The Holy Cross: A Guide to Exalting and Sorrowing in September

by | Aug 31, 2019 | Blog, Liturgical Living, September | 3 comments

September is traditionally a more somber month, liturgical calendar-wise. The month is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. On September 14 and 15 we observe the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The fall Ember Days are observed the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Holy Cross. Note: in 2019, September 15th is a Sunday, so the Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows gets bumped in favor of the Sunday liturgy this year, but the devotion for September, and the slightly penitential character of the month remain.

From the shop: Our Lady of Sorrows Scripture Activity Booklet

From the Archives: Rogation and Ember Days and Vigils: in case you were starting to think you had this liturgical living thing down

St. Francis of Assisi was known to observe what became known as St. Michael’s Little Lent, a period of prayer and fasting from after the feast of the Assumption on August 15th to the vigil of Michaelmas on September 29th (excluding Sundays). Last year, we had our Sackcloth and Ashes observation in September.

So, for all of September, and especially on the Feast of the Holy Cross, we are meant to remember the sadness and the triumph of Jesus’ passion and death. But . . . how? Especially when kids are involved, it can feel like too big of a burden to share. And how to find that balance of understanding the deep suffering Jesus endured for OUR sins, while always remembering that he conquered death? It can feel like a lot to manage.

Well, good news! In the Catholic All Year Liturgical Living Video for September, you can see for yourself how we handle it in our home (well, in our backyard). Stay tuned to the end of the show for some recommendations of a few of my favorite saint biographies. Video by Elizabeth Mirzaei, Books by Ignatius Press

It’s easy to be intimidated by the idea of meditating on suffering and the cross, let alone discussing the topic over the dinner table. But it’s been intimidating for 2000 years. St. Paul says we should just get over ourselves.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”

Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Our approach to discussing the passion and crucifixion—as with all challenging topics—is to discuss it with our children in an honest and age-appropriate way, and to always answer their questions, but not to OVER answer their questions, with a level of detail that might be too much for them to process.

From the Archives: How to Talk to Little Kids About the Crucifixion

The goal is really to avoid those potentially traumatic conversations where we sit a kid down and start dropping a whole lot of BIG information at once. We’d rather our kids gain knowledge on challenging subjects bit by bit from a very young age, be able to start putting that puzzle together themselves, and ask questions as necessary, before we have more formal talks on a particular subject.

From the Archives: Touchy Subjects and Kids: how we talk about the stuff we’d rather not talk about

In the case of the crucifixion, we’ve found that participating in traditional Catholic devotional practices is an easy way to introduce the concept of Jesus’ suffering such that kids never remember NOT knowing about it, but can slowly come to a deeper understanding of the details, and ask questions as necessary. The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and the Stations of the Cross are both great ways to give kids a familiarity with how Jesus suffered, and a few low stress conversations in the car or over a meal can help with the why.

An especially appropriate devotional practice for the month of September (and during Lent) is the Veneration of the Cross. This can be done as part of a liturgy at church, or you can drop by a church and venerate an accessible cross or crucifix there, or you can do it at home.

For the Feast of the Holy Cross, we make a simple, large-ish cross out of scrap wood for veneration. And by “we” I mean Jack and a couple admirers.

Then, using a simple (and short) Order for Veneration of the Cross (included in the September printable pdf booklet, paperback booklet on Amazon, or in its own little printable) . . .

We behold the wood of the cross . . .

And kiss the cross . . .

It only takes a few minutes, and it’s really a great way to open up a conversation and help kids understand what Catholics believe about the Cross, and what St. Paul was trying to explain so many years ago.

Speaking of dinner . . . because of the tradition that St. Helena found the True Cross hidden under an overgrowth of basil, our feast day meal is chock full of it! We like to crowd into the kitchen and work together to make a very basily menu.

  • Homemade Pesto Sauce: so easy in a food processor, and so, so good.
  • Gnocchi: I usually get store-bought from Aldi
  • Caprese salad: arranging the slices is a great job for preschoolers
  • Strawberry Basil Lemonade: tart and tangy and tasty. It sounds kind of crazy, but it’s really great. Also makes an excellent cocktail.
  • Blackberry, Lemon, Basil Tart: I make this recipe (and ignore the Game of Thrones preamble) but with an easy graham cracker crust and add some blackberries to the top. So good!

The pesto recipe linked here is from our CAY Membership Library! To get access to all of our liturgical living recipes become a CAY Member here!

Then at the table we eat and converse, and drink a toast to St. Helena!

Speaking of St. Helena . . .

Use code CAY919 for 25% off this month’s recommended books by Ignatius Press at . . . The entire Vision Book Series of saint biographies!


We have at least a dozen of these books, and they’re a great way to help older kids learn more about the saints! So that’s it! Have an exaltant yet sorrowful September. I’m certainly planning to.

P.S. Happy holiday weekend! As of Saturday morning when I’m writing this . . . no baby yet. I’m due on Labor Day (seems apropos) and have sometimes gone a day or two early, but I still have six things left on my to do list, so I wouldn’t mind waiting a couple more days here. But officially checked off of the list are finishing the monthly prayer books for October through December (they’ll each be listed in the CAY shop and on Amazon on the 20th of the preceding month), a few fun additions to the set that I’ll reveal later, and the 2020 Liturgical Year Wall Calendars. There will be three versions of the calendar this year: Monthly Devotions, Marian Devotions–and all new for 2020–a Monthly Prayers version featuring the short prayers after grace I recommend in each monthly prayers booklet! They should be available as printable pdfs and in print on September 20th.

I *think* I also managed to get everyone the required books and clothing for school. The four oldest start school on Tuesday, our homeschool will probably start a week or so late with our new little mascot!

Along with the rest of the Fiat committee, we have been hard at work making sure this will be the best Fiat Conference yet. Tickets sold out in less than a week! Amazing. If you didn’t get a ticket before they were gone, do sign up for the waiting list. In previous years, we’ve had a significant number of people get in off of the waiting list. I’ve also been working on ways to share the conference with people who didn’t get a ticket, so pray that that will work out for us!

Also, prayers for a safe and easy delivery are appreciated! Thank you!


  1. Skye Angioletti

    Ooooh I would love to watch the speakers on a live stream!

    And thanks for all the booklets. I eat them up as soon as they arrive! I’m also very excited for the monthly prayer calendar. I appreciate you doing all of this while about to have a baby and mothering 9 others. That is so awesome and so helpful. I am praying for you, Jim (always!), and the kids, and – of course – the newest little Tierney. Many Blessings on your family!

    • Andrea Baillie-Powell

      Wow.. what a truly wonderful example of a Catholic mom…9 kids, so perfectly behaved, and another on the way – you are a real credit to all us moms out there. God bless you for a safe delivery and take, Andrea xxxx

  2. Lisa Frecker

    It’s interesting that you described September as a more somber month. It makes perfect sense, though I had always envisioned the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross as more of a joyful one, celebrating Christ’s victory and triumph. Whereas Lent and Holy Week are a time of recalling the sorrow of Christ’s Passion, September is a time to celebrate the victory and triumph of the Cross. In Christ the most shameful and most sorrowful becomes the greatest glory. Thank you for reminding us not to lose sight of the sorrow, without which there would be no opportunity for exaltation.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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