In this Holy Week, we have finally come to the Cross. Of all the things we do as Christians, the things we do this week must seem the most strange to those outside of the Faith. Last night we celebrated the institution of the Eucharist, wherein we make a big thing out of a last supper and the eating of sacred Flesh and Blood. We will soon celebrate the second strangest claim in Christianity, that Jesus was raised from the dead. But for now, the Cross.
By the seventh century, the Western Church had “adopted the practice of (the Veneration) of the Cross from the Church in Jerusalem, where a fragment of wood believed to be the Lord’s cross had been venerated every year on Good Friday since the fourth century. According to tradition, a part of the Holy Cross was discovered by the mother of the emperor Constantine, St. Helen, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326. A fifth century account describes this service in Jerusalem. A coffer of gold-plated silver containing the wood of the cross was brought forward. The bishop placed the relic on the a table in the chapel of the Crucifixion and the faithful approached it, touching brow and eyes and lips to the wood as the priest said (as every priest has done ever since): ‘Behold, the Wood of the Cross.’
“Adoration or veneration of an image or representation of Christ’s cross does not mean that we are actually adoring the material image, of course, but rather what it represents. In kneeling before the crucifix and kissing it we are paying the highest honor to the our Lord’s cross as the instrument of our salvation. Because the Cross is inseparable from His sacrifice, in reverencing His Cross we are, in effect, adoring Christ. Thus we affirm: ‘We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast Redeemed the World.’”1
Still, it’s a strange and mysterious thing, the Cross. As the familiar collect says, the Cross is an instrument of shameful death that somehow, by the work Christ did upon it, by His very presence upon it, has somehow become for us the means of everlasting life.
The Cross is the Cross, then, not because of its brutality, not because of its shame, certainly not because of its strangeness, but rather the Cross is the Cross because and only because the Son of the Living God used it to crush our enemy, to trample down Satan under His feet, to destroy all that stood between us and Him. The Cross is the Cross because without it, we would have no concept, no knowledge of who God is, and that might be the only thing sadder than the Cross.
And so it is, in this Holy Week, we have finally come to the Cross. May it be to you the means of everlasting life. +
1Good Friday, Catholic Online.