‘We are now approaching that most sacred day when we commemorate Christ’s passion and death. Let us try to fix our minds upon this great thought. Let us try, what is so very difficult, to put off other thoughts, to clear our minds of things transitory, temporal, and earthly, and to occupy them with the contemplation of the Eternal Priest and His one ever-enduring Sacrifice;—that Sacrifice which, though completed once for all on Calvary, yet ever abideth, and, in its power and its grace, is ever present among us, and is at all times gratefully and awfully to be commemorated, but now especially, when the time of year is come at which it was made. Let us look upon Him who was lifted up that He might draw us to Him; and, by being drawn one and all to Him, let us be drawn to each other, so that we may understand and feel that He has redeemed us one and all, and that, unless we love one another, we cannot really have love to Him who laid down His life for us’.
St John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
‘My God, who could have imagined, by any light of nature, that it was one of Thy attributes to lower Thyself, and to work out Thy purposes by Thy own humiliation and suffering? Thou hadst lived from eternity in ineffable blessedness. My God, I might have understood as much as this, viz. that, when Thou didst begin to create and surround Thyself with a world of creatures, that these attributes would show themselves in Thee which before had no exercise. Thou couldest not show Thy power when there was nothing whatever to exercise it. Then too, Thou didst begin to show thy wonderful and tender providence, Thy faithfulness, Thy solicitous care for those whom Thou hadst created. But who could have fancied that Thy creation of the universe implied and involved in it Thy humiliation? O my great God, Thou hast humbled Thyself, Thou hast stooped to take our flesh and blood, and hast been lifted up upon the tree! I praise and glorify Thee tenfold the more, because Thou hast shown Thy power by means of Thy suffering, than hadst Thou carried on Thy work without it. It is worthy of Thy infinitude thus to surpass and transcend all our thoughts.
2. O my Lord Jesu, I believe, and by Thy grace will ever believe and hold, and I know that it is true, and will be true to the end of the world, that nothing great is done without suffering, without humiliation, and that all things are possible by means of it. I believe, O my God, that poverty is better than riches, pain better than pleasure, obscurity and contempt than name, and ignominy and reproach than honour. My Lord, I do not ask Thee to bring these trials on me, for I know not if I could face them; but at least, O Lord, whether I be in prosperity or adversity, I will believe that it is as I have said. I will never have faith in riches, rank, power, or reputation. I will never set my heart on worldly success or on worldly advantages. I will never wish for what men call the prizes of life. I will ever, with Thy grace, make much of those who are despised or neglected, honour the poor, revere the suffering, and admire and venerate Thy saints and confessors, and take my part with them in spite of the world.
3. And lastly, O my dear Lord, though I am so very weak that I am not fit to ask Thee for suffering as a gift, and have not strength to do so, at least I will beg of Thee grace to meet suffering well, when Thou in Thy love and wisdom dost bring it upon me. Let me bear pain, reproach, disappointment, slander, anxiety, suspense, as Thou wouldest have me, O my Jesu, and as Thou by Thy own suffering hast taught me, when it comes. And I promise too, with Thy grace, that I will never set myself up, never seek pre-eminence, never court any great thing of the world, never prefer myself to others. I wish to bear insult meekly, and to return good for evil. I wish to humble myself in all things, and to be silent when I am ill-used, and to be patient when sorrow or pain is prolonged, and all for the love of Thee, and Thy Cross, knowing that in this way I shall gain the promise both of this life and of the next’.
St John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Holy Cross Day, Divine Worship: The Missal.
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.
‘“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
In both the Ordinariate and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, one week exactly before Good Friday, Our Lady of Sorrows is today commemorated. In the Ordinariate it is known as ‘Saint Mary in Passiontide’, a day to recall the sufferings of Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross of her Son. A poem to share for this day, Pietà, by the Welsh Anglican priest R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), written in 1966.
Always the same hills
Crown the horizon,
Of the still scene.
And in the foreground
The tall Cross,
Aches for the Body
That is back in the cradle
Of a maid’s arms.
It is the greatness of Thy love, dear Lord, that we would celebrate
With sevenfold powers.
Our love at best is cold and poor, at best unseemly for Thy state,
This best of ours.
Creatures that die, we yet are such as Thine own hands deigned to create:
We frail as flowers,
We bitter bondslaves ransomed at a price incomparably great
To grace Heaven’s bowers.
Thou callest: “Come at once” — and still Thou callest us: “Come late, tho’ late” --
(The moments fly) --
“Come, every one that thirsteth, come” — “Come prove
Me, knocking at My gate” --
(Some souls draw nigh!) --
“Come thou who waiting seekest Me” — “Come thou for whom I seek and wait” --
(Why will we die?) --
“Come and repent: come and amend: come joy the joys unsatiate” --
— (Christ passeth by...) --
Lord, pass not by — I come — and I — and I.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
Although the following was penned 137 ago this Lent, Edward King’s words, especially in the first paragraph, seem almost prophetic. A reminder, perhaps, that the feelings and emotions associated with the present abnormality in our domestic, social, educational, working, and ecclesiastical lives, is nothing new, and that in all and through all there remains an abiding, unchanging, and objective joy underpinning all things and events in our individual and corporate lives. Can we, then, see this time as an opportunity to give up ourselves and so grow in trustfulness and hopefulness?
‘[Y]ear after year, as Passiontide after Passiontide goes round, and we see people getting old around us, and more nervously distrustful, and more melancholy, and undergoing all the manifold sufferings of this world, getting out of spirits, and feeling themselves failing, and that they cannot enjoy things as they used; money and pleasure will not do what they used for them; they feel physically used up – we feel that all this is not so with the spiritual nature. The nearer we get to God the more we see of Him; the more satiated we are with love for Him; the more spiritual power we receive; the more strength comes to us. And all this grows, as year after year in Passiontide we gain an ever-increasing trust in the death of Christ. And whether it is a wet or fine Easter; whether we have a fine service here in London, or a dull one all alone down in the country, this unchanging joy is the same in our hearts, the joy which makes Good Friday indeed good, and Easter Day exceedingly bright, the one thought, He died for me!
When we really realise this, we dare think of His coming again in great glory, we dare look forward to the Judgement Day, and on to heaven beyond!
We ought, each one of us, to be growing in this spirit of even trustfulness and hopefulness, for we know there is nothing of our own to trust in, but only the merits of Christ. And this spirit would be growing in each one of us, if we did not shrink from availing ourselves of all the helps He has provided for us in His Church. We should be able to say, “The Precious Blood of Christ cleanses me from all sin. It is mine. It marks my soul”.
… Do not let Passiontide come and go this year, as if the Atonement was a distant thing – with no particular application to yourself – but try and bring it home in this way to your own soul, and you will find an ever-increasing and abiding peace.
He gave up all, and died for me; the very least we can do is to give up ourselves entirely to Him. Do not go and use this means of grace selfishly, in order that we may say, “Oh, I feel so happy; I am cleansed from all my sins!” But what must follow? We must give ourselves to Him. Let this one act be our chief devotional exercise this Passiontide – to reconsecrate ourselves, for the rest of our lives to His service’.
from an address given in Lent 1883 by Edward King, 1829-1910
(Anglican Bishop of Lincoln, 1885-1910)
In pious memory of Father Andrew SDC, who died on this day in 1946, a passage from a Holy Week meditation on the death of self.
‘The whole reason of our Lord’s death was that there might be life more abundant.
We have to try to die with our Lord if we would rise with Him. Our Lord’s life was in a mystical sense a daily dying. There came the day when He completely died, in darkness, shame, and pain, and in proportion to the completeness of His death was the completeness and the perfection of His Resurrection.
All of us have some particular weakness of our own, a quick temper, laziness, or some kind of selfishness. It is to this that we must learn to die daily, if we would live the new life in Christ. If we allow our bodies by their desires to dull our devotion and obscure our spiritual vision, then we live to the flesh and die to Christ, but if we keep them in subjection, then we die to the flesh and live to Christ.
We must die to our own self-will. The reason we do things should be because we believe them to be in harmony with the will of God. We must die to our own self-love. The saints have always been at peace with themselves, because they have never thought about themselves. Only out of the death of self-love can there be a resurrection to the love of God’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
The framer called to say that the print was ready for collection, and so off into the strong winds of Vancouver Island it was. There is no lockdown here (yet), and so long as folk observe the requisite social distance and keep to under 50 then British Columbians are free to move around and pick up their much-anticipated framed prints. I began to collect these 1970s Church Literature Association reproductions of the works of the artist Martin Travers (background here, especially in the comments) after an initial benefaction by Mgr W. This copy comes via Glastonbury and, appropriately, has made its home on the wall on this Monday of Passion Week, thus lending itself to an excerpt from Mgr Ronald Knox’s sermons on the Cross, preached four years after the creation of the original Travers image. Hard to beat the heady fusion 1920s Catholic art and homiletics...
‘In the words of the Imitation of Christ, we have to live a dying life. A life from which the thought of our death-bed is never wholly absent, giving us a contempt of worldly things, giving us a sense of urgency and haste, because our time is so short. “Ye are dead” (St Paul tells us), “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. As the children of Israel passed to their deliverance through the dark waters of the Red Sea, so Christ, our Leader, delivered us by passing, on Good Friday, through the dark gates of the tomb. In baptism, we have all mystically achieved that ordeal by water, we have all been mystically identified with Christ’s death – buried with him (St Paul says again) in baptism. “As dying, and behold we live”; it is only in proportion as we are dead to the world that we live to him.
As Christ upon the Cross in death reclined,
Into his Father’s arms his parting soul resigned,
So now herself my soul would freely give
Into his sacred charge to whom all spirits live;
So now beneath his eye would calmly rest
Without a wish or thought abiding in the breast;
Save that his Will be done, what e’er bedite,
Dead to herself, and dead in him to all beside’.
Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
Some encouraging words and practical advice from the late Cardinal Hume on the theme of pain and suffering. As we enter this Sunday into Passiontide and contemplate the reality of a church-less Holy Week, it will be especially important to draw as close as we can to the Crucified One and so lay before God all that does not make sense, all that seems lost, all that hurts. We can be honest with God about how we feel, but only if we seek, in exchange, to understand truly how God is always honest with us - especially in those difficult and often unwelcome moments of suffering and loss - about the reality of our lives, our loves, our very purpose in this life and the next.
‘Suffering comes to each one of us. We cannot escape it. The list is familiar: illness, mental anguish, old age, loneliness, heartbreak, disappointments, unkindnesses, the loss of a loved one – everyday problems no doubt, but painful experiences which can drain us of energy and take the joy out of living. It is easy to allow ourselves to become bitter and unhappy. We refuse to accept. We do not try to understand, and the pain is then worse. How do we escape from that danger?
It is, I suggest, by realising that every pain and each trial is a call from God to each one personally to become holy, to draw closer to him. God speaks clearly through pain. It is not that we should seek suffering for ourselves, that would be wrong. It is a gift from God rich in blessings and reward, but only if it makes us more Christ-like and greater lovers of our Father.
In times of trial we must never cease to pray… we can pray, as he did on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is a powerful prayer when the trial is very great. Our Lord’s suffering was so intense that he felt that even his Father no longer cared.
There will be times when we shall feel incapable of using words or, even more difficult, of having fine thoughts. It is helpful then just to sit or kneel, gazing at the crucifix. That is an excellent way of praying. You may feel wretched, overcome, sad, bewildered – but go on looking at the crucifix and it will tell you its secret. We shall understand that suffering and pain, and death as well, have now a special dignity and value precisely because Christ, who is God, experienced them’.
Basil, Cardinal Hume OSB, 1923-1999
‘Life among other things is a great choice. Hell and heaven have to do with the individual will and that will’s choice. Each one must make his own choice. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (St John 3.19). There is a story of a tyrant who made a man forge the chain with which he bound him. Our fatal choices are links in the chain that our will forges. Again, each one in holding to his choice will grow like that which he has chosen. Forgiveness does not mean that God says, “We will let the matter drop”, but that the will of the penitent effectively chooses the will of God. God’s mercy can never be indulgence for sin. God will abide by that choice which He has revealed to us in the character of the Beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
O Holy and ever-blessed Jesu, who being the eternal Son of God and most high in the glory of the Father, didst vouchsafe in love for us sinners to be born of a pure virgin, and didst humble thyself unto death, even the death of the cross: Deepen within us, we beseech thee, a due sense of thy infinite love; that adoring a believing in thee as our Lord and Saviour, we may trust in thy infinite merits, imitate thy holy example, obey thy commands, and finally enjoy thy promises; who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
John Wesley, 1703-1791
‘After the Sacraments and liturgical worship I am convinced there is no practise more fruitful for our souls than the Way of the Cross made with devotion. Its supernatural efficacy is sovereign. The Passion is the “holy of holies” among the mysteries of Jesus, the preeminent work of our Supreme High Priest; it is there above all that his virtues shine forth, and when we contemplate him in his sufferings he gives us according to the measure of our faith, the grace to practise the virtues that he manifested during these holy hours… At each station Our Divine Saviour presents himself to us in this triple character: as the Mediator who saves us by his merits, the perfect Model of sublime virtues, and the efficacious Cause who can, through his Divine Omnipotence, produce in our souls the virtues of which he gives us the example’.
Blessed Columba Marmion OSB, 1858-1923
‘It is reaching to Calvary and laying hold with your hands of the Cross of Christ, with Christ on it, and you plant it down here, today. Whenever Mass is celebrated we plant it here in this city… That’s what the Mass is… the continuation of Calvary. And in order to take part in it, you have to bring little crosses. Our Blessed Lord said “take up your cross daily and follow me”. We all have crosses. And we bring them all and plant them down alongside of that great Cross and Christ and we mass them all together under Him. That is the Mass’.
Ven Fulton Sheen, 1895-1979
Almighty Father, we thank thee that we thy mortal children are allowed to feed upon the Bread of Life; that we sinners are able to hold communion with the King of Saints; and that we, who know not what any day may bring forth, are allowed to fortify our souls with his Presence, who turned the dark night of his death into the brightness of the light of his redeeming love, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. - A prayer of Father Andrew SDC, St Gregory’s Prayer Book.
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
Lord, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.
O Christ, hear us. O Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy upon us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy upon us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy upon us.
Jesus, the Eternal Widsom, have mercy upon us.
The Word made flesh, have mercy upon us.
Hated by the world, have mercy upon us.
Sold for thirty pieces of silver, have mercy upon us.
Sweating blood in Thy agony, have mercy upon us.
Betrayed by Judas, have mercy upon us.
Forsaken by Thy disciples, have mercy upon us.
Struck upon the cheek, have mercy upon us.
Accused by false witnesses, have mercy upon us.
Spit upon in the face, have mercy upon us.
Denied by Peter, have mercy upon us.
Mocked by Herod, have mercy upon us.
Scourged by Pilate, have mercy upon us.
Rejected for Barabbas, have mercy upon us.
Loaded with the cross, have mercy upon us.
Crowned with thorns, have mercy upon us.
Stripped of Thy garments, have mercy upon us.
Nailed to the tree, have mercy upon us.
Reviled by the Jews, have mercy upon us.
Scoffed at by the malefactor, have mercy upon us.
Wounded in the side, have mercy upon us.
Shedding Thy last drop of blood, have mercy upon us.
Forsaken by Thy Father, have mercy upon us.
Dying for our sins, have mercy upon us.
Taken down from the cross, have mercy upon us.
Laid in the sepulchre, have mercy upon us.
Rising gloriously, have mercy upon us.
Ascending into Heaven, have mercy upon us.
Sending down the Paraclete, have mercy upon us.
Jesus our Sacrifice, have mercy upon us.
Jesus our Mediator, have mercy upon us.
Jesus our Judge, have mercy upon us.
Be merciful. Spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful. Graciously hear us, O Lord.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee,
Because through Thy Holy Cross Thou didst redeem the world.
Let us pray. O God, who for the redemption of the world wast pleased to be born; to be circumcised; to be rejected; to be betrayed; to be bound with thongs; to be led to the slaughter; to be shamefully gazed at; to be falsely accused; to be scourged and torn; to be spit upon, and crowned with thorns; to be mocked and reviled; to be buffeted and struck with rods; to be stripped; to be nailed to the cross; to be hoisted up thereon; to be reckoned among thieves; to have gall and vinegar to drink; to be pierced with a lance: through Thy most holy passion, which we, Thy sinful servants, call to mind, and by Thy holy cross and gracious death, deliver us from the pains of hell, and lead us whither Thou didst lead the thief who was crucified with Thee, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.
from his Litany of the Passion by Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
In both the Ordinariate and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, one week exactly before Good Friday, Our Lady of Sorrows is today commemorated. In the Ordinariate it is known as ‘Saint Mary in Passiontide’, a day to recall the sufferings of Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross of her Son.
‘With Mary, God has worked for good in everything, and he does not cease, through Mary, to cause good to spread further in the world.
Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveller and protector on life’s journey. “By her motherly love she cares for her son’s sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home”, as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.
Our trust in the powerful intercession of the Mother of God and our gratitude for the help we have repeatedly experienced impel us, as it were, to think beyond the needs of the moment. What does Mary actually want to say to us, when she rescues us from some trial? She wants to help us grasp the breadth and depth of our Christian vocation. With a mother’s tenderness, she wants to make us understand that our whole life should be a response to the love of our God, who is so rich in mercy. “Understand”, she seems to say to us, “that God, who is the source of all that is good and who never desires anything other than your true happiness, has the right to demand of you a life that yields wholly and joyfully to his will, striving at the same time that others may do likewise”. Where God is, there is a future.
Indeed — when we allow God’s love to pervade and to shape the whole of our lives, then heaven stands open. Then it is possible so to shape the present that it corresponds more and more to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the little things of everyday life acquire meaning, and great problems find solutions.
Confident of this, we pray to Mary; confident of this, we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. Amen’.
Pope Benedict XVI
Fr Lee Kenyon