On 14 September, we celebrate the feast of the glorious Cross. The official title is “Exaltation of the Holy Cross”. On Good Friday, the Church gazes at the terrible and humiliating torture of Christ as he is mocked and put to death on a cross. On 14 September, we meditate on the mystery of the Cross as the instrument of our salvation. The Church perceives the Cross as the tree of life, the tree upon which hung the Fruit through which we regain paradise lost.
This feast has its origins in the dedication of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, first celebrated on 13 September, 335. In 630, the emperor Heraclius returned the Holy Cross to Jerusalem having captured it from the Persians. It was at this time that was born in Rome the rite of the veneration of the relic of the true Cross.
At Solesmes, we have maintained this ancient tradition. We possess a small relic of the true Cross since 1860. The reliquary was offered by Dom Michegaut in 1863, and realized by the goldsmith Placide Poussielgue-Rusand in Paris. The form of the reliquary is “an Anjou cross”, a form usually reserved for relics of the true Cross.
The rite of the veneration or adoration of the Cross takes place at the end of Vespers. The monks advance two by to as the Vexilla Regis is sung. They kiss the reliquary Father Abbot presents them with. Then, Father Abbot walks to the foot of the choir and presents the reliquary for veneration by the faithful.
In the 6th century, Venance Fortunat, bishop of Poitiers, composed the hymn Vexilla Regis in honor of the true Cross. This liturgical hymn, considered one of the greatest and most beautiful of the Latin Church, contains all the theology and spirituality of this feast. Here is the text with an English translation. Also, we propose you listen to a recording of the hymn as it is rendered in Gregorian Chant.
Vexílla Regis pródeunt,
Quo vulnerátus ínsuper
Impléta sunt quæ cóncinit
Arbor decóra, et fúlgida,
Beáta, cujus bráchiis
O Crux ave, spes unica,
Te summa Deus Trínitas,
Abroad the Regal Banners fly,
Who, wounded with a direful spear,
That which the Prophet-King of old
O lovely and reflugent Tree,
Blest Tree, whose branches bore
Hail, Cross, of hopes sublime!
Blest Trinity, salvation's spring,