• Good Friday at the Solemn Intercessions.
• After the Adoratio Crucis.
• Altar on Good Friday after the Solemn Afternoon Liturgy.
• Our beautiful Crucifix, carved in wood, from Peru.
Friday of the Passion of the Lord
April 22, 2011
Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle
Last night He sat with us at table.
His Face illumined the Upper Room
and there, just above the bread and behind the chalice,
beat His Heart of flesh.
John inclined his head;
he closed his eyes like a child secure on his mother's breast,
and listened there to the rhythm of the Love
that, mightily and sweetly, orders the sun and stars;
to the rhythm of the Love that, with every beat,
stretches upward and spirals inward to the Father;
to the rhythm of Love that meets
the pulse of every of other beating heart.
Last night, He lifted up His eyes to heaven
and, all shining with the glory of His priesthood,
said: "Father, the hour has come;
glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee" (Jn 17:1).
And to His disciples He said:
Desiderio desideravi . . .
"With desire I have desired
to eat this pasch with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).
"And taking bread, He gave thanks and broke,
and gave to them, saying:
'This is my body which is given for you:
do this for a commemoration of me.'
In like manner, the chalice also, after He had supped, saying:
'This is the chalice, the New Testament in my blood
which shall be shed for you'" (Lk 22:19-20).
In that moment, the Sacrifice was already accomplished.
The wood of the supper table fused with the wood of the Cross.
The Cross became His altar,
and He became the Lamb
fulfilling Abraham's prophecy on the mountain:
"God will provide himself the lamb for a holocaust, my son" (Gen 22:8).
After that moment, there was no going back.
Before it the entire cosmos held its breath
in fearful anticipation.
After it, the angels themselves sighed,
and began to breathe again their breathless praises.
Had He not said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth;
and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished" (Lk 12:49-50).
And they, paying attention to His Face
"as to a lamp shining in a dark place" (2 P 1:19),
remembered that He had said,
"Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify thy name." (Jn 12:27).
"Then a voice came from heaven,
'I have glorified it,
and I will glorify it again.'
The crowd standing by heard it
and said that it had thundered" (Jn 12:28).
But last night in the Cenacle,
with shadows winding about them like a shroud,
there was no thunder, no voice,
but only the immensity of a silence
that He -- and those closest to His Heart --
knew to be the Father's sorrowful assent.
And the betrayer, quick to do
what could no longer be delayed,
"And it was night" (Jn 13:30).
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 stopping on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.
"My heart expected reproach and misery;
and I looked for one that would grieve together with me,
and there was none!
I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21-22).
There began the disfiguration of His Face,
the humiliation of Beauty,
the descent deep into abjection.
Blood oozing from His pores
mingled with tears streaming from His eyes,
and blood and tears alike
precious in the Father's eyes,
soaked the earth beneath Him
filling the underworld and all the just there waiting
with a strange anticipation.
There followed the kiss of betrayal;
the grieving over one loved even in his sin;
the denial by Peter, His chosen rock, here soft as lead;
and that desolate liturgy crafted by iniquity:
a round of rude processions
first to Annas, and then from Annas to Caiaphas,
and then from Caiaphas to Pilate.
Pilate, unwittingly, summons the world
to gaze upon His Face:
"So Jesus came forth bearing the crown of thorns,
and the purple garment.
And he said to them, 'Behold the man'" (Jn 19:5).
The Seraphim above, hearing this utterance from far below,
turn their eyes of fire to behold the Man.
For a moment
-- if moments there be in eternity --
the ceaseless beating of their ruby wings is stilled
and all of heaven's eyes
meet the gaze of the Son of Man
and rest riveted to His Holy Face.
Hidden in the crowd is the Mother.
Now from her grief-stricken heart there rises over Pilate's words
that prayer of the psalmist
entrusted to Israel, and to her, the Daughter of Sion,
for this day, and for this hour:
"Behold, O God, our protector;
look upon the Face of your Christ!" (Ps 83:9).
Charged with the terrible timber of that chosen tree,
all the weight of the sin of the ages
presses into His flesh that He, the Lamb, might bear it away:
the crushing cruelty of my sins and yours:
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
Upon Him lies the burden of every betrayal, every refusal,
every indifference, every defilement,
every blasphemy, every hardness of heart.
This is the heaviness that pushes Him three times to the ground,
grinding His Face into the dust,
that dust out of which, in the beginning, He fashioned man,
His masterpiece, His image, His joy.
Having arrived at the place of a skull
"which is called in Hebrew Golgotha" (Jn 19:17),
He stretches out His hands
to receive the nails
that will hold Him on the wood
in the position of one waiting to embrace and to be embraced,
in the gesture of the priest standing before the altar
for the Great Thanksgiving.
His feet are nailed
fixing Him to this one place at the centre of the earth,
that all who approach the Cross
might find Him there,
the One who, immobilized,
can say only, "Come to me."
"Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:27).
Here the Bridegroom finds His marriage bed,
here Priest and Victim find the altar,
here the King of Glory finds His throne.
Here the Oblation is lifted high;
here the covenant is ratified,
here the Spirit is outpoured
in the Breath of His mouth.
Those who approach His pierced feet,
He raises, by a word, to His pierced side,
repeating from the Cross
what He said last night at table:
"Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28).
The Mother assisting at this,
the solemn once-and-for-all Mass of her Son, her Priest,
follows the bloody liturgy
with the absolute adhesion of her heart
to every gesture, every word.
The Mother sees,
the Mother understands
that the Cross is the new language of new liturgy
for a new temple.
Every alphabet devised by men
is subsumed into the Verbum Crucis,
the language of the Cross, the one language devised by God
to say all that He would say to man
through Christ, His mediating Priest;
the one language
by which man, speaking through the same Eternal Priest,
can say all that he would ever need to say to God.
For this is the Woman given to John,
to every priest of Jesus
to every disciple of Jesus:
that at the school of the Mother of Sorrows,
all might learn the language of the Cross,
the pure liturgy of sacrificial love.
"'Woman, behold thy son!'
After that He said to the disciple:
'Behold thy mother!'
And from that hour the disciple took her to his own" (jn 19: 26-27).
The language of the Cross,
transcending the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek
of the inscription affixed to the tree
will be the mother tongue of the Church,
the language of the saints of every age,
the language of the one Holy Sacrifice
offered in every place
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Mal 1:11).
If you would hear the Word of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18),
remain silent before it and adore.
Approach it not with many words,
but with tears,
and with one burning kiss of reparation and of love.
Plant your kiss upon His feet,
press your mouth against that wound
wait in the stillness of the Great Sabbath,
to drink in the brightness of Pascha
from the river of life
that even now gushes from His open Heart.
At the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle
Thus far our Paschal Triduum has been sublime, and wonderfully peaceful. Yesterday and today we sang Matins and Lauds entirely, including the nine responsories; these are the highest expression of the Church's contemplation of the Passion of the Lord.
For the first time in twenty-five years of priesthood, I celebrated the Vesperal Mass In Cena Domini as the father of a humble monastic household. This meant, of course, that I had the privilege and grace of washing my brothers' feet.
After Holy Mass, we carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession to the altar of repose prepared in our library. The repository was simple: the tabernacle placed on a table draped in white, abundant candlelight, flowers arranged with grape leaves from our own little vine, and a few lilies. We remained in adoration until midnight, listening, from time to time, to the reading of Our Lord's discourse at the Last Supper in Saint John's Gospel, chapters 13--17. Shortly before midnight, I read John 17, Our Lord's Priestly Prayer.
I lifted the enclosure for the occasion so that guests could join us in keeping watch before Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. The atmosphere was, almost paradoxically, one of quiet joy. This year, Our Lord seemed to be inviting us to meditate His words in John 16:4: "Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full." I will share more on this later.
For the moment, here is the homily I preached last evening:
1 Corinthians 11:20-32
Brothers, we approached the Altar of the Lord singing a humble song:
"For us, no boasting" (Gal 6:14).
No boasting, that is, of anything that is ours.
For who am I and who are you to boast
in the presence of the Mystery?
Who am I and who are you to boast
on this the night of God's doing,
the night of the covenant?
"Father," says the deacon to the priest
at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy,
"it is time for the Lord to act!"
And so, it is all His doing, not ours.
It is time for the Lord to act!
"For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who is health and life and resurrection to us,
by Whom we are saved and set free (cf. Gal 6L14).
If you are sick; He is health.
If you are in the grip of death; He is life.
If you have stumbled and fallen low,
once, twice, three times or more,
He is resurrection.
If you are bound up and fettered,
if you are pushed down, or held back,
if you are constrained by fear,
or laden with burdens too heavy to bear,
He is deliverance and freedom.
If you are oppressed in sin's narrow place,
He takes you by the hand
and tonight, yes, tonight,
He leads you out into the vast and spacious place
of His prayer to the Father.
"This Father, is My desire,
that all those whom Thou hast entrusted to Me
may be with Me where I am,
so as to see My glory, Thy gift made to me,
in that love which Thou didst bestow upon Me
before the foundation of the world" (Jn 17:24).
This, brothers, is the birthnight
of Eucharistic adoration,
for tonight God reveals His Face
concealed beneath the sacramental veils,
and we, recognizing the One we see
are ravished into the love of Him
upon whom the Angels themselves long to gaze.
This is the night of a hushed amazement,
the night of believing disbelief
the night of wordless wonder.
This is the night of God at table with man.
Not only does this Companion-God sit at our board to share our bread:
he becomes Bread in every mouth.
This is the night of the Blood of the Lamb:
the birthday of the Chalice,
the first wave of that immense crimson tide
that tomorrow will flow gushing from the pierced side.
This is the night of the astonishing humility of God.
the night of God bending low
to perfume the very feet
that will run from Gethsemani in the night,
and from the proud praetorium,
and from the Cross terrible against dark and heavy skies.
"Before you run from me,
O you whom I have chosen to run after me,
let me wash your feet,"
says the Lord,
"and mark them sweetly with the imprint of my kiss.
You did not choose me, but I chose you (Jn 15:16).
This kiss to your feet is the pledge of my paschal absolution.
My feet, you will see them pierced by a nail;
yours, I would pierce with a kiss,
that turning, you would come back to Me
who have come so far in search of you.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back,
turn back to the Lord your God!"
Tonight, in the Cenacle, our Priest begins His ascent:
the solemn procession to the high place of His preaching:
the noble Tree
from which His voice will go out through all the earth.
Tonight our Priest, without leaving us,
goes into the hidden sanctuary beyond the veil (Heb 6:19);
He appears in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:23),
taking not the blood of goats and calves
but His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:12).
Tonight the Lamb without blemish is set before us.
Tonight His Blood is given,
not to be smeared on doorposts and lintels,
but to sanctify our lips
and moisten every parched tongue;
to warm every heart grown cold
with a libation of fire;
to give sweetness for bitterness,
and boldness for fear.
Those marked by the Blood of Lamb,
those with the Blood of the Lamb wet upon their lips
and fragrant on their breath
have passed from death to life.
Every mouth sanctified by the Blood
is, in the Father's eyes, the mouth of the First-Born Son.
Every prayer uttered from Blood-blessed lips,
every kiss offered,
every sigh and every groan,
the Father receives
as coming from the Son.
"In that day you will know
that I am in the Father,
and you in me, and I in you" (Jn 14:20).
The psalmist too sang of the Chalice and of the Blood:
"I will lift up the chalice of salvation,
and call upon the name of the Lord" (Ps 115:13).
Lifted up, it is our thanksgiving: a sun blazing red against the sky.
Pressed to our lips, it is our salvation: the antidote, the remedy,
one drop of which is enough to cure this weary world of every ill.
The Apostle handed on to us
what had had been handed on to him.
O humble and glorious Tradition!
Ours it is to receive what he received,
(to transmit and not to betray,)
to cherish what he cherished,
to obey the commandment he obeyed,
to adore the mystery he adored.
"This is My Body which is for you.
Do this in remembrance of Me. . . .
This chalice is the new covenant in My Blood.
Do this, as often, as you drink it, in memory of Me" (1 Cor 11:24-25).
This is the night of the new priesthood.
Awed are the Apostles,
not quite understanding
and not quite misunderstanding
the fearful spectacle of God bent prostrate at their feet.
He, sinless, kneels to absolve the sinner
while the sinner, seated,
has nought to offer but two bare journey-worn feet
and the story they tell.
Your feet too, brothers, tell a story,
and so too do mine:
the story of our lives,
the story of places we have known,
of places to which we have run,
of places from which we have fled.
Our comings and goings
-- those that we remember with joy,
those that we would rather forget,
and those to which we would gladly return --
all of these places have left a dusty film on our feet.
He who knows the secrets of our hearts
will kneel before you tonight
in the person of His priest
to wash away your weariness,
to heal your bruises,
to fit you for the walking that you have yet to do
and for the journey that lies ahead of you.
"What I am doing you do not know now,
but afterward you will understand . . . .
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:7, 15).
carrying out what they received from His Apostles,
will wash feet even as He did,
kneeling before them,
but even more than feet,
they will wash hearts caked with the hard crust of sin,
and polluted souls,
and faces bearing the traces of blood and tears.
Then we did not know what he was doing,
but now we understand the mystic absolution.
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).
For us, no boasting but in what Love has left us:
the Bread and the Chalice making present His Sacrifice;
and priests with feet washed clean and anointed hands
to pronounce the Absolution,
to lift high the Oblation.
And behind the sacramental veils
shines the Face for which we yearn:
the Face of immolated Purity,
the Face of Beauty humbled,
the Face of the Priest,
the Face of the Victim,
the Face of Holiness,
the Face of Crucified and Triumphant Love.
In looking, adore Him.
In adoring, look at Him.
And so, brothers, pass over
from what is old to what is new,
from the land of heavy burdens to the land of freedom,
from darkness to life,
from sin to holiness,
from groans to jubilations,
from tears to laughter,
from sorrow to bliss,
from combat to peace,
from struggle to rest,
from death to life
It is the Passover of the Lord (Ex 12:11).
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.
No One Will Take Your Joy From You
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).
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."
It is necessary that we hold fast to the promise given us last evening: "There you shall see me, says the Lord." This is necessary not only in the sacred drama of the liturgy but in all of life's struggles to the death: the struggles with weakness, temptation, and sin; the struggles against fear, and selfishness, and despair. It is in our lives that "Death and Life contend in the combat stupendous"; it is in our lives that "the Prince of Life, who died, reigns alive" (Sequence, Victimae paschali laudes). "For we are not contending against flesh and blood," says Saint Paul, "but against the principalities, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).
Our own experience of struggle and of wrestling with evil allows us to enter into the prayer of Christ given us in the Propers of today's Mass, not as spectators looking on from the sidelines, but as participants. Today's Introit is taken from Psalm 34, a passionate appeal for vindication. "Judge, O Lord, those that wrong me, fight against those that fight against me: take hold of arms and shield, and arise to help me, O Lord, the strength of my salvation" (Ps 34:1-2). This is the prayer of the suffering Christ to the Father; because it is his prayer, it is ours. "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (Heb 5:7). It is precisely this prayer of Christ, his costly, agonizing prayer "out of the depths" (Ps 129:1), that is given us in the psalms.
Prayer of the Suffering Christ
By giving us the prayer of the suffering Christ in the psalms, the Church offers us a holy communion with him. The substance of the prayer of Christ is given us under the humble species of human language in the words of the psalms. The psalms of the suffering Christ are for us a holy communion with his passion, a way of entering deeply into the sentiments and sorrows of his heart, a way of allowing ourselves to be inhabited by the power of his prayer to the Father.
The Missal of the Ordinary Form gives a Communion Antiphon from Psalm 101. It is Christ who lifts his voice to the Father, saying, "Turn not your face from me in the day of my distress. Turn your ear towards me and in the day when I cry out to you, answer me quickly" (Ps 101:3). This is the prayer of Christ the Head; it is also the prayer of every suffering and tempted member of his Mystical Body, the prayer of every soul crushed beneath the weight of evil, wrestling with the enemies of God, and fearful of her own weakness.
The Graduale gives another Communion Antiphon taken, like the Introit, from Psalm 34: "Let them be shamed and brought to disgrace those who rejoice at my misfortune: let them be put to shame and fear, those who speak wicked things against me" (Ps 34:26). This is the prayer of a man brought low, of a man caught in the grip of a mortal terror; it is the prayer of the suffering Christ -- of the whole suffering Christ. Paul entered into this prayer: "We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself" (2 Cor 1:7). The Head who suffered once, suffers still in his members. The prayer made once by the Head becomes each day the prayer of the members "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested" (2 Cor 4:8-11).
His Mystery in Us
The Word of God gives us the filial and priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. We, by ingesting the words of the psalms, allow Christ's prayer to indwell us as it indwells the whole Church who breathes it forth again and again in the power of the Holy Spirit. The adorable Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood gives us the whole mystery of Christ's blessed Passion and glorious Resurrection; it gives us Christ himself. He comes to live out his once-and-for-all Mystery again and again in us, uniting us in one Spirit to himself. Let us receive both the Word of God and the Most Holy Sacrament today confident of the glorious outcome of every bitter struggle with sin and death. We shall see Him again in Galilee, even as he promised.