Sunday, September 11, 2016

Maronite Year LXXII

There can be an eighteenth Sunday of Pentecost in the Maronite year, but the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is on September 14, and it is one of the few feasts that is often transferred to the previous Sunday, so instead of the last Sunday in Pentecost Season, it will in practical terms usually end up being the first Sunday in Holy Cross Season, the last season of the liturgical year.

It might at first glance seem odd to tack on commemoration of the Cross after Pentecost, but in fact Holy Cross Season is very focused on the Cross not in the sense of Good Friday but in the sense of the victory of the Church. Thus rather than a reversion to before Pentecost in the Life of Christ, it is actually the next step after Pentecost in the history of the Church. In a sense, we are in the historical period of the exaltation of the Cross ourselves: the ever-expanding after-effects of Pentecost and Apostolic mission, as the Cross is taken to all the world.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross itself is associated with St. Helena and Constantine, and indeed, St. Helena plays a remarkably important role in the Maronite liturgical year. According to the traditional story, St. Helena, approaching her 80s, went in 326-328 to discover Christian relics in Palestine. At one point, she had a temple of Venus (or perhaps Jupiter) torn down and excavated, and they found in a cistern the remnants of three crosses (or, to be more accurate, the cross-bars of three crosses), along with their nails. Obviously, the immediate idea was that these might be the three crosses of Calvary, but according to the story, St. Helena was somewhat more practical and skeptical than most people, and she insisted that they could only say this if it was proven that they really were -- and, of course, even if these were the three crosses, there was no way to tell by just looking at them which one had held Jesus. A woman near death was brought to the site and touched each of the three; on touching the third, she was healed. St. Helena declared that one the True Cross, and the most important church in the Holy Land, the Church of the Holy Speculchre, was built over the area where the discoveries were made.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 12:20-32

We celebrate with hymns of praise
the finding of the Cross, our light,
the sign of surest victory.
Queen Helen found it through her faith,
and faithful kings were astounded.
We boast only in the Cross of Christ,
the sign of our true salvation.
Truly, the Cross shines with great light.

Martyrs and confessors rejoice;
this is the reason for battle,
this is the route of victory.
Who bears the Cross will overcome!
It is our sure exaltation,
our completion and protection.
Through this Cross we participate
in the Father and the Spirit.

We proclaim the Cross to the world;
the world thinks it but foolishness,
but to us who are being saved,
it is the power of our God.
Its light shines over creation,
and by it the Lamb shields His Bride.
The Church bears the Cross through the world.
Truly, the Cross shines with great light!

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