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Dear Father Angelo,

First of all, best wishes for the holy Easter. I would like to know the reason why in the celebration of Good Friday, at the Veneration of the Cross, the priest takes off his shoes and chasuble and makes three genuflections before kissing the Cross.

Awaiting your reply, I thank you.


Priest’s answer

Dear Alba,

I am replying to you on 17th April 2017 hoping that my answer will be published before Good Friday 2018.

I will answer with a bright page of a great liturgist Benedictine Abbot Dom Prosper Gueranger.
I premise that the rites which Gueranger commented on are not totally identical to those of the current Roman liturgy, where for example it is not required that the priest takes off his shoes.

2. Gueranger’s passage that I will present here can be a good preparation for the liturgy on Good Friday.
Moreover it is not excluded that someone may be inspired by this to accompany some of these rites with a brief illustration such as the progressive unveiling of the cross that on Good Friday is presented to the celebrant covered with a veil.

3. This is therefore what Dom Gueranger, abbot of Solesmes who lived between 1085 and 1875, writes.

Veneration of the holy cross

“1. After these general prayers (that is the great prayer of believers, which follows the reading of the Passion of the Lord and the homily, Editor’s Note) and God’s plea for the conversion of the Gentiles, the Church in her charity, has reached pretty much all the inhabitants of the earth and has urged the shedding of the divine blood upon them all, which presently flows from the veins of the Divine Man.

Once again She is now turning to her Christian children and, grieving for the humiliations of the Lord, She urges them to lighten the burden by paying tributes to the Cross, which until now has been considered as wicked but it is instead holy at present; that Cross with which He heads toward the Calvary and whose arms supports Him today.

She is a stumbling block to Jews; foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1,23). However, we Christians worship the trophy of Christ’s victory through her as well as the august instrument of salvation of all people.

So the time has come for her to receive our worship, for the honor the Son of God paid her by watering her with his blood and by associating her to the work of our reparation.
There is no better day nor time of the whole year to tribute her with our duties.

2. The worship of the Cross began in Jerusalem back in the fourth century.
Once the real Cross was found through diligent investigation by Empress Santa Elena, the faithful people aspired to contemplate now and then the tree of life, whose miraculous invention (discovery, Editor’s Note) had filled with joy the whole Church.
Thus it was decided that the Cross would be displayed for veneration once a year, on the Good Friday. The desire to see her led an immense crowd of pilgrims to flock to Jerusalem every year for the holy week.
The fame of this ceremony spread out everywhere; however, not everyone could contemplate her, not even for once in a life.

Then the Catholic piety decided to at least consacrate, through an imitation, the real ceremony which the majority of people could not attend; around the VII century it was established to repeat in all churches, on the Good Friday, the exposition and veneration of the Cross, like it happened in Jerusalem.
There was indeed no real Cross. However, since the tributes paid to the holy wood were referred to Christ himself, believers could anyway pay identical homage to it, being unable to have the real wood that the Redeemer watered with his own blood.

This is the goal of the institution of the ritual the Church performs in our presence, which She invites all of us to take part in. 

3. The celebrant places the cope on the altar and remains sitting on his seat.
The deacon with his acolytes goes to the sacristy and comes out of it in procession with the cross.

As they reach the church, the celebrant receives the cross from the hands of the deacon, then he heads towards the epistle side. Once there, while standing down the steps and facing the people, he uncovers the upper part of the cross singing with a normal voice tone:

This is the wood of the Cross…

And he goes on, supported by the ministers singing along with him:

… to which the salvation of the world was hanging from

Then the assistant, while standing upright, starts singing:

Come, let us adore!

After that, everyone kneels down and silently adores for a moment.

4. This first exposition represents the first preaching of the Cross among the apostles. This dates back to the time when they could not speak out about the divine mystery of redemption but with Jesus’ disciples, since they had not received the Holy Spirit yet and were afraid of arousing the attention of the Jews.

In order to reproduce that, the priest lifts the Cross just a little bit.

The offering of this first homage is a reparation of the outrages that our Saviour received in the house of Caifa, where he was slapped by a soldier.

5. So the celebrant gets on the predella of the altar, as always on the right side of the epistle, so that the people can see him better.
The ministers help him uncover the right arm of the Cross and after revealing this part, he shows again the instrument of salvation, by lifting it more. He then sings louder 

This is the wood of the Cross…

The Deacon and Subdeacon go on singing with him:

… to which the salvation of the world was hanging from
All present sing:

Come, let us adore!

Afterwards, they kneel down and worship in silence.

This second exposition, which is performed more manifestly than the first, represents the preaching of the mystery of the Cross to the Jews, when after the descent of the Holy Spirit the apostles laid the foundations of the Church into the bosom of the Synagogue bringing the firstfruits of Israel to the feet of the Redeemer.

The holy Church offers this as reparation of the outrages that the Saviour received in the Praetorium of Pilate, where he was scourged and crowned with thorns.

6. The celebrant thereafter reaches the middle of the altar, always remaining in front of the people; while uncovering the left arm of the cross with the help of the Deacon and Subdeacon, he fully exposes it and while lifting it higher he sings much louder and almost triumphantly:

This is the wood of the Cross…

And along with the ministers he goes on:

… to which the salvation of the world was hanging from

Once again the faithful sing:

Come, let us adore!

Afterwards, they kneel down and adore in silence.

This last exposition represents the preaching of the mystery of the Cross all over the world, when the apostles, who had been kicked out of the totality of the Jewish community, turned towards the Gentiles and started preaching the crucified God beyond the borders of the Roman empire.

The third deference to the Cross is offered as reparation of the outrages that the Saviour received on Calvary, when he was derided by his enemies.

7. By first showing us the Cross covered with a veil that later disappears, thus helping us contemplate the divine trophy of our Redemption, the holy Church also wants to represent the blindness of the Jewish people who just see this adorable wood as an instrument of ignominy. Instead, the dazzling light the Christian people enjoy, to whom faith reveals that the Son of God is, far from being subject of scandal, symbolizes an eternal monument of “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1,24).

Now the Cross, so solemnly hoisted, will no longer remain covered; so unveiled, it will await on the altar the hour of the glorious resurrection of the Messiah. Also all other images of the Cross standing on the several altars will be uncovered, in imitation of the one that will take its place of honour on the high altar.

8. However, the holy Church at that moment does not limit itself to display to the faithful the Cross that saved them; it also invites them to respectfully approach their lips to the holy wood.

The celebrant precedes them and everyone will come after him.

Not content with laying the chasuble, he also takes off his shoes and only after genuflecting for three times he approaches the Cross that lies on the steps of the altar. The Deacon and Subdeacon, then the clergy and finally the lay people move forward after him.

9. The chants that accompany the veneration of the Cross are extraordinarily beautiful. Firstly, you intone the Improperia that are reprimands that the Messiah addresses to the Jews. The first three stanzas of this Hymn are alternated with the chant Trisagio, the prayer to the God that is three times a saint, whose immortality deserves to be glorified as He condescends to suffer death for us as a man.

This threefold glorification that has been in use at Constantinople since the V century, was inherited by the Roman Church which preserved it in the primitive language and decided to alternate the Latin translation of words.

The continuation of this amazing chant is of the highest dramatic interest: Christ remembers all shameful deeds He endured from the Jewish people and highlights all benefits He bestowed on the ungrateful nation.  

10. If the veneration of the Cross is not over yet, you move on to intoning the renowned hymn Crux Fidelis, composed by Venanzio Fortunato, bishop of Poitiers, in the V century, in honour of the holy tree of our Redemption. Some lines of one stanza serve as a refrain to all stanzas of the hymn.

Once the veneration of the Cross is over, after the faithful have paid respects to it, the Celebrant places it on the altar: at this point the fourth part of the liturgy can start”.

You should have read these writings by Gueranger as they help you understand the Church rites and can trigger in our hearts the same sentiment that generation after generation has molded our brothers in faith.
I wish you well, I remind you to the Lord and bless you.

Father Angelo