1. The Agony in the Garden
And going out, he went, according to his custom, to the Mount of Olives. And his disciples also followed him. And when he was come to the place, he said to them: Pray, lest ye enter into temptation. And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast. And kneeling down, he prayed. Saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. And when he rose up from prayer and was come to the disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow. And he said to them: Why sleep you? Arise: pray: lest you enter into temptation (Luke 22:39-46).
When we assist at Holy Mass, we are invited to enter through, with and in Christ into our own Garden of Gethsemane to place our burdens, cares and concerns before our heavenly Father. There, aided by the infinite graces that are poured forth from the Lord’s Holy Cross, we, like Jesus, may hope to be strengthened unto willing submission to God’s will – if only we pray fervently; diligently avoiding the ready temptation to despair.
The Council Fathers describe Holy Mass as that through which “the human is directed and subordinated to the Divine” (cf SC 2). Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane provided a poignant example for us as He willingly subordinated Himself, in His sacred humanity, to the will of the Father, in perfect love not just for God, but for each and every one of us as well.
Are we willing to at least attempt by God’s grace to do the same, or will we in our own agony be wearied by sorrow and grow forgetful of the gift that has been won for us by Christ?
Invited by the Lord who calls us by name as once He called His Apostles, Arise! Pray!, we who respond are offered the fruits of our Redemption made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wherein the chalice of the Lord’s agony is transformed in the glory of the Resurrection into the Chalice of Eternal Salvation!
In our effort to willingly “subordinate to the Divine” at Holy Mass, uniting our sufferings to the Cross of Christ, we must never forget that the Blessed Virgin Mary, our model of faith, stands ever ready to help us.
The Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: ‘Woman, behold thy son’ (cf LG 58).
Let us turn then to Mary for aid at Holy Mass, seeking the Maternal guidance of she who always and everywhere responded in perfect supplication to God, “Be it done to me according to thy word!”
2. The Scourging at the Pillar
And Pilate seeing that he prevailed nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, taking water washed his hands before the people, saying: I am innocent of the blood of this just man. Look you to it. And the whole people answering, said: His blood be upon us and upon our children. Then he released to them Barabbas: and having scourged Jesus, delivered him unto them to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor, taking Jesus into the hall, gathered together unto him the whole band (Matthew 27:24-27).
Lest we make the mistake of condemning by pride those who carried out the crucifixion, as though we ourselves could look down from the Cross, let us remember to measure our righteousness not against the actions of others, but according to that perfection of which only our heavenly Father is perfect. In so doing we cannot help but conclude that it was, in a sense, into our hands as well that Jesus was delivered unto death.
We must pray for the grace to see our every sin as a lash upon the back of our Savior, scourging Him anew; our every denial of His holy will as a tear in His precious flesh; our lack of love for one another as the very cause of His suffering…
As such, we who have been Baptized into the death and Resurrection of the Lord, recognize in truth that none of us are truly “innocent of the blood of this just man.” Unlike Pilate, however, we offer thanksgiving to God in the Most Holy Eucharist – in faith, hope and love – for His magnificent outpouring of Mercy, that His Precious Blood may indeed be upon us and our children – for without it we know that we are destined to death.
3. The Crowning with Thorns
Then the soldiers of the governor, taking Jesus into the hall, gathered together unto him the whole band. And stripping him, they put a scarlet cloak about him. And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: Hail, King of the Jews. And spitting upon him, they took the reed and struck his head. And after they had mocked him, they took off the cloak from him and put on him his own garments and led him away to crucify him (Matthew 27:27-31).
How often we who should know better call upon Christ as King, but fail to treat Him as such; even at times as it relates to our participation in Holy Mass!
The Council Fathers tell us that “the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or by the Church as She teaches in His name” (cf SC 33).
This means that every time we insist upon a liturgy that caters to our own personal tastes (perhaps as it relates to the text of the Missal, the music that is used, or the roles that we play, etc.) even when our preferences deviate from those things that have been chosen by Christ for our own good, we make a mockery of Christ’s Kingship. It is as though we are pressing a crown of thorns upon His precious head once more!
Likewise, when we treat the sacred liturgy as that self-contained one hour on Sunday morning, acting as though we are free to go forth to do whatever we please regardless of what Holy Mother Church proposes for our instruction and belief (be it in our dealings with one another, the way in which we exercise our civic duties, the moral decisions we make, etc.) we make a mockery of Christ’s Kingship.
Let us be mindful of such failings, recognizing our own part in the Crowning of Thorns, seeking the grace that we need to ever carry the King of kings that we receive at Holy Mass in the Most Holy Eucharist in our hearts, that He may reign in all that we do, until He comes again in glory.
4. The Carrying of the Cross
And as they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country; and they laid the cross on him to carry after Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of people and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children (Luke 23:26-28).
Consider well the image of Simon of Cyrene – the passerby who was snatched from obscurity to a place of prominence on the Via Crucis, for he strikes a poignant figure of every single Christian who aspires to share in the glory of the Risen Lord – He who is uniquely present and operative in the sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church.
Yes, we are called to “take up our cross and to follow Him,” (cfMt.16:24) but there really is but one Cross that can truly redeem us; the Cross of which Jesus said, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21).
Though we typically tend to think of Simon of Cyrene as he who assisted our Blessed Lord, this is to miss the point.
In truth, Jesus had need of no man’s assistance on the Way of the Cross; rather, the Cyrenian was called forth not for the Lord’s sake but for ours; that we might see what it means to emerge from the outlands to walk with Christ toward the Eternal Jerusalem. In other words, our journey of faith is not so much a matter of taking up our own cross as it is making the Cross of Christ our very own.
We know that we are not the authors of our own salvation; we are by the grace of God but co-operators in His saving action – that which is made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And so we are moved by grace to join the sacrifice of our lives to the one Sacrifice of Christ that is made present on the altar, that by His Saving Action we may be made holy and acceptable to God the Almighty Father to the glory of His name.
5. The Crucifixion of the Lord
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth. Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water (John 19:25-30,34).
In these, the shortest of the last seven words of Christ on the Cross, one sees evidence of the Lord’s physical suffering as He hung parched upon the Tree of Life; His precious Body paradoxically approaching death.
In order to grasp at the deeper meaning of the Lord’s words we must remind ourselves that Jesus laid down His life willingly for a specific purpose; namely, to ransom the fallen children of Adam from eternal death. As such, the utterance “I thirst” can also be understood as an expression of the merciful Lord’s desire to gather His own “as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings” (cf Mt. 23:37).
With this in mind, the Sacrifice of the Cross made present to us in the sacred liturgy is most fully appreciated when it is viewed as the supreme act of Divine love that is ultimately ordered toward the fulfillment of the beloved other who stands in need of Redemption; namely, humankind.
When considered from this perspective, the “thirst” of which Jesus spoke is also properly understood as our thirst – an expression of sinful humankind’s longing, as compelled by grace, to attain to the eternal destiny for which he was created; namely, Divine union, and this precisely what is offered by Christ to His people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Lord freely took our spiritual dryness upon Himself and carried it in His sacred humanity to the Cross that it might be quenched with the water and blood that issued forth from His pierced side. And so it is here where we stand at Holy Mass with the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the Lord who is mystically present and operative among us may accomplish in us the work of our Redemption. Thanks be to God!
We will continue our reflection next week with a look at the Glorious Mysteries.
(© 2011 Louie Verrechio)