Monday, April 27, 2009
From America magazine...
Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States. As the church prepares to observe the Year of the Priest, which begins on June 19, open discussion about how to sustain the church as a eucharistic community of faith and fortify the pastoral life of Catholic congregations has become imperative. For making do within the limits set by present demographic trends presents a double threat to Catholic life: Catholic communities will become only infrequent eucharistic communities, or eucharistic communities will be severed from the pastoral care and public witness of priests.
In 2008 the sociologist Dean Hoge said: “We need at least a doubling of ordinations to maintain the American priesthood as we know it now. But this is impossible.” Of current diocesan priests, only 70 percent are available for parish ministry, with the rest sick, retired or absent for a variety of reasons, according to Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. An increasing number of Catholics are unable to participate in a Sunday or weekday Mass. All this prompts the question, Will the priest shortage impose a eucharistic famine on the Catholic people?
The de facto remedy already applied in many places— making the priest a circuit rider moving from parish to parish to dispense the sacraments—risks narrowing the ministry of the priest and impoverishing the Christian life of the communities he serves. A narrowly sacramental definition of priesthood satisfies the requirements of only one of the three canons that define the pastoral responsibilities of the priest, Canon 530. As a consequence the sacramental office is as a practical matter severed from its integral connection with comprehensive pastoral care. Canons 528 and 529 provide a broader understanding of the priestly ministry. The first sees the priest as one who instructs, catechizes, fosters works of justice, shows special care for the education of children and brings the Gospel to those who have ceased to practice the faith. The second requires that he should come to know the faithful entrusted to his care, visit families, share their concerns, worries and griefs, help the sick and seek out the poor, the afflicted and the lonely. Diminishing numbers make it difficult to carry out this holistic vision of the priest’s pastoral ministry.
We hope that the upcoming Year of the Priest will lead to a broader discussion of the priesthood in the contemporary world and, in particular, will open examination of the various ways the shortage of priests can be addressed honestly and with imagination. New vocations can be promoted through youth rallies, the Internet and, as always, with prayer. In addition, the pastoral needs of parishes may also be met in part by more effective pastoral assignment of permanent deacons and by increased leadership by lay men and women.
What about the recruitment and training of married men as priests? Married priests already minister in the Catholic Church, both East and West. Addressing the married clergy of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Second Vatican Council exhorted “all those who have received the priesthood in the married state to persevere in their holy vocation and continue to devote their lives fully and generously to the flock entrusted to their care” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” No. 16). That exhortation now applies to the more than 100 former Anglican priests and Lutheran ministers who have entered the Catholic Church, been ordained and now serve in the Latin rite. As we face the challenges of the priest shortage, some of the more than 16,000 permanent deacons in the United States, many of them married, who experience a call to priestly ministry might be called to ordination with a similarly adapted discipline. In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard.
Our plea is modest. The bishops of the United States should take greater leadership in openly discussing the priest shortage and its possible remedies. These should not be conversations in which we face a problem only to find every new avenue of solution closed. Rather, they should be exchanges fully open to the possibilities offered by the Spirit.
In March, Cardinal Edward Egan, the newly retired archbishop of New York, said in a candid moment that the topic of married priests “is a perfectly legitimate discussion.” He added, “I think it should be looked at.” The cardinal later nuanced his statement, but the need for a creative re-visioning of priestly life to sustain the eucharistic life of the church in its fullest sense can no longer be delayed.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
If the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are One, why then does Jesus Christ pray to God the Father? Would He continue to pray to the Father after arriving at the right hand of God? The prayer of Jesus Christ to His Father reflects and manifests the internal and eternal relationship of God the Father to God the Son within the life of the Godhead Himself. Jesus Christ, the Image of the Invisible God, the heir of all creation, firstborn of the dead (Colossians 1), reflects the glory of His Father for all eternity, for He is eternally begotten of the Father 'before all worlds,' that is, before all creation, i.e., forever. From all eternity, there has never been an aeon or epoch in which the Eternal Son was not begotten of the Father. God the Son, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God is coexistent and coeternal with the Father. The Son, within the mystery of the Holy Trinity, 'One of the Holy Trinity,' obtains His eternal existence from the Father forever. 'The Father Unbegotten, the Son only-begotten, the Spirit proceeding' (Athanasian Creed). God the Son eternally prays to the Father, that is, He exists with the Father for all eternity in a perfect communion of love, self-donation, self-giving and self-abandonment, an exchange of life, love and grace which is revealed through prayer, or communication. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and was God' (St John 1.1). The Word of God, or the Logos, eternally begotten of the Father, continually offers to His Father a perfect oblation, a complete oblation, a rendering of sacrificial filial obedience and love - for all eternity. In the very heart of God, the Word of the Father forever offers and presents Himself to His Father in an action of unending worship. God the Son loves and perfectly adores the Father within the eternal relationship we call the Holy Trinity. This endless and perfect love is expressed by means of what we would call prayer, the expression of love through mutual communication. Therefore, God Himself is a Communion of Persons, a divine Family giving and sharing life, eternal existence, and prayer within Himself.
The Tri-Hypostatic God, One God in Three Persons, is forever a life of mutual participation: in technical theological language called 'mutual indwelling,' perichoresis, circumincessio. This language simply means that as a Communion of Persons Who live in each other, each of Three Persons, by participation in Their common Divine Life and Nature originating from the Father, continually supplies and communicates life and prayer to the Others. These Three, Father, Son, and Spirit, are tri-equal and tri-eternal. The Three dwell in one another and make their Home in each other forever. Their Union exists as one of Essence, and is therefore as absolute as the undivided unity of God Himself. Within this eternal Family, this participatory Communion, the Father is the Source, Beginning and Cause of the Godhead, the Fount of Deity. From Him, the Son and Spirit receive what could be paradoxically called 'eternal origin': the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, originating from Him by eternal generation; the Holy Ghost originates from the Father by procession - the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. St Irenaeus of Lyons, therefore, calls the Son and Spirit the 'Two Hands of God.' The unity of the Three Persons of the Trinity is the ultimate Mystery, and the foundation of the fundamental truth about God and His Nature. God the Son is the eternal adorer and worshipper of the Eternal Father, the Eternal Word spoken by the Father, who now and beyond eternity prays to His Father in an indissoluble Communion of Persons, a fellowship of being, love, grace, life and prayer which we call the Godhead of the Blessed Trinity. In short, Jesus Christ prays to the Father because this prayer, the communication, expresses the relationship which Our Lord shares with the Father within the life of God Himself. Jesus, the obedient and loving Son of the Father, prays to the Father.
In the fulness of time, God the Son was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made Man; the Word Himself assumed human nature, thus uniting manhood, the completion and totality of human nature, to Himself as God. 'In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them which were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that thou art no longer salves, but sons; and if sons, then heirs; heirs of God through Christ' (Galatians 4.7-8). This mystery is called, of course, the Incarnation, the mystery of God made Man. One Divine Person, the Person of the Son of God, now possesses forever two complete and unconfused natures, divine and human. God became Man, and the Incarnate Lord was given the Name Jesus Christ. So, it follows that the perfect prayer and life of God the Son, His filial obedience and offering, condescended to us, so that now in human nature, God the Son offers His perfect prayer to God the Father, just as He did in Heaven forever before His Incarnation. Jesus Christ, God the Son made Man, now offers to His Father the same obedience, love, fidelity and adoration that He has offered eternally within the mysterious Unity of the Trinity, only now in human flesh, in time and space and beyond, in a completely human life, as the Second Adam, the New Man, the New Creation in whose human nature the whole human race has been recreated and renewed. Jesus Christ, the Perfect Man, the representative Man, brings into the sphere of humanity the all-sufficient response of obedience and self-offering to God that was lost upon the transgression of the first fallen Adam. The hypostatic union, the union of God and Man in Christ, remains forever. Our Lord, after His glorious Resurrection from dead, did not lose His human nature, just as when He took human flesh He did not lose His Deity, but wonderfully united it to human nature. Our Lord came essentially to sweep the human race up into His own prefect life of prayer, so that the whole human race may be made one with God through participation in God's life through Jesus Christ and the human nature He shares with us. 'God became man so that man may become God.' 'We become by grace what God is by nature.'
Human nature, and therefore the stuff of our reality, is raised up with Jesus to live and reign with Him forever in heaven, in the life of God, to be offered in union with Christ’s perfect self-offering, perfect sacrifice, perfect prayer, which culminated in His human death on Calvary and His Resurrection. Through Jesus Christ, the Father has adopted all who are incorporated into Christ and made members of Christ’s Body by Baptism as His own sons, making them partakers of the divine nature (II St Peter 1.4), divine by grace, sharers of the very life of God through the deified and God-bearing human nature transformed by Our Lord in His Incarnation, death and glorification. In Baptism, we become one with the human nature of Christ which was inseparably united to God - and therefore in our own human nature we now, in the communion of Christ's Body the Church, participate in the very life, energy and power of the Trinity. 'If a man love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him' (St John 14.23). 'That they may be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be in us.' (St John 17.21).
Our Lord continues to pray to the Father for all eternity, and now His prayer has been perfected by the ultimate expression of His filial love: obedience and worship demonstrated in His Death and Third-Day Resurrection. The Ascended Lord entered into Heaven, before the Father's throne, to plead Himself and His perfect Sacrifice as our great High Priest, our Heavenly Intercessor, our only Mediator and Advocate between man and God. Jesus Christ is our Priest and Victim, who eternally presents before the Father the complete work of His self-emptying and obedience on earth. Now, within the veil of heaven, before the presence and glory of God, Jesus presents healed, restored, divinised, glorified human nature, a human nature we share with the Lord by being incorporated into Him who is the worshipper and adorer of the Father, one Priest with one Sacrifice, one Altar, one Mission, one Prayer. The Father, by virtue of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, loves and receives all regenerate men as His sons, united to Jesus Christ, the consubstantial Son of Man and consubstantial Son of God. The God-Man represents God before man and man before God, and we are in Him, made one with Him by His coming to be one with us in His Incarnation.
Jesus Christ, the Risen and Ascended Lord, prays for you and me before the Father, and unites all of His Body the Church to Himself, thus pleading us with Him in His prayer. We become God's Family, God's Sons, united as Christ's Body to our divine Head in His eternal worship of the Father. 'God has raised us up with Christ and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus' (Ephesians 2.6). 'Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us' (Romans 8.34).
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!
As we celebrate the glorious Third-Day Resurrection, and the ineffable Ascension, of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, there is but only one important thing to say, one incontrovertible fact of human history to assert, and that is that God the Father has raised Jesus Christ from death. Our Lord, who was dead on Good Friday afternoon, was alive again on Easter Sunday morning. He was not alive in some metaphorical, symbolic, merely spiritual, emotional or psychological manner - he was alive in a true and physical Body, a transformed immortal Body.
Our Lord’s glorified Body, a Body animated and vivified by the Holy Ghost, a Body radiant with the splendour of the Spirit, is a Body that can eat, a Body that can be touched, a Body recognisably identified with the Body that was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and crucified on the Cross of Calvary, but which is a new kind of Body, a Body with a new mode of existence in a new dimension: a Body that can appear and disappear at will; a Body that can transport itself through walls — and transcend even the walls of a tomb. It is a Body that can make itself present as desired, the Body that appeared in the upper room on the first Easter, the Body we now eat for the forgiveness of sins in the Holy Eucharist, objectively and substantially present under the form of bread.
The radical physicality of Jesus Christ after His Resurrection shocked and frightened His disciples, so he ate a piece of broiled fish and then some honey in front of them to show that He was not an apparition or hallucination. And then Our Lord asked the disciples, ‘Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.’
The Resurrection of the flesh is not something we just believe exclusively happened to Jesus Christ, although He is the first to receive the mystery. ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.’ If we are baptised into the Body of Jesus Christ, our Father in Heaven will raise us from death too.
We shall be resurrected in bodies at the Last Day to enter into the Beatific Vision, to enjoy the Blessed Trinity at His heavenly banquet for eternity. Because we have been planted into the risen Body of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we possess God's guarantee that what was given to Jesus Christ is exactly what will be given to us. Our Lord was born, we are born. Our Lord lived, we live. Our Lord died, and had He not risen, we too would surely die. But Christ is alive. Jesus lives. And because He lives, we shall live with Him and in Him.
Jesus Christ rose from His tomb in a transformed Body, and because of this, we shall rise from our graves in transformed bodies. Our Lord ascended into Heaven to be with his Father forever - we shall ascend into Heaven to be with God forever. As Saint Paul tells us on Easter morning, ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’ We shall have our own Easter, and our own Ascension.
The ultimate Gospel of the Easter proclamation is that because Jesus Christ rose from the dead in His Body, and we shall certainly rise from the dead in our bodies, then in the end, the eschaton, the completion and fulfillment of all things, everything is going to be alright. Everything. God shall be all in all. ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’
In the end, all will be Amen and Alleluia.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Hymns from the Liturgy:
The royal banners forward go, The cross shines forth in mystic glow/ where he, as man
who gave man breath Now bows beneath the yoke of death.
Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old/ How God the nations' King should be, For God is reigning from the tree.
O tree of beauty, tree most fair, Ordained those holy limbs to bear/ Gone is thy shame, each crimson'd bough Proclaims the King of glory now.
Blessed Tree, whose chosen branches bore The wealth that did the world restore/ The
prince of humankind to pay, And spoil the spoiler of his prey
O Cross, our one reliance, hail! Still may thy power with us avail/ More good for
righteous souls to win, and save the sinner from his sin.
Faithful Cross! above all other, one and only noble tree! Non in foliage, none in blossom, None in fruit thy peer may be: Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron! Sweetest weight in hung on thee. Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory! Thy relaxing sinews bend; For awhile the ancient rigor That thy birth bestowed suspend; and the King of heav'nly beauty On thy bosom gently tend!
The teaching of Our Lord concerning His Cross:
'He that taketh not his Cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.' St Matthew 10.38-39
'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life will lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' St Matthew 16.24-25
'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow me.' St Mark 8.34
'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross daily, and follow me' St Luke 9.23
'And whosoever doth not bear his Cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.'
St Luke 14.27
'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.' St John 3.14-15
The New Testament Epistles:
'Buried with Christ in Baptism, wherein ye also are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcison of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his Cross.' Colossians 2.14
'Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps... Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.' I St Peter 2.21-24
'Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.' Hebrews 12.1-2
The Cross in Holy Tradition:
'The four branches of the Cross, reaching to the four corners of the universe, fill the whole world. The Cross fills the universe and unites the whole of creation through the love of Jesus Christ' (St John of Damascus). The Cross is perceived to extend itself to all the cosmos, with the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ's love for all. The Cross is personified, addressed and venerated, for it is inseparable from Christ and His Passion. The Cross is also called 'Tree,' 'Pillar,' and the 'Ladder of Paradise,' the axis of God's own design which holds together and reunites the three components of the world, heaven, earth, and hell.
The Sign of the Cross serves as the fundamental Sign of the Christian Faith, the badge of the orthodox Christian, the supreme Symbol of the Christian profession. It serves to be the ultimate window to heaven, communicating its grace to all mankind. The Cross is the unmistakable token of all divine grace, the visible seal of the Holy Trinity and Incarnation. The Cross expresses immortality and victory over death; it is the centre of the world which escapes the corruptibility of this mortal life. The Body of the Crucified restores the original and perfect beauty of human nature, which through It is transfigured into glory, even in the midst of the Passion. The Cross holds the immolated Body of God - it offers to the world a suffering which has already transfigured creation to share in God's Life. The Cross is the ultimate Seal - the 'stamp of possession' - of the Christian, by which mankind is purchased for God. We are sealed with the Cross by Christ Himself - to be His own children and soldiers. This mystery especially occurs when we receive the the Baptismal Consignation and the character of Confirmation.
In the ancient Church, the Cross is designated the Life-Giving Cross, a title still used today in the Eastern Liturgy. Christ's death, which is supremely interpreted in terms of glorification and victory, is proclaimed by the Church as the Life-Giving Death. Christus Victor - the Victorious Christ is Christ Crucified, Christ reigning from the Cross. Christ is glorified on the Cross of Calvary, the Tree of Life. Our Lord refers to his impending death on the Cross as follows:
'Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him' (St John 13.31-32)
'Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.' (St John 17.1) The Hour of Christ's Death is the Hour of His Glory, for it He was born (St John 12.27).
'In order that we might live, it was needful that God should incarnate Himself and be put to death' (St Gregory Nazianzus. The Incarnation took place so that the Eternal Word might be capable of death - Christ was born to die. 'It was that He might draw His ancient people with His one hand and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in himself' (St Athanasius). 'Christ stretched out his arms upon the Cross in order to embrace the ends of the earth' (St Cyril of Jerusalem). By the Cross, Christ reconciles the whole fourfold universe, symbolised by the Cross, one horizontal act united Jews and pagans, the other vertical action united man and God. The Cross is the axis mundi, the centre of the world, which by its four sides unites heaven and hell and the whole world in space and time. Christ reigns from the centre of the world as its Crucified King (St Gregory of Nyssa).
The Cross is the work of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, for Christ does not act alone, but with the Father and the Holy Ghost to save mankind. The Cross is 'the crucifying love of the Father, the crucified love of the Son, and the love of the Holy Ghost who triumphs by the wood of the Cross' (St Philaret of Moscow). The mystery of the Cross subsists in its apparent defeat, for by death Christ overthrows the power of death. The Cross forever reveals the deepest expression of the Mystery of Christ, of victory by defeat, glory by humiliation, life by death. The Cross becomes the royal insignia of Christ, his royal, priestly and prophetic banner, the Image which heralds his victory and his prerogative as the Redeemer of Man.
The Cross manifests the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, and is the truest Sign of God, who voluntarily wills to become Man and die in order to save his creation. The Cross enshrines the Love of God toward man in its fullness, the love of God which manifests itself in Redemption, in the economy of the gift of salvation. The Cross is offered to the Christian as the essential attribute, the fundamental characteristic that defines the Christian life and union with Our Lord. The entire sacramental system of the Church roots itself in the sacramental presence and efficacy of the Sign of the Cross, in orthodox Christian worship and prayer, and in Church history and experience, as well as in Christian art and architecture. The fruit of the Cross, the merit of Christ, is applied and appropriated to the Christian; one is incorporated into Christ by the Means of Grace, the Seven Sacraments of the Church, which convey the saving reality of Calvary.
The Use of the Cross:
The Cross is ever-present in the life of the orthodox catholic Christian, staying with us from Baptism to death. It is contained in and outside of our Churches, in our homes, sometimes in our schools, and on our persons. It confers upon us, as we trace it on our own bodies, the Life and Resurrection of Christ. Every Friday is a 'little Good Friday,' the day of the Passion, and a commemoration, through fasting, prayer and liturgy, of the Cross. Anciently, the Christians of the Primitive Churches focussed their entire lives on the Sign of the Cross - using it in public and private, always invoking its power and blessing. The Cross was the symbol by which Christians recognised each other. By the Cross literally carried on one's body, indicative of the grace and victory, the Life of Christ, carried in the soul, one's ontological status as a Son of God, a member of Christ in His Church, is identified. St Augustine notes that the Sign of the Cross is imprinted, marked upon one by God Himself, interiorly, when one is baptised, confirmed and ordained. The Cross marks the Christian with sacramental character; it places a permanent status or quality upon the soul, which distinguishes the Christian as God's own child.
The Sign of the Cross was literally placed on one's forehead as a public profession of faith; St Augustine also notes that one could tell a Christian from a pagan, in say, an amphitheatre, because the Christian wore the Cross as a sign on the forehead.
The late second century Church Father Tertullian writes: 'In all our dealings - when we go in or out, before dressing, before bathing, at the table, when we light our evening lamps, before going to bed, when we sit down to read, in every activity of daily life - we make the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads.' Or to quote St John Chrysostom in the fourth century: 'Through the Cross all things are fulfilled. Baptism is given through the Cross; the imposition of hands (Confirmation and Ordination) is done through the Cross. And whether we be travelling, at home or wherever, the Cross is our greatest good, the armour of salvation, the impenetrable shield against demons.'
The original representations of the Crucified Lord in the ancient Church of the first six centuries portray Our Lord as Christus Rex, the glorified King, alive, eyes open, holding Himself aloft on the Cross by His own power, vested in white clothing or in the vestments of the Christian sacerdos, Eucharistic Vestments. The ancient orthodox depiction was preserved more so in the Latin West than in the East: Christ, King of majesty, living, clothed, impassive, glorified, triumphant in His Cross. In this image, Christ looks upon all men with compassion and mercy, His all-seeing eyes still gazing upon the world. The Image of the Crucified is that of transfigured human nature, the flesh of the God-Man transfigured and made alive even in death. The later and more commonly-used image seen today, that of the humiliated Christ of suffering, naked, bloody, dead, the Christ of mortal human nature, first appeared in eleventh century Byzantium.
Above is an example of the Byzantine type, sober, minimalistic, limited to the essentials of the Crucifixion, with Our Lady and St John present. Christ is naked, with a white loin cloth. He leans to his right, with bowed head, dead. He retains majesty in his suffering, the dignity of His Divine Person. Even in death, He is incorruptible. It is the Image of the New Adam, the Incarnate God, who by His Blood redeems the human race. The most ancient form of the Crucifixion possesses eight points as does ours, that is, it includes the sign of inscription (INRI) and the foot-piece which receives Our Lord's nailed feet. Traditionally, the foot-piece rises upwards to Christ's right, symbolising the justification of the good and the damnation of the evil, as represented by the good and bad thief in the Gospel narrative. Christ extends His arms as in open space above - the openness of the Crucifixion portrays it as the cosmic, universal act of salvation, which frees the whole universe from evil, from the spirits of the air, demons. The two holy ones closest to Our Lord at Calvary are subdued, grim, restrained. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos or Mother of God, appears on Our Lord's right. She appears here as 'Our Mother,' the spiritual Mother presented to St John the beloved disciple, who in turn represents the whole Catholic Church: 'Behold thy Mother.' Mary is given to us by the Crucified Christ as our Mother, the Woman of Genesis 3.15, now here in the new garden, next to the new Tree of Life. She is the Mother of the new human race, the New Eve, because she is the 'Mother of all the living' (Genesis 3.20). Mary is transformed into the Mother of mercy, the Mother of all Christians, the Mother of martyrs and saints, holding a palm of a bloodless martyrdom - and the prophecy of St Simeon, the old man in the temple at the Presentation of Christ, is fulfilled: 'A sword shall pierce your soul, that the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed.' (St Luke 2.35).
This is Our Lady's com-passion, her union with the Crucified Lord. She holds herself upright, standing, facing her Son, her attention concentrated on Christ. She contains her grief, controlling it with an indomitable stamina of faith. The Holy Virgin encourages St John, almost leading him, directing him, to meditate upon the mystery of the Cross and our salvation, the death of her Divine Son. St John expresses his own deep grief, sharing with Christ his own anguish and pain.
Our Lord, in a sense, transcends His own Cross with His glory; He seems to bear it up more than it bears Him. In serenity and peace, the King of creation sleeps, His arms outstretched in a gesture of offering and love. The water and blood of Christ are seen to flow from His right side, as according to the detail of St John 19, in which He was pierced through with a spear, and forthwith came both blood and water. These two represent the two Dominical Sacraments (St John Chrysostom), that of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of New Birth and the Sacrament of Nourishment to eternal Life. We see the New Creation fashioned by the Creator who becomes Man and dies for man. The water of Christ, the Holy Ghost, becomes our possession in Holy Baptism, in which we are united to the death and resurrection of Christ by sacramental participation and adopted as the sons of God.
The Blood shed for our salvation is vouchsafed to us in the Eucharistic chalice, in the mystery of the Mass which re-presents the Sacrifice of the Cross and makes us partakers of Christ's total Person by means of the Blessed Sacrament. The Church also becomes by Christ's death the New Eve, the Bride of Christ, born from His pierced side, just as Eve was born from the side of Adam, whose rib was fashioned into the first woman. The primeval Adam-Eve creation was paralleled by the Church Fathers with the Christ-Church mystery. Just as Eve was taken from sleeping Adam's side, so was the Church taken from the side of Christ who slept in death (St Epiphanius). The One Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, prefigured by the seamless robe of Christ for which the soldiers gambled, gives birth and life to her children through the Sacraments, especially the preeminent ones of Baptism and Eucharist. This Holy Mother Church, the 'mother of the living' without which we cannot have God as our Father, ('You cannot have God as your Father without the Church as your Mother' - St Cyprian of Carthage), nourishes her children, us, by the Sacraments of grace: 'We are nourished by the double stream which the lance made to flow from thy side. From thy life-giving spring we come to draw the water of Baptism and the Blood of the Chalice.'
The Cross alone saves us from sin, a penalty of death alone makes sense of the pain and trial of life, its difficulty and pain, our own crosses. In the paradox of God, it is only by dying that we life, only by the Crucifixion can Resurrection occur.
'Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify'
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - September 14th
The Holy Catholic Church, East and West, observes a Feast Day in commemoration of the Holy Cross on 14 September, the 'Exaltation,' which refers to the annual raising of the relic of the True Cross for the veneration of the faithful. In the fourth century, St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, discovered the True Cross on Golgotha outside Jerusalem. The True Cross was identified 1. because it was found with two other crosses (those of the thieves), 2. it bore the inscription INRI (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews), and 3. it caused numerous miracles. The feast was instituted 14 September 347 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
You raise a simply fantastic question as to why we have the readings we have for Holy Week, beginning on Palm Sunday. As you no doubt noticed, this year we began the liturgy of the Blessing of Palms with what one would naturally consider the logical Gospel reading for the day, Saint Matthew 21.1ff, the Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem. Following the Blessing of Palms, the Eucharist includes the reading of Saint Matthew's Passion, chapter 27. During Holy Week, the Prayer Book appoints all four Passion narratives from all four Gospels to be read. The first is the Passion of Saint Matthew, then that of Saint Mark on Monday and Tuesday, the Passion of Saint Luke on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Passion of Saint John on Friday. This way, the entire written record of the saving Death and Passion of the Redeemer is proclaimed in church for the hearing and meditation of the people. The unique details of the salvific event of the Passion from each Evangelist are then collated and brought together to weave one great narration of the story of salvation. The BCP anticipates that the faithful will be in church for the liturgy every day of Holy Week in order to hear and receive the entire New Testament record of the Passion of Christ. Thus, by Easter Day, the whole preceding New Testament account of the Death of Christ has been presented in anticipation of His Resurrection.
Also, the Passion of Saint Matthew is read in church on Palm Sunday just in case someone should not be in church again until Easter Day. Even if one were to be absent from the liturgy for the whole of Holy Week, one would still hear the narrative of the Passion in advance of the Resurrection the next Sunday. This ensures that Easter will not be celebrated without first a consideration of the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord which makes Easter possible. There can be no Empty Tomb without Good Friday, and so the Church sets before her faithful the witness of Redemption in the Cross of Christ before the exaltation of the Easter Feast.
A terrific article featuring Archdeacon Mark Menees and Saint John's Anglican Church, Greensboro, North Carolina.
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