At a Feb. 10 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl presented a processional reliquary cross as a gift to the cathedral, which since 1939 has been the seat of the archbishop of Washington, a role Cardinal Wuerl filled for 12 years before his resignation last October.

The processional cross commissioned by Cardinal Wuerl and created by gold and silversmiths Claudio and Piero Savi in Rome. Crafted of silver, the cross depicts Christ crucified and, beneath, the cardinal’s coat of arms. A processional cross is traditionally carried at the front of liturgical processions as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and the call of the faithful to follow his example.

(Archdiocese of Washington photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Inserted in the center and visible on the back is a smaller pectoral cross of gold, diamonds, and sapphires, within which is a relic of the true Cross. A pectoral cross is usually worn by the pope, a cardinal, bishop, or abbot around the neck and near the heart. Tradition holds many of these crosses are made of precious metals and gems and contain a relic of the true Cross or of a saint.

Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, rector of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, said he was excited when he heard the cathedral would be given this gift, noting that it “said something about the faith of the people here at St. Matthew’s.”

The procession of the cross during the liturgy, Msgr. Jameson said, signifies union with Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Processions have always been a part of the tradition of the Church,” he said. “As we come into the church, as we process towards the altar, we are being led by that cross, to be reminded that we are continuing on our journey to eternal salvation, our journey to new life…”

With the wearing of a pectoral cross, Msgr. Jameson said, the bishop has accepted the reality of the cross: suffering, yet new life.

“But at the same time, they are to bring to the people all the meaning of that cross,” he said.

In a letter to Msgr. Jameson, Cardinal Wuerl described the history of this specific pectoral cross.

“This jeweled pectoral cross was a gift to the apostolic delegate to the United States, Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, who served in that post for 25 years,” the cardinal wrote. “Eventually this cross was conveyed to the office of the papal almoner and then, thanks to the generosity of benefactors, was presented to me.”

(Archdiocese of Washington photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Archbishop Cicognani served as the delegate of the Holy Father to the Church in the United States from 1933 to 1959, and received the pectoral cross in recognition of his 25th anniversary. From 1961-69, he served as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, and he died in 1973 at the age of 90.

Cardinal Wuerl presented the cross to the cathedral “in recognition of the strong faith life of the cathedral community, as an expression of great gratitude for our solidarity over these past 12 years, and our spiritual bonds with our Holy Father, Pope Francis,” the cardinal wrote.

Msgr. Jameson noted how Cardinal Wuerl’s blessing of the cross during the Mass expressed so well the magnitude of the cross. During the blessing, the cardinal sprinkled holy water on the processional cross and prayed, “May the cross be our comfort in trouble, our refuge in the face of danger, our safeguard on life’s journey, until you welcome us to our heavenly home.” Msgr. Jameson noted, “I think that really sums up so much about what the cross means in a Christian’s life.”

“When we place this crucifix alongside the altar, we are in a clear and visible manner proclaiming that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day,” Cardinal Wuerl said in his homily during the Mass on Feb. 10.

This processional cross has a unique significance for the cathedral because of the connection to Archbishop Cicognani. Msgr. Jameson said.

“During his time here was the year 1939,” Msgr. Jameson said. “What happened in 1939? That was the beginning of the Archdiocese of Washington and St. Matthew becoming a cathedral church… [Archbishop Cicognani] was the one who had such an influence, I think, in having St. Matthew’s named a cathedral.”

Msgr. Jameson said the faith of the community makes the cathedral a fitting home for this gift.

“I’ve been rector here now for almost 24 years,” Msgr. Jameson said. “And one of the things I know and have experienced is the faith of the people here at St. Matthew’s. All of them. Whether it’s our young, our older parishioners, our Hispanic community. The faith of Christ is what really shines forth.”

At the end of the Mass, the cross was displayed at the cathedral entrance, where the faithful were able to see and touch it and venerate the relic contained inside. Msgr. Jameson said he anticipates using the cross during special liturgical celebrations at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.