Laetare Jerusalem! Rejoice, O Jerusalem! It’s not by chance that we visit Holy Cross in Jerusalem today on Laetare Sunday. This Sunday gets it’s name from the Introit of the Mass where we sing “Rejoice (Laetare), O Jerusalem!”. Today’s church is named for Jerusalem.
During the reign of Constantine, his mother, Saint Helen, lived in the Sessorianum Palace. Having just returned from Jerusalem, Helen had a church built inside her residence to house the treasures she collected on her journey. Her son dedicated the church a basilica. Over the years this basilica has been restored several times. It was converted into a three aisled basilica by Pope Lucius. Pope Alexander VI added a gilded ceiling.
Below the main altar is an urn containing relics from Saint Caesarius and Saint Anastasius.
Behind and to the left of the main altar is the Gregorian Chapel, dedicated to Saint Gregory. In the chapel is a reliquary in the shape a triptych (three hinged panels) that contains 200 relics placed around an image of the suffering Christ. A legend surrounding the image states that it was painted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great after he had a vision of Christ.
Behind and to the right of the main altar is the chapel of Saint Helen. The altar here is reserved for the Holy Father or the Titular of the church.
For the last 900 years or so on Laetare Sunday, the Holy Father would traditionally come to this church to bless a Golden Rose. The blessed Rose was then sent to a prominent Catholic, typically royalty, who showed loyalty to the Holy See. This Sunday became known as Rose Sunday. Rose colored vestments were used in place of purple as a sign of hope and joy.
One notable recipient of this Golden Rose was Henry VIII, who actually received the award three times! The award is still given, but no longer annually. Today mostly places, not people, receive the award.
We’ll return to this church on Good Friday and find out why it’s called Holy Cross in Jerusalem.