The liturgical feasts of September 14 (the Exaltation of the Holy Cross) and 15 (The Seven Sorrows) present the same theme under an entirely different spiritual outlook:
- September 14th emphasizes Christ’s kingship; it praises the Cross as the sign of objective redemption and unfolds before our eyes the crux gemmata (the gemmed cross).
- September 15th portrays the human and suffering Christ with his co-sufferer, Mary of the Seven Sorrows.
Both feasts honor the Cross of Our Lord, following so closely upon one another, showing the two spiritual trends of ancient times and that of the Middle Ages, the beata passio (the blessed passion) and the passio amara (the bitter passion).
The occasion of the feast of the Holy Cross was the finding of the True Cross on September 14, 320 by St. Helen, and the consecration of the church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. Later on the “finding” received its special feast day on May 3, and the present date referred to the recovery of the Cross from the Persians by Emperor Heraclius in 628, who delivered the Cross to the patriarch Zacharias on May 3, 630. So there was a swapping of the occasion of the feasts.
Here the Church stresses the mystery of the Cross with full enthusiasm and love because She glorifies the sign of redemption. Why does she celebrates the feast at the start of the fall: the Cross is “raised” against the rising darkness, always the symbol of the power of hell. The Church “raises the sign of the Son of Man” which will appear at his Second Coming, and the expectation of the parousia is always connected with the Church’s Harvest time.
The Preface of the Holy Cross contrasts paradise’s tree of knowledge with Calvary’s tree of the Cross; on the one the devil is conquered, on the other he was conquered!
From a tree came death, from a tree also should come forth life. He who triumphed on a tree should also be defeated on a tree."
The Power of the Cross
The Communion antiphon refers to the power of the Cross: “Through the sign of the Cross deliver us from our enemies, O our God!” The sign of the Cross has often been employed as an exorcism against the demons; the Latin Church also distributes holy Communion with this sacred sign. This sign is the most used sacramental, which we would make with much more devotion if we were conscious that it had sacramental power. The ancients expressed the power of the Cross very succinctly by the Greek anagram:
For in the Cross is light (phos) and life (zoe).
The Exaltation of the Cross
The brazen serpent which Moses set up in the wilderness was a type of Christ’s Cross and its redeeming power. Our Lord speaking to Nicodemus mentions it: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have life everlasting.” He adds elsewhere: “If I be lifted up from the world, I will draw all things to Myself.” In all ages our crucified God is the great magnet attracting to Himself everyone capable of salvation. His degradation and humiliation is the starting point of his glorification:
Therefore God has exalted Him and has given Him a name that is above all names."