That cheers the solemn passion-tide:
Give to the just increase of grace,
Give to each contrite sinner peace.
So runs the Church's hymn for the final days of the Lenten season, the Vexilla Regis.
Traditionally, this hymn was used throughout the season of Passion-tide, which extended through the final two weeks of Lent. Now it is used only during Holy Week, calling to mind the Passion and death of our Savior.
As the season of Lent comes to a close, we are invited to meditate more intensely on the centrality of the Cross in the mystery of salvation. This is expressed most dramatically when, on Good Friday, the faithful come before an image of the Cross and, genuflecting before it, venerate the image with a kiss--a most intimate sign of devotion and love.
St. Thomas Aquinas offers a most profound and insightful commentary on the devotion we ought to have for the Cross when, in the tertia pars of the Summa Theologica, he asks "Whether Christ's Cross should be worshiped with the Adoration of Latria?" (ST III, q.25, a.4) Here, the Universal Doctor invokes the above strophe of the Vexilla Regis and comments: "We show the worship of latria to that in which we place our hope of salvation. But we place our hope in Christ's Cross, for so the Church sings: O Crux, ave, spes unica...Therefore, Christ's Cross should be worshiped with the adoration of latria."