When broadening your knowledge about the liturgical calendar, it is useful to understand the differences between the types of celebrations that can take place.
There are three categories that the days of the liturgical calendar are separated into: Solemnities, Memorials, and Feasts.
- Solemnity: is the highest rank among the celebrations in the Catholic church. It is a day that focuses on a particular event in Jesus’ life as well as specific mysteries that are part of the Catholic faith. It is important to remember that all holy days of obligation are solemnities, but not all solemnities are holy days of obligation.
- Memorial: is the proper term used for the days that remember the lives of a specific Saint. Memorials can be obligatory and celebrated universally or optional and celebrated at the discretion of the priest.
- Feast: is the celebration of special Saints, typically an Apostle, but they can also commemorate important details or events that happened in Christian history.
A Little Bit About the Feast of the Holy Cross
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on September 14th, is a Feast day set aside to remember the Cross upon which Jesus died for us. It is also a day to honor how Jesus was able to transform what the cross stood for. In Roman times, crosses were seen as a torture device and represented death. Jesus choosing to die on a cross shifted the perspective of his followers and made the cross into a symbol of salvation.
September 14th was chosen for this Feast day because historically this is the date that Saint Helena found Jesus’ true cross in 326 A.D. when her son was building the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Since then the cross has become a central image of Christian belief.
Venerating the Cross
A unique part of our Catholic faith, and the cross itself, is the tradition of veneration. Growing up, I knew that Good Friday was a solemn day, especially between noon and 3 pm, but we did not regularly attend the offerings that our church had.
That changed significantly the year my husband entered the church. He wanted to experience Holy Week to the fullest the year he became Catholic, so we tried to attend as many of the Holy Week activities as we could.
If you have not had the opportunity to attend a Good Friday service that includes venerating the cross, I would highly encourage you to do so. Being able to come forward and show your affection for how Jesus died, either by kissing or touching the cross, is incredibly moving.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross gives us another opportunity to venerate the cross, either at church or at home.
Bringing it Home
When we could not attend Mass publicly in 2020, my husband constructed a simple cross for us to have at home that we used for veneration. Our family will include this as part of our evening prayer routine and allow each family member to kneel at the foot of the cross and then come forward to either touch or kiss the cross. This offers each of us this time to reflect just how important Jesus dying on the cross truly is.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross Inspired Dinner
Another way we observe the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is by preparing a dinner that can be paired with a cross-shaped breadstick. Typically this means a simple pasta so that we can focus our time on making the breadsticks.
We have found that when making breadsticks at home it is easiest to use some form of pizza dough. We have tried lots of different techniques or recipes over the years from store-bought dough to using a can from Pillsbury. No matter what kind of pizza dough you choose to use, the steps are the same.
- Roll out the dough and then cut strips into two desired lengths. We usually make replicas of a Latin cross, in which the descending arm is the longest and the horizontal arms are the same size. Especially for today’s Feast, we want a cross that models the cross Jesus died on.
- Once you have your strips of dough cut, bring the pieces together by pressing the horizontal arms on top of the vertical or descending arm.
- Depending on the type of pasta you are making, you will need to decide if you want the cross breadsticks plain or with some flavoring. We tend to add melted butter, Parmesan cheese, and some herbs to make the breadsticks almost like garlic bread.
- Once you have made your decisions, bake the dough in the oven either on a cookie sheet or a pizza stone.
This is a fun activity because the kids always love making their own personal cross and you know they’re sure to eat their creation! Enjoy the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross this year and remember that because of Jesus’ Cross, he has redeemed the world.
If you are looking for more ways to bring the rich traditions of the Catholic Church's liturgical year into your family life, be sure to check out the Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney (you can find it here with our other selection of books). If you have no idea what the liturgical year is, but want to bring your faith home from Sunday Mass—in every season, all year long—this is the book for you. These are a best seller and I know you'll love it.