Of Fridays, Motu Proprios, Pesto and The Cross

In England, where I am as I write, the bishops have asked Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays.  It may be the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, but it is Friday.  Festive penance is in order.  Or, if you prefer, penitential festivity.

A fine meal for a Friday with a feast such as the Exaltation of the Cross, and the 5th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum going into force could involve … pesto.

I repost this from a couple years back:

The aromatic herb, basil (Ocimum basilicum) has long been associated with the Holy Cross.

Etymologically, it is related to basileios, the Greek word for king. [Great connection!]

According to a pious legend, the Empress Saint Helena found the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a colony of basil. Basil plants were reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where fell the Precious Blood of Christ and the tears of the Mother of Sorrows.

A sprig of basil was said to have been found growing from the wood of the True Cross.

On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it is customary in the East to rest the Holy Cross on a bed of basil before presenting it to the veneration of the faithful.

Also, from the practice in some areas of strewing branches of basil before church communion rails, it came to be known as Holy Communion Plant Blessed basil leaf can be arranged in a bouquet at the foot of the crucifix; the dried leaves can also be used by the faithful as a sacramental.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

Let us pray.

Almighty and merciful God,
deign, we beseech You, to bless
Your creature, this aromatic basil leaf. +
Even as it delights our senses,
may it recall for us the triumph of Christ, our Crucified King
and the power of His Precious Blood
to purify and preserve us from evil
so that, planted beneath His Cross,
we may flourish to Your glory
and spread abroad the fragrance of His sacrifice.
Who is Lord forever and ever.

R. Amen.

The bouquets of basil leaf are sprinkled with Holy Water.

Here is the entry, with my translation, in the Martyrologium Romanum for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:

Festum exaltationis Sanctae Crucis, quae, postridie dedicationis basilicae Resurrectionis super sepulcrum Christi erectae, exaltatur et honoratur, sicut victoriae eius paschalis tropaeum et signum in caelo appariturum, alterum adventum eius iam universis praenuntians.

Would you all like to have a try at rendering this into flawless and yet smooth English?

Our wonderful Lewis & Short says that a tropaeum is “a sign and memorial of victory, a trophy; orig. a trunk of a tree, on which were fixed the arms, shields, helmets, etc., taken from the enemy; afterwards made of stone and ornamented in the same manner”. So, a tropaeum is a kind of war memorial.

To my mind there are echoes here of the magnificent hymn of Venantius Fortunatus, the Vexilla Regis prodeunt

Vexilla regis prodeunt,
fulget crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.

I think there is also a “once and future” reference to the vision Constantine had of the Cross before his victory over Maxentius. Constantine would later build the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchur. The future dimension is, of course, the appearance of the Lord in the East at the Second Coming (a great reason to celebrate Mass ad orientem).

(Any references to basil in this post and similarity to digital hamsters on the sidebar are purely coincidental.)

Biretta tip to Vultus Christi.

Please share!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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18 Responses to Of Fridays, Motu Proprios, Pesto and The Cross

  1. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    This is wonderful and fascinating. All these holy custom also have a practical origin, (demonstrating that the Faith is also firmly rooted in the natural order of our world). This time is about the end of the basil season in Europe, the evening chill now coming wilts it quickly, so it is a good time to use up the remains of the crop. I shall do so this evening, thank you!

    Happy feast! O crux Ave, Spes unica!

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Fr.Z, as you know being in England, the Once and Future King is Arthur.

    I did not know about the blessing of basil, but if I brought any more fruit and herbs to the Church to be blessed, I think my pastor would begin to wonder if I had a stall in Port0bello Market.

  3. GeekLady says:

    So at precisely which point one’s Friday lose its penitential nature?

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Actually, I did bring a pot of basil (Isabella and ….is one of my favourite paintings by Holman Hunt) to the PP and he blessed it and said we had wonderful customs in America! Well, with the grapes and other herbs, and me being the only one in his parish who reads Fr. Z., I accepted the compliment for America! It should be a compliment to wdtprs, however….I did not have time to go into details.

  5. twele923 says:

    The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is exalted and honored on the day after the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection that was built over the sepulcher of Christ, as a trophy of his Paschal victory and a sign that will appear in heaven foretelling his Second Coming – this time for the whole world.

  6. VexillaRegis says:

    Yes, in these days of war, murder and persecusion our only hope is the Cross. I think this verse from my alias :-) is very profound:

    Impleta sunt quae concinit That which the prophet-king of old
    David fideli carmine, hath in mysterious verse fortold,
    dicendo nationibus: is now accomplished, whilst we see
    regnavit a ligno Deus. God ruling the nations from a Tree.


  7. VexillaRegis says:

    Sorry, my post looked fine in the preview! Please draw the line between the latin and the english texts in your mind…

  8. Ray says:

    Strange timing, my wife and I just made pesto yesterday. We grow our own herbs every year and bought some Pine nuts from an Italian grocery store earlier in the week.

  9. jaykay says:

    Wow: had a 4-cheese pizza with pesto for lunch – and I had no idea of the basil connection with the Cross. Serendipitous.

    Sadly, I had intended to go to the TLM this morning at 8 for the feastday, but it meant leaving the house before 6 a.m. and… I overslept.

  10. The Masked Chicken says:

    I am glad for meatless Fridays…go eat fish…leave my cousins alone.

    The Chicken

  11. ppb says:

    GeekLady: I don’t know if this quite answers your question, but under the current code of canon law Friday penance is not required on solemnities. This would include all the holydays of obligation like Christmas, the Immaculate Conception, etc. if they fall on a Friday. There are a handful of other solemnities during the year; the feasts of St. Joseph and the Annunciation, for example, are also solemnities and therefore can relax Friday penance even during Lent. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross doesn’t have the rank of solemnity, however.

  12. GeekLady says:

    Thank you, ppb, that was just the answer I was looking for! I knew solemnities for sure, but I wasn’t sure where the cutoff was below that.

  13. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    A Greek Orthodox man (who grew up in Istanbul, in a now much diminished Christian community) told me that the Orthodox fast on this day. This seemed to me odd, since in our calendar it is a feast, and a feast of our Lord that even supersedes a Sunday in Ordinary Time, even if not a Solemnity. I mention it only as information possibly interesting to the blogster community of WDTPRS.

  14. ReginaMarie says:

    We will be attending the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (ad orientem, of course) this evening for the Feast, bringing some basil from the garden to be blessed.

    In the Icon of the Feat of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious & Life-Giving Cross, the central figure in the icon is St. Makarios, Bishop of Jerusalem, who is holding the Cross high above the crowd for veneration. Pictured in the crowd are St. St. Helena & her son, Constantine the Great, along with scores of saintly bishops, priests & deacons, & leading citizens of Jerusalem. The Church of the Resurrection is visible in the Jerusalem skyline, directly above the Cross.

    The Church teaches that Christ is the Victorious King, not in spite of the Crucifixion, but because of it: I call him king, because I see him crucified. (St. John Chrysostom)

    As Fr. Z mentioned, on the spot where the Cross was discovered, St. Helena had found a hitherto unknown flower of rare beauty & fragrance, which has been named “Vasiliko”, or Basil, meaning the flower of royalty. Note that the word “Vasiliko” means “of the King,” since the word “Basileus” in Greek means “King”; so, the plant Vasiliko, Basil, is tied to the Precious Cross of the King of Glory, our Lord Jesus Christ.

    On this day the faithful make dedication to the crucified Lord & pledge their faithfulness to Him by making prostrations at the Lord’s feet on the life creating Cross. For the feast, the Cross is placed on the tetrapod surrounded by flowers or branches of basil, & placed in the center of the Church for veneration.

    Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance; Granting victory to Your people over all their enemies, and preserve Your kingdom by the power of Your Cross.

  15. yatzer says:

    Well, as I am planning to make some pesto to freeze this weekend, all this will give me something to ponder while doing it. Thanks.

  16. Elizabeth M says:

    Thank you Father for the reminder about basil. Today my 2 year old son & I harvested the rest if our basil which I will make for a pesto over basil gnocchi dinner. He had a great time eating the leaves and I had another happy reminder of how to teach the Faith to him in our everyday ordinary works.

  17. priests wife says:

    I made a delicious (I think) cheese tart today- leftover pastry from yesterday’s apple pies, goat cheese spread on the bottom, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, a generous sprinkle of fresh minced basil and some lemon pepper….pesto shrimp tonight after Mass

  18. RichR says:

    Is there a Blessing of the Basil? If so, Fr. Finnigan will most certainly hear about it from his faithful parishioners who frequent this blog.