“Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.” This line is chanted three times by the celebrant of the Good Friday service; after each time, a covered cross or crucifix is partially unveiled until after the third time when the full cross or crucifix is exposed. The faithful then are invited to reverence the cross, usually with a kiss.
For many, the most memorable part of the Good Friday liturgy is the reading of the Passion Narrative. We are once more transported back 2,000 years to relive the moment when “[God] gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). The moment that has always stood out to me is the Veneration of the Cross. To me, the simple act of embracing the Cross of Christ is one of the most beautiful things one can experience.
The Veneration of the Cross has been celebrated in Rome since the seventh century and in Jerusalem since the fifth. It has since become a universal practice in the Church. Many can recall the image of a priest, bishop, and even the pope humbling himself before what was once the symbol of oppression, seeing it instead as a symbol of hope and life.
When we embrace the cross and reverence it with a kiss, we in effect adore Christ himself, for the cross is the representation of Christ and his sacrifice. In that act, we then embrace the cross as our own and give ourselves fully to our Lord and Savior. Pope Benedict once remarked, “Entrusting ourselves to Christ, we lose nothing, we gain everything. In his hands our life acquires its true meaning.” Thus, when we embrace the cross, we accept that, through Christ’s sacrifice, we are saved and able to enter into eternal life. We also transform the cross from that instrument of death into the method by which we can now enter God’s heavenly kingdom.
As the phrase used in the Stations of the Cross states, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you…because by your cross you redeemed the world.” In venerating the Cross of Christ, we make those words active in our own lives. We leave the church on Good Friday knowing that we have reaffirmed our faith in the Lord’s redeeming power. We join ourselves with those who were present at that first Good Friday and believed that the story of salvation did not end that day. In fact, it was only the beginning. And so, when the celebrant chants, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world,” let us, with all our heart respond, “Come, let us adore.”
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Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.