What does it mean to kiss the cross?
In one of the first things that he ever said to me, Pope Benedict XVI in his homily for the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany taught us the meaning of adoration:
I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word “adoration” in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is proskynesis. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it.
We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio - mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.
Ad oratio, mouth to mouth, a kiss. As we say at each Station of the Cross, "We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee, for by Thy holy cross, Thou hast redeemed the world." By venerating the cross, we make a humble act of adoration to Jesus. What a powerful sign! What a truly significant liturgical ritual! But, what is the reason for our adoration?
In reflecting on the connection between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, Pope Benedict explains in his homily,
By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. I Cor 15: 28).
In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life.
Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word.
Tonight, the cross is carried in procession and is slowly revealed by the priest. We will hear proclaimed (from the new translation of the Roman Missal), ”Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.”
And what is our liturgical response?
"Come, let us adore."
[Photo: Associated Press pic of Pope Benedict venerating the crucifix from Overheard in the Sacristy]