this is the first class on a series of spiritual conferences about the Mass this one is about the sign of the Cross. please you are invited to come every Tuesday at 7.00 pm at Saint Anne's Catholic Church
Today we are here to learn about and meditate on the spirituality of the Mass, indeed an inexhaustible treasure a topic that we can approach in different aspects in the spiritual life can be studied from the theological point of view, spiritual or historical. Today our aim is to approach this under the point of view of the spiritual aspect to learn how to make the Mass an integral part of our lives. An encounter with Christ not only personal but also from the Church as a liturgical prayer of the whole mystical body of Christ. How do we start from and the best would be the very beginning of the Mass which is the sign of the Cross.
Original historical sources for the reign of Constantine provide us with four separate accounts for visions seen by Constantine the Holy Roman emperor during 312 AD, the year of his campaign and acceptance of the Christians. The division of the Roman Empire left him with the poorest portion; he was in trouble, meantime the Christians endured long periods of persecution and tortures with joy receiving martyrdom. Perhaps what came through to him most clearly at this time was that the Christian God was strong. The threatening moves by Maxentious reached him, Constantine called his officers into a Council of war to discuss the prospects for success of a march on Italy. Their response was unfavorable, overwhelmingly; there was no immediately prospect of military help and lack of military resources. What to do? He faced death as well as the early Christians suffered. 1-Constantine and his army on the march in Gaul that year saw a cross in the sky in front of the sun with the words “in Hoc signo vinces” under this sign you shall conquer., whereupon Constantine ordered a golden and jeweled cross made a top it the Labarum (bearing the Greek letters Chris and Rho, the first two letters of Christ in greek superimposed as a standard for his army an account which the holy historian first Christian historian Eusebious emphasizes that it was given to him personally by Constantine on oath. 2-the almost immediately contemporary account of the rethorician Lactantious a Christian convert, in his “On the death of the persecutors” of a dream of Constantine on the night immediately preceding his decisive battle with Maxentious in Italy, in which he was told to place on the shield of his soldiers to place the labarum, and in this sign you shall be the victor. Little noticed passages in pagan panegyrics to Constantine delivered in 313 and in 322 ad, the second being on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the decisive battle referring to remarkable visions seen in the sky in Gaul by Constantine just before his invasion in Italy, and widely known to his troops, showing that: “there was a secret divine power working within him”. Though no cross is mentioned, but rather apparitions of celestial armies; The confirmation is found in the appearance of the words in hoc signo vinces on the graffiti wall adjoining the original red-wall monument over the grave of Saint Peter which was marked by Christian pilgrims during the years from 312 to 330, before Eusebius “Life of Constantine” had been published. Assuming the reality of Constantine’s vision of the Cross in the sky and that he saw it while still in Gaul in the spring of 312, we are well prepared to understand his sudden transformation from doubt to absolute certainty. The Cross is that weapon that we have to fight against our enemies as well as Emperor Constantine did fight Maxentius the dreadful tyrant who was in possession of the capital of the world. The heavenly sign, resplendent with gold and precious stones dazzles the eyes of his legions and becomes the celebrated Labarum, wherever this sacred emblem ensign appears, confidence animates the soldiers of Constantine and terror seizes those of Maxentius. The roman eagle fly before the Cross paganism before Christianity. Constantine enters into Rome, A statue is erected representing him holding the Cross in his hand, with the following inscription dictated by himself” It is by this salutary sign, the true emblem of strength, that I have delivered your city from the yoke of tyranny, and that, giving liberty to the senate and roman people, I have re-established then in their ancient majesty and splendor”. Constantine represents you, me every single baptized soul, the whole Christian world. Thrown into the arena of life, we march at the head of our senses and faculties to attack a tyrant far more dangerous than Maxentius. Our Rome is Heaven; he tries to prevent our entrance into it. He advances against us at the head of his infernal legions. The combat is inevitable. God gives us the means to conquer that he gave to Constantine. The sign of the Cross…
In the presence of the crucifix, the sign of the Cross is a reminder of Our Lord’s passion, with the sign of the cross we start the Mass, the priest invested with the authority that belongs to the priesthood, he says, in union with Jesus Christ who is the principal one that offers that sacrifice, with the same words that Our Lord taught in the Gospel; thus declaring that he offers the sacrifice by the authority of the Three Persons. The saints prayed or heard Mass with the utmost devotion from the very beginning never to do the sign of the cross in an unfitting manner. St. Phillip de Neri, Apostle of Rome, no sooner did he begin to put on the sacred vestments than the beauty, the goodness, the holiness of the Divine Victim he was about to offer presented themselves most vividly to his mind and heart. In the presence of the Crucifix says Saint Thomas More, the priest says his mass, and offers up the highest prayer which the church can devise for the salvation of the quick and the dead, he holds up his hands, he bows down, he kneels, and all the worship he can do he does-more than all, he offers up the highest sacrifice and the best offering that any heart can devise-that is Christ the Son of the God of heaven, under the form of bread and wine. Blessed Thomas More, martyr, and his extraordinary devotion to the passion of the Lord, it was his custom to attend mass every day. Once, when he was the King’s chancellor, messengers from the King came to fetch him while he was hearing Mass. But Sir Thomas would not stir till Mass was finished, not even when a second messenger came and a third, “ I will first perform my duty to be a better man than the King”, he said. And the king Henry VIII when he was still a good catholic was pleased to hear that. In the catacombs where the early Christians assembled in tims of persecution and where they buried their dead you can see to this day the signs of the devotion to the Holy Cross, ancient crosses found in the catacombs indicate various conceptions of the early Christians. The Roman Cross, which is a transverse beam crossing a perpendicular one at a distance from the top. According to tradition this was the form of the Savior Cross, the Greek cross, has four arms of equal length. Nothing shows better how the Christian feeling leads truly to contemplate our Lord’s sufferings and death. Christians owe it to Christ to love His Cross. We see how the early Christians loved it, marked it on their monuments, keep it close to their hearts during persecution, long before it came into public use at the time of Constantine. Do we trust in the Cross and make it often the sign, and with devotion? In olden days people used to do that much more often. They used the sign of the Cross to show that what they did was for God’s sake; when they lighted a candle, it honored Christ as the Light of the World; whern they rose from bed; when they left the house to go to work; when they wrote letters, they put a cross on the top of the page. Many times did they bless themselves as an act very pleasing to God. The sign of the cross is to be made reverently and carefully during Mass. Hearing Mass is the biggest most important thing that you can do. Everywhere in the Mass the Cross is used. Not only in the beginning of the Mass, but throughout the sacrifice the priest makes the sign of the cross 1: for himself;2: over the book;3: upon the oblations(water and the wine);4: over the precious body and blood of Our Lord;5:with the Host when giving communion;6: lastly over the congregation at the last blessing. But most frequently does he make the sign of the cross after the Canon of the Mass has begun. This use of the sign of the cross is not a blessing especially after the sacred species are present on the altar. This use of the sign of the cross is a reminder that Our Lord is with us in the Mass which is Calvary all over again. Since the Mass is the mystical Calvary we must never lose sight of the importance of the Cross, even since the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the priest first raised the Victim in the manner prescribed by the Law. He then carried it from east to west, as we learn from the Jews themselves; thus made the sign of the Cross. It was by the same motion that the High priest and even the simple priests blessed the people after the sacrifice. What does Salomon do? He prays, by making the Sign of the Cross. “And Solomon,” says the sacred text: stood before the altar of the Lord, in the sight of the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward Heaven, and said:” Lord God of Israel there is no God like thee in Heaven above and on earth beneath”. The sign of the serpent in the desert was a figure of Himself. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may find life everlasting. St. John 3,15. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote about this particular subject referring to the tracing of the sign of the Cross over the oblate gifts at Mass. Is the priest blessing the consecrated species? What then is the purpose of that action? The recitation of the canon of the Mass is singled out by the signs of the cross that the priest makes, traces over the offerings. The sign of the cross it is an effect of the most important elements and without any doubt one of the most ancients of the Eucharistic action. The sacramentaries, the Gelasian, ancient one of the seventh and eight centuries indicates the four signs of the cross traced over the beginning of the canon and also other manuscripts of the twelve centuries witness all of these signs of the cross. They have not only a value for blessing or consecrating but only for commemorating the power of the cross and the manner in which Christ has ascended to His passion. It designates the Holy Victim ; the priest in the celebration of the Mass practices the signs of the Cross in order to remember, evoking the passion of Christ. And it is for this reason that the acceptance of the sacrifice and the fruit of it has its origin, in the power of the Cross. And it is for this that each time that we make mentions of these things; the priest makes the sign of the Cross. Historically we learn the example of Saint Benedict patron of the monastic life of the western civilization, the patrimony of European culture we see that the power of the Cross when proud monks became jealous of Benedict influence and exemplar sanctity and pursued to poison him. They mixed poison in the wine, and filled a glass with it, which thy presented to him, that he might bless it, according to the custom of the monastery. Benedic stretched forth his hand , made the sign of the Cross and by this sacred Sign, as by the blow of a stone, the poisoned glass was shattered into fragments. The saint understood that they had presented him the cup of death, from which, he had been preserved by the Sign of the Cross. The combat is inevitable, we are thrown into the arena not of the lions of the Martyrs but into the arena of a time of apostasy however what a powerful sign is the Cross! For us dear faithful as we could read regarding the last Gospel reading last Sundays, we learned about the Greatest commandment of the Law to love our neighbor for the sake of God. Now, Our Lord himself gave His life for those He loves, that is to say, for each one of us, the different parts of the Mass correspond to faith, hope and charity: faith in the teaching, hope in the cross. Transubstantiation signifies the cross of Jesus, which is our hope. O Crux ave, spes unica, Oh cross our only hope. There is no greater charity that the fact that Jesus become our food to our souls. What a powerful prayer is then the cross, with how many graces it enriches us, and from how many dangers it preserves our frail existence.