For Your Convenience: 2017 Holy Week Schedule:
Here we are: it is Holy Week again, the Catholic Church’s Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and World Series all put into one week!
Please take advantage of this holiest and most important of weeks in all Christianity.
On Monday at 5:30pm at the Cathedral, our diocese will have its Chrism Mass. This is where all the priests gather with the Bishop to bless the holy oils that are to be used in the sacraments for the coming year.
Holy Thursday liturgy begins at 7:00 PM and includes the Altar of Repose following Mass. The church will be open until 10:00.
The most solemn of days is Good Friday with the liturgy at St. John’s being at 1pm and Stations of the Cross at St. Joseph’s at 6pm. Good Friday is also a day of fasting which means one or two small meals and one normal sized meal and no eating in between.
The most important liturgy of the week and the year for Christians is the Easter Vigil which will be at 8pm Saturday night at St. Johns.
On Easter Sunday we will have our regular Sunday Mass times of 7:30 & 10:30am at St. John’s and 9:00am at St. Joseph’s.
I encourage you not to let this week pass by; do not make this week like any normal week because it isn’t like a normal week. Do what you can to come to these liturgies and it will make Lent come to it’s appropriate end, and Easter will be more meaningful for you. (Fr. Rich)
If You Skip Holy Week Liturgies, You’re Truly Missing Out
For a long time I referred to Easter Monday (the day after Easter) as my favorite day of the whole year. When asked why, my tongue-in-cheek answer was always, “Because it is the farthest away from Holy Week.”
At the risk of sound scandalous I used to say that all the time because I was so stressed by the Holy Week schedule. The Catholic liturgy for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil is a very different animal from all the other liturgies of the year, and for a long time I really had to re-learn what the heck I was doing for these important days of commemoration.
Now that I have several years under my belt, I have gotten to the point where I really get into Holy Week and the Triduum celebrations. They really are the most beautiful thing the Catholic Church does in its liturgy, and if you don’t normally make it a habit to go to your parish for these days, you are truly missing out.
Holy Week has been known by other names throughout history. It has been called “Major Week,” “Greater Week,” “Passion Week,” “Paschal Week,” “Authentic Week” and also “Painful Week.” All of them are accurate titles, but “Holy Week” captures them all.
As can be figured by the name, it is the holiest time of the year for all Christians, and for the Catholic Church the three days of the Triduum (which literally means “three days”) act as one single liturgy.
This is why at the end of the Holy Thursday Mass there is no final blessing and dismissal and why Good Friday is technically not a Mass but a threefold liturgy of the Word, Adoration of the Cross and Eucharist, again with no dismissal.
And then of course the supreme day and liturgy is the Easter Vigil, taking place after dark, the day on which new members are added to the church by baptism and confirmations.
Interestingly the early church believed that the second coming of Christ would happen on the evening of the Easter Vigil, and who knows? It could still happen.
One of the “apologetics”-type questions I have been asked over the years has to do with the three days Christ was in the tomb.
The questioner will ask, “How do we figure it to be three days when we commemorate his death on Friday and then on Saturday night we celebrate his resurrection? It seems more like 30 hours than it does three days.”
Liturgically speaking, the Catholic Church has adopted the ancient Jewish concept of the day. According to the Jewish concept, a day does not start at midnight, it starts at sundown. This is why since the second Vatican Council we have had vigil Masses on Saturday evenings that count for the Sunday Mass. Ask any old-timers and they will tell you there was no such thing as a Saturday evening Mass when they were growing up.
So going back to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, he was buried on Good Friday soon after he died, he remained in the tomb Saturday, and after sundown on Saturday it was officially Sunday, the first day of the week. This accounts for the three days and for why the Easter Vigil starts late, to make time for the third day and allow for the darkness, which is washed away by the light of the Paschal Candle and individual candles that we each hold during this most solemn celebration.
Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday, which is April 9th this year. I always try to cajole you, my parishioners, to go to as many of the Holy Week liturgies as possible.
As I mentioned above, if you don’t traditionally make it a habit of taking advantage of Holy Week, you really do not know what you are missing. Easter has so much greater meaning for us personally when we do Holy Week right.
Come to our parishes and enter into these beautiful celebrations that have no parallel. I do not think you will regret it. —Father Rich
A Commentary about the Relic of the True Cross, from the Papal Artifacts’ Collection:
The spirituality of the Popes, just like the rest of us, will take different forms. And some Popes have been really engrossed in things, such as relics. And this artifact is a relic of the True Cross of Christ owned by Pope Clement XI. He was Pope from 1700-1721, just to give you an idea of the time we are referring to.
Of course there are a lot of spurious relics of the True Cross out there. But I’m totally convinced that St. Helena brought back the original true cross. The mother of Constantine traveled to the Holy Land and found the True Cross, and she brought it back to Rome. However, over time, a lot of people have produced fake relics of the cross and pawned them off as real.
The best bet we have of authenticating this one, as a relic of the true cross, is that it was actually owned by the Pope, and he actually prayed with it.
And so what we have here is a relic of the true cross. It’s in a silver case, a very nice silver case. On one side it says, in Latin, “Lignum S. S. Crucis”, meaning it is a portion of the True Cross.
On the other side it has an image of the Pope’s coat of arms, and the date, 1703. And then when you open it up, there is a beautiful crystal cross that is sewn together with gold threading and small slivers of the cross are on the inside.
It’s just a beautiful item. And the fact that it was owned by one of the Holy Fathers makes it quite unique as well.
The fact is that this relic is so sacred and important to our spirituality and to who we are as Christians. It makes me not want to leave it in a box somewhere, so I have often used it for catechesis.
I keep this close to myself to use for my own prayer life. It’s a way of having that connection to Christ crucified. Obviously, but also, it’s another way of being connected to a pope who was also praying with it.
So it’s a very unique piece that I personally used in my own spirituality, and it is one of these humbling things to have one of these.
If there’s a relic of the True Cross that’s authentic, then this one is with the highest level of certitude, because the Pope owned it. It’s a very beautiful item and very precious.
The Vatican is the organization that has the care of the true cross that came from St. Helen, mother of Constantine, in the 4th century. So the Vatican always had a portion of the true cross.
The fact that this was owned by the Pope with the reliquary in his own personal possession lends credence to the authenticity of this item. — Father Rich
Duluth’s Catholic schools are unifying into one citywide school with multiple campuses under the new name beginning next school year. Stella Maris is a name for Mary meaning “Star of the Sea.” According to the diocese, “star of the sea” has a special significance to Duluth residents and emphasizes Mary’s role as a sign of hope and a guiding star for Christians.
Bishop Paul Sirba considered more than 20 names submitted by students, parents, staff and clergy. He decided on the name after spending time at each of the campuses and local parishes, according to the diocese.
“After careful consideration and prayer, like St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, I trusted the Lord to help us choose from between two beautiful names, the providential one to share with our school community,” Sirba said in a statement. “The choice places the school under the patronage of Stella Maris and speaks to our legacy of academic excellence and commitment to preparing lifelong learners who lead, love and serve as Jesus taught. This process overall will bring vitality and stability for the next generations.”
Students and families will have input in the colors and mascot as the new school identity is formed, according to the diocese. The plan calls for St. James Catholic School to become the western campus for elementary and middle school students, Holy Rosary School to become the eastern campus elementary school and St. John’s School to become the eastern campus for middle school and a new high school. St. Michael’s Lakeside School is slated to close.
Here is a link to St. John’s School’s website with more information about registering your child for the Fall semester:
And here is another look at the beautiful children at the St. John’s campus:
Here is a challenge to members of St. John’s Parish. When is the last time you have gone to Mass at our sister parish of St. Joseph’s in Gnesen? Although I rarely speak of St. Joseph’s in the context of my bulletin ramblings, it is well worth the drive to go to Mass there.
After the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960’s, many of our beautiful Catholic parishes were raped of what made them beautiful. In many churches the statues were taken out and the worst of it was that most of them had their high altars taken out as well, but that did not happen at St. Joseph’s. Though it’s a small church, it retains all the charm of an old country church, and I love going there to do Mass.
All the former pastors have told me the same. In my many conversations with past priests they all loved the opportunity of going to Gnesen for Mass not only because of it being a beautiful little church, but also because of the strong and healthy community that worships there.
It is also the oldest Catholic Church in the city of Duluth!
An added plus is that if I am the priest out there the weekend you go, Mass tends to be brief because I have to break the speed laws to get back to St. John’s in time for the 10:30 Mass!
On a completely unrelated note, I want you to know of two additional times we will be having for confessions this week. I will be in the “sin bin” this Wednesday and Thursday, April 5th & 6th, from 6:00- 7:30 pm.
Lent is a proper time to go to confession and we all need it, so please keep me busy for those times. (Fr. Rich)
Click on these photos to view larger images:
Junno Arocho Estevev
March 30, 2017
Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot Pope John Paul at close range as the pope was greeting a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.
Two bullets pierced the pope’s abdomen, but no major organs were struck; a bullet had missed his heart and aorta by a few inches.
St. John Paul would later say, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.”
That miracle, the cardinal said, is key in “understanding well Pope John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”
Given the date of the assassination attempt, the pope specifically credited Our Lady of Fatima with his miraculous survival and recovery. Several months later, he visited the site of the apparitions, the first of three visits he would make as pope to Fatima.
For St. John Paul, Martins said, “Our Lady of Fatima was everything,” and his three visits to the Portuguese town were those of a grateful son to the mother who saved his life.
“I still remember – I’ll never forget it – when he arrived at the little chapel of the apparitions where (the statue of) Our Lady of Fatima was,” Martins recalled.
St. John Paul was holding one of the bullets that had struck him and slowly approached the statue, finally placing the bullet in her crown, he said. “It is still in the crown today. I witnessed these gestures, how he expressed his devotion to Our Lady. He would just walk closer and closer to Our Lady and would repeat: ‘You saved me, you saved me.’”
As the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes from 1998 to 2008, Martins also oversaw the process leading to the beatification by St. John Paul of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three young shepherd children, who saw Mary at Fatima.
The cardinal also shared a personal friendship with the third seer, Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005.
It was Martins who, two years after Lucia’s death, urged Pope Benedict XVI to waive the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could be opened.
“The pope was very kind. He said, ‘Yes, you know more about this than I do. We will do as you say,’” the cardinal recalled.
Pope Benedict, the cardinal added, was a “great devotee” of Our Lady of Fatima, even before his election to the papacy.
Interviewed in his apartment near St. Peter’s Square, Martins grabbed a copy of part of the interview then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did in 1985 with Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist.
“Before becoming pope, he said: ‘A stern warning has been launched from that place … a summons to the seriousness of life, of history, to the perils that threaten humanity,’” the cardinal read.
The special papal bond with Our Lady of Fatima continues today with Pope Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a frequent visitor to a shrine in the Argentine city devoted to her, Martins said.
Pope Francis will visit Fatima May 12-13 to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.
The cardinal recalled Pope Francis’s “beautiful” words to Portuguese-speaking pilgrims on May 13, 2015, the 98th anniversary of the apparition: “Entrust to her all that you are, all that you have, and in that way you will be able to become an instrument of the mercy and tenderness of God to your family, neighbors and friends.”
“This an example of the words of Pope Francis, so he is a great devotee of Fatima,” the cardinal said. “And for this reason, he will go to Fatima. For him, it will be an extraordinary day in which he will fulfill this great desire that has been expressed in so many ways.”
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is emblematic of the popes of the last century who have “always recognized” the relevance of Mary’s message, particularly its emphasis on faith, conversion, hope and peace, the cardinal said.
“Today we need faith, to be closer to God and our brothers and sisters – not hate each other – we need hope and we need peace,” Martins said. “In short, the message of Fatima given 100 years ago is of extreme relevance.”
On his path to becoming Pope Francis, Father Jorge Bergoglio pursues his religious vocation in a country ravaged by a brutal military dictatorship.
We invite you to watch this film/not documentary, but probably accurate depiction of the military background from which our Holy Father came to us.
Not at all different than Pope St. John Paul II, coming from Nazism and Communism, Jorge Bergoglio emerged from the horrors of war that caught him watching the deaths of priests, nuns and lay people dedicated to the most vulnerable of Argentina’s people, the poor. While we don’t have reviews on this 4 part series, we have our own reviews to assure you that if you have access to Net Flix, do yourselves a favor, and watch this series. It will endear you to our Holy Father.
Call Me Francis
Call Me Francis, is a 4 part biographical miniseries that chronicles Pope Francis’ life, his controversial political leanings, his remarkable humanitarian work and his ascent to Papacy starring Rodrigo de la Serna, Mercedes Morán and Muriel Santa Ana.
The miniseries opens with Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s early years in Buenos Aires in the 1960’s and depicts his journey through the height of Argentina’s “Dirty Wars” during the 70’s and 80’s, culminating in his appointment as Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pope in history, in 2013.
Call Me Francis is a Taodue production, co-created by Daniele Luchetti and Martin Salinas, and produced by Pietro Valsecchi.
THIS IS A MOVEABLE FEAST
An autographed blessing signed by Pius XI. It is a hand-colored photo of him sitting at his desk. It is in an ornate frame that has cross keys and a tiara as part of the frame itself.
If you are unaware of this avocation of our pastor, I’d invite you to peruse his Collection to study, to browse, to enjoy the Collection to which he has devoted himself for the purpose of education, primarily. Father Rich believes you cannot love what you do not know. This Collection might help you to love and know our Church.
Visit Father Rich’s incredible Collection of Papal Artifacts. Here is a link to his Collection:
About the Commentary:
89-year-old Encyclical Holds Key Lessons for Us Today
Encyclicals are letters of high importance. Traditionally issued by any bishop, in recent times they have become an exclusive activity of the Bishop of Rome.
They are generally written to the entire church, and often a pope’s first encyclical will give a pretty clear indication where and how he wants to lead the church. As of this writing, Pope Francis has written one encyclical. Pope Benedict XVI wrote three, and Pope St. John Paul II wrote 14, but the pope with the most is Leo XIII (1878-1903), who wrote 85!
Often the letters are beautifully written and really speak to the issues of the day, but sometimes it is worthwhile to go back in history and see what some popes in the past have written and how prophetic these writings can actually be.
One encyclical that is particularly pertinent for today was written 89 years ago by Pope Pius XI (1922-1939). His encyclical Quas Primus (Latin for “In the first”) is pertinent for the month of November because with it, Pius established the liturgical feast day known as Christ the King, which almost always falls in November, because it is celebrated the last Sunday of ordinary time, right before Advent begins.
But Quas Primus is significant to much more than just this month. One would think in reading this encyclical that Pope Francis wrote it just yesterday. It is an amazing read!
The encyclical addressed what Pope Pius saw as a growing secularism in the world. Given that he wrote it in 1925, he probably wouldn’t even know where to start today.
He wrote that Christ needs to be king in every aspect of life: over persons, families, institutions, the state and even the whole universe. In reading this incredible letter, two quotes in particular stand out as extraordinarily appropriate for today.
Pius wrote, “While nations insult the beloved name of our redeemer by suppressing all mention of him in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity.”
Read that a couple times and think about it. We cannot say “Merry Christmas” because it is offensive. We can only have “holiday trees” on public property. The 10 Commandment monuments that once were all over the country are being stripped from any government building. Most public schools in the country are no longer starting their school day with the “Pledge of Allegiance” because the words “one nation under God” are included. And heaven forbid that the government allow prayer in any school activity, whether it be sports or graduation ceremonies. And in recent years there has been a growing call to remove “in God we trust” from our coinage.
A second quote worth addressing from Quas Primus should hit a little closer to home, because Pius gives the reasons we got this way: “This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks.”
I would have to say that, second only to pornography, the most confessed sin I have heard in general terms is the times people are too timid to speak up for the church when she is being mocked or attacked by friends, family and co-workers. People are afraid to get into any conflict in defending the church. They do not want to speak out, choosing to keep silent.
This is certainly not only an issue for laypeople. We priests, I think, are even more timid in preaching on tough subjects what the church holds to be true. So often our own parishioners are at odds with the church on the “hot button” issues like homosexual marriage, abortion and artificial contraception, to name a few, so we priests do not want to preach about these issues. We are so often, as Pope Pius XI said, good people, but timid.
I am not condemning my brother priests, because I am one of them. It takes a great amount of courage to get up in front of everyone and tell them the truth when it is very unpopular, but we need to have courage.
I am not sure that even one percent of the Catholic population reads the pope’s encyclicals when they are published, but we certainly should. And I would even encourage you to go back in time to see some of the past encyclicals. Some of them are as pertinent today as they were the day they were written.
Christ the King, be king over us today and always!
–Father Richard Kunst
- Fr. Dwight Longenecker
November 11, 2016
There is a real risk that disillusionment will follow the expectations invested in Donald Trump by pro-lifers: if ever he can deliver — and he has promised little — it will be slow getting there. So here are 10 ways of nurturing a true pro-life culture in the meantime.
Donald Trump campaigned as the pro-life candidate while Hillary Clinton not only supported Planned Parenthood but was also unapologetic about allowing late-term abortions. While many Catholics considered Trump unqualified and undesirable, they thought Clinton’s pro-abortion position even worse.
Yet while Trump trumpeted his pro-life position, he never said he would try to outlaw abortion.
We should be realistic. It is unlikely that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal for states to prevent abortions, will be overturned any time soon. Abortion is a terrible crime; but the pro-life cause is about more than outlawing abortion.
Of course, those engaged in attempts to overturn abortion laws should not give up the fight. But while the national battle against abortion is going on, there are ten positive things that ordinary people can do to advance the broader pro-life cause.
- Education. We must continue to share with the world not just an anti-abortion message, but the whole Catholic pro-life message. This includes positive and pro-active education about the Theology of the Body, the dignity of every human person from womb to tomb, and the deep and beautiful message of fully integrated, chaste and positive human sexuality. This education must be in our homes, our schools, our parishes and our world. Only as we understand the full meaning and dignity of the human person will we understand why abortion is so evil.
- Personal Chastity. Abortion ends an unwanted pregnancy and unwanted pregnancies are most often the result of sexual promiscuity. Each of us has a responsibility to pursue chastity in our own lives. We should be ruthless with ourselves when rooting out every trace of unchaste behavior. We must pray for the grace to embrace chastity in marriage, chastity in families. Chastity for single people. Chastity for married people. This chastity will not be weak and sterile, but full of an integrated and mature masculinity and femininity-abundant in life and combining purity and power. Pornography must not be tolerated. Adultery and co-habitation cannot be tolerated. Not out of negativity and condemnation, but because they are the enemies of the chastity and purity that conquered the world.
- Support Women. Pro-abortion people like to say, “You pro-lifers only care about the fetus. You don’t care about poor women in crisis pregnancies.” This is, of course, totally untrue. There is a wide range of women centers that offer help, but we must support them and expand their services. The pro-life movement must be even more visibly pro-women. We must be active in compassionate and positive support, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty in service of those women who choose life
- Supporting Children. The pro-life cause does not end at the gates of the abortion clinic. We need to love children and put our money where our mouth is. We need to support good Catholic schools and day care. We need to fund youth workers and positive activities for children. We need to provide excellent care for children who are needy, sick, abandoned and abused. If we are pro-life, then we love children from the moment of conception through to adulthood. Children are expensive, but there is nothing better in which to invest than our children.
- The Adoption Option. I once met a Baptist couple who had just adopted a severely disabled child. They said, “Father, in South Carolina there are about ten thousand children who need adoption or fostering. There are about ten thousand Baptist churches in South Carolina. What if each church adopted or fostered just one child?” If we have courageous families in our parishes who have adopted or fostered we need to support them, helping others to step up and make the choice to adopt. Adoption is often financially prohibitive. We need to pressure politicians to provide funding to take care of the legal fees to make adoption easy, safe and affordable, and extra tax breaks should be offered to families who foster and adopt.
- Contraception and Sterilization?If you say you are pro-life, why do you continue to use artificial contraception? If you say you are pro-life, why do you consider sterilization? If you are pro-life be pro-life. Avoid the contraceptive culture of death. Children are a blessing. I know so many couples who, when times were difficult and they could see no way forward, chose sterilization. They regretted it afterward. The most common complaint is “We can’t afford another child.” Really?
- Lobby Locally. We may not be able to overturn Roe v. Wade anytime soon, but there are plenty of good efforts at the state and local level that seek to restrict and control abortion. We should lobby our local politicians about this and about legislation that supports women in crisis pregnancies, supports adoption, supports families who choose to adopt. Maybe we are called ourselves to enter the political arena and stand for public office. Why not?
- Campaign and Give. March for Life, Forty Days for Life, Life Chain-all these keep the abortion issue alive and in front of people. Make sure you take a stand in the protest movement against abortion, but also in favor of life in all its abundance. The pro-life movement requires funding. Give generously to the pro-life charity of your choice and stay involved, both financially and prayerfully.
- Be a Happy Warrior. The pro-life movement must continue to be joyful, confident, young and strong. Do not be discouraged, but continue to support life with joy and confidence. Sour faces, angry protests, gruesome videos and violence are never the way. Think of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was not angry and violent in the face of evil. She reacted with confident joy and the power of purity.
- Have Faith. Sometimes we tend to despair and think the battle will never be won. Do not despair. Fear not. Truth will always triumph. Goodness will always prevail. Life will always win. Remember history. The battle has always been grim and the forces of evil do not sleep. Take heart. Have faith. Work hard. Pray more. Be joyful and be blessed.
Here is a link to the fairly new on-line Catholic magazine of which John Allen is the editor:
As anyone who has ever accompanied Fr. Rich on a tour can tell you, you couldn’t have a better experience than to travel with him. Here is your opportunity to go on pilgrimage to the sites where our faith began.
Other than Rome, my favorite place to visit is Israel. Every four to five years I host a tour of the Holy Land, because I think it is an important opportunity for people to visit the places our Savior lived and died.
My love affair with the Holy Land grew out of my time in the seminary when I spent six months in Israel studying the scriptures. I am embarrassed to say that before that experience my scripture classes were about my least favorite subject to take in seminary. After the time I spent in Israel the opposite was true. Studying the Scriptures came to life and I took as many classes as I possibly could.
Once again on February 13-23, I will be bringing a group of people to the Holy Land. This trip will be open to the public and will be advertised widely, but here in our parishes first. I am deliberately choosing February, because that is when the prices are lowest. and also because it is right before we enter into the season of Lent, which is a great way to start that sacred season.
The single most misunderstood aspect of visiting the Holy Land is that people think it is dangerous; the opposite is true. In fact, I would say it is safer to travel to Israel than it is to just about anywhere because the security is over the top. I would feel much more secure in Israel than I would walking downtown on First Street. So if security reasons have prevented you in the past from going to the Holy Land, you can honestly put that to rest. It is as safe as any place you will visit because of the immense security.
If going to the Holy Land has been on your bucket list, contact the office for a brochure. I would love to have as many parishioners as possible.—Father Rich
Here is a link to more information about the Holy Land from FR James Martin, author of FR Rich’s latest favorite book, Jesus, A Pilgrimage:
This weekend, Saturday, October 22nd, is the feast day of my favorite saint Pope John Paul II. I have long been fascinated by the lives of the saints all the way back to high school, and I remember even years ago saying that as soon as John Paul II dies he will automatically be my favorite saint.
The influence he has had in my life is hard to measure, and that is from before I had the opportunity to meet him, which I did on seven different occasions. If it were not for his example, I am not sure I would be a priest today. He made that much of an impact on me.
He was the preeminent priest role model for my generation. I remember when I was in the seminary one of the priests on staff made the comment that if a novelist tried to invent the character of John Paul II, it wouldn’t be believable. His story growing up under Nazi occupation and then Communist rule through most of his life, only to be thrust into the papacy, followed by having one of the most instrumental roles in bringing the Iron Curtain down without the shedding of blood: his life is almost beyond believable.
In the case of this great saint, we certainly see God inspiring the right person at the right time in history for his greater purposes.
St. John Paul II, pray for us. –Father Rich
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the site in Jerusalem that is built over the site of the crucifixion. Please read Fr. Rich’s commentary about this ancient chruch.
In Search of the True Cross of Christ: A Commentary by Father Richard Kunst
If you have ever had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, you have probably visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a beautiful and ancient church that is built over the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Believe it or not, this same church is claimed to have been the tomb of Adam, who, according to tradition, was buried below where the crucifixion took place. This is why so many old crucifixes have a skull and crossbones below Jesus’ feet. According to the ancient tradition, some of Christ’s blood seeped into the ground and touched Adam’s skull, bringing the old Adam to life briefly with the blood of the new Adam.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is also associated with another historical event. On the lowest level of this ancient church is a chapel dedicated to St. Helena, mother of Constantine.
This unique chapel is clearly in what was an ancient stone mining area, and the claim is that it’s the site where the saint discovered the true cross on which Christ was crucified. Sept. 14 is the feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross, also known as The Triumph of the Cross. It is the anniversary of St. Helena’s finding the cross of Jesus in the area of this humble little chapel in the bowels of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The accounts of St. Helena’s finding of the cross do differ in some details, but the basic outline says that when her son the emperor made Christianity legal, she went to the Holy Land to look for relics associated with the life of Christ. Apparently the Jews had torn down the original site on the spot of the current church and buried it with a mound of dirt and rocks.
During the digging, three crosses were found with no markings that showed one of them to be the cross of Christ. So the bishop of Jerusalem, a man named Macarius, claimed to have heard from God that they were to bring the three crosses to the bedside of a woman who was at the point of death and touch the crosses to her body. The third cross cured her. By means of this miracle, the saint determined that the cross that cured the woman was indeed the true cross Jesus died on.
From there St. Helena took the true cross (along with other relics she found) back to Rome, where a church was built to house them. To this day you can go to Rome and visit the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and see the relics St. Helena collected.
Since that time, the church has often distributed small slivers of the cross that St. Helena found to monasteries, bishops, royalty and others for the devotion of the faithful. But over time it seemed as though so many of these relics were distributed that, as the 16th century humanist Erasmus said, “if all the fragments were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.”
That comment from Erasmus was the impetus for an investigation of the known relics by a 19th-century French scholar named Charles de Fluery. De Fluery was determined to discover exactly how much of the supposed true cross really was distributed. De Fluery’s findings were surprising for even the most ardent supporters of the relics.
He calculated the entire cross to weigh approximately 220 pounds and have a volume of 10,900 cubic inches. After exhaustive research and travel to all the known shrines that claimed relics of the cross, his findings were that the total volume that he had measured came to 240 cubic inches. Surprised himself by this finding, he estimated quite liberally that the smaller fragments in private hands were 10 times the known larger fragments, coming to the figure of 2,400 cubic inches, which was less than 20 percent the estimated size of the cross Jesus would have been crucified on. De Fluery came to the tested conclusion that the surviving fragments of the true cross could not possibly be large enough in volume to crucify a man on.
All this being said, there is still room for some valid skepticism. No doubt there are a lot of spurious relics out there that are a cause of skepticism. Like any relic, relics of the true cross need to have valid documentation before they can be venerated in a public setting. Perhaps we should take President Ronald Reagan’s advice to “trust but verify” when it comes to relics claiming to be from the true cross of Christ.
Still, these relics are meant to move us more towards faith than skepticism. So if you see one of these purported relics, it is better to pray than to doubt.
Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the second-century Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.
The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”
To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.
The cross is today the universal image of Christian belief. Countless generations of artists have turned it into a thing of beauty to be carried in procession or worn as jewelry. To the eyes of the first Christians, it had no beauty. It stood outside too many city walls, decorated only with decaying corpses, as a threat to anyone who defied Rome’s authority—including Christians who refused sacrifice to Roman gods. Although believers spoke of the cross as the instrument of salvation, it seldom appeared in Christian art unless disguised as an anchor or the Chi-Rho until after Constantine’s edict of toleration. —Father Richard Kunst