Every year on Good Friday we present a relic of the True Cross for the faithful to venerate.
This naturally raises the question of whether it is the true cross and how we know.
This question is one of the sticks anti-Catholic Protestants like to hit us with (along with “Why do you worship Mary?” and “Why do you call your priests ‘Father’ when Jesus says ‘Call no man Father?'”) Sometimes the poke takes the form of mockery “If the Catholics gathered all the relics of rthe “true cross” they’d have enough wood to build Noah’s ark.”
The question provoked a Frenchman some years ago to pick up the challenge…This article describes the work of Charles Rohault de Fleury who calculated the weight of the cross and compared it to the weight of all the known, authenticated relics of the cross..
The story of how the Empress Helena discovered the true cross can be read here:
Why do we believe the tiny splinters we venerate at Our Lady of the Rosary are from the wood discovered by Helena? Because when relics are created (either bones and remains of saints’ bodies or–in this case–the wood of the cross– a certificate of authentication is given by the person in charge (usually a bishop) this certificate is called the “authentic”. This certification is granted which provides the provenance of the relic. In our case, the relic was divided from a larger authenticated fragment in Belgium in the 17th century. That fragment, in turn, would have come from the main relics housed at the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. For the fascinating history of this church (which was built on the site of Helena’s villa in Rome) go here.
Are the relics there (and the ones derived from there) authentic? Of course it can be debated and probably never proven. However, what we do know is that this relic could very probably be from Christ’s cross and it most certainly has been venerated as such for thousands of years.
For my money…I’d rather believe too much than too little. When I am judged I would prefer to be guilty of gullibility rather than cynicism.
Happily we don’t have to venerate or believe in the authenticity of relics to be good Christians. Like Helena herself, we love the Lord who died for us. The wood of his cross is beloved because of him and his sacrifice.