Most Solemn Day of the Year
Thomas A. Droleskey
The most powerful
sermon ever preached was given by Our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as
He hung on the gibbet of the Holy Cross for three hours, nailed there
by our sins having transcended time. Our Lord spoke very few words as
He died a painful death. The power in His preaching
was the suffering He endured to pay back in His Sacred Humanity the
debt of our own sins to Himself in His Infinity as God. His death
on this very day destroyed the power of sin and eternal death forever,
making it possible for each of us to join the Good Thief in Heaven if
only we persevere to the point of our dying breaths in states of Sanctifying
Grace. The Paschal Lamb, Who had instituted the New and Eternal Covenant at the Last Supper, now ratifies the New Covenant in His Most Precious Blood as He, the new Moses, effects the New and Eternal Passover from sin and death to eternal life with Him for all eternity in Heaven.
Our Lord had been betrayed by one of his chosen Apostles, Judas Iscariot, and denied by His Vicar three times. He was tried before the Sanhedrin as lying witnesses testified against Him. He spent the night in jail prior to being taken before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who desperately wanted to find a way to release Him while at the same time appeasing his Jewish collaborators in the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, the Pharisees. He was scourged and crowned with thorns, suffering the loss of massive quantities of His Most Precious Blood. He was tormented by the crowd, which was motivated by our own sins, and condemned to death as an insurrectionist, Barabbas, promising political salvation was released in His place. He picked up His heavy Cross to carry it on the Via Dolorosa en route to Calvary, where He encountered His Most Blessed Mother, whose suffering in Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart was a perfect participation in His own work of Redemption.
As I note
in my Holy Week reflections on this site, Good Friday belongs
in a special way to Our Lady. She was present at the foot of the Cross
as she gave birth us as the adopted sons and daughters of the living
God. She is present--along with all of the angels and saints--at every
offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the unbloody re-presentation
of her Divine Son's one Sacrifice to the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
We must keep close to her this day, calling to mind that the perfection
of the communion between her own Immaculate Heart and the Sacred Heart
of her Divine Son caused her to suffer as no purely human being could
ever suffer. She kept a silent vigil by the foot of the Cross. We must
mirror her silence this day, placing ourselves totally in her maternal
care so that we will grieve--truly grieve--for each of our sins and
that we will resolve to have such a perfect love for God that even the
thought of sin may become as repulsive to us as it was for saints such
as the Little Flower, Saint Therese of Lisieux.
Saint Alphonsus de Liguori described Our Lady's sorrows on Good Friday in his Victories of the Martyrs:
We have now to witness a new kind of martyrdom--a Mother condemned to see an innocent Son, and one whom she loves with the whole affection of her soul, cruelly tormented and put to death before her own eyes.
There stood by the cross of Jesus his Mother. St. John believed that in these words he had said enough of Mary's martyrdom. Consider her at the foot of the cross in the presence of her dying Son, and then see if there be a sorrow like unto her sorrow. Let us remain for awhile this day on Calvary, and consider the fifth sword which, in the death of Jesus, transfixed the heart of Mary.
As soon as our agonized Redeemer had reached the Mount of Calvary, the executioners stripped him of his clothes, and piercing his hands and feet "not with sharp but with blunt nails," as St. Bernard says, to torment him more, they fastened him on the cross. Having crucified him, they planted the cross, and thus left him to die. The executioners left him; but not so Mary. She then drew nearer to the cross, to be present at his death; "I did not leave him (thus the Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Bridget), "but stood nearer to the cross."
"But what it avail thee, O Lady." says St. Bonaventure, "to go to Calvary, and see this Son expire? Shame should have prevented thee; for his disgrace was thine, since thou were his Mother. At least, horror of witnessing such a crime as the crucifixion of a God by his own creatures should have prevented thee from going there." But the same saint answers, "Ah, they heart did not then think of its own sorrows, but of the sufferings and death of thy dear Son,: and therefore thou wouldst thyself be present, at least to compassionate Him. "Ah, true Mother," says Abbot William, "most loving Mother, whom not even the fear of death could separate from thy beloved Son!"
But, O God, what a cruel sight was it there to behold this Son in agony on the cross, and at its foot this Mother in agony, suffering all the torments endured by her Son! Listen to the words in which Mary revealed to St. Bridget the sorrowful state in which she saw her dying Son on the Cross: "My dear Jesus was breathless, exhausted, and in his last agony on the cross; his eyes were sunk, half-closed, and lifeless; his lips hanging, and his mouth open; his cheeks hollow and drawn in; his face elongated, his nose sharp, his countenance sad; his head had fallen on his breast, his hair was black with blood, his stomach collapsed, his arms and legs stiff, and his whole body covered with wounds and blood."
All these sufferings of Jesus were also those of Mary; "Every torture inflicted on the body of Jesus," says St. Jerome, "was a wound in the heart of the Mother." "Whoever then was present on the Mount of Calvary," says St. John Chrysostom, "might see two altars, on which two great sacrifices were consummated; the one in the body of Jesus, the other in the heart of Mary." Nay, better still may we say with St. Bonaventure, "there was but one altar--that of the cross of the Son, on which, together with his divine Lamb, the victim, this Mother was also sacrificed;" therefore the saint asks this Mother, "O Lady, where art thou? near the cross? thyself with thy Son." St. Augustine assures us of the same thing: "The Cross and nails of the Son were also those of his Mother; with Christ crucified the Mother was also crucified." Yes; for, as St. Bernard says, "Love inflicted on the heart of Mary the tortures caused by nails in the body of Jesus." So much so, that, as St. Bernardine writes, "At the same time that the Son sacrificed his body, the Mother sacrificed her soul."
Mothers ordinarily fly from the presence of their dying children; but when a mother is obliged to witness such a scene, she procures all possible relief for her child; she arranges his bed, that he may be more at ease; she administers refreshments to him; and thus the poor mother soothes her own grief. Ah, most afflicted of all Mothers! O Mary, thou hast to witness the agony of thy dying Jesus; but thou canst administer him no relief. Mary heard her Son exclaim, I thirst, but she could not even give him a drop of water to refresh him in that great thirst. She could only say, as St. Vincent Ferrer remarks, "My Son, I have only the water of tears." She saw that on that bed of torture her Son, suspended by three nails, could find no repose; she would have clasped him in her arms to give him relief, or that at least he might there have expired; but she could not. "In vain," says St. Bernard, "did she extend her arms; they sank back empty on her breast." She beheld that poor Son, who in his sea of grief sought consolation, as it was foretold by the prophet, but in vain: I have trodden the winepress alone; I looked about and there was none to help; I sought, and there was none to give aid. But who amongst men would console him, since all were enemies? Even on the cross he was taunted and blasphemed on all sides: And they that passed by, blasphemed Him, wagging their heads. Some said to his face, If thou be the Son God, come down from the cross. Others, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Again, If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross. Our Blessed Lady herself said to St. Bridget, "I heard some say that my Son was a thief; others that he was an impostor; others, that no one deserved death more than he did; and every word was a new sword of grief to my heart."
But that which the most increased the sorrows which Mary endured through compassion for her Son, was hearing him complain on the cross that even his Eternal Father had abandoned him: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Words which the divine Mother told the same St. Bridget could never, during her whole life, depart from her mind. So that the afflicted Mother saw her Jesus suffering on every side; she desired to comfort him, but could not.
That which grieved her the most was to see that she herself, by her presence and sorrow, increased the sufferings of her Son. "The grief," says St. Bernard, "which filled Mary's heart, as a torrent flowed into and embittered the heart of Jesus." "So much so," says the same saint, "that Jesus on the cross suffered more from compassion for his Mother than from his own torments." He thus speaks in the name of our Blessed Lady: "I stood with my eyes fixed on him, and his on me, and he grieved more for me than for himself." And then, speaking of Mary beside her dying Son, he says, "that she lived dying without being able to die." "Near the cross of Christ his Mother stood half-dead; she spoke not; dying she lived, and living she died; nor could she die, for death was her very life."
Passino writes that Jesus Christ himself one day, speaking to blessed Baptista Varani of Camerino, assured her that when on the cross, so great was his affliction at seeing his Mother at his feet in so bitter an anguish, that compassion for her caused him to die without consolation; so much so, that the Blessed Baptista, being supernaturally enlightened as to the greatness of this suffering of Jesus, exclaimed, "O Lord, tell me no more of this Thy sorrow, for I can no longer bear it."
"All," says Simon of Cassia, "who then saw this Mother silent, and not uttering a complaint in the midst of so great suffering, were filled with astonishment." But if Mary's lips were silent, her heart was not so, for she necessarily offered the life of her Son to the divine justice for our salvation. Therefore, we know that by the merits of her dolors she cooperated in our birth to the life of grace; and hence we are the children of her sorrows. "Christ," says Lanspergius, "was pleased that she, the cooperatress in our redemption, and whom he had determined to give us for our Mother, should be there present; for it was at the foot of the cross that she was to bring us, her children forth." If any consolation entered that sea of bitterness in the heart of Mary, the only one was this, that she knew that by her sorrows she was leading us to eternal salvation, as Jesus himself revealed to St. Bridget: "My Mother Mary, on account of her compassion and love, was made the Mother of all in heaven and on earth." And indeed these were the lat words with which Jesus bid her farewell before his death: this was his last recommendation, leaving us to her for her children in the person of St. John: Woman, behold thy son. From that time Mary began to perform this good office of a mother for us; for St. Peter Damian attests, "that by the prayers of Mary, who stood between the cross of the good thief and that of her Son, the thief was converted and saved, and thereby she repaid a former service." For, as other authors also relate, this thief had been kind to Jesus and Mary on their journey into Egypt; and this same office the Blessed Virgin has ever continued, and still continues, to perform."
Whenever anyone of us believes that we have received a cross that is "too heavy" for us we should review these words from Saint Alphonsus Liguori. All we need to do is to look at the Cross, which is the true book of learning, and to recognize the simple fact that there is nothing--and I mean absolutely nothing--that we can suffer in this mortal life that is the equal of what one of our least Venial ns caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity on the wood of the Cross. There is nothing that we can suffer that is the equal of what the suffering we imposed upon the God-Man caused His Most Blessed Mother to suffer in her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Now, the Paschal Triduum, Good Friday, is the time to learn this lesson once and for all and to accept each and every cross that comes our way as having been perfectly tailored for us for all eternity to be given back to the Most Blessed Trinity through the Immaculate Heart of Mary with complete resignation and abandonment to the will of God. Yes, crosses hurt. They are meant to hurt. Alas, nothing we endure compares to what our sins imposed upon the Divine Redeemer's Most Sacred Heart and His Most Holy Mother's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. We must console them on this day of days, the day on which our salvation was wrought for us on the wood of the Holy Cross. True liberation from self-concern comes only when we surrender ourselves as the consecrated slaves of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, which was pierced with a Fifth Sword of Sorrow at the moment of her Divine Son's death on the Cross, a death that made it possible for us to live forever in the glory of the Beatific Vision.
This, the most solemn
day of the year, is a day to withdraw from all of the activities of
the world. This is not a day for conversation or socializing of any type whatsoever. This is
a day of mourning. We assist at the Solemn Good Friday liturgy, the Mass of the Presanctified, in a spirit
of solemnity and sobriety, leaving it after its conclusion in utter
silence, mournful of what our sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His
Sacred Humanity on the wood of the Holy Cross and what they caused our Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate to suffer in her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Yes, we know that we
will be celebrating Our Lord's Easter victory over sin and death with
the Mass on Holy Saturday morning or evening and during the Easter Sunday Mass--and thence in the glory of the fifty days of Easter. However,
this day, the only day in the liturgical year on which the Holy Sacrifice
of the Mass is not offered and Our Lord's Real Presence is hidden from
the faithful for public adoration after the Mass of the Presanctified, must be reserved for calling to mind
the horror of sin and the love and mercy Our Lord extended to us, His
executioners, through His Most Sacred Heart, which we must seek to console as best as we can as the consecrated slaves of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.
gives us an opportunity to transcend time and to be present on the "right" side of the Cross to make up for the fact that our sins had placed us
on the wrong side of the Cross nearly two millennia ago. And the Immemorial
Mass of Tradition communicates the solemnity of Calvary in countless ways
throughout the liturgical year, preparing us to enter more deeply into
the mysteries of redemptive love shown us by God in the flesh as He
was nailed to the Holy Cross.
The Immemorial Mass of Tradition in all of its essential elements was taught to
the Apostles by Our Lord Himself between the time of His Resurrection
on Easter Sunday and His Ascension to the Father's right hand in glory
on Ascension Thursday. It is the Immemorial Mass of Tradition that communicates
fully and completely the simple fact that every offering of Holy
Mass is the extension of Calvary in time, which is why it can never
become a carnival or an expression of community self-congratulations
replete with jokes and back-slapping.
The Mass must reflect the reverence
and solemnity of what happened once in time on Good Friday and is re-presented
in an unbloody manner at the hands of an alter Christus acting
in persona Christi. The perfection of the Immemorial Mass of Tradition in communicating this reverence and solemnity has been such over
the centuries that it succeeded in producing scores upon scores of saints
during epochs when few people could read. These saints learned from
the eloquent lessons preached by the very solemnity and reverence communicated
in all of the component parts of the Mass of the ages of the Roman Rite, just as Our Lord
preached so eloquently as He suffered and died once in time on this
Our Lord forgave His
executioners, namely, each one of us as He died on the wood of the Holy
Cross. He promised Heaven to the Good Thief. He gave Our Lady to be
our Mother through Saint John the Beloved. He thirsted for our souls.
We must simply surrender to Him, recognizing that we have the duty to
carry the cross with love every day of our lives and to lift it high
in the midst of a hostile and unbelieving world. Every moment of our
lives has been redeemed by the shedding of Our Lord's Most Precious
Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross. The graces He won for us on this
very day are sufficient to endure whatever sufferings we are asked to
bear, each of which is perfectly suited to be offered to Our Lady's
Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart to be used precisely as she sees fit
for the honor and glory of the Blessed Trinity and for the sanctification
and salvation of human souls.
words of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, found in his Friends of
him take up his cross, the one that is his. Let this man or this woman,
rarely found and worth more than the entire world, take up with joy,
fervently clasp in his arms and bravely set upon his shoulders this
cross that is his own and not that of another; his own cross, the one
that My wisdom designed for him in every detail of number, weight and
measurement; his own cross whose four dimensions, its length, breadth,
thickness and height, I very accurately gauged with My own hands; his
own cross which all out of love for him I carved from a section of the
very Cross I bore in Calvary; his cross, the grandest of all the gifts
I have for My chosen ones on earth; his cross, made up in its thickness
of temporal loss, humiliation, disdain, sorrow, illness and spiritual
trial which My Providence will not fail to supply him with every day
of his life; his cross, made up in its length of a definite period of
days or months when he will have to bear with slander or be helplessly
stretched out on a bed of pain, or forced to beg, or else a prey to
temptation, to dryness, desolation and many another mental anguish;
his cross, made up in its breadth of hard and bitter situations stirred
up for him by his relatives, friends or servants; his cross, finally,
made up in its depth of secret sufferings which I will have him endure
nor will I allow him any comfort from created beings, for by My order
they will turn from him too and even join Me in making him suffers.
him carry it, and not drag it, not shoulder it off, not lighten it,
nor hide it. Let him hold it high in hand, without impatience or peevishness,
without voluntary complaint or grumbling without dividing or softening,
without shame or human respect.
him place it on his forehead and say with St. Paul: "God forbid
that I should glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
him carry it on his shoulders, after the example of Jesus Christ, and
make it his weapon to victory and the scepter of his empire.
him root it in his heart, and there change it into a fiery bush, burning
day and night with the pure love of God, without being consumed.
cross: it is the cross he must carry for there is nothing more necessary,
more useful, more agreeable and more glorious than suffering for Jesus
of you are sinners and there is not a single one who is not deserving
of hell; I myself deserve it the most. These sins of ours must be punished
either here or hereafter. If they are punished in this world, they will
not be punished in the world to come.
we agree to God's punishing here below, this punishment, will be dictated
by love. For mercy, which holds sway in this world, will mete out the
punishment, and not strict justice. This punishment will be light and
momentary, blended with merit and sweetness and followed up with reward
both in time and eternity. . . .
resolved then, dear Friends of the Cross, to suffer every kind of cross
without excepting or choosing any: all poverty, all injustice, all temporal
loss, all illness, all humiliation, all contradiction, all calumny,
all spiritual dryness, all desolation, all interior and exterior trials.
Keep saying, "My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready." Be ready to be forsaken by everyone. Be ready to undergo hunger, thirst,
poverty, nakedness, exile, imprisonment, the gallows and all kinds of
torture, even though you are innocent of everything with which you may
be charged. What if you were cast out of your own home like Job and
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary; thrown, like this saint, into the mire;
or dragged upon a manure pile like Job, malodorous and covered with
ulcers, without anyone to bandage your wounds, without a morsel of bread,
never refused to a horse or a dog? Add to these dreadful misfortunes
all the temptations with which God allows the devil to prey upon you,
without pouring your soul the least feeling of consolation. Firmly believe
that this is the summit of divine glory and real happiness for a true,
perfect Friend of the Cross.
Adam lost our birthright to Heaven when he stretched out his arm to
a tree. The second Adam stretched out His arms to a tree and made it
possible to enter Heaven by being incorporated as members of His one,
true Church and persisting in a state of sanctifying grace until the
point of our dying breaths. What was lost for us on the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden was won back for us
on the Tree of Life that is the Holy Cross. The One whose newborn Body
was placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, was affixed by
our sins to the wood of the Holy Cross, which has become the true manger
from which we are fed His very own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in
the Most Blessed Sacrament. Oh, what sublime mysteries of love and mercy,
of forgiveness and redemption. Our Lord, the Chief Priest and Victim of every Mass, extends His arms in the gesture of the Eternal High Priest on the horizontal beam of His Most Holy Cross to lift us up on the vertical beam to His Father in Heaven for all eternity:
Now is the judgment of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. (Now this he said, signifying what death he should die.) The multitude answered him: We have heard out of the law, that Christ abideth for ever; and how sayest thou: The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man? Jesus therefore said to them: Yet a little while, the light is among you. Walk whilst you have the light, that the darkness overtake you not. And he that walketh in darkness, knoweth not whither he goeth. (John 12: 31-35.)
We must thank
Our Lord today for His gift to us of our Redemption, a gift which we
did not and do not merit. We must thank Him for the gift of the true
Church. And those of us who have embraced, perhaps much later than we
should have, the glories of the Church's authentic tradition in the catacombs where shepherds make no concessions to conciliarism or to the nonexistent legitimacy of its false shepherds must thank
Him and His Blessed Mother, the Co-Redemptrix and the Mediatrix of all
graces, for helping us to see that the sermon preached on Calvary can
heard only if Catholics of the Roman Rite assist exclusively at
the Immemorial Mass of Tradition, where everything points to the Cross of the Divine
Redeemer--and from there to the glories of an unending Easter Sunday
in Paradise if we remain faithful to the point of our dying breaths.
Father Frederick Faber reflected on this in The Foot of the Cross (published originally in England in 1857 under the title of The Dolors of Mary):
The first hour of the three begins,--the three hours that were such parallels to the three days when she was seeking her lost Boy. In the darkness she has come close up to the Cross; for others fell away, as the panic simultaneously infected them. There is a faith in the Jews, upon which this fear can readily graft itself. But the executioners are hardened, and the Roman soldiers were not wont to tremble in darkness. Near to the Cross, by the glimmering light, they are diceing for His garments. The coarse words and rude jests pierced the Mother's heart; for, as we have said before, it belonged to her perfection that her grief absorbed nothing. Every thing told upon her. Every thing made its own wound, and occupied her, as if itself were the sole suffering, the exclusively aggravating circumstance. She saw those garments--those relics, which were beyond all price the world could give--in the hands of miserable sinners, who would sacrilegiously clothe themselves therewith. For thirty years they had grown with our Lord's growth, and had not been worn by use,--renewing that miracle which Moses mentions in Deuteronomy, that, through all the forty years of the desert, the garments of the Jews were not "worn out, neither the shoes of their feet consumed with age." Now sinners were to wear them, and to carry them to unknown haunts of drunkenness and sin. Yet what was it but a type? The whole of an unclean world was to clothe itself in the beautiful justice of her Son. Sinners were to wear His virtues, to merit by His merits, to satisfy in His satisfactions, and to draw, at will, from the wells of His Precious Blood. As Jacob had been blessed in Esau's clothing, so should all mankind be blessed in the garments of their elder Brother.
Then there was the seamless tunic she herself had wrought for Him. The unity of His Church was figured there. She saw them cast lots for it. She marked to whom it had fallen. One of her first loving duties to the Church will be to recover it for the faithful as a relic. Then it was the history of the Church rose before her. Every schism, which should ever afflict the mystical Body of her Son, was like a new rent in her suffering heart. Every heresy, every quarrel, every unseemly sin against unity, came to her with keenest anguish., there on Calvary, with the living Sacrifice being actually offered, and the unity of His Church being bought with so terrible a price. All this bitterness filled her soul, without distracting her from Jesus for a single moment. As holy pontiffs, with hearts broken by the wrongs and distresses of the Church, have been all engrossed by them, yet never for an instant lost their interior union with Jesus, so much more was it with His Mother's now. It was on Calvary she felt all this with an especial feeling, as it is in Lent, and Passiontide, and in devotion to the Passion, that we learn to love the Church with such sensitive loyalty.
Fresh fountains of grief were opened to her in the fixing of the title to the Cross. It had come from Pilate, and a ladder was set up against the cross, and the title nailed above our Saviour's Head. Every blow of the hammer was unutterable torture to Him, torture which had a fearful echo also in the Mother's heart. Nor was the title itself without power to extend and rouse her suffering. The sight of the Holy Name blazoned there in shame to all the world,-the Name, which to her was sweeter than any music, more fragrant than any perfume,-this was in itself a sorrow. The name of Nazareth, also, how it brought back the past, surrounding the Cross, in that dim air, with beautiful associations and marvellous contrasts. Everywhere in the Passion Bethlehem and Nazareth were making themselves felt, and seen, and heard, and always eliciting new sorrow from the inexhaustible depths of the Mother's heart. If He was a king, it was a strange throne on which His people had placed Him. Why did they not acknowledge Him to be their king? Why did they wait for a Roman stranger to tell it them as if in scorn? Why did they not let Him rule in their hearts? Ah! poor people! how much happier would it be for themselves, how many sins would be hindered, how many souls saved, how much glory gained for God! King of the Jews! would that it were so! Yet it was really so. But a king rejected, disowned, deposed, put to death! What a load lay upon her heart at that moment! It was the load of self invoked curses, which was to press to the ground that poor regicide people. She would have borne al her seven dolors over again to abolish that curse, and reinstate them, as of old, in the predilection of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was too late. They had had their day. They had filled up the measure of their iniquity. It rose to the brim that very morning, and the breaking of Mary's heart was a portion of their iniquity. But at least over her heart Jesus was acknowledged king, and reigned supreme. So was it with the dear Magdalen and the ardent John; and, as she thought of this, she looked upon them with a very glory of exceeding love. Is it that Jesus breaks the hearts over which He reigns or that He comes of special choice to reign in broken hearts? But as the the sense passed over her of what it was to have Jesus for a king,-of the undisputed reign which by His own grace He exercised over her sinless heart,--of the vastness of that heart, far exceeding by his own bounty the grand empire of the angels or the multitudinous perfections of the saints,--and of the endless reign which He would have in that beautiful "ivory palace" of hers which made Him so glad,--her love burst out afresh upon Him, as if the dikes of ocean had given away, and the continents and every gush of love was at the same time an exquisite gush of pain.
She had enough of occupation in herself. But sorrow widens great hearts, just as it contracts little ones. She had taken to herself the thieves for her sons. She was greedy of children. She felt the value of them then, in the same way in which we know the value of a friend when we are losing him. His dead face looks it into us, and means more than his living expression did. She has wrestled in prayer for those two malefactors, and God has given her to see the work of grace beginning in the heart of one of them. Does this content her? Yes! with that peculiar contentment which comes of answered prayer, that is to say, she became more covetous because of what she had not. She counted that only a beginning. She pleaded, she insisted. One would have thought such prayer at such a time resistless. It is not Heaven that resists. Graces descend from above like flights of angels to the heart of the impenitent thief. They fluttered there. They sang for entrance. They waited. They pecked at the heart of flesh. They made it bleed with pain, with terror, with remorse. But it was its own master. It would not open. So near Jesus, and to be lost! It might well be incredible to Mary. yet so it was. The thief matches his hardness against her sweetness, and prevailed. Mary may not be queen of any heart where Jesus is not already king. But, oh, the unutterable anguish to her of this impenitence! His face so near the Face of Jesus, the sights of the spotless victim dwelling in his ear as silence dwells in the mountains, the very Breath of the Incarnate God reaching to him, the Precious Blood strewn all around him, like an overflow of waste water, as if there was more than men knew what to do with, and in the midst of all this to be damned, to commute the hot strangling throes of that crucifixion for everlasting fire, to be detached by his own will from the very side of the Crucifix, and the next moment to become part of a hopeless hell! Mary saw his eternity before her as in a vista. She took in at a glance the peculiar horror of his case. There came a sigh out of her heart at the loss of this poor wretched son, which had sorrow enough in it to repair the outraged majesty of God, but not enough to soften the sinner's heart.
Such were the outward, or rather let us call them the official, occupations of Mary during the first hour upon the Cross. Her inmost occupation, and yet outward also, was that which was above her, overshadowing her in the darkness, and felt more vividly even than if it had been clearly seen,--Jesus hanging upon the Cross! As our guardian angels are ever by our sides, engrossed with a thousand invisible ministries of love, and yet all the while see God, and in that one beatifying sight are utterly immersed, so it was with Mary on Calvary. While she seemed an attentive witness and listener of the men dividing our Lord's garments among them, and of the nailing of the title to the Cross, or appeared to be occupied with the conversion of the thieves, she did all those things, as the saints do things, in ecstasy, with perfect attention and faultless accuracy, and yet far withdrawn into the presence of God and hidden in His light. A whole hour went by. Jesus was silent. His Blood was on fire with pain. His body began to depend from the Cross, as if the nails barely held it. The Blood was trickling down from the wood all the while. He was growing whiter and whiter. Every moment of that agony was an act of communion with the Father. Mysteries, exceeding all mysteries that had ever been on earth, were going on in His Heart, which was alternately contracted and dilated with agony too awful for humanity to bear without miraculous support. It had divine support; but divine consolation was carefully kept apart. The interior of that Heart was clearly disclosed to the Mother's inward eye, and her heart participated in its sufferings. She, too, needed a miracle to prolong her life, and the miracle was worked. But with the same peculiarity. From her, also, all consolation was kept away. And so one hour passed, and grace had created many worlds of sanctity, as the laden minutes went slowly by, one by one, then slower and slower, like the pulses of a clock at midnight when we are ill, beating sensibly slower to reproach us for our impatient listening.
The second hour began. The darkness deepened., and there were fewer persons round the Cross. No diceing now, no disturbance of nailing the title to the Cross. All was as silent as a sanctuary. Then Jesus spoke. It seemed as if he had been holding secret converse with the Father, and He had come to a point when He could keep silence no longer. It sounded as if He had been pleading for sinners, and the Father had said that the sin of His Crucifixion was too great to be forgiven. To our human ears the word has that significance. It certainly came out of some depth, out of something which had been going on before, either His own thoughts, or the intensity of His pain, or a colloquy with the Father. "Father! forgiven them; for they know not what they do!" Beautiful, unending prayer, true of all sins and of all sinners in every time! They know not what they do. No one knows what he does when he sins. It is his very knowledge that the malice of sin is past his comprehension which is a great part of the malice of his sin. Beautiful prayer also, because it discloses the characteristic devotion of our dearest Lord! When He breaks the silence, it is not about His Mother, or the apostles, or a word of comfort that affectionate forlorn Magdalen, whom He loved so fondly. It is for sinners, for the worst of them, for His personal enemies, for those who crucified Him, for those who had been yelling after Him in the streets, and loading Him with the uttermost indignities. It is as if at Nazareth He might seem to love His Mother more than all the world beside, but that now on Calvary, when His agony had brought out the deepest realities and the last disclosures of His Sacred Heart, it was found that His chief devotion was to sinners. Was Mary hurt by this appearance? Was it a fresh dolor that He had not thought first of her? Oh, no! Mary had no self on Calvary. It could not have lived there. Had her heart cried out at the same moment with our Lord's, it would have uttered the same prayer, and in like words would have unburdened itself of that of which it was most full. But the word did draw new floods of sorrow. They very sound of His voice above her in the obscure eclipse melted within her. The marvel of His uncomplaining silence was more pathetic now that He had spoken. Grief seemed to have reached its limits; but it had not. The word threw down the walls, laid a whole world of possible sorrow open to it, and poured the waters over it in an irresistible flood. The well-remembered tone pieced her [Our Lady] like a spear. They very beauty of the word was anguish to her. Is it not often so that deathbed words are harrowing because they are so beautiful, so incomprehensibly full of love? Mary's broken heart enlarged itself, and took in the whole world, and bathed it in tears of love. To her that word was like a creative word. It made the Mother of God Mother of mercy also. Swifter than the passage of light, as that word was uttered, the mercy of Mary had thrown round the globe a mantle of light, beautifying its rough places, and giving lust re in the dark, while incredible sorrow made itself coextensive with her incalculable love.
The words of Jesus on the Cross might almost have been a dolor by themselves. They were all of them more touching in themselves than ny words which ever have been spoken on the earth. The incomparable beauty of our Lord's Soul freights each one of them with itself, and yet how differently? The sweetness of His Divinity is hidden in them, and for ages on ages it has ravished the contemplative souls who loved Him best. If even to ourselves these words are continually giving out new beauties in our meditations, what must they be to the saints, and then, far beyond that, what were they to His Most Blessed Mother? To her, each of them was a theology, a theology enrapturing the heart while it illumined he understanding. She knew they would be His last. Through life they had been but few, and now in less than two hours He will utter seven, which the world will listen to and wonder at until the end of time. To her they were not isolated. They recalled other unforgotten words. There were no forgotten ones. She interpreted them by others, and others again by them, and so they gave out manifold new meanings. Besides which, she saw the interior from which they came, and therefore they were deeper to her. But the growing beauty of Jesus had been consistently a more copious fountain of sorrow all through the Three-and-Thirty Years. It was not likely that law would be abrogated upon Calvary. And was there not something perfectly awful, even to Mary's eye, in the way in which His divine beauty was mastering every thing and beginning to shine out in the eclipse? It seemed as if the Godhead were going to lay Itself bare among the very ruins of the Sacred Humanity, as His bones were showing themselves through His flesh. It was unspeakable. Mary lifted up her whole soul to its uttermost height to reach the point of adoration due to Him, and tranquilly acknowledged that it was beyond her power. her adoration sank down into profusest love, and her love condensed under the chill shadow into an intensity of sorrow, which felt its pain intolerably everywhere as the low pulsations of His clear gentle voice ran and undulated through her inmost soul.
The thought which was nearest to our Blessed Saviour's Heart, if we may reverently venture to speak thus of Him, was the glory of His Father. We can hardly doubt that after that, chief among the affections of the created nature which He had condescended to assume, stood the love of His Immaculate Mother. Among His seven words there will be one, a word following His absolution of the thief at Mary's prayer, a double word, both to her and of her. That also shall be like a creative word, creative for Mary, and still more creative for His Church. He spoke out of an unfathomable love, and yet in such mysterious guise as was fitted still more to deepen His Mother's grief. He styles her "Woman," as if He had already put off the filial character. He substitutes John for Himself, and finally appears to transfer to John His own right to call Mary Mother. How many things were there here to overwhelm our Blessed Lady with fresh affliction! She well knew the meaning of the mystery. She understood that by this seeming transfer she had been solemnly installed in her office of the second Eve, the mother of all mankind. She was aware that now Jesus had drawn her still more closely to Himself, had likened her to Himself more than ever, and had more their union more complete. The two relations of Mother and Son were two no longer; they had melted into one. She knew that never had He loved her more than now, and never shown her a more palpable proof of His love, of which, however, no proof was wanting. But each fresh instance of His love was a new sorrow to her; for it called up more love in her, and with more love, as usual, more sorrow. (Father Frederick Faber, The Foot of the Cross, published originally in England in 1857 under the title The Dolors of Mary, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, pp. 244-252.)
Pope Pius XII, writing in Summi Pontificatus, October 10, 1939, sounded a very similar theme, explaining that there must be darkness over the earth in a world that does not acknowledge the Redemptive Act of the Divine Redeemer and makes sinful man and his naturalistic desires the measure of all things, that it is only the Catholic Faith that can unite men in a bond of true peace, that of the King of Calvary Himself:
The Holy Gospel narrates that when Jesus was crucified "there was darkness over the whole earth" (Matthew xxvii. 45); a terrifying symbol of what happened and what still happens spiritually wherever incredulity, blind and proud of itself, has succeeded in excluding Christ from modern life, especially from public life, and has undermined faith in God as well as faith in Christ. The consequence is that the moral values by which in other times public and private conduct was gauged have fallen into disuse; and the much vaunted civilization of society, which has made ever more rapid progress, withdrawing man, the family and the State from the beneficent and regenerating effects of the idea of God and the teaching of the Church, has caused to reappear, in regions in which for many centuries shone the splendors of Christian civilization, in a manner ever clearer, ever more distinct, ever more distressing, the signs of a corrupt and corrupting paganism: "There was darkness when they crucified Jesus" (Roman Breviary, Good Friday, Response Five).
Many perhaps, while abandoning the teaching of Christ, were not fully conscious of being led astray by a mirage of glittering phrases, which proclaimed such estrangement as an escape from the slavery in which they were before held; nor did they then foresee the bitter consequences of bartering the truth that sets free, for error which enslaves. They did not realize that, in renouncing the infinitely wise and paternal laws of God, and the unifying and elevating doctrines of Christ's love, they were resigning themselves to the whim of a poor, fickle human wisdom; they spoke of progress, when they were going back; of being raised, when they groveled; of arriving at man's estate, when they stooped to servility. They did not perceive the inability of all human effort to replace the law of Christ by anything equal to it; "they became vain in their thoughts" (Romans i. 21).
With the weakening of faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and the darkening in men's minds of the light of moral principles, there disappeared the indispensable foundation of the stability and quiet of that internal and external, private and public order, which alone can support and safeguard the prosperity of States.
It is true that even when Europe had a cohesion of brotherhood through identical ideals gathered from Christian preaching, she was not free from divisions, convulsions and wars which laid her waste; but perhaps they never felt the intense pessimism of today as to the possibility of settling them, for they had then an effective moral sense of the just and of the unjust, of the lawful and of the unlawful, which, by restraining outbreaks of passion, left the way open to an honorable settlement. In Our days, on the contrary, dissensions come not only from the surge of rebellious passion, but also from a deep spiritual crisis which has overthrown the sound principles of private and public morality.
Among the many errors which derive from the poisoned source of religious and moral agnosticism, We would draw your attention, Venerable Brethren, to two in particular, as being those which more than others render almost impossible or at least precarious and uncertain, the peaceful intercourse of peoples.
The first of these pernicious errors, widespread today, is the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong, and by the redeeming Sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Altar of the Cross to His Heavenly Father on behalf of sinful mankind.
In fact, the first page of the Scripture, with magnificent simplicity, tells us how God, as a culmination to His creative work, made man to His Own image and likeness (cf. Genesis i. 26, 27); and the same Scripture tells us that He enriched man with supernatural gifts and privileges, and destined him to an eternal and ineffable happiness. It shows us besides how other men took their origin from the first couple, and then goes on, in unsurpassed vividness of language, to recount their division into different groups and their dispersion to various parts of the world. Even when they abandoned their Creator, God did not cease to regard them as His children, who, according to His merciful plan, should one day be reunited once more in His friendship (cf. Genesis xii. 3).
The Apostle of the Gentiles later on makes himself the herald of this truth which associates men as brothers in one great family, when he proclaims to the Greek world that God "hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation, that they should seek God" (Acts xvii. 26, 27).
A marvelous vision, which makes us see the human race in the unity of one common origin in God "one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in us all" (Ephesians iv. 6); in the unity of nature which in every man is equally composed of material body and spiritual, immortal soul; in the unity of the immediate end and mission in the world; in the unity of dwelling place, the earth, of whose resources all men can by natural right avail themselves, to sustain and develop life; in the unity of the supernatural end, God Himself, to Whom all should tend; in the unity of means to secure that end.
It is the same Apostle who portrays for us mankind in the unity of its relations with the Son of God, image of the invisible God, in Whom all things have been created: "In Him were all things created" (Colossians i. 16); in the unity of its ransom, effected for all by Christ, Who, through His Holy and most bitter passion, restored the original friendship with God which had been broken, making Himself the Mediator between God and men: "For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy ii. 5).
And to render such friendship between God and mankind more intimate, this same Divine and universal Mediator of salvation and of peace, in the sacred silence of the Supper Room, before He consummated the Supreme Sacrifice, let fall from His divine Lips the words which reverberate mightily down the centuries, inspiring heroic charity in a world devoid of love and torn by hate: "This is my commandment that you love one another, as I have loved you" (Saint John xv. 12).
These are supernatural truths which form a solid basis and the strongest possible bond of a union, that is reinforced by the love of God and of our Divine Redeemer, from Whom all receive salvation "for the edifying of the Body of Christ: until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians iv. 12, 13).
In the light of this unity of all mankind, which exists in law and in fact, individuals do not feel themselves isolated units, like grains of sand, but united by the very force of their nature and by their internal destiny, into an organic, harmonious mutual relationship which varies with the changing of times.
And the nations, despite a difference of development due to diverse conditions of life and of culture, are not destined to break the unity of the human race, but rather to enrich and embellish it by the sharing of their own peculiar gifts and by that reciprocal interchange of goods which can be possible and efficacious only when a mutual love and a lively sense of charity unite all the sons of the same Father and all those redeemed by the same Divine Blood.
The Cross of the Divine Redeemer, at which stood His Most Blessed Mother, is the one and only standard of human liberty. Crucifixes would be displayed very prominently in every community in the United States of America and every other nation in the world if He was recognized as King as He has revealed Himself to men exclusively through His Catholic Church. His Most Blessed Mother would be honored publicly in each community by all citizens with shrines and weekly Rosary processions. The overthrow of the Social Reign of Christ the King wrought by the Protestant Revolt against the Divine Plan that God Himself had instituted to effect man's return to Him through His Catholic Church and thus to order nations rightly along the paths of temporal justice pursued in light of man's own Last End, a revolt against both Christ the King and Mary our Immaculate Queen that was institutionalized by the rise of Judeo-Masonry and its religiously indifferentist civil state, has plunged mankind into barrenness and darkness and barbarism.
Yes, the Cross of the Divine Redeemer, upon which hung the Salvation of the World, is our only hope. We must lift it high in our own daily lives, especially on this most solemn day of the year, Good Friday, April 2, 2010.
Father Benedict Baur wrote the following reflection that is useful for our own consideration on this most solemn day of the year:
This is a day of mourning for the Church and for the faithful. The cross occupies the most prominent place in the liturgy of the day. It was on the cross that the Lord carried out the will of the Father to its last detail by giving up His life for our sins. He "loved me and delivered Himself for me" (Gal. 2: 20)
"And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified Him there; and the robbers, one on the right hand and the other on the left. And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing His garments, cast lots. And the people stood beholding, and the rulers with them derided Him saying: He saved others; let Him save Himself if He be the Christ, the elect of God. And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him and offering Him vinegar, and saying: If Thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And also there was a superscription written over Him in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew: This is the King of the Jews. And one of those robbers who were hanged blasphemed him, saying: If Thou be the Christ save Thyself and us. . . . And it was almost the sixth hour; and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. And saying this, He gave up the ghost" (Luke 23: 33 ff.) "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross" (Phil. 2: 8). "Oh all ye that pass by the way attend and see if there is any sorrow like to my sorrow." (Lam. 1: 12)
The holy body has been torn by the cruel scourge until it is one mass of burning and bleeding wounds. The terrible crown of thorns has pierced His head, and He is consumed by thirst. To this unspeakable physical pain is added an anguish of soul that is even more terrible. He hears the shocking cry of His blinded people: "His blood be upon us and upon our children" (Matt. 27: 25). He hears the exultant yells of His enemies, and He looks into the future and sees that millions of men will repay suffering and His love with the basest ingratitude and the cruelest indifference. Why do they act thus? They have no time to attend to Christ. The grace which He won for them with such prodigal suffering and which so much love they neglect abuse, and thus run the risk of losing their immortal souls. The immense inheritance which He purchased by His blood they allow to slip through their fingers. How this ingratitude and blindness tortures Him! With Mary and John we stand under His cross today to share His agony.
Christ died in our stead. "Surely he hat born our infirmities and carried our sorrows; and we have thought of him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities; he was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53: 4-6). No mortal man could satisfy for the insult offered to God by sin; not even the highest of the angels could make adequate satisfaction. "Search not for a man to redeem you; Christ the God-man alone can perform works of sufficient value" (St. Basil). He takes our indebtedness upon Himself and lifts it up to His cross. "Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled (1 Pet. 1: 18 f.). The penalties which Christ suffered should have been our penalty. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15: 13).
Christ has died for each one of us personally. The wages of sin is death. All the penalties of sin press upon us at death. God's justice has not prepared anything so frightening as the prospect of death. Every creature shrinks from the thought of it. Nothing is so surely a punishment for sin as is death. Death cuts the bonds that secure the body and soul to the earth, just as sin first severed the bond which bound men to God. Christ the Lord delivers Himself up freely to death for our sake. His love is "strong as death." His submission to this most terrifying of God's punishments is the highest token of His love. He chooses the most terrible prospect of death that He may give me the surest sign of His love.
In giving over His body to death, He destroys the body of sin and death on the cross. Having bathed mankind in His precious blood, He has provided humanity with a new and holy body. Men thus reborn are worthy to become the sons of God and merit eternal life and eternal glory.
Christ died for us on the cross. What a mysterious dispensation of God's providence! The unjust man commits the sin, but the Just One satisfies for it. The guilty one escapes the penalty of sin, but the Innocent One pays the penalty. What a contrast between the wickedness of man, and the goodness and justice and mercy of God! God has done all this for us: what we have done for Him? (Father Benedict Baur, The Light of the World, Volume I, pp. 424-426.)
What have we done for Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Who redeemed us this very day? What we can do for Him is to show Him some small token of our love and gratitude by spending time with Him before the Altar of Repose before He is taken away at noon today, Good Friday, April 2, 2010. Can we not watch one hour with Him?
May Our Lady of
Sorrows, whose Immaculate Heart was pierced by the fourth through seventh swords of sorrow prophesied
by Simeon, pray for us this day, Good Friday, April 6, 2012,
so that we will withdraw from the world and thus draw close to her as
we seek to console her for what our sins and ingratitude and indifference caused
her and her Divine Son to suffer, so that we might be with her in the
gaze of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for all eternity, a destiny that would have been impossible unless she had consented to be the Mother of the King of Calvary at the Annunciation. May we keep Our Lady company at the tomb of her Divine Son so that we may celebrate with joy His Easter victory over sin and eternal death made possible by His paying back in His own Sacred Humanity the very debt of sin that was owed to Him in His Infinity as God.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths!
Relics in the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, May 22, 2005. (The wooden sign with the inscription "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" is pictured in the lower right hand corner of the photograph. Wood from the True Cross is visible in the horizontal and vertical beams of the Cross in the reliquary. A nail is visible in the upper left hand corner. Two thorns from the Crown of Thorns are visible in the upper right hand corner. Visible in the lower left hand corner is the bronzed finger of Saint Thomas the Apostle with which he probed the nail marks in the hands of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.)
The Crucifix that is based on the Holy Shroud of Turin, Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, May 22, 2005 (a small pilgrim, then three years of age and now ten days beyond her tenth birthday, is venerating the Crucifix on her own volition without any prompting)
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us now and in death's agony.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, 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.
See also: A Litany of Saints
Isn't it time to to pray a Rosary now?