Friday 14 September 2007

"Faithful Cross above all others, one and only noble tree": the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Grand Restoration of the Roman rite

CRUX fidelis, inter omnes, arbor una nobilis;
Nulla talem silva profert,
Flore, fronde, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulci clavos, dulce pondus sustinens!

FAITHFUL Cross! Above all other,
One and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peers may be;
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron!Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

So for centuries has been sung the song composed by Venantius Forntunatus (530-609) extolling the Triumph of the Cross.

And never more so than today, the Feast which recalls the return of the True Cross to Jersualem following its recapture from the pagan Persians by the Roman Emperor in the East, Emperor Heraclius.

But today is also the triumphal day in which our Holy Father, Pope Benendict XVI, restored to the Roman Church the use of the ancient and noble Roman rite of our ancestors.

All hail Pope Benedict XVI, the restorer of the ancient Roman rites!

Yes, today is the day when, by his own motion - motu proprio - Pope Benedict XVI has restored to the Roman Church its ancient rites. In so doing he has placed himself in the same hallowed tradition of all those popes, among his predecessors, who always sought to preserve the ancient rites of the Church, as all popes until 1970, did.

For this alone, he will go down to history as a great pope. But he has many other great virtues which posterity will also recall and hallow.

He has chosen a very significant and memorable day to make his motu proprio, called Summorum Pontificum, become effective.

It is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross upon which day we sing the praises of the Holy Cross with such ancient hymns as Vexilla Regis and Crux Fidelis.

Venantius Fortunatus wrote both hymns, the latter for a procession that brought a part of the true Cross to Queen Radegunda in 570. This hymn is used on Good Friday during the Adoration of the Cross and in the Breviary during Holy Week and on feasts of the Cross like today.

Ancient legend is hinted at in the second verse of this hymn. According to this tradition, the wood of the Cross upon which Christ was crucified was taken from that tree which was the source of the fruit of the fall in the Garden of Eden. When Adam died, the legend states, Seth obtained from the Cherubim guarding the Garden a branch of the tree from which Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Seth planted this branch at Golgotha (the place of the skull), which is so named because Adam was buried there. As time went on, the Ark of the Covenant, the pole upon which the bronze serpent was lifted, and other items were made from this tree.

Eventually the Holy Cross was made from it and our Lord crucified thereon upon Golgotha directly over the tomb of Adam so that the Precious Blood of Christ, seeping through cracks, penetrated into the mausoleum of Adam beneath and fell upon the very skull of Adam to symbolise that the Sin of Adam had now been atoned for by the Crucifixion.

In the pre-1955 Roman Calendar, the Finding of the True Cross (Inventio Crucis) was celebrated on 3 May to commemorate that day when the Empress St Helena, daughter of a British king and mother of the Emperor Constantine, found the True Cross after long searching for it among the wells and cisterns of Jerusalem.

The British born Roman Empress St Helena finds the True Cross

The True Cross was set up and a Basilica built to house it for posterity.

3 centuries later, the pagan, fire-worshipping Persians (not yet Muslim), under King Chosroes II, attacked Jerusalem and took away the precious relic, the True Cross.

The Roman Emperor Heraclius, then regining, swore to recover it and warred against the Persians. He was on the point of being defeated himself when an internal dispute arose within Persia which threatened Chosroes II and the distraction gave Heraclius his chance. He soundly defeated Chosroes in 629 and recovered the True Cross.

This was seen as an answer to prayer by all at the time.

When Heraclius returned to Jerusalem to restore the True Cross he carried it himself, as had our Lord, intending to process along the Via Dolorosa in his gorgeous imperial robes. But when he arrived at the gate of Jerusalem he was frozen to the spot and could not move. All were puzzled and eventually the Patriarch of Jerusalem suggested that the Emperor divest himself of his imperial robes. The Emperor did more and stripped himself to little more than the seamless garment that Christ Himself had worn to carry His Cross.

At once the Emperor found himself able to proceed and so he continued until he was able to retored the Cross to its rightful place in the Basilica upon Golgotha, walking barefoot in a single shift all along the way to the great edification of the people of Jerusalem, his subjects.

Ever after that day, 14 September, was celebrated with great ceremony - nearly as much as Easter and Pentecost - as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Exaltatio Crucis).

The Roman Emperor Heraclius who restored the True Cross to Jerusalem in 629AD

Now our Holy Father has chosen this most memorable and triumphant of days to restore to us the glory of the ancient Roman rite which the Roman emperors of old fought and died to protect and preserve and which countless saints and martyrs gave their lives for.

Fulget Crucis mysterium,
Qua vita mortem pertulit,
Et morte vitam protulit.

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

In hac triumpha gloria
Piis adauge gratiam,
Reisque dele crimina.

Hail, Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
In this triumphant glorious time,
Improve religious souls in grace,
The sins of criminals efface.

On Good Friday the second line reads "Now in this mournful Passion time" but on the Feast of the Cross this is replaced by "in hac triumpha gloria" - in the glory of this triumph!

Triumph, indeed, thanks to our beloved Holy Father now gloriously reigning!

St Helena, pray for us!

True Cross, protect us!



Ttony said...

And St Helen an Englishwoman, from St Helens.

God Bless this day.

Unknown said...

Photos of the High Mass at Blackfen in thanksgiving for Summorum Pontificum are now online at

Unknown said...

Photos from the High Mass at the Oratory, Brompton Road are now also online at the same place.

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered this blog and find it very interesting. Have you posted about the sack of St Peters by the Moslems? I heard that they stripped St Peters of all valuables. I don't know when this happened or anything more about it.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Many thanks for this post.
September 14th 2007.
What an extraordinary (sorry, no pun intended) day.
The Roman Rite (vetus ordo, usus antiquior, whatever,) is no longer the "old" rite.
I presume the existing "indult" Masses no longer are "indult" Masses.
The "Ecclesia Dei" indult has (I presume) been superseded as of this day by "Summorum Pontificum".
No more "old" rite and "new" rite".
The rupture between the two has now beeen healed.
There is one Roman rite.

Rome has said so.

There could not be a more fitting feast day for this to happen than the Exaltation of the Holy Cross because that (I have always been taught) is what the Sacrifice of the Mass is all about.

I suppose there will be hard work and difficulties ahead.
But for this day, I can only say
Gaudeamus et laetemus.
God bless Pope Benedict.

Anonymous said...

It has finally dawned on me why 'motu proprio' is usually translted "by his own initiative." Talking of the Holy Father's 'motions' does not seem entirely decent.

The date of 14 September 2007 will long be remembered with great emotion. God bless Pope Benedict.

Tribunus said...

Sharon is right - there was a sack of Rome in 846AD by Saracens (Muslims) which included a sack of old St Peter's in which they stripped it out completely.

More on this anon.

Thanks Dr Peter! An extraordinary day, indeed. Actually, I never believed that Ecclesia Dei introduced an "indult" since I always believed - now confirmed by our Holy Father! - that the old rite was never abrogated and once does not need an "indult" to say or hear something that has not been abrogated.

We have a right to it and the Pope has amply and generously confirmed this in Summorum Pontificum.

I think it still right to call it the "old" rite because it is, indeed, old - the oldest Christian rite in the world and it should continue to be distinguished from the 40-year-old Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI which is a novelty.

For that reason I think the two rites are by no means one. The old is quite different and vastly superior to the new since it was confected over a period of 2,000 years by the Holy Spirit and the new is an invention of men, particularly Archbishop Bugnini's committees, and has severed many links with past tradition.

That does not mean that the "new" is invalid. It is certainly valid. But validity is only part of the story. The continuance of tradition is also vital and that the present Holy Father has now demonstrated in a most remarkable and clear way.

God bless our Pope!

To Charles M: "Motu proprio" is a legal term familiar to lawyers in Roman, Civil and Common Law jurisdictions, although in the Common Law it is hasn't been regularly rendered in Latin for nearly a century.

It simply means a judgment or order given by a judge without his being asked in a court of law to give or make one.

One often hears lawyers say "Judge Bloggs made an order 'of his own motion'".

It is a bit like someone moving a motion at a public meeting.

In the old pre-1999 Chancery Division of the High Court, and still in some US states today, a litigant does not make an application or issue a summons, he "moves" a "motion" or "moves the court".

Hence in the Chancery Division one might before 1999 have heard a judge saying to a litigant "Do you move?", meaning "are you the person applying to the court for something?".

It often confused people new to courts, some even thinking that it was an impertinent question asking a lawyer if he - or she! - was a good dancer.

But, no, it is just a legal term. And it has since been abolished by New Labour appointed judges who are determined to remove anything interesting, old or different from our legal system and repalce the same with what is boring, boring, boring.

Bit like the ICEL English translation of the Novus Ordo really!

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Than you, Tribunus.
I was delighted to read your comment.

I wholly agree with what you say about the vetus ordo.

Yes, it is "old" in the sense of being venerable, of great age(and therefore a great treasure).

I suppose I mean it is no longer "old" in the sense of being something-no-longer-used, to be consigned to a museum,
or, even worse, stored in the attic.

And, as of 14 September 2007, that is "official".

It's going to make a difference !

Not right away.

But in the years to come, I see the vetus ordo triumphing over the novus ordo.

By the way, many thanks for your blog : I'm a fairly new visitor.
It's smashing !

Tribunus said...

Thanks Dr Peter! I agree! Once people experience the vetus ordo they will be loath to return to second best, I think.