Fervor and Recollection for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the Holy Sepulchre

“O Crux, ave, spes unica!” (Hail to the cross, our only hope.) The words resounded with fervor and solemnity this morning under the vaulted ceiling of the Holy Sepulchre. Latin Catholics gathered on this Sunday for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

A large crowd assembled at Calvary, the site of Our Lord’s crucifixion, for solemn celebration of the Mass by the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land.

The friars bore a relic of the True Cross in procession to the altar where Mass would be celebrated, the Altar of the Crucifixion on the site where Christ was nailed to the wooden cross.

Father Dobromir Jasztal, the Custodial Vicar, was primary celebrant of the Mass, with many other priests concelebrating.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is only rarely celebrated on a Sunday. The day, the site, the subject of the feast day: everything came together to lend a particularly grave and solemn aspect to the celebration.

Father Dobromir’s homily was poignant and filled with hope: “The mystery of the cross,” he explained, “is both a mystery of love and a mystery of salvation.” He rightly remarked that “rare is the Christian who does not carry a cross,” and “This is explained by the fact that we are all marked with the sign of the cross at baptism. We have all been saved by the Son of God, who died on the Cross.”

The father, who is the right hand of the Custos of the Holy Land, then evoked the unsettling, repellant nature of the cross. “Christianity is rejected precisely because of the cross. For the world, the cross speaks of sacrifice, for the world desires a life without restrictions, without limits, without prohibitions. The world wants riches, plenty.” To illustrate irreconcilable contrast between the world and Christ, Father Dobromir compared the cross, tree of life and symbol of the life that is given, and the tree in the Garden of Eden, cause of original sin and easily attained without sacrifice.

“The cross,” he concluded, “is the way of peace, where man gives freely of himself.” In this troubled region, the celebrant’s appeal had particular importance. “God did not create man for war, but for peace and fraternity,” Father Dobromir said, adding that “the peace that Christ bestows is not the peace of the world. Only rarely do we think of receiving Christ’s peace in the depths of our being to live it truly. But Christ, from the cross, has given us a taste of peace, and given us a way to live it.”

After the Mass, the congregation went in procession with the clergy to the altar of Saint Mary Magdalen (at the site where Christ met her on the morning of the resurrection) to the sound of the hymn Vexilla Regis (“The banners of the king issue forth,the mystery of the cross does gleam). This magnificent hymn of the seventh century touchingly describes the grandeur of the cross.

The pilgrim congregation then venerated the relic of the True Cross before everyone left with the words of homily echoing in their minds: “The wood of the cross does not save us without the love that was crucified on it and that continues to give itself for everyone who chooses to live in love.”


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