Scenes of Easter (Vigil and Day) at home in the Oratory. I share an excerpt from my Easter Day note to parishioners.
‘It can be tempting, especially in our moments of loneliness or isolation, to despair at the loss of control and freedom we’re all experiencing. It can be tempting, in the absence of our familiar routines and patterns of the spiritual life, to regard the Lent and Holy Week we’ve been through, and the Easter we’ve now entered, at best as ‘less’ than that to which we’re usually accustomed, and at worst as somehow ‘wasted’. Some of this is understandable, and I am as frustrated and bewildered as you, but we have to hold to the hope that the Resurrection offers to us, both now, and for the future.
If the liturgies of Holy Week celebrated mutedly in isolation have impressed anything upon me, it’s that the whole of the Christian life – our real life – is lived with and through the ever-present reality of the Cross, that contradictory symbol at the heart of our Catholic Faith. Holy Week, with its great narratives of death to life, darkness to light, and of faith, hope, and love lost and then restored by means of that Cross, signify that this Week isn’t some mere preparatory re-enactment of biblical events in the run-up to the Resurrection story. Holy Week isn’t just for Holy Week. It’s for the rest of our lives: the ultimate spiritual, liturgical, psychological, and mystical context for each and every one of us in our journey on the path to Heaven.
In this present time of plague, as with other times in our lives, when darkness seeks to overcome light; when death and suffering seem to have the last word, Holy Week offers us the key to understanding what’s really going on. God enters most fully into all the pain and misery of what it is to be man and he redeems it. He bows low in order to lift us up and draw us more closely, more intimately, unto himself. If we live the whole of our lives as we’ve lived this Holy Week then we’ll have a better sense of what hope is all about. Isolation, separation, darkness, despair, loss, and death have all, ultimately, been defeated. But these, for now, form the context and the content of our life, and perhaps our experiencing them this year in a more personal way has helped us to see that they are but a necessary part of the struggle; a struggle we must undergo – a cross we must all bear – in order to be brought unto the glory of the Resurrection’.
Whilst this continues to be a strange Holy Week, I nonetheless feel very blessed to have the support and encouragement of parishioners who join me, albeit digitally, for the offices and liturgies, especially during the Triduum, and also very encouraged by those who, each day, pop by to make their confessions. Preaching without a physically present congregation has its peculiar challenges: questions of what tone to employ, and whether to use humour (not too much of a problem on Good Friday…) have cramped my homiletic approach somewhat, but making the liturgical prayers and ceremonies of the Church available on a daily basis has been a surprisingly effective tool in the pursuit of fostering a sense of a common parochial celebration. I can only hope and pray that our absence from the Lord, and from one another, is making hearts grow fonder for both.
St John Henry Newman’s shorter meditations on the Stations of the Cross were offered at Noon, and the final meditation (for the Fourteenth Station) was particularly poignant, not only on account of this day, but also given present strictures. Saint John Henry exhorts us to ever hope and trust in Christ and so realise that ‘the greater is our distress, the nearer we are to [God]’. That isn’t the easiest of lessons to learn, but it is one that will help us to see the value in that which God has, in this time, permitted for the sake of our eternal salvation. As Newman famously wrote elsewhere, the Cross teaches us (his present-day brethren) not to live a comfortable life, nor one framed by our own agendas (however good its intentions), but rather ‘to suffer and to die’. As the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum set forth so well, we can have no future glory – no Resurrection life – without first knowing the value and purpose of suffering and, so embracing it, dying to self.
And in the garden secretly,
And on the Cross on high,
Should teach his brethren, and inspire
To suffer and to die.
Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways.
A few shots of this evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper and The Watch that followed. We did what we could with the space on offer, which required a quick adjustment of the altar used for Mass to become the Altar of Repose. The Watch was, as per the episcopal encouragement, live streamed for an hour, and concluded with words from the St Matthew Passion. Thereafter the Blessed Sacrament was taken to a place of private reservation and altar stripped bare in readiness for the morrow.
Much of the day was spent preparing – spiritually and practically – for the Triduum now upon us. In regards to the former, I have been so grateful for the gift of Fr Christopher Hilton Cong. Orat.’s short fervorinos. Today’s – on priesthood and the Eucharist – was deeply personal and moving, and speaks very eloquently of these two sacramental gifts that Christ left to his Church on this Maundy Thursday.
‘“For the joy that was set before him”, Jesus endured the cross. So must we bear all the discipline of God. Our sufferings do not come to us because God has withdrawn his loving purpose, but because we need them in order to be fitted for that purpose.
If we could have loved God in some better way than by suffering, Jesus would have chosen that better way. Oh, it is sweet to suffer, since Jesus has suffered! Suffering is no transitory trouble. Suffering is, to the faithful in Jesus Christ, the very beginning of eternal joy. Suffering makes life sweet by expectation. Death sums up all the sweet hopes of life, and admits the faithful to the secure possession of that which they have desired.
…It is darkness which prepares us, darkness which preserves us, darkness which perfects us.
…If we would really share the joy of the resurrection, we must accept it as a true solace for all times of suffering. As we are Christ’s members, we must own the power of his resurrection working within us, while we are made conformable to his death. As suffering and death are the porch through which we pass to joy, we must find the power of love strengthening us in all suffering to feel the sympathy of his presence. He who has not shared the cross cannot share the resurrection’.
Richard Meux Benson SSJE, 1824-1915
Since blood is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloody fight;
My heart hath store; write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sin:
That when sin spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sin may say,
No room for me, and fly away.
Sin being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sin take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
A few pictures of today’s Mass for Palm Sunday, offered in the domestic oratory, which included the Blessing of Palms and the recitation of the St Matthew Passion, and boosted by some sung prayers and a bit of Merbecke. Palms, originally intended for church, were repurposed, and blessed palm crosses were, following Mass, placed outside the house for collection by parishioners. It was both touching and encouraging to spy a steady stream of parishioners throughout the day making the journey. I noted also that a goodly number watched the live stream of the Mass and it was a real comfort to celebrate and preach in the knowledge that I wasn’t really ‘alone’. Much is said in this new dispensation about the necessity of such online provisions for the sake of the faithful. And I’m sure that’s true, but I’ve been surprised at just how important it’s become for me - as a priest without his people - to be supported by the ‘presence’ of so many watching, listening, and praying behind me.
The experiment with live streaming Mattins and Evensong also seemed to work, and so this is how Holy Week this year goes. There are possibilities to be realised in this time; things to be lost, things to be gained. Fears to be dispelled. Our faith, our hopes, and our loves to be deepened. No use lamenting. Crosses must be borne. A journey must be had. A Resurrection we await.
O God, fill us with the divine humility of Christ: that, having the same mind that was also in him, we may look not every one on his own things, but every one also on the things of others, emptying our wills of pride, and our hearts of complaining, and laying down our glories before the cross; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Given the present absence of much parochial activity, today was a surprisingly busy eve of Palm Sunday. Changed – simpler, even – circumstances to usual preparations seem to have created more logistical challenges and obstacles to be overcome. How to convey the dramatic power and glory of Saint Matthew’s Passion narrative sans Chronista, Christus, Synagoga, and Victoria’s sublime choruses? How loud do I have to raise my voice in order to be heard on the livestream? Is that too loud? Will the birdsong coming through the open window distract? The logistics of how to make it all work in a tiny space are new. Finding a table (and a cloth, and a basket) for the palms. Remembering to have holy water ready. And the palms themselves (can’t unwrap them too early, lest they dry out before Mass). Knowing what sits on the legilium, and what doesn’t, and what I might need ready at the altar. Making sure folk know what’s on, when, how to access it. And so on. Laying out the vestments. Tending to the candles. And so on as Holy Week progresses. At present, then, parochial ministry is as much a matter of remembering things as it is tending to hearts, minds, and souls with the right words in homilies, the creative availability of the Sacrament of Penance, and new ways of keeping people together and connected. Such is the gift and the opportunity of ministry in these days.
Lest, though, we feel too overwhelmed or confused by this Holy Week now upon us, perhaps there’s something apposite in the muddled preparations and their inherent emotions of disorientation and loss, tinged with hope for a brighter future. Is that not the story of this Week, and the mood of Palm Sunday, in particular? Christ rides on in majesty, yes, but he rides on to die. The 17th century Welsh mystical poet, Henry Vaughan, captures the tenor well, and helps to put all this into its proper perspective.
Put on, put on your best array;
Let the joy’d rode make holy-day,
And flowers that into fields do stray,
Or secret groves, keep the high-way.
Trees, flowers and herbs; birds, beasts and stones,
That since man fell, expect with groans
To see the lamb, which all at once,
Lift up your heads and leave your moans!
For here comes he
Whose death will be
Mans life, and your full liberty.
from Palm-Sunday by Henry Vaughan, 1621-1695
‘The Holy Ghost is the interpreter of the Word of God. Many people saw Jesus, many people touched Him. Many saw Him heal the sick and do beautiful things, and many saw Him die. Only three saw Him transfigured, only some saw Him risen, only a few saw Him ascend into heaven. The power by which the apostles saw Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, was the power of the Holy Ghost. Only love can see the true beauty of the beloved. So Simeon and Anna, when He was a child, beheld Him. So the shepherds and Wise Men beheld His glory, as did the penitent thief, by the power of the Holy Ghost. Not to all men, or any particular class of men, was this power vouchsafed, but to any who had eyes to see and to whom the vocation was given.
The Holy Spirit illuminates the Church. The Church is composed of very human people, as the Bible is composed of very human people, as the Bible is composed of very human stories. People can read the history of the Church without getting any profit, as they can read passages of the Bible to their hurt. None the less, the Church is the Body of Christ, and the Bible is the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit Who enables us to see this. The Church is the one kingdom which has an aristocracy of holiness, and holiness only, and the Bible is the one book that shows in all life the purposes of God and the education of conscience.
The Holy Ghost enables us to see the world as the world for which Christ died. Souls are always lovable, however much they sin. The Holy Spirit, Who pleads with souls, teaches us never to despair of souls’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Send, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts: that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into the truth; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship, The Missal.
The following ‘Ancient Homily on the Lord’s Descent into Hell’ is found in the order for ‘A Liturgy of the Word for Holy Saturday’ as found in the Ordinariate’s Divine Worship: The Missal. It is attributed to Bishop Melito of Sardis, who died c.180.
‘Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.
“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity”’.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - A collect for Holy Saturday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Good Friday is explained by Holy Thursday, the hour of darkness by the hour of the Son of Man. Nevertheless there remains this disconcerting fact that the prince of darkness has had his hour; his pride perished with his conquest, and yet the Son of Man had to be delivered to him. It is the “scandal of the cross”, “the folly of the cross”, as St Paul does not hesitate to say: a scandal and a folly in which the generosity of God’s love, revealed at the Last Supper, appears to have no limit except that of having none. If this truth, once penetrated, becomes eminently comforting, it is at this the most disturbing of mysteries: nothing else than the “problem of evil” sounded to the depth, and not thereby solved.
…Christ’s sorrow is first the sorrow of God, touched to the quick by that hostility His people, without even realising it, generated in sinning against Him. Will not this enmity reject His love the instant that He comes in person to repair for sinners the wrong they have done to Him? The sorrow of Christ is at the same time the sorrow of man, becoming conscious of the impassable abyss that sin has hollowed between him and his God. Having come as far as he can on the bloody way back to God, he is only made aware of his infinite remoteness from the One whom he was attempting to reach. This sorrow of man in Jesus Christ is still, however, the sorrow God, since in Him God made Himself man; so that his double sorrow appears, in the last analysis, as one single agony of the Man-God. In His divine incarnate Person, the unifying plenitude of divine love assumes the pain of separation which sin had imposed upon man. In the horrific torture of the cross to which the Saviour chose to submit, we can see an image of that division that the Man-God felt as none of us would be capable of feeling, between His divinity and the humanity which that divinity had accepted; between God’s love and man’s sin. Who will ever describe this interior cross of the God made man, who feels Himself, as God, abandoned by men, and, as man, abandoned by God?’
from The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week
by Fr Louis Bouyer, Cong. Orat., 1913-2004
‘The celebration of… Holy Thursday renews for us the hour of Christ, the hour when, by the sign of the Eucharist, He declared Himself the Champion of humanity in the combat against Satan. But the Holy Thursday observance renews that hour not only as any commemoration might revive a memory: it actually reproduces that hour so that we may all have part in it. In anticipating His Passion in this sign, Christ gave at the same time the sacrament that was to re-enact the Passion for His followers and, by this sacrament, gave the entire Christian sacramental system. All the other sacraments are in germ in the Eucharist since it embodies the Saviour’s Passion and they are only complementary aspects of the victory He won for us. On Holy Thursday, too, the blessing of the oils establishes a link between the primordial Mass and the important sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and extreme unction. Speaking more generally, all the Christian liturgy is a perpetual renewal of the mystery of Christ, suffering, dying, and rising again to deprive the demon of his power over men and to reconcile them with His Father’.
from The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week
by Fr Louis Bouyer, Cong. Orat., 1913-2004
‘The Church has prepared us step by step for this sacred experience [of Holy Week]. A steady crescendo in the liturgy has been taking place since Septuagesima Sunday. Each week the sound rose higher, and louder. Although Mother Church often spoke about the Cross and the resurrection, she did so in veiled signs and figures, as if she feared exposing a most precious object to profane eyes. Not until this moment does she remove the curtain. Now we see the Holy of Holies; and more than that, we are asked to participate in the most sublime drama of religious history.
…We should not call it a week of mourning, for Cross and resurrection are inseparable. Christ’s redemptive work did not end with death, it continues on in the victory of His resurrection. Therefore, we must not separate the passion from the resurrection, but rather regard the Cross as the way to Easter victory.
The liturgy does not make this week one of sorrowful lamentation or tearful sympathising with our suffering Lord. That was the medieval approach. No, through the whole week there runs a note of victory and joy, a realisation that Christ’s sacred passion was a prerequisite to Easter glory. We cannot understand the Church’s liturgy unless we keep this in mind’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O Lord God, whose blessed Son, our Saviour, gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame: grant us grace to take joyfully the suffering of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ gives us the confidence of glory and a lesson in the endurance of suffering.
Is there anything which the hearts of the faithful may not promise themselves from the grace of God? It was not enough that the only Son of God, co-eternal with the Father, should be born as man from man for them – he even died for them at the hands of men, whom he had created.
What God promises us for the future is great, but what we recall as already done for us is much greater. When Christ died for the wicked, where were they or what were they? Who can doubt that he will give the saints his life, since he has already given them his death? Why is human weakness slow to believe that men will one day live with God?
A much more incredible thing has already happened: God died for men… he carried out a wonderful transaction with us through our mutual sharing: he died from what was ours, we will live from what is his.
So far from being ashamed at the death of the Lord our God, we must have the fullest trust in it; it must be our greatest boast, for by assuming from us death, which he found in us, he pledged most faithfully to give us life in himself, which we could not have our ourselves’.
from a sermon by St Augustine of Hippo, 354-430
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Monday in Holy Week, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘They had always wanted to make Him a king. Right up to the end His immediate disciples always had this idea very prominent in their thoughts. Even on the Mount of the Ascension they were to ask Him that question which seems to us so unbelievably stupid: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Still harping on their idea of an earthly kingdom greater than Solomon’s!
Well, today they should have their will. The time had come for the fulfilling of the remaining prophecies about Him.
So He rode forward on the ass, and they hailed Him as king… With Him goes a great crowd from outside Jerusalem, mostly Galileans come up for the Feast, at least half-convinced that He is the Messiah, ready to go all the way with Him if He will give them a lead, the more so that He is a Galilean, and they will show these Judean Jews that Galilee can do something worth while after all. And as they go on towards Jerusalem they will be joined by many who heard that He had arrived at Bethany, and were on their way out to see Him who had not been seen since He raised Lazarus.
…We keep Palm Sunday. We sing our hymn: “All glory, laud, and honour to Thee, Redeemer, King”. It is a royal procession we take part in. He is our King. Even knowing about Good Friday and what He will be like then, scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed up there – as Cardinal Newman said once – like a noxious bird on a barn door, He is our King. His Kingdom is not of this world. But then men are not of this world either – mid-way between animal and angel is man – and it is in men’s hearts and wills that His Kingdom lies. He will convert men, and they will reconstruct society. And He will conquer by love, or He will not conquer at all. Earthly kings are not crowned with thorns, and scourged, and robed in blood, or, if they are, they do not turn the world upside down.
…We take our part in the procession.
Some go before and make ready the way – getting branches of trees and strewing them in the way – spreading garments in the way. So some of you give personal service, and make personal sacrifices. You long by any means in your power to do honour to Him. Some follow after, attracted by the crowd, and worked up by their enthusiasm – attracted by music, or by a popular preacher, or by striking ceremonial, or by the influence of a personal friend. And there are His nearest disciples, around Him wherever He goes, whether they understand or not. Even they will fail Him later in the week. Will you?’
from an address on Palm Sunday 1933 by Dom Bernard Clements OSB, 1880-1942
Oh blessed body! Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
Sure there is room within our hearts good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toys dwell there, yet out of door
They leave thee.
But that which shows them large, shows them unfit.
Whatever sin did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now? Who hath indicted it
Where our hard hearts have took up stones to brain thee,
And missing this, most falsely did arraign thee;
Only these stones in quiet entertain thee,
And as of old, the law by heav’nly art,
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word, find’st no fit heart
To hold thee.
Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can,
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
George Herbert, 1593-1633
‘There is no Mass today. That which is done at the altar is but the summing up of what, in time, was begun yesterday, that Act which although it has its moments in time, is of the Eternal order of reality in itself, is not made more by that immersion in time but only made accessible and available to us men and for our salvation. As in the Incarnation God comes to and adds to man, not man to God, so in Holy Mass, ever is it that our emptiness is filled, our nothingness finds its sole accompaniment in Jesus, our poverty enriched by the Divine Liberality, our frailty charged with power from on high. Is it not in order to emphasise this that the Church today throws us back on the very Act and moment of the first Good Friday, bids us contemplate the Mystery of the Cross in all its stark reality, strips herself bare to leave us face to face with the Crucifix, would have us see with the eye of faith alone the profundity of the Divine Love, the malice of sin, the perfection of the Sacrifice, which exhibits the one and atones for the other, would have us seek nought else but to stand silent, worshipful, penitent, all-loving at the Cross with Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Magdalene, Queen of Penitents, John, prince of lovers, and those other few, known scarcely but by name, to whom. we, indeed, are more akin?
Ite Missa est. No translation is possible save in that word of Jesus, Consummatum est, which our It is finished fails to express. For here is not something finished in the sense of being ended, done with, and laid aside, but in the fullest sense of an act which had not only accomplished all that was necessary, filled out and completed the whole designed, but this in order that it may remain an abiding thing, of permanent value and use. The Cross is not the end of the Gospel but the centre, to which all tends, from which all flows. It is not a cul-de-sac but a way, the Way to Life, to freedom, to peace and joy’.
Dom Bede Frost OSB, 1875-1947
‘Holy Thursday is not only the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, whose splendour bathes all else and in some ways draws it to itself. To Holy Thursday also belongs the dark night of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus goes with his disciples; the solitude and abandonment of Jesus, who in prayer goes forth to encounter the darkness of death; the betrayal of Judas, Jesus’ arrest and his denial by Peter; his indictment before the Sanhedrin and his being handed over to the Gentiles, to Pilate. Let us try at this hour to understand more deeply something of these events, for in them the mystery of our redemption takes place.
Jesus goes forth into the night. Night signifies lack of communication, a situation where people do not see one another. It is a symbol of incomprehension, of the obscuring of truth. It is the place where evil, which has to hide before the light, can grow. Jesus himself is light and truth, communication, purity and goodness. He enters into the night. Night is ultimately a symbol of death, the definitive loss of fellowship and life. Jesus enters into the night in order to overcome it and to inaugurate the new Day of God in the history of humanity.
On the way, he sang with his Apostles Israel’s psalms of liberation and redemption, which evoked the first Passover in Egypt, the night of liberation. Now he goes, as was his custom, to pray in solitude and, as Son, to speak with the Father. But, unusually, he wants to have close to him three disciples: Peter, James and John. These are the three who had experienced his Transfiguration – when the light of God’s glory shone through his human figure – and had seen him standing between the Law and the Prophets, between Moses and Elijah. They had heard him speaking to both of them about his “exodus” to Jerusalem. Jesus’ exodus to Jerusalem – how mysterious are these words! Israel’s exodus from Egypt had been the event of escape and liberation for God’s People. What would be the form taken by the exodus of Jesus, in whom the meaning of that historic drama was to be definitively fulfilled? The disciples were now witnessing the first stage of that exodus – the utter abasement which was nonetheless the essential step of the going forth to the freedom and new life which was the goal of the exodus. The disciples, whom Jesus wanted to have close to him as an element of human support in that hour of extreme distress, quickly fell asleep. Yet they heard some fragments of the words of Jesus’ prayer and they witnessed his way of acting. Both were deeply impressed on their hearts and they transmitted them to Christians for all time. Jesus called God “Abba”. The word means – as they add – “Father”. Yet it is not the usual form of the word “father”, but rather a children’s word – an affectionate name which one would not have dared to use in speaking to God. It is the language of the one who is truly a “child”, the Son of the Father, the one who is conscious of being in communion with God, in deepest union with him.
Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us. He experiences anguish before the power of death. First and foremost this is simply the dread natural to every living creature in the face of death. In Jesus, however, something more is at work. His gaze peers deeper, into the nights of evil. He sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in that chalice from which he must drink. His is the dread of one who is completely pure and holy as he sees the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him. He also sees me, and he prays for me. This moment of Jesus’ mortal anguish is thus an essential part of the process of redemption’.
from a Maundy Thursday Homily, 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI
‘Today, the Gospel continues to explore Judas’s act of betrayal. The act of betrayal was seemingly very simple. Judas handed over a very simple secret for a very straightforward reason. What he betrayed was, quite simply, the whereabouts of Jesus in the hours of darkness. Why he betrayed was financial gain.
Some have found this too unsubtle. Surely what and why Judas betrayed must have been more profound than that? Isn't it rather a let-down if the climax of the Incarnation, the redemptive death of the God-man, was triggered by something as simple and sordid as a bag of shekels?
Actually, there is a deep fittingness in the betrayal for money of the Saviour of the world. Economics agree with philosophers that money is a mysterious thing. You might think nothing could be less mysterious than the pound in your pocket. But in fact it takes a lot of understanding. Money has been described as a kind of knot that ties together all the processes of society - whether this be for good or for evil.
If so, what more appropriate than that the life of the infinitely precious God-man, spent for the revaluing of humanity in the eyes of the Father, should be exchanged for hard cash.
Money is the symbol of all we value, all that matters to us. The exchange of money makes the world go round. And this is what through a 'marvellous exchange' the blood of Christ will start to do, from Good Friday onwards. It will become the medium in which to value - indeed, to re-value - all human life’.
Fr Aidan Nichols OP
Thou that on sin’s wages starvest,
Behold we have the joy in harvest:
For us was gather’d the first-fruits
For us was lifted from the roots,
Sheaved in cruel bands, bruised sore,
Scourged upon the threshing-floor;
Where the upper mill-stone roof’d His head,
At morn we found the heavenly Bread,
And on a thousand Altars laid,
Christ our Sacrifice is made!
Those whose dry plot for moisture gapes,
We shout with them that tread the grapes:
For us the Vine was fenced with thorn,
Five ways the precious branches torn;
Terrible fruit was on the tree
In the acre of Gethsemane;
For us by Calvary’s distress
The wine was rackèd from the press;
Now in our altar-vessels stored
Is the sweet Vintage of our Lord.
In Joseph’s garden they threw by
The riv’n Vine, leafless, lifeless, dry:
On Easter morn the Tree was forth,
In forty days reach’d Heaven from earth;
Soon the whole world is overspread;
Ye weary, come into the shade.
The field where he has planted us
Shall shake her fruit as Libanus,
When He has sheaved us in His sheaf,
When he has made us bear His leaf.--
We scarcely call that banquet food,
But even our Saviour’s and our blood,
We are so grafted on His wood.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, 1844-1889
‘Holy Week sets before us for ever that the Christian and the Christian Church will conquer by God’s methods or not at all. You and I are the Church, remember. The Church is not some vague body outside us that we think ought to do this or ought to do that. She is us. And if she conquers in any other way than God’s way she will not be the Christian Church.
The Cross, then, shall be our glory. Its way and our way. It redeems us, and then redeemed we carry it, and then one day it carries us - very likely in some quite great act of sacrifice, material or intellectual. It is not that one day death will be swallowed up in victory. It is swallowed up now. As we die with Him we begin to live. The darkest moment of Holy Week leads directly into the glory of the Garden on Easter morning. In us the Christ advances this Holy Week to Calvary once more, and once more hatred and hostility will be met by Love, and pain will be conquered by the suffering of it. The triumphal procession on Palm Sunday was a real one, not a mock one. The King of Glory in real truth rode in that morning conquering. Whatever it may look like to the world, Good Friday is a complete victory of God's methods over man's, as we shall see, you and I, if we have the courage to try them. But it will need courage, because Calvary is not a pathway of roses, and a cross almost always hurts’.
Dom Bernard Clements OSB, 1880-1942
‘Early in the morning of this day Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph that Jesus is to receive to-day in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosannas to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome’s emperor, and of the high priests and Pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.
The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Saviour. He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass”. Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfilment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him an ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Beth phage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.
The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat, is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence: the Jews will be rejected, for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God’s people, and become docile and faithful.
The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Saviour, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him, and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King. They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm-trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.
Thus did God, in His power over men’s hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamour for His Blood. This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews. Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate’s order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: “What I have written, I have written”. Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: “The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever”. Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.
This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of to-day, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Fr Lee Kenyon