On Monday, we celebrate the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and, on Tuesday, the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These feasts form the heart of our September devotion. In this month, we raise our eyes in faith and love to Christ Crucified and worship Him and His Holy Cross, singing with the Church, adoring the Cross: “Dear Cross, best hope o’er all beside,/That cheers the solemn passion-tide:/Give to the just increase of grace,/Give to each contrite sinner peace.” We beg His Holy Mother, whose name is holy, to pray for us that we may suffer with Him as she did.
There is a profound intimacy between Jesus Christ and His Holy Cross and between the Holy Cross and the Blessed Mother. It is said that Our Lady would spend most of her time while in Jerusalem tracing the path of the Via Crucis and re-living the Passion in her Sorrowful Heart, wounded by our sins. We learn from her to meditate often on the Passion of Jesus. We also learn from her to worship the Holy Cross.
St. Thomas Aquinas helps us understand why and how we worship the Cross of Christ. He explains that something can be worshipped as an image of the One worshipped (like an icon of Jesus) or as belonging to the One worshipped (like the Sacred Heart of Jesus). The True Cross of Christ, he says, “is to be venerated by us in both ways–namely, in one way in so far as it represents to us the figure of Christ extended thereon; in the other way, from its contact with the limbs of Christ, and from its being saturated with His blood.”
In other words, we don’t only worship the True Cross as an image of Christ, as we do any other Cross (for example, at the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, when we genuflect to the Cross). With the True Cross, we have also worship that is due to something belonging to Christ Himself, like His Sacred Heart or His Precious Blood. This is an amazingly strong claim made here by the Common Doctor of the Church! This means that our Blessed Mother worshipped her Son’s Holy Cross both as an image of Him and because of its intimate union with Him.
Now St. Thomas is not saying that the True Cross is hypostatically united to the Word of God, as is the case with His Humanity or His Heart or His Blood. He is saying that “it was united to Him in some other way, viz. by representation and contact. And for this sole reason reverence is shown to it.” St. Thomas is saying that the Cross of Christ has become so intimately united to Jesus’s Humanity that we almost cannot think of the Humanity of Christ without His Cross, and we certainly cannot approach His True Cross without knowing and worshipping His Sacred Humanity. Indeed, Jesus teaches many times to His Apostles this truth of His inseparable union with His Cross. We may even be so bold as to say that, just as Jesus’s Humanity is the conjoined instrument of His Divinity for our salvation, so too His True Cross is a kind of conjoined instrument of His Humanity for our salvation!
Ave, Crux, Spes Unica! Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, teach me to put my heart on the Cross with yours!
Fr. Joseph Previtali