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Verbum Crucis

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Struck by the expression on the faces of Christ and of the Angel holding the chalice to His pierced side, I took this photograph of a fresco at the Carceri in Assisi some years ago.

Friday of the Passion of the Lord

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,
slipped out.
“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
and wait,
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.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 30
Hebrews 4:14-5:9
John 18:1-19:42

The Birthday of the Chalice

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Maundy Thursday

We entered singing:
“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,
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 is the birthnight of Eucharistic adoration,
the night of a hushed amazement,
the night of believing disbelief
and 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 wash,
to kiss,
to perfume the very feet
that will run from the fearful garden 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
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 them 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 our Priest begins his ascent:
the solemn procession to the high place of his preaching:
to 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 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 they are, 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.

“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).

Feet they will wash, kneeling before them,
but more than feet,
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, 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).

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:12-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

Sacred Triduum in Buffalo

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Father Jacob Restrick, O.P., Mother Mary Gemma, O.P., and the community of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Buffalo, New York were most gracious hosts during the Paschal Triduum. My friendship with Father Jacob goes back thirty years. It was a joy to see him again and to serve at the altar with him.

The Dominican Nuns of the Buffalo monastery sing Gregorian Chant, using both the Roman Gradual and the chant books proper to the Order of Preachers. I was invited to sing the Exultet in Latin, using the distinctive Dominican melody with its glorious melisms over key words, such as haec.

This was, by far, the most restful Sacred Triduum I have had in over three decades. Father Jacob and I were able to share the preaching and the officiating. Paul Z. acted as Master of Ceremonies with his customary competency. The community took care of the chant. It was lovely to be able to take a more quiet approach to the heart of the liturgical year!

On Holy Saturday morning, I was very happy to meet young Brendan Y., a Vultus Christi reader in Buffalo. In the afternoon, Father Jacob drove us to Lackawanna to visit the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Victory, built by Father Nelson Baker in 1925.

Easter Sunday Mass was at 8:30. After a festive breakfast, Father Jacob drove Paul Z. and me to the airport to catch our flight back to Connecticut. Deo gratias, alleluia, alleluia.

Christ is risen!

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Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

More majestic than the crashing thunder
that echoed in the night!
Christ is risen!
In a silence more thunderous
than the cracking of the heavens over our heads,
Christ is risen!!
In a brightness brighter
than the lightning that illumined even the ravines around us,
Christ is risen!
“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky
from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in His day” (Lk 17:24).
Christ is risen!

David sings the mystery
and the Church takes up his song!
This is the night foretold in prophecy:
“And the night shall be enlightened as the day;
and the night is my light and my delight” (Ps 138:12),
for Christ is risen!

Tonight the light of His Face is signed upon us,
for Christ is risen!
Tonight the veil is lifted from the Countenance of Love,
for Christ is risen!

Blessed the veil that covered His beauty in death!
Blessed the veil that Simon Peter saw,
“not lying with the linen cloths
but rolled up in a place by itself” (Jn 20:7),
for Christ is risen!

Holy Saturday

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"The last day of Holy Week: a fruitful stillness before the breathtaking action of the night. Perhaps only the greatest Russian writers have succeeded in painting it as it is, a pause, a last moment of waiting, made holy by the Lord's rest in the tomb. The Church is waiting at the tomb and weeps. She sees where the Lord has been laid, where the woman had buried Adam, where man is buried where he had come to grief through her evil counsel. She sees it and weeps. She weeps at the Lord's tomb, as the Lord wept for Lazarus': for sin which killed the giver of all life. But her tears are soft, and she is at peace. . . . The death of Adam has lost its terrors in the tomb of Christ. The death for obedience' sake has snuffed out sin. No longer does a massa damnata blunder on from sin to sin and death to death, but the body of the obedient Christ rests in hope. A foreboding of the happy chance of fault which merited such and so great a redeemer. It is a foreboding of the blessedness of suffering earning 'the name which is above all names', and the 'glory of God the Father', which makes the seers — men and the Church — at peace and full of hope."

D. Aemiliana Löhr, The Great Week

Timely Mercies

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Arrival

Paul Z. and I arrived in snowy Buffalo last night after a nine hour trip. Father Jacob was at the airport to welcome us. You can imagine my joy when, shown to my room, the first thing I saw was an image of the Vultus Christ, the Holy Face of Christ, on the wall. After a good night's sleep and a brief meeting to look over this evening's Mass In Cena Domini, I was happy to repair to the chapel for a time of adoration. As I had not yet said Lauds, I did it then.

Savouring the Grace

As much as I love chanting the Divine Office in choir, there is a special unction attached to praying the Hours quietly in solitude, or alone before the Blessed Sacrament. One is free to pause frequently, to linger over a particular verse and to savour the grace concealed within it. After such experiences, one returns to the Choir Office refreshed and more attentive.

The Sacramental Word

Certain verses of the psalms and canticle, incisive and fresh in the translation of Monsignor Knox, were like sacramentals, communicating a particular grace as soon as they made contact with the "palate of the soul."

From Psalm 50:

Have mercy on me, O God,
as thou art ever rich in mercy.

In the abundance of thy compassion,
blot out the record of my misdeeds.

My God, bring a clean heart to birth within me:
breathe new life, true life, into my being.

From Psalm 89:

And at last thy hand comes upon us in mercy,
for our correction.

Alas, that so few heed thy vengeance,
measure thy anger by the reverence we owe thee!

With such correction thou must needs assert thy power,
chasten us and make us wise.

Relent, Lord; must it be for ever?
be gracious to thy servants.

For us thy timely mercies:
for us abiding happiness and content;

Happiness that shall atone for the time when thou didst afflict us,
for the long years of ill fortune.

Look upon thy servants, thy own fashioning,
and be the guide of their posterity.

Brightly may the splendour of the Lord shine upon us!
Prosper our doings, Lord,
prosper our doings yet.

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.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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