Before digging into the basics of the Holy Cross day, let’s take a look at the backstory that led to the popularization of this symbol of Christianity. After Jesus’ death, everything that was connected with his ministry was subjected to increasing persecutions, often resulting in death punishments (it will suffice to mention the mass execution perpetrated against Christians by Nero). The Christian community of the first centuries was forced to cultivate their faith in secrecy.
Constantine the Great was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. In 313 AD, he signed the Edict of Milan with which he declared that Christians could worship freely in the Roman Empire. Constantine’s mother, Helena of Constantinople, also contributed to the spread of Christian religion in the Empire. On her pilgrimage to Jerusalem she gathered and then brought to Europe some of the most important Christian relics directly connected with the Passion of Christ. She is commonly credited with the discovery of the True Cross on Sept.14, 327. According to some sources, Helena was dying at the time of her pilgrimage, but when she touched the True Cross she healed instantly.
Helena of Constantinople brought the relics of the True Cross to her Roman palace, which later transformed in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross on the day when its discovery, on Sept. 14th. This celebration dates from 335, thanks to the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Constantine around the last stations of the Cross on the Calvary. After Helena’s pilgrimage, Christians openly adopted the cross as a symbol of their faith.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross highlights the transformation of this tool of torture and death into the symbol of our redemption. Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross led to our salvation, showed us Jesus' spirit of sacrifice, and set an example of Christian love.
Food for thought:
The Entrance Antiphon for the Feast of the Holy Cross
We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered. (Galatians 6:14)
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)