“We worship your cross, O Lord …”

Friar Matt Foley @frathermatt tweeted me this message this morning: “I love the feast, but I’m always bothered by one word at the gospel canticle this AM: Worship. Thoughts?” The text of the whole antiphon reads, “We worship your cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify your holy resurrection, for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world.”

Having spent a great deal of time studying the Church’s liturgy over the years, I always try and start with the Church’s liturgical texts and actions. It seems to me that the highlight of the worship of the Cross is that of the veneration on Good Friday when we are invited to come forward to genuflect before the Cross and then reverence the Cross itself, usually with a kiss. The Cross to be used is a crucifix, a Cross with the image of Christ’s crucified body hanging on it. So in the veneration, we offer worship to an image of the Crucifixion, the means by which Christ “has redeemed the world.” We are honoring the One who was sacrificed for the salvation of the world (Christ) and the means by which that sacrifice was accomplished (the Cross).  But the two are not separate. The Cross has meaning only in it’s connection to the death of Christ on it. We cannot separate the Cross from Christ.

So it seems to me when we “worship” the Cross, we are worshipping both the means by which and the person who brought about our salvation.  Christ is always present on the Cross.

In doing some reading on this topic today (it’s my day off so I have some free time), I came across a lovely antiphon from a medieval text. The “Book of Hours” was a devotional book popular in the later Middle Ages. Written in Latin it  was used by lay folks as an abbreviated way of praying the Office that was prayed by religious and clergy.  In one of the surviving manuscripts of this book from the 15th c., there is a wonderful antiphon taken from Vespers for a Feast of the Cross:

O crux benedicta, quae sola fuisti digna portare talentum mundi: dulce lignum, dulces clavos, dulcia ferens pondera: super omnia ligna cedrorum, tu sola excelsior: in qua mundi salus pependit, in qua Christus triumphavit, et mors mortem superavit in aeternum.

In the English:

“O Blessed Cross, which only wast worthy to bear the value of the world: sweet wood, sweet nails bearing sweet weights: thou only exceeds in highness all the wood of Cedar: upon which the salvation of the world did hang: on which Christ did triumph, and death overcame death forever.”

“Bearing sweet weights …” In this beautiful poetic text about the Cross, the One who hung upon it – the “sweet weight” – is understood to be present.



3 Comments. Leave new

Sweet! One more way to say it.

Well said, your Excellency! Here is a short excerpt from the old Catholic Encyclopedia that affirms what you are saying, along with a few citations from the early Church:

The “adoration” of the Cross, which up to this time had been restricted to private cult, now began to assume a public and solemn character. At the end of the fourth century Christian poets were already writing, “Flecte genu lignumque Crucis venerabile adora”. The second Council of Nicæa, among other precepts that deal with images, lays down that the Cross should receive an adoration of honour, “honorariam adorationem”. (See TRUE CROSS.) To the pagans who taunted them with being as much idolaters as they accused the pagans of being towards their gods, they replied that they took their stand on the nature of the cult they that it was not latria, but a relative worship, and the material symbol only served to raise their minds to the Divine Type, Jesus Christ Crucified (cf. Tert., “Apol”, xvi; Minucius Felix, “Octav.”, ix-xii). Wherefore St. Ambrose, speaking on the veneration of the Cross, thought it opportune to explain the idea: “Let us adore Christ, our King, who hung upon the wood, and not the wood” (Regem Christum qui pependit in ligno . . . non lignum. — “In obit. Theodosii”, xlvi).


I had wondered about “worship” in that antiphon as well. When I saw this post, I decided to check out the Latin original. There the word is “adoramus.” That certainly doesn’t soften it. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to apply the categories of doulia, hyperdoulia, and latria with rigid scholastic precision to texts which are not theological treatises. There needs to be room for poetry and metaphor.

But, mischievously, I can’t help wondering whether Protestants would consider it worse to “worship” the Cross or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Maybe we’d better keep this one to ourselves! 😉