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Online Edition: March 2010, Vol. XVI, No. 1

The Veneration of the Cross — The Reproaches

In the seventh century, the Church in Rome adopted the practice of Adoration of the Cross from the Church in Jerusalem, where a fragment of wood believed to be the Lord’s cross had been venerated every year on Good Friday since the fourth century. According to tradition, a part of the Holy Cross was discovered by the mother of the emperor Constantine, Saint Helen, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326. A fifth-century account describes this service in Jerusalem. A coffer of gold-plated silver containing the wood of the cross was brought forward. The bishop placed the relic on a table in the chapel of the Crucifixion and the faithful approached it, touching brow and eyes and lips to the wood as the priest said (as every priest has done ever since): “Behold, the Wood of the Cross”.

Adoration or veneration of an image or representation of Christ’s cross does not mean that we are actually adoring the material image, of course, but rather what it represents. In kneeling before the crucifix and kissing it we are paying the highest honor to our Lord’s cross as the instrument of our salvation. Because the Cross is inseparable from His sacrifice, in reverencing His Cross we are, in effect, adoring Christ. Thus we affirm: “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast Redeemed the World”.

The Reproaches and the Reading of the Passion

The Reproaches (Improperia) are often chanted by a priest during the Good Friday service as the people are venerating the Cross. In this haunting and poignant poem-like chant of very ancient origin, Christ Himself “reproaches” us, making us more deeply aware of how our sinfulness and hardness of heart caused such agony for our sinless and loving Savior. A modern translation of some of the Reproaches, originally in Latin, follows:

My people, What have I done to you? How have I offended you?
Answer me!
I led you out of Egypt; but you led your Savior to the Cross.
For forty years I led you safely through the desert,
I fed you with manna from heaven, and brought you to the land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the Cross.
O, My people! What have I done to you that you should testify against me?
Holy God. Holy God. Holy Mighty One. Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.

Three times during Holy Week the Passion is read — on Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. By very ancient tradition, three clergy read the three principal parts from the sanctuary: Jesus (always read by a priest), Narrator, and all the other individual parts. The people also have a role in this — we are those who condemn the Lord to death. Hearing our own voices say “Away with Him! Crucify Him!” heightens our consciousness of our complicity by our personal sinfulness in causing His death.

— from Family Sourcebook for Lent and Easter - Women for Faith & Family, www.wf-f.org

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