This year, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross takes precedence over the Ordinary Form calendar’s 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time and over the Extraordinary Form’s 14th Sunday after Pentecost. Let’s look at the Collects for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form, the 1962 Roman Missal of St John XXIII.
Today’s feast commemorates the discovery, as tradition has it under sweet basil herb bushes, of the Holy Cross by Emperor Constantine’s mother St Helena in AD 325 in Jerusalem as well as and the Dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher built on that site in 335. A portion of the Cross was placed there. The Basilica was consecrated on 13 September and, on 14 September the fragment of the Cross was shown to the people so that the clergy and faithful could pray before it. In 614 invading Persians and King Chosroes absconded with it. They held it until it was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628 and returned to the Basilica.
Deus, qui nos hodierna die Exaltationis sanctae Crucis annua solemnitate laetificas: praesta quaesumus; ut cuius mysterium in terra cognovimus, eius redemptionis praemia in caelo mereamur.
O God, who on this day gladden us by the yearly solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: grant, we beseech You; that in heaven we may merit to attain the rewards of redemption of Him, whose mystery we have known on earth.
The colons and semicolons in the older way of printed liturgical orations are intended to help the priest sing the prayer, rather than to give it greater sense.
The force of the last phrase is “whom we have known on earth in mystery”. Remember that mysterium is nearly interchangeable with sacramentum. Notice the parallel set up between in terra… in caelo. In this life, we can know Christ and what is promised us in heaven only as through a glass, darkly, as St Paul put it. Our supreme contact with Christ in this life is in the sacramental mysteries, in our sacred liturgical worship and in Holy Communion. In heaven our knowledge will be more direct, though God will forever remain Mystery, tremendum et fascinans, awesome and alluring.
Here is another version from the beautiful hand missal from Baronius Press:
O God, who this day dost gladden us by the yearly feast of the Exaltation of the Cross: grant, we beseech Thee, that we who on earth acknowledge the Mystery of Redemption wrought upon it, may be worthy to enjoy the rewards of that same Redemption in heaven.
The Baronius Press hand missal, printed in the UK, was released in 2007, the same year that Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum which greatly freed up the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum. This document, with its juridical solutions to many burning issues, is one of the most important accomplishments of Benedict’s too short pontificate.
Let is now move to the Ordinary Form, or Novus Ordo edition of the Missale Romanum.
Deus, qui Unigenitum tuum crucem subire voluisti, ut salvum faceret genus humanum, praesta, quaesumus, ut, cuius mysterium in terra cognovimus, eius redemptionis praemia in caelo consequi mereamur.
This was pieced together from phrases from Collects of Palm Sunday and of Wednesday in Holy Week as well as today’s feast in the pre-Conciliar Missal, as we just saw above.
O God, who desired that Your Only-begotten undergo the Cross so that He would make the human race free, grant, we beseech You, that we merit to attain in heaven the rewards of redemption of Him, whose mystery we have known on earth.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God our Father, in obedience to you your only Son accepted death on the cross for the salvation of mankind. We acknowledge the mystery of the cross on earth. May we receive the gift of redemption in heaven.
Not content to chop the Latin into two sentences, the translators opted for three.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who willed that your Only Begotten Son should under the Cross to save the human race, grant, we pray, that we, who have known his mystery on earth, may merit the grace of his redemption in heaven.
Today, the aromatic herb basil (Ocimum basilicum which, comes from Greek basileos, “king”) is blessed by our Eastern brothers and sisters and placed in abundance around their Crosses. Permit me to channel my inner John XXIII and suggest that having pasta and pesto this Sunday, with friends and loved ones, would be a fine way to observe the feast day.