I have written so much about this feast in the past that I am in danger of boring myself, so this morning just a slightly quirky thought to share with you. For Benedictines, this feast, like the Cross it commemorates, is a hinge, a turning-point in the year, for it marks the beginning of the winter fast and our preparation for Easter. It is a case of liturgy and observance making explicit a theological truth we might not otherwise understand. The Cross stands throughout the ages and the world turns on its axis. It is the pivot of human history.
We are constantly reminded of the cosmic significance of what happened on Calvary by the crosses and crucifixes in our churches and chapels. Is there any difference between the two, apart from the obvious one of having, or not having, a figure of Christ? Our processional cross here in the monastery has a corpus, a representation of Christ crucified. Should the community ever have an abbess, she will wear a pectoral cross without any figure on it. Why the difference?
Our processional cross reminds us that Christ is our leader. Where he goes, we follow. It wouldn’t really matter whether we used a plain cross or a crucifix; the symbolism is the same. The plain abbatial cross, on the other hand, represents an older tradition in the Church. It implies a close identification between the wearer and the sacrifice of Calvary. As we sing on Good Friday, Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit: Venite adoremus. ‘Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world: come, let us adore.’ We reverence the wood of the Cross, the actual physical instrument of the Lord’s death; and our future abbess, mindful that she ‘holds the place of Christ’ in the monastery as St Benedict enjoins, must identify herself with the sacrificial act of our Saviour. She must become, so to say, one with the Crucified, prepared to lay down her life for the community she serves. She must be the hinge of the community, as the Cross is the hinge of the world.
The Triumph of the Cross is a great and beautiful feast. It is also one which challenges us to the core of our being. Christian service cannot be other than sacrificial, prepared to give everything, even life itself.