The Last Supper that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ shared with His Apostles in the Upper Room on the first Holy Thursday marked the beginning of the New and Eternal Testament of the New Moses Who is Himself, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The first Moses, a prefiguring of Our Lord, had led the Chosen People out of Egypt, where they had been enslaved for over four centuries. The new Moses, Our Lord, used the occasion of this Last Supper, in which He offers us His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, to lead us out of our enslavement to sin and eternal death, to make it possible for us to pass over from the desert journey of life to the eternal Canaan, Heaven.
The priesthood of heredity of the Old Dispensation is superseded by the Priesthood and Victimhood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which He entrusts to mere men until the end of the world to be the instruments through which the graces He won for us on Calvary are channeled into human souls by the working of the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, and through most loving hands of Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces. This day truly marks the replacement of the old wineskins by the new wineskin of Faith in the Son of God made Man in Our Lady’s Virginal and Immaculate Womb, He Who came to earth precisely to undergo His Passion and Death for our salvation.
The sacerdotal, hierarchical priesthood of the New and Eternal Testament makes it possible for mere men to make Our Lord incarnate under theappearance of the mere elements of this earth, bread and wine. God calls men to serve Him in the priesthood to re-present in an unbloody manner at altars of sacrifice. Conscious of this fact, therefore, men who have been ordained to the priesthood must strive for the holiness of Our Lord Himself. They enter into the holy of holies every day as they walk in with their biretta to transcend time, to make present in time the one Sacrifice of the Cross that was offered by the God-Man Himself to His Co-Eternal Co-Equal God the Father in Spirit and in Truth on Good Friday. The sanctuary in which Holy Mass is offered is symbolic of many things, chief among them the distinction between eternity and time, and the distinction between the sacerdotal, hierarchical priesthood of the ordained priest and the common priesthood each of us by means of our baptism.
We must pray for our priests, especially in these troubling times of apostasy and betrayal when those priests who are good to their sheep while remaining faithful to the patrimony of Holy Mother Church, are as calumniated today as Our Lord was by the members of the Sanhedrin who plotted with Judas Iscariot to have Him arrested and put to death. However, the true bishops and priests of the Catholic catacombs understand that the priesthood instituted by Our Lord on the first Maundy Thursday involves the Cross. We must help our priests carry their crosses as they sacrifice themselves as other Christs for us and our sanctification and salvation no matter the persecutions and insults and calumnies that come their way.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., commented on the institution of the priesthood in The Liturgical Year:
The institution of the holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and a Sacrifice, is followed by another: the institution of a new priesthood. How could our Saviour have said: ‘Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you,’ unless He resolved to establish a ministry upon earth, whereby He would renew, even to the end of time, the great mystery He thus commands us to receive? He begins it to-day, in the cenacle. The twelve apostles are the first to partake of it it; but observe what what He says to them: ‘Do this for a commemoration of Me.’ By these words, He give them power to change bread into His Body, and win into His Blood; and this sublime power shall be perpetuated in the Church, by holy Ordination, even to the end of the world. Jesus will continue to operate, by the ministry of mortal and sinful men, the mystery of the last Supper. By thus enriching His Church with one and perpetual Sacrifice, He also gives us the means of abiding in Him, for He gives us, as He promised, the Bread of heaven. To-day, then, we keep the anniversary, not only of the institution of the holy Eucharist, but also the equally wonderful institution of the Christian priesthood. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. The Liturgical Year.)
Pope Pius XI noted the following in Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, December 20, 1935, about the dignity of the priest, the one who channels the graces that the Divine Redeemer won on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday into the souls of the faithful:
The human race has always felt the need of a priesthood: of men, that is, who have the official charge to be mediators between God and humanity, men who should consecrate themselves entirely to this mediation, as to the very purpose of their lives, men set aside to offer to God public prayers and sacrifices in the name of human society. For human society as such is bound to offer to God public and social worship. It is bound to acknowledge in Him its Supreme Lord and first beginning, and to strive toward Him as to its last end, to give Him thanks and offer Him propitiation. In fact, priests are to be found among all peoples whose customs are known, except those compelled by violence to act against the most sacred laws of human nature. They may, indeed, be in the service of false divinities; but wherever religion is professed, wherever altars are built, there also is a priesthood surrounded by particular marks of honor and veneration.
Yet in the splendor of Divine Revelation the priest is seen invested with a dignity far greater still. This dignity was foreshadowed of old by the venerable and mysterious figure of Melchisedech, Priest and King, whom St. Paul recalls as prefiguring the Person and Priesthood of Christ Our Lord Himself.
The priest, according to the magnificent definition given by St. Paul is indeed a man Ex hominibus assumptus, “taken from amongst men,” yet pro hominibus constituitur in his quae sunt ad Deum, “ordained for men in the things that appertain to God”: his office is not for human things, and things that pass away, however lofty and valuable these may seem; but for things divine and enduring. These eternal things may, perhaps, through ignorance, be scorned and contemned, or even attacked with diabolical fury and malice, as sad experience has often proved, and proves even today; but they always continue to hold the first place in the aspirations, individual and social, of humanity, because the human heart feels irresistibly it is made for God and is restless till it rests in Him.
The Old Law, inspired by God and promulgated by Moses, set up a priesthood, which was, in this manner, of divine institution; and determined for it every detail of its duty, residence and rite. It would seem that God, in His great care for them, wished to impress upon the still primitive mind of the Jewish people one great central idea. This idea throughout the history of the chosen people, was to shed its light over all events, laws, ranks and offices: the idea of sacrifice and priesthood. These were to become, through faith in the future Messias, a source of hope, glory, power and spiritual liberation. The temple of Solomon, astonishing in richness and splendor, was still more wonderful in its rites and ordinances. Erected to the one true God as a tabernacle of the divine Majesty upon earth, it was also a sublime poem sung to that sacrifice and that priesthood, which, though type and symbol, was still so august, that the sacred figure of its High Priest moved the conqueror Alexander the Great, to bow in reverence; and God Himself visited His wrath upon the impious king Balthasar because he made revel with the sacred vessels of the temple. Yet that ancient priesthood derived its greatest majesty and glory from being a foretype of the Christian priesthood; the priesthood of the New and eternal Covenant sealed with the Blood of the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
The Apostle of the Gentiles thus perfectly sums up what may be said of the greatness, the dignity and the duty of the Christian priesthood: Sic nos existimet homo Ut ministros Christi et dispensatores mysteriorum Dei — “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.” The priest is the minister of Christ, an instrument, that is to say, in the hands of the Divine Redeemer. He continues the work of the redemption in all its world-embracing universality and divine efficacy, that work that wrought so marvelous a transformation in the world. Thus the priest, as is said with good reason, is indeed “another Christ”; for, in some way, he is himself a continuation of Christ. “As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you,” is spoken to the priest, and hence the priest, like Christ, continues to give “glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.”
For, in the first place, as the Council of Trent teaches, Jesus Christ at the Last Supper instituted the sacrifice and the priesthood of the New Covenant: “our Lord and God, although once and for all, by means of His death on the altar of the cross, He was to offer Himself to God the Father, that thereon He might accomplish eternal Redemption; yet because death was not to put an end to his priesthood, at the Last Supper, the same night in which He was betrayed in order to leave to His beloved spouse the Church, a sacrifice which should be visible (as the nature of man requires), which should represent that bloody sacrifice, once and for all to be completed on the cross, which should perpetuate His memory to the end of time, and which should apply its saving power unto the remission of sins we daily commit, showing Himself made a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, offered to God the Father, under the appearance of bread and wine, His Body and Blood, giving them to the apostles (whom He was then making priests of the New Covenant) to be consumed under the signs of these same things, and commanded the Apostles and their successors in the priesthood to offer them, by the words ‘Do this in commemoration of Me.’ “
And thenceforth, the Apostles, and their successors in the priesthood, began to lift to heaven that “clean oblation” foretold by Malachy, through which the name of God is great among the gentiles. And now, that same oblation in every part of the world and at every hour of the day and night, is offered and will continue to be offered without interruption till the end of time: a true sacrificial act, not merely symbolical, which has a real efficacy unto the reconciliation of sinners with the Divine Majesty.
“Appeased by this oblation, the Lord grants grace and the gift of repentance, and forgives iniquities and sins, however great.” The reason of this is given by the same Council in these words: “For there is one and the same Victim, there is present the same Christ who once offered Himself upon the Cross, who now offers Himself by the ministry of priests, only the manner of the offering being different.” (Pope Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, December 20, 1935.)
Our priests make it possible for us to to be fed with the true Manna Who came from Heaven to redeem us. The Chosen People ate the manna in the desert to feed their bodies. We, however, have the true Bread came down from Heaven to feed us, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. By virtue of the events of the Easter Triduum which we enter into on Maundy Thursday, He left us with all of the supernatural helps necessary to follow Him on a daily basis, to resist temptation, to grow in holiness–and by doing so to provide an example to the world of fidelity to His Holy Cross. The Mass, the perfect prayer, which was consummated on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday, provides us with an opportunity every day of the year except on Good Friday to be present as His one Sacrifice to the Father in Spirit and in Truth as it is offered in an unbloody manner at the hands of an alter Christus. We are truly present at Calvary during each Mass we are privileged to hear.
Our love of the Sacrament of the Eucharist instituted at the Last Supper is not confined to the Mass, however.
Just as Our Lord spent nine months as the prisoner of the tabernacle of Our Lady’s Virginal and Immaculate womb, so does He remain the prisoner of each tabernacle in every true Catholic Church until the end of time by His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We have the opportunity immediately after the procession today, Maundy Thursday, to worship Our Lord in the repository, calling to mind the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane He underwent this night prior to His arrest, trial, imprisonment, scourging at the pillar, and crowning with thorns.
Yes, that opportunity is available to us every day, with the exception of the time after the morning of Good Friday until after the Mass on Holy Saturday. But today, Maundy Thursday, is the day above all over days to keep company with Our Lord in His Real Presence as He waits us to adore Him in the Tabernacle (the Repository) on the Altar of Reposition. We shall be keeping Our Lord company not only with those who happen to be with us in a particular church today. We shall be keeping Him company with Saints Peter, James and John, each of whom fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, and with Our Lady, Saint Joseph and all of the angels and the saints.
Which one of us would not make the time to keep one of our loved ones company as he or she was about to undergo some terrible ordeal? Haven’t we made time in our lives to comfort those we loved who were about to undergo surgery, as well as those in our families who were on the verge of dying? Does it not make sense for us to keep company with Our Lord on the actual date of the first Maundy Thursday, yes, the night in which the very thought of coming into contact with our sins caused Him to sweat droplets of His Most Precious Blood?
Pope Leo XIII explained the necessity of devotion to Our Lord’s Real Presence to societies as well as individuals, something that one is not going to read in, say, any “conservative” journal. “For as men and states alike necessarily have their being from god, so they can do nothing good except in God through Jesus Christ, through whom every best and choicest gift has ever proceeded and proceeds.” These passages from Pope Leo’s Mirae Caritatis, May 28, 1902, indicate the connection between Eucharistic piety and social order:
Indeed it is greatly to be desired that those men would rightly esteem and would make due provision for life everlasting, whose industry or talents or rank have put it in their power to shape the course of human events. But alas! we see with sorrow that such men too often proudly flatter themselves that they have conferred upon this world as it were a fresh lease of life and prosperity, inasmuch as by their own energetic action they are urging it on to the race for wealth, to a struggle for the possession of commodities which minister to the love of comfort and display. And yet, whithersoever we turn, we see that human society, if it be estranged from God, instead of enjoying that peace in its possessions for which it had sought, is shaken and tossed like one who is in the agony and heat of fever; for while it anxiously strives for prosperity, and trusts to it alone, it is pursuing an object that ever escapes it, clinging to one that ever eludes the grasp. For as men and states alike necessarily have their being from God, so they can do nothing good except in God through Jesus Christ, through whom every best and choicest gift has ever proceeded and proceeds. But the source and chief of all these gifts is the venerable Eucharist, which not only nourishes and sustains that life the desire whereof demands our most strenuous efforts, but also enhances beyond measure that dignity of man of which in these days we hear so much. For what can be more honourable or a more worthy object of desire than to be made, as far as possible, sharers and partakers in the divine nature? Now this is precisely what Christ does for us in the Eucharist, wherein, after having raised man by the operation of His grace to a supernatural state, he yet more closely associates and unites him with Himself. For there is this difference between the food of the body and that of the soul, that whereas the former is changed into our substance, the latter changes us into its own; so that St. Augustine makes Christ Himself say: “You shall not change Me into yourself as you do the food of your body, but you shall be changed into Me” (confessions 1. vii., c. x.).
Moreover, in this most admirable Sacrament, which is the chief means whereby men are engrafted on the divine nature, men also find the most efficacious help towards progress in every kind of virtue. And first of all in faith. In all ages faith has been attacked; for although it elevates the human mind by bestowing on it the knowledge of the highest truths, yet because, while it makes known the existence of divine mysteries, it yet leaves in obscurity the mode of their being, it is therefore thought to degrade the intellect. But whereas in past times particular articles of faith have been made by turns the object of attack; the seat of war has since been enlarged and extended, until it has come to this, that men deny altogether that there is anything above and beyond nature. Now nothing can be better adapted to promote a renewal of the strength and fervour of faith in the human mind than the mystery of the Eucharist, the “mystery of faith,” as it has been most appropriately called. For in this one mystery the entire supernatural order, with all its wealth and variety of wonders, is in a manner summed up and contained: “He hath made a remembrance of His wonderful works, a merciful and gracious Lord; He hath given food to them that fear Him” (Psalm cx, 4-5). For whereas God has subordinated the whole supernatural order to the Incarnation of His Word, in virtue whereof salvation has been restored to the human race, according to those words of the Apostle; “He hath purposed…to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in Him” (Eph. i., 9-10), the Eucharist, according to the testimony of the holy Fathers, should be regarded as in a manner a continuation and extension of the Incarnation. For in and by it the substance of the incarnate Word is united with individual men, and the supreme Sacrifice offered on Calvary is in a wondrous manner renewed, as was signified beforehand by Malachy in the words: “In every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a pure oblation” (Mal. i., 11). And this miracle, itself the very greatest of its kind, is accompanied by innumerable other miracles; for here all the laws of nature are suspended; the whole substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and the Blood; the species of bread and wine are sustained by the divine power without the support of any underlying substance; the Body of Christ is present in many places at the same time, that is to say, wherever the Sacrament is consecrated. And in order that human reason may the more willingly pay its homage to this great mystery, there have not been wanting, as an aid to faith, certain prodigies wrought in His honour, both in ancient times and in our own, of which in more than one place there exist public and notable records and memorials. It is plain that by this Sacrament faith is fed, in it the mind finds its nourishment, the objections of rationalists are brought to naught, and abundant light is thrown on the supernatural order.
But that decay of faith in divine things of which We have spoken is the effect not only of pride, but also of moral corruption. For if it is true that a strict morality improves the quickness of man’s intellectual powers, and if on the other hand, as the maxims of pagan philosophy and the admonitions of divine wisdom combine to teach us, the keenness of the mind is blunted by bodily pleasures, how much more, in the region of revealed truths, do these same pleasures obscure the light of faith, or even, by the just judgment of God, entirely extinguish it. For these pleasures at the present day an insatiable appetite rages, infecting all classes as with an infectious disease, even from tender years. Yet even for so terrible an evil there is a remedy close at hand in the divine Eucharist. For in the first place it puts a check on lust by increasing charity, according to the words of St. Augustine, who says, speaking of charity, “As it grows, lust diminishes; when it reaches perfection, lust is no more” (De diversis quaestionibus, Ixxxiii., q. 36). Moreover the most chaste flesh of Jesus keeps down the rebellion of our flesh, as St. Cyril of Alexandria taught, “For Christ abiding in us lulls to sleep the law of the flesh which rages in our members” (Lib. iv., c. ii., in Joan., vi., 57). Then too the special and most pleasant fruit of the Eucharist is that which is signified in the words of the prophet: “What is the good thing of Him,” that is, of Christ, “and what is His beautiful thing, but the corn of the elect and the wine that engendereth virgins” (Zach. ix., 17), producing, in other words, that flower and fruitage of a strong and constant purpose of virginity which, even in an age enervated by luxury, is daily multiplied and spread abroad in the Catholic Church, with those advantages to religion and to human society, wherever it is found, which are plain to see. (Pope Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis, May 28, 1902.)
Love grows the more it has contact with its object. That is why the rush of new love impels an engaged couple to spend as much time as they can with each other. That is why some married couples, who have cooperated with the graces available to them in the Sacrament of Matrimony, never tire of each other’s presence, growing in mutual love and respect as the years progress. But no human love is the equal of the unsurpassed love that God showed for us when He suffered to redeem our sinful human nature. And we are to have a love for no one human being, not even a spouse, which surpasses our love for Christ and His Holy Church. For we can love no other person authentically if our love is not firmly anchored in an unshakable love for the Blessed Trinity.
Our Lord’s love for us is such that He held back nothing during the events which began during His Passion on Maundy Thursday. Can we not do the same for Him, developing a continuing, life long habit of visiting Him in His Real Presence? If we want to spend all eternity with Him in Heaven, is it not a good idea to show Him how much we love Him by spending time with Him now on earth, by offering up our prayers and petitions for our loved ones and ourselves, by praying fervently to Our Lady as slaves who are totally consecrated to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart that we may let the rays of her Divine Son’s Sacred Heart help us become instruments of mercy in a merciless world?
Although we were not present with Saints Peter, James, and John as they slept through the first Holy Hour with Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemani, we have the opportunity, as noted earlier, today, Maundy Thursday, to keep company with them and Him following the conclusion of Holy Mass. Our Lord sweated droplets of His Most Precious Blood as He contemplated fearfully coming into contact in His Sacred Humanity with the very antithesis of His Sacred Divinity: sin. He saw the sins of every human being from the beginning until the end of time as He was comforted by an angel during His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He saw each one of our sins. Unlike the three Apostles who were taken up by Our Lord to Mount Tabor as He was transfigured in glory before their eyes, we must not fall asleep as we keep Our Lord company during the hour of His Agony in the Garden. We must meditate on the horror of our own sins and on the love Our Lord wanted to show us in fulfilling the Father’s will by paying back the blood debt of our own sins on the wood of the Holy Cross tomorrow, Good Friday.
The New and Eternal passover, inaugurated on the first Maundy Thursday nearly 2,000 years ago, enters us deep into Our Lord’s Passion. It is time for us now to withdraw from the mundane and profane. It is time for us to concentrate on how precious the salvation of each one of our souls is to Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is time for us to let Him lead us out of the wilderness of our own lives, so frequently characterized by inattention to a concern for our spiritual growth. It is time for realize that without Him we can do nothing, without His Cross we have no hope for life.
Rejoicing in the institution of the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, resolving to serve each other with the humility which motivated Our Lord to wash the feet of His Apostles, pledging to be ever more conscious of our need for spiritual reform by the use of the Sacred Tribunal of Penance, we must enter into this Easter Triduum in 2016 full of gratitude. Gratitude for having been made in the image and likeness of the Most Blessed Trinity. Gratitude for having been redeemed on the wood of the Cross. Gratitude for having been brought to the baptismal font so that we could have the gift of the true Faith impressed on our immortal souls, a gift that would not have been possible had not Our Lord left the Upper Room after the Last Supper to do God the Father’s will.
How much do we love Our Lord?
How much do we want to follow Him?
How much do we appreciate what He suffered that evening, sufferings we imposed on His physical Body in time then–and continue to impose on His Holy Church today? (See Father Maurice Meschler's refections on Our Lord's Agony in the Garden, which is appended below for those readers who do not want to read today's original commentary.)
Holy Thursday is the time to enter deep into the mystery of God’s love. That is the time to realize that we are so special to the Triune God that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man was ready to offer Himself this very night into the hands of His own creatures to die for us! He was willing to answer for every sin committed by every human being who would live from the beginning to the end of time. He was willing to remain silent when being accused of one wild accusation after another because He did not want to betray us!
We betrayed Him that night 1,983 years ago. We betray Him, in little and big ways, today. But we can help to repair the damage of our betrayals this Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016. We can resolve to rejoice in the mystery of the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist. We can resolve to keep company with Him after the last Mass to be offered prior to the Holy Saturday Mass to meditate more fully on how we need His help to live more fully in His image. We can resolve to keep vigil with Him today, Maundy Thursday, as He undergoes His trial, spends time in prison as a common criminal–and is led the next morning, Good Friday, before the Judgment Seat of Pontius Pilate.
Let us let Him wipe the dirt off of our feet in the Sacrament of Penance. And, with Our Lady’s prayers, let us be ready to pass over that night–and every day and night of our lives–from death to eternal life by our fidelity to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and His Holy Church, especially by our devotion to spending time before His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and by praying as many Rosaries each day as our states in life permit.
Protected by Our Lady, who was with her Divine Son to the very last, may we do the Father’s will for us right now: to let the new Moses once more lead us out from a world of death and sin to the life of true peace and joy that comes only from being made anew each day by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, extended to us in an unbloody manner by other Christs every day save one by the true Church in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Viva Cristo Rey! Vivat Christus Rex!
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
FATHER MAURICE MESCHLER ON OUR LORD'S AGONY IN THE GARDEN
THE NATURE OF HIS SUFFERINGS
As regards the nature of our Lords sufferings on Mount Olivet, they were not external, but purely internal, that is to say mental sufferings, sufferings of the soul. But suffering of soul can be much worse than bodily pain, for the very reason that it is interiour and mental, and it often communicates itself to the body.
With regard to their number these sufferings were manifold and various. Thrr in particular are enumerated, viz: first fear and apprehension (Mark xiv. 33); secondly, repugnance, horror and aversion (Mark xiv. 33); and thirdly, sadness and depression (Matt xxvi. 37 38). Even one mental suffering can make us unhappy enough. Here it was not a question of one only, but of many; the waves of affliction came surging in upon the Sacred Heart of our Saviour from all sides. There is no conceivable phase or form of mental suffering that He did not go through in His Agony.
And what shall we say of the depth and violence of these sufferings! We can form some ideas of their terrible intensity from the variability of our Lord's outward behaviour. Now He shuns the companionship of His Apostles, now He goes to seek them; now He prays, now complains of His abandonment; in short, His whole nature is in a tumult of agitation, and He betrays great inward perturbation. – The intensity of these interior sufferings finds vent, secondly, in His words. He says: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death” (Matt. Xxvi. 38. Mark xiv. 34). Our Saviour was not wont to exaggerate. When He says, then, that He is “Sorrowful unto death.” this sorrow really is such depression, sadness, and abandonment as is experienced only in death; a sadness that would be capable of causing His death, did not his Divinity support and strengthen His human nature. Still more; He asks (not unconditionally, but “if it be possible”) that this bitter chalice of sadness and anguish of soul may be taken from Him. “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me” (Matt xxvi. 39 42 Mark xiv. 36. Luke xxii. 42). And He repeats this prayer more than once. It must indeed have been terrible anguish, if He, Who had hitherto longed and prayed for this chalice – He, the Strength of God – finds it so unspeakably bitter and insupportable that He would fain have it taken from Him, and turns from it with repugnance and horror. – And the last peculiar sign and striking proof of the vehemence of these mental sufferings is the actual sweat of blood that they force from His veins. “Being in an agony . . . His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground” (Luke xxii. 44).
There is no doubting the fact; this sweat of blood was so copious that it trickled down on the ground. This shows us on the one hand how delicately constituted was our Lord's Sacred Body, and on the other the force of His mental anguish and struggle. It must have been an exceedingly vehement resistance of the higher will to the attacks of the lower volition, for the force of this resistance to press the blood from His Heart through the delicate tissues of His Body. Thus it was a real agony, a true death-struggle, and even His outward aspect must have been a pitiable spectacle. His face was pale, His limbs frembled; His breast heaved convulsively, and His respiration grew short and spasmodic' His terrified glance wandered from heaven to earth, and then to the Apostles, as a cying man turns his anxious gaze first upon one, then upon another of those around him. (cf. Ps. Xvii. 5 6; lxviii 2 3; cxiv. 3).
CAUSES OF THESE SUFFERINGS
Our Lord's three principal sufferings in His Agony may be traced to three corresponding causes.
His fear and apprehension were caused by the certainty and proximity of His Death and the sufferings that were to bring it about. Life is sweet, and it is a hard and bitter sacrifice – indeed, the greatest of all sacrifices – to give it up. Our Saviour recognised more fully than anyone the value of His life, its merit, holiness, and priceless worth for heaven and earth, and especially for His holy Mother and His friends. And this life He was to sacrifice – while yet so young, and by a death so unjust, so unworthy of Him and of such unheard-of cruelty! He pictured these sufferings to Himself, and His vivid fancy conjured up all the scenes of the coming Passion – all the ignominy, ill-treatment and pain that the fury and cruel malice of His foes, the faithlessness and inconstancy of His friends, and the base cowardice of those in authority were to cause Him. He saw all the instruments that were to torture His Body, and His limbs seemed to feel their sharpness and strength already. He recognized the signification of all His torments, and let the consciousness of the sins He had undertaken to expiate cast its shadow over His whole nature, like the thousand spreading branches of a mighty tree. How terribly a hman heart can be affected by fear of a misfortune, or by terror and mortal agony! And what must our Lord have felt, with His vivid fancy and sensitive temperament, presuming that He surrendered Himself up to these impressions! And very probably Divine Justice, in order that He might expiate the contempt with which it meets from men, so worked upon His mind by terrible representations and revelations as to make Him tremble and quiver like an aspen-leaf. For what is even a God-Man against the terrific justice of God, Who crushes like a lion (Isa. Xxxviii. 13), and Whose voice “breaketh the cedars of Libanus” and “shaketh the desert” (Ps. Xxviii. 5 8)? Our Lord writhed under its force, and found no escape from its terrors. He trembled and shook at the magnitude of the atoning suffering that Divine Justice required of Him.
The repugnance, disgust and aversion experienced by our Lord arose from the knowledge of the sins for which He was to suffer so much and so terribly. He was and recognized them in all their dreadful multiplicity – the sins of a ll men and races and ages; He saw all their vileness, baseness wantonness and malice; saw them in their shocking contradiction to God's supreme authority, justice, beauty and goodness; saw their fearful ravages among the human race, and their fatal effects upon men for time and eternity. What abominable pictures of sins, in all their lust, vileness and insolence, crowded upon Him! He saw as it were a mingled torrent of the sinful filth of all ages and races pouring down upon Him. He saw it before Him in one loathsome, unfathomable sea of crime, and every single hateful drop of it must filled His sensitive Sacred Heart with unutterable repugnance ad horror. And all these sins called for bitter expiation. —The human race itself was a second cause of His repugnance. What must He have seen there! What are men to Him – these men, to atone for whose sins He was now to suffer and die? The greater part of mankind, in all ages, sunk in the depth of heathenism and unbelief—what are they to Him? And all who hold aloof from Him in heresy, mortal sin, indifference, worldliness, and lukewarmness—what are they to Him? Are there not Christians who stand up in crowds against Him, as His personal enemies, full of ferocity and hate? Do then not persecute Him in the souls of men, in His Church, His doctrine, His Sacraments, His representative the Pope, and His own Person? How well He deserved our love and reverence, as our Lord and our God! How good was His will towards us all! And yet, what does He see? Throughout all the centuries, whole troops of Christ-haters drawn up in battle array, and raging against Him with all the weapons at their command. How small the handful of His faithful followers looks against this army of foes! And how does it stand even with these trusty soldiers? Which of us can say that he does all his duty, and serves so good a Master with zeal, constancy, unselfishness and generosity? Oh, how soon we all tire! How we grudge and weigh our service, how soon it is “too much” and “too hard!” We chaffer and haggle over every sacrifice, and how often our Saviour gets the worst of the bargain! He saw all this – saw, too, His own Divine Person and all its claims to service, loyalty, love and generosity, as opposed to our slothfulness, indifference, and unbounded selfishness. Is it any wonder that He felt unspeakable repugnance, disgust and aversion for these men, who would do nothing for Him?
His sadness, lastly, was caused by His knowledge of the small result He would gain by all His sacrifices. In the Incarnation He had espoused Himself to the human race as His bride, in order to lead it to the Heavenly Father. To this end He had founded the Church and instituted her doctrine, Sacraments, and priesthood; and now He was going to die for men. But what was to be the fruit of all this? What is the use of it all? Do they take advantage of it? No! They neglect it all, or misuse it to their own ruin. Our Lord saw the tree of sound doctrine imbued by proud heretics with such deadly poison that millions would die of the fatal fruits; saw the living fountain of the Sacraments neglected, desecrated and profaned by administrators as well recipients, or stopped up altogether in wanton criminal stupidity; the priesthood contemned, mocked at, persecuted; His “seamless coat”—His Church—torn, tattered, and soiled. He was the altar of His most holy Sacrifice and Sacrament become a stone of stumbling and separation, and disappear from whole countries; saw countless souls saved but by a hair's breadth, and many other precious souls – to wander astray and go to their eternal ruin. He gave His infinitely precious Life and Blood for all, and the magnitude of this price He paid for them gave Him a right to expect that all would be saved. And now He was so many perish! The loss of every soul gave Him infinite pain. At that time they were still members of His mystical Body, and He felt the loss of each one as acutely as though a limb had been torn from His material Body. Oh, the grief it cause Him! How many were to perish even on account of His bitter Passion, because they reviled and despised it! All these terrible pictures rose before Him in endless array, and cut Him to the very heart. He mourned, lamented, sighed, and prayed in His agony and distress, bathed in perspiration and blood. It seemed as though all the horrors of earth and hell were besieging the grotto and crowding round Him. This is what made Him come to the Apostles so often, to flee from these oppressors, so to speak, and seek comfort. But He always found them overcome with weariness, anxiety, and drowsiness, and they afforded Him no relief. Thus Gethsemani was truly a wine-press, in which His Precious Blood was forced from the veins of His Sacred Body, as the juice and oil are pressed from the crushed grape and pounded olive.
MANNER IN WHICH OUR SAVIOUR SUFFERED.
The circumstances of the Passion lead us to consider the manner in which our Saviour suffered on Mount Olivet.
In the first place, He suffered voluntarily. He was absolute master of His emotions. If He suffered, then, and suffered much and terribly, it was of His own free will and choice. He Himself opened, so to speak, the flood-gates of the bitter waters of affliction that surged over His Heart; He immersed Himself of His own accord in their terrible depths. He was like one who, though suffering intensely, will not made use of a remedy that is certain to ease the pain, because He wishes to suffer. More than this; theologians find a deep mystery in this mental suffering of our Saviour on Mount Olivet. How was it possible that, in spite of the clear vision of God that shed a beatific light upon His Passion, He could yet be sorrowful, not merely in His Body and sensual appetitive faculty, but also in His higher, purely spiritual will? It was a though the same object at once gave light and joy, and yet frightened Him by its darkness. Of course it may be said that our Saviour had different faculties with which to regard His passion, and could therefore rejoice at it in one respect and sorrow over it in another; but nevertheless it remains a deep and inscrutable mystery and a miracle worked by Our Lord, that He should be able to suffer thus. Indeed, it cannot be denied that this clear vision of God itself increased the pain, horror, and aversion to sin in His higher will. Does not this free volition make the sacrifice doubly dear and deserving of our love and reverence? How glad we feel when the load of some oppressive sadness is at last removed from us, and how great should we consider the sacrifice if we were asked to bear this state of suffering still longer, and even inflict it upon ourselves! But this is what our Saviour did. He shed His first Blood Himself, and how copiously! Truly He has trodden the wine-press Himself – and along (Isa. Lxiii. 3.). How noble, how lovable, precious, and venerable this tree and voluntary endurance renders His Passion!
Secondly, our Saviour suffers with beautiful humility. This suffering on Mount Olivet was, in the eyes of men, a state of great weakness. Nevertheless He allows His disciples to witness it; not all of them, indeed, because they could not all have borne it, but the three chief of the Apostles, who had also witnessed His Transfiguration. – And He shows the same touching humility in His prayer; for in His distress He takes refuge in prayer. He prays most fervently and with the most touching words, crying again and again: “Father, Abba, My Father” (Matt. Xxvi. 39 42. Mark xiv. 36. Luke xxii. 42); He prays repeatedly (Matt xxvi. 44 Mark xiv. 39) and with perfect resignation to His Heavenly Father's Will. However hard it is for His nature to acquiesce in His Passion and Death, still He protests again and again that the Will of His Heavenly Father shall be done. He also shows His humility by not aspiring to the greatest and loftiest flight of generosity in His petitions and asking for suffering, but contenting Himself with lowly submission to the Will of God. – Lastly, He shows loving and humble solicitude for the Apostles, constantly going to watch over them, warning them, encouraging them to pray, and excusing their slowness to respond. “Simon, sleepeth thou? Couldst thou not watch one hour with me? Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. Xxvi. 40 41. Mark xiv. 37 38).
Lastly, our Saviour suffers with constancy and perseverance, and triumphs gloriously. The battle was indeed a hard one; the fear, repugnance and sadness of His inmost nature were unutterable, and so His higher will had a long and hard siege to sustain and a terrible charge to repulse. But He stood firm and won the victory. He kept fast to God's Will – that He should redeem us by His Passion and Death – and so He was comforted. “There appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke xxii. 43) Such a degree of self-forgetfulness and humiliation as He showed in His Agony on Mount Olivet deserved an outward sign from heaven. This was often the case in our Saviour's life; e.g. His Nativity, after His fast in the desert, and again here. He did not absolutely need this comfort, it is true; but still it was consoling to His Sacred Humanity to see a messenger from His Heavenly Father approach Him in visible form, and in His touching humility and gracious condescension He deigned to accept an external consolation of this kink. But how did the angel strengthen our Saviour? Certainly he could not really offer Him anything, exteriorly or interiorly, that He did not know and possess already, or might not have procured for Himself. Probably the heavenly messenger strengthened our Lord in the same way as we comfort a friend, by praising his constancy and drawing his attention to the glorious results of suffering, of suffering well borne. Thus the angel may possibly have shown our Saviour in vision all the grand and glorious consequences, so salutary for men and so conducive to the glory of God, that were to result from His Passion. Perhaps He may have seen all the Saints of the Old and New Testament, vested in the glory merited for them by His Passion, passing before Him in one long, glorious procession, formed from out all ages of the Church – all a wondrous and manifold reflection of His most sacred Life and Passion, and a glorious crown of victory destined for His brow. Certainly the sight of this must have comforted and encouraged our Saviour, so that freed from the inward struggle and the anxiety of His lower nature, He could enter upon the work of the Redemption.
AIM AND INTENT OF THE AGONY ON MOUNT OLIVET
Our Lord's chief intention in suffering this Agony was certainly to give us a conclusive proof of His true and complete human nature. We have here indeed a confirmation of the fact that there were two wills in Christ's nature, one divine and one human; for He says: “Not my will, but Thine be done” (Luke xxii 42 Matt xxvi. 39). – Further, we have a palpable proof that He had, like ourselves, an inferior will with all its natural impulses and emotions; the only difference being that in His case even the very beginning of an emotion was dependent upon His higher will. – Lastly, He wished to teach us that these emotions are not faults or even imperfections, as long as they remain subject to reason. The emotion of fear experienced by our Saviour in this case was not a imperfection; for no one can be said to fear who only fears when he wills to do so.
Secondly, our Saviour intended in this mystery to experience His own Person all interiour sufferings, and this in a very high degree; just as He was also about to take upon Himself all exterior sufferings. That is why He fills the chalice of mental suffering to the very brim, and drains it to the last drop.
Thirdly, He intended to satisfy for the sins and imperfections that we are often guilty of in these interior trials – impatience, rebellion against the Will of God, want of generosity, neglect of prayer, unfaithfulness to resolutions, inordinate seeking for comfort from creatures and complaining to them. Our behaviour is often very different from that of our Saviour on Mount Olivet. He wished to do penance for this.
Fourthly, our Saviour wished to comfort us by His example, when we cannot find comfort anywhere else. How pained He felt at finding no one to console Him and having to bear the whole weight of His suffering alone! Here we have an example to comfort us, when we can find no other solace. And is it not a sweet consolation, to think that our Saivour had to suffer the same and that He too found no comfort.
Lastly, our Lord intended to merit special grace and strength for us when we have interiour trials and sufferings to bear. We are sorely in need of it then. Our Saviour has won it for us; let us go to Him and ask for it. We too shall have our hours on Mount Olivet. But there will be one hour in particular that will be very like of our Saviour's Agony – the hour of our death, our mortal agony, when similar anguish of soul, fear, lassitude and sadness will unman us, and we shall be quite alone. What a consolation it is for us then, that our Saviour has gone through this hour, and that we find in Him a Heart that can understand our distress and help us! Let us often ask for a share in the blessings, graces, and victorious strength of the Agony of Jesus. How sweet it will be then to think that we have often paid it loving veneration! But, generally speaking, perhaps the resolution most in accordance with the intention and signification of this mystery will be never to desist from our good resolves not abate our generosity in the service of our Lord on account of interior difficulties, such as distaste, fear, or sadness. Let us never forget what a combat He had to sustain in His Heart and how hard it was for Him to undertake the Passion for us, but yet how that loving Heart never wavered in its love and fidelity to us. What a happiness, what an honour for us, if the Angel of Comfort included us also in his consoling representations and pointed to us as being among those who, out of gratitude and reverence for His Passion, would stand the test of interior affliction victoriously! (Father Maurice Meschler, S.J., The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Son of God, in Meditations, Volume II,Freiburg Im Breisgau 1928 Herder & Co., Publishers to the Holy Apostolic See, pp. 378-389.)