Sunday, 14 September 2008

Exaltation of Holy Cross

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, and of course the first anniversary of the coming into effect of Summorum Pontificum, the freeing of the use of the Traditional Latin Mass.


So first of all, don't forget EWTN's Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form (priests from the Institute of Christ the King) to celebrate the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum - 10pm Sunday Sydney time or 12pm Monday on TV (or see the schedule to which it online.

Secondly, should you want to reflect on what a year it has been, take a look at the post I wrote on the anniversary of it being issued, back here.

Thirdly, rather than focusing on the Propers for today (which should be pretty familiar to everyone from Easter), I thought it might be worth reflecting briefly on the great victory the feast represents - in origin and perhaps now.

The Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross - origins

The Feast was originally instituted to celebrate the recovery of the True Cross following the defeat of the Persians in 629 AD.

The Persian Empire had been the direst threat to Christendom to that point - the Emperor Heraclius had even considered abandoning Constantinople, deciding to make a historic last stand only after the Patriarch offered him all of the wealth of the Church to fund the fight. But Heraclius managed to rebuild the army of the East Roman Empire, took the field in person, and took the battle to the very capital of Persia, eventually managing to depose their King, Chosroes. Heraclius recovered the True Cross, which had been captured some years earlier, and carried it on his own shoulders through Jerusalem.

It was, however, to be a short-lived victory - Islamic forces soon moved in and took over most of the Persian Empire, and by the time of Heraclius' death, had made major inroads on the Roman Empire.

And despite Heraclius' strengths as a military leader and reformer, he is responsible for two key developments which helped widen the developing chasm between the Eastern and Western Churches.

First he dropped the use of Latin in the Eastern Empire, and embarked on a programme of hellenization. Secondly and even more problematically, with Patriarch Sergius he cooked up the heresy of 'monothelitism' (which claimed that Jesus had two natures but only one will) in an effort to reconcile the monophysites, needed for the fight against Islam. It was one of a series of heresies that led to schisms between East and West, culminating in the great schism of 1054.

A lesson perhaps in the mysterious workings of God, and the unpredictability of the choices he makes in the people he uses to defend Christendom!

Exaltation of Holy Cross - its meaning for us today

Still, the Feast clearly symbolises the idea that the Cross always triumphs in the end, even if the threat seems overwhelming. And perhaps that we should always remember that we can never relax, the next battle is just around the corner, and we need to be preparing for it! Both are messages particularly relevant for Traditionalists as we offer our prayers of thanksgiving for the Holy Father today, for Summorum Pontificum.

We know that Summorum Pontificum is critical because the liturgy is so central to our faith, and to the battle against the secular city. The Pope is in France at the moment, and has been saying some interesting and important things, both on the roots of European culture in the monasteries and liturgy, and on the relationship between Church and State (calling for a rethinking of the rigid separation that prevails in France). Its important stuff, and I'll blog on it over the next day or two (probably starting later today).

The challenge for traditionalists now, it seems to me is twofold. First to take full advantage of Summorum Pontificum and spread the Mass far and wide, knowing that this will have subtle but important effects in its own right. The second though is perhaps the bigger challenge, and that is to articulate and spread the traditionalist mindset - recover the true culture of catholicism, and spread that too, back into the wider Church. So give thanks today, and rejoice. But get ready for the next battles and the new war - to restore orthodoxy and orthopraxy more broadly!

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