inches long. The main part of the cross St. Helen enclosed in a silver shrine, and committed it to the care of St. Macarius, that it might be delivered down to posterity, as an object of veneration. It was accordingly kept with singular care and respect in the magniﬁcent church which she and her son built in Jerusalem. St. Paulinus relates that, though chips were almost daily cut off from it and given to devout persons, yet the sacred wood suffered thereby no diminution. It is afﬁrmed by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, twenty-ﬁve years after the discovery, that pieces of the cross were spread all over the earth ; he compares this wonder to the miraculous feeding of ﬁve thousand men, as recorded in the Gospel. The discovery of the cross must have happened about the month of May, or early in the spring; for St. Helen went the same year to Constantinople, and from thence to Rome, where she died in the arms of her son, on the 18th of August, 326.
SAINT ALEXANDER, POPE AND MARTYR
A holy Pope and Martyr comes to-day, laying his bright crown at the foot of the triumphant Cross, whereby he won his victory. It is Alexander, the fifth successor of St. Peter. Let us honor this venerable witness of the Faith, who is now receiving the devout homage of the Church Militant, he who, for these long ages past, has been enjoying in heaven the company of our Risen Jesus. The Passion of his Divine Master was ever present to his mind, whilst here on earth ; and the Church has registered in her annals his adding four words to the Canon of the Mass, in which he expresses the fact of our Lord’s having instituted the august mystery of the Eucharist the day before he suffered. We owe to the same holy Pontiff another institution, most dear to Catholic piety. It is by him that the Church received the sacramental, which is such an object of terror to Satan, and which sanctifies everything it touches: — Holy Water. This is an appropriate day for our renewing our faith in what regards this powerful element of blessing, which heretics and infidels have so frequently made the subject of their blasphemies, but whose use will ever serve as one of the distinguishing marks between them that are, and them that are not, Children of the Church. Water, the instrument of our regeneration, — and Salt, the symbol of immortality, form, under the Church’s blessing, this Sacramental, in -which we should have the greatest confidence. The Sacramentals, like the Sacraments, derive their efficacy from the Blood of our Redeemer, the merits of which are applied to certain material objects by the power of the Priesthood of the New Law. Indifference for these secondary means of salvation would be, not only an indiscretion, but a sin and yet, in these days of weak faith, nothing is so common as this indifference. There are Catholics for whom Holy Water is as though there were no such thing in existence; the continual use made of it by the Church, is a lesson lost to them; they deprive themselves, without a single regret, of the help wherewith God has thus provided them, both to strengthen their weakness and to purify their souls. May the holy Pontiff Alexander pray for them, that their faith may become more what it ought to be ; and that they begin to value the supernatural aids, which God, out of pure mercy to them, has so profusely bestowed on his Church.
THE FINDING OF THE HOLY CROSS
It was most just that our Divine King should show himself to us with the sceptre of his power, to the end, that nothing might be wanting to the majesty of his empire.
This sceptre is the Cross; and Paschal Time was to be the Season for its being offered to him in glad homage. A few weeks back, and the Cross was shown to us as the instrument of our Emmanuel’s humiliation, and as the bed of suffering whereon he died ; but, has he not, since then, conquered Death ? And what is his Cross now, but a trophy of his victory? Let it then be brought forth to our gaze; and let every knee bend before this sacred Wood, whereby our Jesus won the honor and praise we now give him! On the day of his Birth at Bethlehem, we sang these words of the Prophet Isaias: A Child is born unto us, and a Son is given unto us, and his government is upon his shoulder. We have seen him carrying this Cross upon his shoulder, as Isaac carried the wood for his own immolation ; but now, it is no longer a heavy burden. It is shining with a brightness that ravishes the eyes of the Angels; and, after having received the veneration of man, as long as the world lasts, it will suddenly appear in the clouds of heaven, near the judge of the living and the dead, a consolation to them that have loved it, but a reproach to such as have treated it with contempt or forgetfulness. Our Saviour did not think the time between his Resurrection and Ascension a fitting one for glorifying the Instrument of his victory. The Cross was not to be brought into notice, until it had subjected the world to Him whose glory it so eloquently pro claimed. Jesus was three days in the tomb; his Cross is to lie buried unknown to men, for three centuries: but it is to have its Resurrection, and the Church celebrates this Resurrection to-day. Jesus would, in his own good time, add to the joy of Easter by miraculously revealing to us this sacred monument of his love for mankind. He entrusts it to our keeping, — it is to be our consolation, — as long as this world last: is it not just, that we should love and venerate it?
Never had Satan’s pride met with a humiliation like that of his seeing the instrument of our perdition made the instrument of our salvation. As the Church expresses it in her Preface for Passiontide: ” he that overcame mankind by a Tree, was overcome by a Tree.” Thus foiled, he vented his fury upon this saving Wood, which so bitterly reminded him, both of the irresistible power of his Conqueror, and of the dignity of man who had been redeemed at so great a price. He would fain have annihilated the Cross; but knowing that this was beyond his power, he endeavored to profane it, and hide it from view. He therefore instigated the Jews to bury it. At the foot of Calvary, not far from the Sepulchre, was a deep hole.
Into this was the Cross thrown, together with those of the two Thieves, the Nails, the Crown of Thorns, and the Inscription, or Title, written by Pilate. The hole was then filled up with rubbish and earth, and the Sanhedrim exulted in the thought of its having effaced the memory of the Nazarene, -who could not save himself from the ignominious death of the Cross. Forty years after this, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, — the instruments of God’s vengeance. The Holy Places were desecrated by the idolaters. A small temple to Venus was erected on Calvary, and another to Jupiter over the Holy Sepulchre. By this, the pagans intended derision; whereas, they were perpetuating the knowledge of two spots of most sacred interest.
When peace was restored under Constantine, the Christians had but to remove these pagan monuments, and their eyes beheld the holy ground that had been bedewed with the Blood of Jesus, — and the glorious Sepulchre. As to the Cross, it was not so easily found. The sceptre of our Divine King was to be raised up from its tomb by a royal hand. The saintly Empress Helen, Constantine’s Mother, was chosen by heaven to pay to Jesus, — and that, too, on the very spot where he had received his greatest humiliations, — the honors which are due to him as the King of the world. Before laying the foundations of the Basilica of the Resurrection, this worthy follower of Magdalene and the other holy women of the Sepulchre was anxious to discover the Instrument of our Salvation. The Jews had kept up the tradition of the site where it had been buried: the Empress had the excavations made accordingly. With what holy impatience must she not have watched the works! And with what ecstasy of joy did she not behold the Redeeming Wood, which, though not, at first, distinguishable, was certainly one of the three Crosses that were found! She addressed a fervent prayer to the Saviour, who alone could reveal to her which was the trophy of his victory; the Bishop, Macarius, united his prayers with hers; and their faith was rewarded by a miracle, that left them no doubt as to which was the true Cross. The glorious work was accomplished, and the Church was put in possession of the instrument of the world’s Redemption. Both East and West were filled with joy at the news of this precious discovery, which heaven had set on foot, and which gave the last finish to the triumph of Christianity. Christ completed his victory over the Pagan world, by raising thus his Standard, — not a figurative one, but his own real standard, — his Cross, which, up to that time, had been a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles; but before which every Christian is, henceforth, to bend his knee. Helen placed the Holy Cross in the Basilica that had been built by her orders, and which covered both the glorious Sepulchre and the hill of the Crucifixion. Another Church was erected on the site, where the Cross had lain concealed for three hundred years, and the Faithful are enabled, by long flights of steps, to go down into the deep grotto, which had been its tomb. Pilgrims came, from every part of the world, to visit the hallowed places, where our Redemption had been wrought, and to venerate the sacred Wood of the Cross.
But God’s merciful providence willed not that the precious pledge of Jesus’ love for mankind should be confined to one only Sanctuary, however venerable it might be. Immediately after its discovery, Helen had a very large piece cut from the Cross; and this fragment she destined for Rome, the New Jerusalem. The precious gift was enshrined in the Basilica built by her son Constantine in the Sessorian garden, and which was afterwards called the Basilica of Holy -Cross-in- Jerusalem. By degrees, other places were honored by the presence of the Wood of the Holy Cross. So far back as the 4th Century, we have St. Cyril of Jerusalem attesting that many of the Pilgrims used to obtain small pieces of it, and thus carried the precious Treasure into their respective countries; and St. Paulinus of Nola, who lived in the same Century, assures us that these many gifts lessened not the size of the original Relic. In the 6th Century, the holy Queen, St. Radegonde, obtained from the Emperor Justin 2nd a large piece from the fragment that was in the imperial treasury of Constantinople. It was for the reception of this piece of the True Cross into France, that Venantius Fortunatus composed the Vexilla Regis, — that beautiful Hymn which the Church uses in her Liturgy, as often as she celebrates the praises of the Holy Cross. After several times losing and regaining it, Jerusalem was, at length, for ever deprived of the precious Relic.
Constantinople was a gainer by Jerusalem’s loss. From Constantinople, especially during the Crusades, many Churches of the West procured large pieces. These again supplied other places; until, at length the Wood of the Cross was to be found in almost every town of any importance. There is scarcely to be found a Catholic, who, some time or other in his life, has not had the happiness of seeing and venerating a portion of this sacred object. How many acts of love and gratitude have not been occasioned by this? And who could fail to recognize, in this successive profusion of our Jesus’s Cross, a plan of divine providence for exciting us to an appreciation of our Redemption, on which rest all our hopes of eternal happiness ? How dear, then, to us should not this day be, which blends together the recollection of the Holy Cross and the joys of the Resurrection of that Jesus, who, by the Cross, has won the throne to which we shall soon see him ascend! Let us thank our Heavenly Father for his having restored to mankind a treasure so immensely precious as is the Cross. Until the day comes for its appearing, with himself, in the clouds of heaven, Jesus has entrusted it to his Spouse, as a pledge of his second Coming. On that day, he, by his divine power, will collect together all the fragments; and the Tree of Life will, then, gladden the Elect with its dazzling beauty, and invite them to eternal rest beneath its refreshing shade.
The Liturgical Year – Dom Gueranger, O.S.B.
Fourth Sunday After Easter
EPISTLE – James 1: 17-21
Dearly beloved, every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. For of His own will hath He begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of His creature. You know, my dearest brethren. And let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger. For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God. Wherefore, casting away all uncleanness and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
GOSPEL – John 16: 5-14
At that time Jesus said to His disciples: I go to Him that sent Me; and none of you asketh Me: Whither goest Thou? But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart. But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go; for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go I will send Him to you. And when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, and of justice and of judgment. Of sin, because they believed not in Me; and of justice, because I go to the Father, and you shall see Me no longer; and of judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged. I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth. For He shall not speak of Himself: but what things soever He shall hear He shall speak, and the things that are to come He shall show you. He shall glorify Me: because He shall receive of Mine and shall show it to you.