A major feast observed on Sept. 14 in honor of Christ’s self-offering on the cross for our salvation. The collect for Holy Cross Day recalls that Christ “was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself,” and prays that “we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him” (BCP, p. 192). The themes of Holy Cross Day are powerfully expressed by the hymn “Lift high the cross” (Hymn 473).
This feast is known as “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross” in the eastern church and in missals and sacramentaries of the western church, and it is known as “The Triumph of the Cross” in the Roman Catholic Church. It was one of the 12 great feasts in the Byzantine liturgy. The 1979 BCP is the first American Prayer Book to include Holy Cross Day.
Historically, the feast has been associated with the dedication on Sept. 14, 335, of a complex of buildings built by the Emperor Constantine (c. 285-337) in Jerusalem on the sites of the crucifixion and Christ’s tomb. This shrine included a large basilica and a circular church. Constantine’s mother, Helena (c. 255- c. 330), supervised the construction of the shrine, and a relic believed to be the cross was discovered during the work of excavation. Claims by the Church of Jerusalem to have the cross date from the mid-fourth century, and the pilgrim Egeria mentions a feast commemorating the discovery of the cross in Jerusalem in the late-fourth-century. This feast has also been associated with the exposition at Jerusalem of the cross by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (575-641). He recovered the relic from the Persians who took it from Jerusalem in 614 when they destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although the authenticity of alleged relics of the cross may be questionable, Holy Cross Day provides an opportunity for a joyous celebration of Christ’s redeeming death on a cross. See Cross; see Relics.
Celebrating Holy Cross Day
- reflection on and the veneration of Jesus Christ
- religious service or prayer
- Baked goods in the form of a cross can be made – this includes things such as Hot Cross Buns and cross-shaped cakes