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In the Garden

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In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel’s, not a mother’s.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
“Be it done unto me as to your Word!”
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father’s Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child’s suffering
like a mother’s palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

A Good Friday Martyr

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On 21 November 1951, in Kiev, Father Ivan Ziatyk, C.SS.R. was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for "cooperating with anti-Soviet nationalistic organization and anti-Soviet propaganda". The term was to be served in the Ozernyi Lager prison camp near the town of Bratsk in Irkutsk region. During his imprisonment, Father Ziatyk suffered terrible tortures. According to witnesses, on Good Friday 1952 Father Ivan was heavily beaten with sticks, soaked in water, and left unconscious outside, in the Siberian frost. Beating and cold caused his death in a prison hospital three days later, on 17 May 1952. He was fifty–three years old. Blessed Ivan was buried in the Taishet district of Irkutsk region. Pope John Paul II beatified him together with twenty–seven other martyrs on 27 June 2001.

Maundy Thursday Night in Rome

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The Most Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession through the basilica to the haunting strains of the Pange lingua. The chapel of reposition — the Romans still refer to it as the sepolcro — had been readied with a blaze of candles and masses of white flowers. Here in Rome the faithful still keep the beautiful custom of visiting seven, or sometimes three churches, on Holy Thursday, something I did as a boy growing up in New Haven, Connecticut.

If only all the readers of Vultus Christi could have seen the procession of those who came to keep watch and to adore! Most of the time there was no place to kneel or sit. As soon as a place was free, it was taken by another. They came: the young, the old, the sick, and the handicapped. They came: young lovers hand in hand, scouts in uniform, children with their mothers and fathers. They came: the elderly of the neighbourhood walking slowly with their canes, or leaning on one another.

There was, of course, the noise of shuffling and whispering, and the clink of coins being tossed into the alms box set near the altar grille. There was also a silence so intense that one could almost hear the breath of Jesus in His agony and the drops of His Blood falling to the ground.

Tonight was, above all, the experience of the Precious Blood. The Blood shed by Our Lord in His agony purifies the Church and heals her wounds. The Blood of Christ consecrates what is defiled and repairs all that sin has defaced. The Blood of Christ is the secret of the renewal of the priesthood: the only efficacious cleansing in every priestly soul of the indelible character of the sacrament.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 68: 8-10, 21bcd-22, 31 & 33-34 (R. 14C & b)
Matthew 26:14-25

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At Saint Mary Major

Today’s Roman Stational Church is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. We go, in spirit, to this ancient church of the Mother of God, asking her to be present to us as we prepare to cross the threshold into the Paschal Triduum. We go to the suffering Christ, to the Crucified, to the Risen One with and through his most holy Mother. The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ’s Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. We will return again to Saint Mary Major for the Mass of Easter Day to sing our joy to the Mother of God — Regina caeli, laetare! — and to share in the joy that was hers at the resurrection of Christ. By framing the Paschal Triduum between two stations at the church of Saint Mary Major, the Roman liturgy suggests that the mystery of Christ is given us enveloped in Mary. Mary, like the Church, embodies and contains the mystery of Christ.

Christ in the Glory of God the Father

We sing today’s Introit in the presence of the Mother of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; for the Lord became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10, 8, 11). She who was the witness of his sufferings on Calvary is the witness of his glory in heaven, for she “has chosen the better part which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42).

We confess the self-emptying obedience of Christ, obedience even to the death of the cross, calling him LORD. We summon the entire cosmos — things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth — to adoration of his Name! Already, we lift our eyes to the see the glory of the risen and ascended Christ. The very melody of the introit scales an entire octave to soar into the heights, obliging us to “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1). Dame Aemiliana speaks of “the irresistible, shining tone of triumph with which today’s Mass straightaway puts the approaching shadows of evening to flight.” Like Saint Stephen at the hour of his death, we see Christ in the glory of God the Father. “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Ac 7:56). The Crucified is our Kyrios, the triumphant king, raised up into the glory of the Father.

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Tuesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 49:1–6
Psalm 34:13, 1–2
John 13:21–33, 36–38

Go and Prepare the Passover for Us

Sunday’s solemn chant of the Passion according to Saint Luke cast the whole of this Great and Holy Week in a Eucharistic light. I was moved to hear Jesus say, not only to a certain man in the city, but to me, and to us, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it” (Lk 22:8). For once the disciples were quick to obey: “And they went, and found it as He had told them; and prepared the Passover” (Lk 22:13). They must have sensed an urgency in their Master’s voice; they must have read on his face something of the desire for this pasch that blazed in his heart: “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer” (Lk 22:15).

The Body and Blood of Christ

Saint Luke’s account of the Passion began with the wondrous account of the institution: “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave to them, saying: ‘This is My Body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. And likewise the chalice after supper, saying, ‘This chalice which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in My Blood’” (Lk 22:19–20). It was impossible to hear these words on Sunday and not sense that they were given us, in some way, as a key to the rest of the week and to the Paschal Triduum.

The Eucharist and the Cross

Today’s Introit was the very one that we will sing on Maundy Thursday on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum: “It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free” (cf. Gal 6:14). We are given it today in a kind of contemplative rehearsal of the mysteries that will unfold. We are to sing it, and to hear it, in a Eucharistic key. We glory in the Eucharist as we glory in the Cross because the Eucharist is the sacramental demonstration of the Cross. Is this not what the Apostle teaches? “For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord, until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). The Eucharist makes present the Cross. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Cross set before the eyes of faith, not as something dim and ineffectual, but as an astonishing inbreaking, here and now, of “the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor 1:24). This is the source of our “Eucharistic amazement.” This is this realization that leaves us, together with the saints of every age, “lost, all lost in wonder.”

O Great Passion

The Eucharist is the awful reality of the Christus passus. The mystery of the suffering Christ is made present to us and for us. For our healing, his wounds are pressed against ours. For our cleansing, his Blood flows impetuous like a torrent. For our life, his breath is given over in death. The Eucharist is the Crucified “lifted up and drawing all men to himself”(cf. Jn 12:32). It is the Eucharist that causes us to cry out, “O great Passion! O deep wounds! O outpouring of Blood! O death suffered in every bitterness, give us life.”

Spes Mea

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Monday of Holy Week

Isaiah 42:1-7
Psalm 26:1, 2, 3, 13-14 (R. v. 1a)
John12:1-11

But After I Shall Be Risen

The bright eighth mode intervals of last evening’s Magnificat Antiphon still echo in our hearts: “It is therefore written: I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed; but after I shall be risen, I will go before you into Galilee. There you shall see me, says Lord.” Over the words, postquam autem resurrexero — “but after I shall be risen” the melody leaped upward in an uncontainable burst of paschal triumph, ringing out an irrepressible joy.

You Shall See Me

Yesterday, we were in Jerusalem, the holy city of the sufferings of Christ, but the Magnificat antiphon at Second Vespers already promised us a reunion with the risen Lord in Galilee. “There you shall see me.” Through the text and melody of the antiphon one hears that other promise of the Lord in Saint John’s gospel: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).

Says the Lord

The cadence over the words, dicit Dominus — “says the Lord,” is strong and full of hope, leaving us utterly certain of the outcome of this Great Week’s bitter agony and sufferings. “This is our comfort,” writes Dame Aemiliana, “we shall see Him again. First Judea and Jerusalem, judgment, death, the tomb. Then Galilee, life and sight. . . . Life hangs on the issue of death; whoever goes with the Lord to die, goes with Him to live and rule; whoever dares to go the way to Jerusalem will not miss the way to Galilee.”

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Yesterday, in his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Benedict XVI returned to what has become a leitmotif in his preaching: the Face of God. The Holy Father's words were, in fact, reminiscent of the message he gave last September on the occasion of his pilgrimage to to the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello.

Alluding to the traditional rites of Palm Sunday during which the subdeacon (or priest) would strike the door of the church with the foot of the processional cross, Pope Benedict explained that by means of the Cross, Christ knocks at the door of God in the name of all mankind, and knocks at door of mankind, and of every human heart, in the name of God.

Seek the Face of God

"Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?" the psalm asks, and it indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and really want to get to the top, to arrive at the true height, must be persons who ask themselves about God. They must be persons who look about themselves in search of God, in search of His Face. My dear young friends, how important this is today: not allowing yourselves to be carried here and there by life; not being satisfied with what everyone thinks, says and does. Be attentive to God, seek God. We must not let the question about God dissolve in our souls. The desire for what is greater. The desire to know Him — his Face.

Pascha Est Cor Liturgiae

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The Pasch of the Lord: Heart of the Liturgy

The heart of the liturgy is the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension, accomplished once and for all in Christ the Head and extended by means of the liturgy to all His members throughout history. All Christian worship is but a continuous celebration of the Pasch of the Lord: the sun, dawning each day, draws in its course an uninterrupted train of Eucharists; every celebration of Holy Mass makes present the Paschal Sacrifice of the Lamb. Each day of the liturgical year, and within each day, every instant of the Church’s sleepless vigil, continues and renews the Pasch of Christ.

The Heart of Theology and of Piety

In repeating the enactment of the liturgy, the Church has access to the “unique, unrepeatable mystery of Christ”; day after day, week after week and year after year, the Church is caught up in the transforming glory of the Paschal Mystery. Through the sacred liturgy, the Paschal Mystery irrigates and transforms all of human life, healing those who partake of the sacraments and drawing the Church, already here and now, into the communion of the risen and ascended Christ with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Because it is the heart of the liturgy, the Pasch of the Lord is the heart of theology, and the heart of Christian piety as well.

The Sacred Triduum

The annual celebration of “the most sacred triduum of the crucified, buried and risen Lord” is the liturgical, theological and spiritual center of the Church’s life and “the culmination of the entire liturgical year.” The Paschal Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, continues through the Friday of the Lord’s Passion, reaches its summit in the Solemn Paschal Vigil, and comes to a close with Sunday Vespers of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Gregorian Chant

As an integral element of the Sacred Triduum, Gregorian Chant takes its place in the complexus of sacred signs by which the Paschal Mystery is rendered present to the Church and the Church drawn into the Paschal Mystery. The chant of the Church is thus essentially related to the Paschal Mystery and to the new life which it imparts. The transcendant value of liturgical chant, especially during the annual celebration of the Paschal Triduum, is properly theological and spiritual. The chants of the Paschal Triduum constitute therefore a point of reconciliation and unity “between theology and liturgy, liturgy and spirituality.” What Father Alexander Schmemann wrote concerning the Paschal Triduum of the Byzantine liturgy and its hymnography is also true, mutatis mutandis, of the liturgy of the Roman Rite and of its proper chants:

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A Word Out of Silence

The chant of the Passion plunges us into silence. The Word has been silenced. Only a fool would dare to speak. Anything less than a word out of silence is unworthy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; anything more is superfluous. If I am so foolish as to preach today, it is for the sake of silence: a word out of silence, a word into silence. Like Saint Paul, “I am with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). If I offer you words, their only purpose is to guide you into the harbour of an immense and solemn stillness.

Pierced by the Passion

Dr. Sutton, an English divine of the sixteenth century imagined a dialogue between the soul pierced by the hearing the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Lord, wherefore diddest thou suffer thyself to be sold?
That I might deliver thee from servitude. . .
Wherefore diddest thou sweat blood?
To wash away the spots of thy sin. . .
Why wouldest thou be bound?
To loose the bands of thy sins. . .
Why wert thou denied of Peter?
To confess thee before my Father. . .
Why wouldest thou be accused?
To absolve thee. . .
Why wouldest thou be spitted on?
To wipe away thy foulness. . .
Why wouldest thou be whipped?
That thou mightest be freed from stripes. . .
Why wouldest thou be lifted up upon the Cross?
That thou mightest be lifted up to heaven. . .
Why were thine arms stretched out?
To imbrace thee, O fainting soul. . .
Why was thy side opened?
To receive thee in. . .
Why didst thou die amidst two thieves?
That thou mightest live in the midst of angels.

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This is the image that I chose twenty–one years ago to commemorate my ordination to the priesthood. I chose it then because it depicts the Face of Jesus full of peace and beauty after having "bowed His head and given up His spirit" (cf. Jn 19:30), and it shows His Sacred Side opened by the soldier's lance. I would choose it again today for the same reasons: the adorable Face of Jesus and His pierced Heart.

It is helpful, I think, from time to time to look at the things that have remained constant in our lives, at the loves which, in spite of every failure, weakness, and betrayal, remain unchanged. In my case, at least, these things point not to any steadfastness and fidelity of mine, but to the steadfast and faithful mercy of God. I take comfort in knowing that though "the mountains shall be moved, and the hills shall tremble, the mercy of Christ shall not depart from me" (cf. Is 54:10). At the last hour, when every other thing shall have faded or been stripped away, I trust that the Face of Christ will shine in my darkness and His pierced Heart be open to receive me.

I don't often write in so personal a voice on Vultus Christi, and I loathe "autobiographical preaching." It seems to me nonetheless that a personal witness to the unchanging designs of God in a life like mine — marked by change, struggles, uprootings, and apparent failures — may help others, as Saint Benedict says, "never to despair of the mercy of God" (RB 4:74), believing with Saint Paul, that "nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ" (Rom 8:35). Blessed Great and Holy Week to each one . . . in the light of His Face and in the secret of His pierced Heart.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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