O Crux, ave spes unica!

Today, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (or Triumph of the Cross) we honour the Holy Cross by which Christ redeemed the world. The public veneration of the Cross of Christ originated in the fourth century, according to early accounts. The miraculous discovery of the cross on 14th September 326, by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine, while she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, is the origin of the tradition of celebrating the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on this date. Constantine later built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of her discovery of the cross. On this same pilgrimage she ordered two other churches built: one in Bethlehem near the Grotto of the Nativity, the other on the Mount of the Ascension, near Jerusalem.

In the Western Church the feast came into prominence in the seventh century — after 629, when the Byzantine emperor Heraclitus restored the Holy Cross to Jerusalem, after defeating the Persians who had stolen it.

Christians “exalt” (raise on high) the Cross of Christ as the instrument of our salvation. Adoration of the Cross is, therefore adoration of Jesus Christ, the God Man, who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture for our redemption from sin and death. The cross represents the One Sacrifice by which Jesus, obedient even unto death, accomplished our salvation. The cross is a symbolic summary of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ — all in one image.

The Cross — because of what it represents — is the most potent and universal symbol of the Christian faith. It has inspired both liturgical and private devotions: for example, the Sign of the Cross, which is an invocation of the Holy Trinity; the “little” Sign of the Cross on head, lips and heart at the reading of the Gospel; praying the Stations (or Way) of the Cross; and the Veneration of the Cross by the faithful on Good Friday by kissing the feet of the image of Our Saviour crucified.

Placing a crucifix (the cross with an image of Christ’s body upon it) in churches and homes, in classrooms of Catholic schools and in other Catholic institutions, or wearing this image on our persons, is a constant reminder — and witness — of Christ’s ultimate triumph, His victory over sin and death through His suffering and dying on the Cross.

We remember Our Lord’s words, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt 10:38,39). Meditating on these words we unite ourselves — our souls and bodies — with His obedience and His sacrifice; and we rejoice in this inestimable gift through which we have the hope of salvation and the glory of everlasting life.

(source: Women for Faith & Family – www.wf-f.org)

Here is a passage from a sermon of Pope John Paul II for this Feast:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we are invited to look upon the Cross. It is the “privileged place” where the love of God is revealed and shown to us… On the Cross human misery and divine mercy meet. The adoration of this unlimited mercy is for man the only way to open himself to the mystery which the Cross reveals.

The Cross is planted in the earth and would seem to extend its roots in human malice, but it reaches up, pointing as it were to the heavens, pointing to the goodness of God. By means of the Cross of Christ, the Evil One has been defeated, death is overcome, life is given to us, hope is restored, light is imparted. O Crux, ave spes unica!

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15), says Jesus. What do we see then when we bring our eyes to bear on the cross where Jesus was nailed (cf. John 19:37)? We contemplate the sign of God’s infinite love for humanity.

O Crux, ave spes unica! Saint Paul speaks of the same theme in the letter to the Ephesians…. Not only did Christ Jesus become man, in everything similar to human beings, but He took on the condition of a servant and humbled Himself even more by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).

Yes, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16). We admire — overwhelmed and gratified — the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19)! O Crux, ave spes unica!

Through the mystery of your Cross and your Resurrection, save us O Lord! Amen

Pope John Paul II (Excerpts from homily 14 September 2003)

This entry was posted in Church History, Devotion, Spiritual Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to O Crux, ave spes unica!

  1. golden chersonnese says:

    We’ve had a lot on Crosses lately.

    The plainsong for “Vexilla Regis Prodeunt” (The Banners of the King Go Forth), hymn at vespers for Palm Sunday (I think).

    And the full Via Crucis by Franz Liszt (can sing along with this one):

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mmvc says:

    The mystery of the Cross: inexhaustible, unfathomable and infinitely precious.
    Today’s glorious feast is but a hint of the illumination that awaits us in eternity (please God!) on so great a gift.


  3. mmvc says:

    Beautiful, GC, though my singing along would have wrecked it! 😉

    Here’s some info on the miraculous crucifix of Limpias:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. golden chersonnese says:

    I think by (St) Venantius Fortunatus (born 530 AD), Teresa, Venetian-born Bishop of Poitiers. So it’s a really old hymn!

    I remember reading a book in which he was a character: “Women in the Wall”, by Julia O’Faolain:


    That was quite a read (about two anchoresses being immured in Frankish Gaul).

    I think Fortunatus wrote it for the feast of the Holy Cross after the Emperor Justin of New Rome sent a remnant of the True Cross to Queen Radegunda of the Franks.

    Please listen to Liszt’s Via Crucis. It’s really something and I myself sang it once on one Good Friday evening in a Jesuit church. It contains Vexilla Regis and other hymns we all know, like Stabat Mater and O Sacred Head All-Wounded.

    Liszt was eventually a priest, wasn’t he?


  5. golden chersonnese says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, mmvc. I’m sure you would have loved singing the verses of the Stabat Mater and O Sacred Head All-Wounded (the latter in German!). I know we did.


  6. mmvc says:

    Indeed, GC, I do recall being moved even as a child by “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” often sung in church during Lent. Those words are so much more graphic in German…

    As for Liszt and the priesthood, according to Wiki, he only received ‘minor orders’ (diaconate?) and didn’t become a priest.


  7. golden chersonnese says:

    “Vexilla Regis Prodeunt”, by Venantius Fortunatus (born 530 AD).

    It seems it is a the hymn at vespers not only for Palm Sunday but all of Holy Week and for today’s feast, that of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

    English translation by Sir Walter Kirkham Blount, 3rd Baronet Blount of Sodington(died 1717)

    Vexilla Regis prodeunt: Fulget Crucis mysterium,
    Qua vita mortem pertulit, Et morte vitam protulit.

    Quae vulnerata lanceae Mucrone diro, criminum
    Ut nos lavaret sordibus, Manavit und(a) et sanguine.

    Impleta sunt quae concinit David fideli carmine,
    Dicendo nationibus: Regnavit a ligno Deus.

    Arbor decor(a) et fulgida, Ornata Regis purpura,
    Electa digno stipite Tam sancta membra tangere.

    Beata, cuius brachiis Pret(i)um pependit saeculi:
    Statera facta corporis, Tulitque praedam tartari.

    O CRUX AVE, SPES UNICA, Hoc Passionis tempore
    Piis adauge gratiam, Reisque dele crimina.

    Te, fons salutis Trinitas, Collaudet omnis spiritus:
    Quibus Crucis victoriam Largiris, adde praemium. Amen.

    Abroad the Regal Banners fly,
    Now shines the Cross’s mystery;
    Upon it Life did death endure,
    And yet by death did life procure.

    Who, wounded with a direful spear,
    Did, purposely to wash us clear
    From stain of sin, pour out a flood
    Of precious Water mixed with Blood.

    That which the Prophet-King of old
    Hath in mysterious verse foretold,
    Is now accomplished, whilst we see
    God ruling nations from a Tree.

    O lovely and reflugent Tree,
    Adorned with purpled majesty;
    Culled from a worthy stock, to bear
    Those Limbs which sanctified were.

    Blest Tree, whose happy branches bore
    The wealth that did the world restore;
    The beam that did that Body weigh
    Which raised up hell’s expected prey.

    Hail, Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
    Now in this mournful Passion time,
    Improve religious souls in grace,
    The sins of criminals efface.

    Blest Trinity, salvation’s spring,
    May every soul Thy praises sing;
    To those Thou grantest conquest by
    The holy Cross, rewards apply. Amen.


  8. golden chersonnese says:

    Well-spotted, teresa.

    I’ve read on Eastern-rite icons that:

    Christ was almost always depicted as triumphant, reborn, benevolent and righteous . . . . In fact, the early (Eastern) Christians did not delight in painting scenes of torture, death or sinners in hell.”

    rabit will fill us in soon, prolly, with a portant post.


  9. Frere Rabit says:

    Never mind rabit’s ‘portant post’… For now the Exaltation of the Cross is our focus, and a wonderful uplifting post this is! Thank you! Because of the present daily round of meeting new classes for the first time, moulding them into the expectations for classroom discipline and learning, and trying to find all the teaching materials I need in an new school (always an exciting and hazardous experience!) I had completely forgotten today’s Feast of the Exaltation! My breviary is still in France with all the things that were too heavy to bring in two suitcases to get through the first term’s teaching. So it was wonderful to sing along with the plainsong – which rabit does well enough to astonish the folk in the local church last week when I joined in the singing of the Salve during the feast of Our Lady on September 8th and sailed up into the high ceiling with a tenor that they had not experienced since the men stopped coming to church…

    We are at the start of something good. Thank you for this additional focus on the Cross, and I will indeed bring more into play very soon. Our traditional Catholic blog should be completely focused on the Cross. Let’s make it our mission. Per Crucem tuam…


  10. golden chersonnese says:

    mmvc says:

    Indeed, GC, I do recall being moved even as a child by “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” often sung in church during Lent. Those words are so much more graphic in German…

    Sure thing, Maryla. we sang, without fail, Bach’s version of “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden”, right after plainsong of “The Reproaches” and “Crux Fidelis Super Omnes”.

    There’s something very convincing about singing hymns in German!


  11. golden chersonnese says:

    I say, teresa, the Santo Cristo de Limpias at the top 0f this article is rather 20th century!

    Wiht all due respect to CP&S readers and bloggers, Our Dear Lord looks quite like beekcake (I apologise if I have offended anyone).


  12. mmvc says:

    De gustibus non est disputandum, GC, so no offense taken…
    I’m rather partial to this depiction of our crucified Saviour.
    But what on earth is ‘beekcake’ (beefcake?)


  13. golden chersonnese says:

    I do apologise again, Maryla. It is a very strong and manly depiction of Christ and I’m sure all can see that.

    Since you asked: beefcake




  14. toadspittle says:

    ..is a lovely word, and sums up Toad to a “T.” It goes straight into my lexicon, between ‘beefy’ and ‘beery.’

    However, back on my old hobby-horse of crucifixes, (a strange and uncomfortable juxtaposition there, I fear) I have a deep suspicion the the tortured image of a man in agony has been used as an example and justification for causing many other men (and women) to be subjected to atrocities.
    Put more directly, it gives people ideas. nasty ones.
    If one believes that pornographic images can encourage acts of sexual excess, (and I do) then why not images of horror leading to acts of horror? “If they could do it to God, we can do it to anybody.”
    I’m thinking, more of Spain here than elsewhere.
    Whenever I see the ultra-realistic, life-size sculptures of Christ, usually lying ‘dead’ in a glass coffin, I am once more convinced that something very amiss and illogical is being ‘celebrated.’

    No, I can’t prove this, or even produce any evidence. But I believe it a priori. And, yes, Islam can do horrible things without any images at all. But the Quakers don’t.


  15. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:
    Sodington and Gomorrahsville? Nah.


  16. golden chersonnese says:

    Yes, I do apologise again for the inappropriate reference to beefcake.

    I think you can pick up the Blounts’ stately pile and 16 and a half acres at Sodington (near Worcester) for a song right now, Toad.


    (last paragraph)

    And a pic:


    I get the impression that the Baronets Blount were Catholics and royalists in the Civil war.

    They lost their estate during the Civil War but it was restored by Charles II.

    The last of the line, the 12th Baronet, died in 2004 without heirs, I believe.


  17. mmvc says:

    “No, I can’t prove this, or even produce any evidence.”

    But there is proof and evidence, Toad, that the Saints who would often spend long hours in meditation and contemplation of their tortured, agonising, crucified Saviour, became more compassionate, more loving and more holy (Christ-like) as a result.

    When I read these words late last night I thought of you:

    “The cross, instrument of torture and death, raised aloft as a sign of glory, continues to confound the wisdom of this world. God’s work of salvation stands human expectations on their head: humility is exaltation, wounds are healing, death is life.”


  18. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad says:
    If one believes that pornographic images can encourage acts of sexual excess, (and I do) then why not images of horror leading to acts of horror? “If they could do it to God, we can do it to anybody.”
    I’m thinking, more of Spain here than elsewhere.
    Whenever I see the ultra-realistic, life-size sculptures of Christ, usually lying ‘dead’ in a glass coffin, I am once more convinced that something very amiss and illogical is being ‘celebrated.’
    I would think, Toad, that these statues are meant to excite pity, sorrow and gratefulness on a life-like scale, not a prurient interest in inflicting similar harm and indignities on others.

    We have these statues here as well in the historical Portuguese areas around Malacca.

    I don’t think they’ve led to any copy-cat crimes, Toad.

    I left a comment on your miracles post on your blog, Toad.

    I see too Maryla has led us to a miraculous crucifix.

    What would Hume say about that?


  19. toadspittle says:

    “But there is proof and evidence, Toad, ” says MMVE.

    There may be evidence, but there is no proof. The only things we can prove are a few bits of math.

    And no, I don’t believe the saints ever tortured anyone. But other Catholics did. Maybe for the gold in Peru, to take one example, but in the name of God.

    I have a theory, nothing more,>/i>that the hideous images in churches, not only crucifixes, but those of martyrs having their buttocks cut off with red-hot scissors and similar bits of whimsey, actually encourage ‘unpleasantness.’
    But it’s only my theory and it needn’t bother anyone else…

    And Golden Chersonnese,

    BEEKCAKE, like virtue, is it’s own reward. Needs no disculpances on your part.

    As to what Hume might have to say about a miraculous crucifix, I will have to get back to you later on that. But I am confident that he would have been as amusing as usual. (Can’t say the same for me, though.)


  20. omvendt says:

    Tōad said:

    “The only things we can prove are a few bits of math.”

    Tōad, there are lots of things we know which cannot meet the standard required for mathematical truth.


  21. omvendt says:

    “… for mathematical truth.”

    Oops, sawwy – meant to say “mathematical proof.”


  22. Frere Rabit says:

    Toad, your sensibility leads you into a dilemma that every Catholic Christian encounters, should they stop and think about their faith, and some occasionally do. To object to the unspeakable suffering represented by the cruel graphic depictions of what we did to the Son of God is completely natural. If we did not object to it and find it outrageous, there would be something very wrong. That is the scandal of the Cross, surely? That is the reminder of what we humans do to each other every day. That is what we did and continue to do to God.

    The idea that this image of suffering produces a ‘copy cat’ effect is primitive (excuse me for saying so) and it is an idea that is only possible in the ‘soft’ culture of our times that shies away from facing up to the immense consequences of evil and human sin.


  23. toadspittle says:

    “The idea that this image of suffering produces a ‘copy cat’ effect is primitive (excuse me for saying so) ”

    Says Rabit. No excuses needed. The idea may well be ‘primitive.’ I note that you do not suggest it is incredible. I’m not afraid to confess that find the behaviour of about 99 per cent of humans ‘primitive,’ about 99 per cent of the time.
    And I’m puzzled that you apparently don’t.
    And that you don’t believe that images (and/or ideas?) can produce a ‘copy cat’ effect. What about the images of Marx and Ghandi and Mother Teresa, for a start?
    But if I misinterpret you, why do you believe ‘images of suffering’ to be exempt from this effect?
    Look at Burro. Oh, no, you can’t. He’s dead.


  24. toadspittle says:

    Impious thought.

    On the crucifix above, Christ has the sort of expression one gets after waiting for a bus for too long.

    (And, despite Raven’s ingenious theory to the contrary, I persist in believing the Romans crucified their victims naked. (the victims, that is, not the Romans. They’d keep their helmets on, at least.)


  25. toadspittle says:

    Golden Cherssonne:

    Hume apparently has nothing to say re miraculous crucifixes, but in order not to frustrate you overmuch, here is his refreshing take on possible alternative deities – and our dim little planet. Makes sense to me. Certainly could explain a good deal the of absurdity in which we are mired.

    “…it may be far more reasonable to conclude that the world (rather than being the work of a benevolent and omnipotent God of Christianity, (Toad’s italics)) is ‘the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance’ … or ‘the work of some dependent, inferior deity and the object of derision to his superiors’ … or ‘the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity and ever since his death, has run on. “


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