Nocturn I: Numbers 21:1-9
Reading 1: And when king Arad the Chanaanite, who dwelt towards the south, had heard this, to wit, that Israel was come by the way of the spies, he fought against them, and overcoming them carried off their spoils. But Israel binding himself by vow to the Lord, said: It thou wilt deliver this people into my hand, I will utterly destroy their cities.
R. Lo the Church, with solemn gladness, hails the day for ever glorious, when the opening earth revealeth that dread tree of mystic triumph.* On whose boughs her dying Saviour shattered death and crushed the serpent.
V. He the Word of God eternal, on those stately branches hanging, hath for us a new way opened.
R. On whose boughs her dying Saviour shattered death and crushed the serpent.
Reading 2: And the Lord heard the prayers of Israel, and delivered up the Chanaanite, and they cut them off and destroyed their cities: and they called the name of that place Horma, that is to say, Anathema. And they marched from mount Hor, by the way that leadeth to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom.
R. Faithful Cross, above all other, one and only noble tree None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peers may be* Sweetest wood and sweetest iron, Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
V. Thou art higher than all cedars.
R. Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron, Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Reading 3: And the people began to be weary of their journey and labour: And speaking against God and Moses, they said: Why didst thou bring us out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness? There is no bread, nor have we any waters: our soul now loatheth this very light food. Wherefore the Lord sent among the people fiery serpents.
R. This is that noble tree, planted in the midst of the garden* Whereon the Author of our salvation did by His Own death openly triumph over the death of all men.
V. Even the Cross, whereof the glory is so excellent, and which the Emperor Heraclius did so eagerly rescue.
R. Whereon the Author of our salvation did by His Own death openly triumph over the death of all men.
Reading 4: The serpents bit them and killed many of them. Upon which they came to Moses, and said: We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and thee: pray that he may take away these serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to him: Make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed.
(responsory not available online)
Reading 5: Chosroes of Persia, having, in the last days of the reign of the Emperor Phocas, overrun Egypt and Africa, in 614, took Jerusalem, where he slaughtered thousands of Christians and carried off to Persia the Cross of the Lord, which Helen had put upon Mount Calvary. Heraclius, the successor of Phocas, moved by the thought of the hardships and horrid outrages of war, sought for peace, but Chosroes, drunken with conquest, would not allow of it even upon unfair terms. Heraclius therefore, being set in this uttermost strait, earnestly sought help from God by constant fasting and prayer, and through His good inspiration gathered an army, joined battle with the enemy, and prevailed against three of Chosroes' chief captains, and three armies.
R. But us it behoveth to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection * Who hath saved us and redeemed us.
V. O Lord, we worship thy Cross, and make memorial of thy glorious passion.
R. Who hath saved us and redeemed us.
Reading 6: Chosroes was broken by these defeats, and when in his flight, in 628, he was about crossing the Tigris, he proclaimed his son Medarses partner in his kingdom. Chosroes' eldest son Siroes took this slight to heart, and formed a plot to murder his father and brother, which plot he brought to effect soon after they had come home. Then he got the kingdom from Heraclius upon certain terms, whereof the first was that he should give back the Cross of the Lord Christ.
R. The Relique true from heaven revealed, hath now the Gospel's figure sealed
* As by the serpent Moses reared, so by the Cross the sick are healed.
V. When the dead touch the Cross they arise, and the wonderful works of God are made manifest.
R. As by the serpent Moses reared, so by the Cross the sick are healed.
Reading 7: The Cross therefore was received back after that it had been fourteen years in the power of the Persians, and (in 629) Heraclius came to Jerusalem and bore it with solemn pomp unto the Mount whereunto the Saviour had borne it.This event was marked by a famous miracle. Heraclius, who was adorned with gold and jewels, stayed perforce at the gateway which leadeth unto Mount Calvary, and the harder he strove to go forward, the harder he seemed to be held back, whereat both himself and all they that stood by were sore amazed.
R. This Sign of the Cross shall be in heaven, when the Lord cometh to judgment.* Then shall the secrets of our hearts be made manifest.
V. When the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, and shall begin to judge the world by fire.
R. Then shall the secrets of our hearts be made manifest.
Reading 8:Then spake Zacharias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying: See, O Emperor, that it be not that in carrying the Cross attired in the guise of a Conqueror thou showest too little of the poverty and lowliness of Jesus Christ. Then Heraclius cast away his princely raiment and took off his shoes from his feet, and in the garb of a countryman easily finished his journey, and set up the Cross once more in the same place upon Calvary whence the Persians had carried it away. That the Cross had been put by Heraclius in the same place wherein it had first been planted by the Saviour caused the yearly Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to become the more famous thenceforward.
Nocturn III (Pope St Leo the Great)
Reading 9: Dearly beloved brethren, when we gaze upon Christ lifted up upon the Cross, the eyes of our mind see more than that which appeared before the wicked, unto whom it was said through Moses: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. They saw in the crucified Lord nothing but the work of their own wickedness, and they feared greatly, not with that faith which giveth earnest of life by justification, but with that whereby the evil conscience is tortured.
R. Sweetest wood and sweetest iron, Sweetest weight is hung on thee
* Thou alone wast counted worthy this world's ransom to uphold.
V. The sign of the Cross shall be in heaven when the Lord cometh to judgment.
R. Thou alone wast counted worthy this world's ransom to uphold.
Reading 10: But our understanding is enlightened by the Spirit of truth, and with pure and open hearts we see the glory of the Cross shining over heaven and earth, and discern by inward glance what the Lord meant when His Passion was nigh at hand, and He said Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto Me. How wonderful is the power of the Cross! O how unutterable is the glory of the Passion, wherein standeth the Lord's judgment - seat, and the judgment of this world, and the might of the Crucified! Lord! Thou hast drawn all things unto thee! Thou didst spread out thine Hands all the day unto an unbelieving and gainsaying people, but the world hath felt and owned thy Majesty! Lord!
R. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up
* That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
V. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
R. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Reading 11: Thou hast drawn all things unto thee! All the elements gave one wild cry of horror at the iniquity of the Jews the lights of the firmament were darkened, day turned into night, earth quaked with strange tremblings, and all God's work refused to serve the guilty. Lord! Thou hast drawn all things unto thee! The veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, the Holy of Holies denied itself as a Sanctuary for the ministration of unworthy Priests, that the shadow might be changed for the substance, prophecy for realization, and the Law for the Gospel.
Reading 12: Lord! Thou hast drawn all things unto thee! That which was veiled under types and shadows in the one Jewish Temple, is hailed by the love of all peoples in full and open worship. There is now a higher order of Levites, a more honourable rank of elders, a Priesthood with an holier anointing. thy Cross is a well of blessings for all, and a cause of thanksgiving for all. Thereby for them that believe in thee, weakness is turned into strength, shame into glory, and death into life. The changing ordinance of divers carnal sacrifices is gone; the one oblation of thy Body and Blood fulfilleth them all. For Thou art the Very Paschal Lamb, Which takest away the sins of the world, and art in thyself all offerings finished. And even as Thou art the One Sacrifice Which taketh the place of all sacrifices, so may thy kingdom be one kingdom established over all peoples.
Gospel: St John 12: 31-36:
Sentence is now being passed on this world; now is the time when the prince of this world is to be cast out. Yes, if only I am lifted up from the earth, I will attract all men to myself. (In saying this, he prophesied the death he was to die.The multitude answered him, We have been told, out of the law, that Christ is to remain undisturbed for ever; what dost thou mean by saying that the Son of Man must be lifted up? What Son of Man is this? And Jesus said to them, The light is among you still, but only for a short time. Finish your journey while you still have the light, for fear darkness should overtake you; he who journeys in darkness cannot tell which way he is going. While you still have the light, have faith in the light, that so you may become children of the light. So much Jesus told them, and then went away, and was lost to their view.