Today, the Christian Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This year, it is also the day in the Western church, when the papal decree Summorum Pontificum becomes effective, permitting the unrestricted use of the classical Roman Missal, as first compiled by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the sixty century, as codified by Pope Saint Pius V in 1570, and last revised by Pope Blessed John XXIII in 1962. It takes its place alongside the reformed Roman Missal, made available under the authority of Pope Paul VI in 1970.
But why today? Why this particular feast day? And on a weekday, no less!
In the second century, the pagan emperors of Rome clearly saw Christianity as a threat to the status quo, and proceeded to eradicate the holy places where Christ suffered, died, and rose again. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138) ordered the ground of Calvary and the Tomb to be covered, and shrines to honor Jupiter and Venus to be erected in their place. Three centuries passed, during much of which time sacrifices to the false gods were offered at the site of the One Sacrifice. Eventually, if only by the grace of God, the sacred remains of Christendom were discovered, and in a new era of tolerance, were open to Christian veneration again. The emperor Constantine, under whose rule this was possible, sent his mother Saint Helen to Jerusalem. She ordered the pagan temples destroyed, and oversaw the excavation of the ground beneath. There she found the three crosses upon which Our Lord and two thieves were executed. The one upon which Christ was hung was determined when a dead man was laid on each one, only to come to life on what could only have been the True Cross. With this discovery, the Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem led those who held the Cross aloft for all true believers to see. It is this show of victory that is depicted on the icon which honors this occasion.
There have been other victories associated with this venerable relic, but they are too numerous to mention here. Indeed, for many Catholics who would defend their great heritage, their sacred tradition, only one victory preoccupies them today. The discovery of a treasure long suppressed and now liberated is remembered today.
In his sermon honoring the occasion, Saint Andrew of Crete declared: "The Cross is exalted, and everything true gathers together, the Cross is exalted, and the city makes solemn, and the people celebrate the feast."
With this sign, thou shalt conquer.