Our annual Lenten journey into the desert begins today, Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014.
It is time for us to become deadly seriously about intensifying our daily prayers and penances, uniting them with the Lenten spirit of fasting as we offer everything we encounter in the next forty-six days, including the six Sundays between now and Easter Sunday that are not counted as days of penance or fasting, to the Blessed Trinity through Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. We do not know if this Lent will be our last. Indeed, we do not know if we will live to see Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014. And no matter how many good Lents we may have made in the past, we must be serious about asking Our Lady for the graces to make this Lent of 2014 the best one of our whole lives.
Lent comprises a little over a tenth of the calendar year, believe it or not. It is simile for life itself, which is spent in the figurative desert of our exile from our true home, Heaven. While it may appear as though that we wander about aimlessly in this vale of tears, much in the manner of the Jews as they wandered about in the desert for forty years from the time of their Passover escape from the Pharaoh to their entrance in the Promised Land of Canaan, the truth is that the desert of life is meant to lead us to the eternal Promise Land of an unending Easter Sunday of glory in Paradise, sharing in the Paschal Lamb’s Easter victory over the power of sin and eternal death. And we have far more supernatural helps than the Jews as they were wandering about in the desert. We have sanctifying grace. We are fed by the True Manna come down from Heaven, the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Holy Mother Church asks us in a special way, however, to retreat from the legitimate pleasures of the world for the next six weeks and four days so as to be more attached to the things of Heaven, more ready to deny oneself on a regular basis throughout the year, more willing to suffer and to pray for penances to be offered up to God through Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. A good, well-lived Lent can develop solid spiritual practices that can last a lifetime. As it has been fifty-five weeks since the start of Lent in 2013, which began on February 13, 2013, it is likely the case that we have grown a little lax in our daily practices of prayer and penance. Thus the need to focus single-mindedly on the pursuit of holiness and of spending more time with Our Lord Himself, Who spent forty days in the desert prior to the commencement of His Public Ministry, which would culminate in the events of His fearful Passion and Death.
Our Lord walked the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, on Good Friday as He carried that Cross that our sins had imposed so unjust upon Him. He willingly embraced His Cross so as to pay back in His Sacred Humanity the debt that was owed to Him in His Infinity as God, to re-open the Gates of Heaven that had been closed by Adam’s sin and to stretch out His arms on the horizontal beam of the Cross so as to embrace all men for all time to lift them up on the vertical beam to the Father in Heaven in Spirit and in Truth. Whether any one human being cooperates with the graces won for his immortal soul on the wood of the Holy Cross is up to the free will of that person. We do know, however, that God wants us to cooperate with the graces, made possible for us by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood and that flow into our hearts and souls through the loving hands of Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces, and to be conscious of the fact that our lives might very well be demanded of us this very night. Are we ready to make an accounting of our lives at the moment of our Particular Judgments?
Lent, therefore, provides us with an opportunity to walk the Way of Sorrows, that is, the Way of the Cross, that is actually our royal road to victory. One of the many good spiritual practices that we should resolve to make in Lent is the daily praying of the Way of the Cross. There are many excellent sources of meditation for the Stations of the Cross. The one that is most familiar to Catholics belongs to the great Doctor of Moral Theologians, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori. Not to be overlooked, however, are the wonderful set of reflections written by John Henry Cardinal Newman (Newman’s Way of the Cross). I came upon these for the first time in 1980. They are deeply inspiring and can be put to memory over the course of a Lent if they are done faithfully every day. Cardinal Newman’s meditations provide excellent food for prayer during the Easter Triduum of Our Lord’s Passion and Death.
Without prejudice to these–and other–excellent meditations on the Way of Cross and without seeking for one moment to substitute the reflections that follow for those meditations, I would like to present a few supplemental thoughts about each of the Stations of the Cross that might be of some help as we make our way through the desert of Lent into the glories of the Easter Season, which lasts ten days longer than Lent so as to signify that the joys of eternal blessedness in Heaven last forever. Our pilgrimage here on earth, even if it lasts one hundred years, is a blip in time by comparison.
I. Jesus is Condemned to Death
Our sins transcended time, helping to motivate the crowd assembled beneath Pontius Pilate’s porch to cry out for the release of Barabbas, the Zealot who believed that the way to deal with the oppressive Romans was to fight them with the sword. In reality, though, each time we sin, whether mortally or venially, we are crying out for Barabbas. We are seeking the expedient path to ready luxury and/or spiritual sloth. We do not want to choose completely for Our Lord as He has revealed Himself to us exclusively through the Catholic Church. We want to hold on to our selfishness, our impatience, our lack of zeal for souls, including our own, our materialism, and the compromises we have made with the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Truth be told, however, we play the part of Pontius Pilate a lot in our lives, remaining silent, perhaps, when the truths of the Faith are under attack from our own family members and friends, preferring not to speak about the Faith, especially concerning the Social Reign of Christ the King, in “mixed company” so as to avoid suffering some career setback and/or loss of popularity. And we live at a time when the modern day successors of Pontius Pilate, Catholics in public life who support the evils of our day under cover of law, do indeed wash their hands of the blood of the innocent as they seek the approval of the crowd.
Remember, one of the first plebiscites in the history of the world took place on Pontius Pilate’s front porch. Truth Himself lost the vote. Political expediency, that is, pragmatism, won the day. The Just Judge of all men was condemned by an unjust vote of a jury of His own creatures, whom He was about to redeem on the wood of the Holy Cross. We must pray that He will be merciful to us when we are judged after we have breathed our last breath in this vale of tears, forgiving us for the role we played in His own condemnation and for the many times we have betrayed Him by acts and words and thoughts of commission and omission.
II. Jesus Takes Up and Carries His Most Holy Cross
Our Lord took up the instrument of our redemption, the Holy Cross, and carried it to Golgotha. Weakened by the loss of His Most Precious Blood and Crowning with thorns, having spent the night in jail, having had nothing to eat or drink for over twelve long hours, Our Lord resolves to carry His Cross despite His weakened condition.
Each one of our sins darkens our intellects and weakens our wills. Each one of our sins makes us all the more inclined to sin. There is only one way to repair the damage we do to our souls by means of our sins: the Cross. We must take up our crosses, great and small, on a daily basis, recognizing that there is nothing we suffer, whether physically or spiritually or emotionally, that is the equal of what the very, very least of our venial sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death. Who are we to complain or even whimper when some cross is visited upon us? Our Lord never permits us to suffer beyond our capacity. In His ineffable Mercy, you see, He never really makes us suffer as our sins truly deserve. We would die of sheer fright if we knew exactly how our sins had wounded Our Lord once in time and how they wound His Mystical Body, the Church, today. Mercifully, Our Lord gives us an opportunity to pay Him back in this mortal life for the debt that we owe Him for each one of our sins. Mercifully, Holy Mother Church permits us to gain indulgences for our souls and those of others. Those of us who are totally consecrated to Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart give her freely all of the merits our indulgenced acts we gain each day, trusting that she will apply some of those merits to benefit us now and at the hour of our deaths. Our Lady, who stood by the foot of her Divine Son’s Holy Cross so valiantly, helps us to carry our own crosses so that we can truly “lift high the Cross” as the great Lenten hymn reminds us.
There is no other path to Heaven than the Cross, which we are called to take up in our own lives and in the larger life of the Church in her human elements and in the world. Each cross that comes our way is perfectly fitted just for us. We can walk the royal road that leads to eternal victory as the sons of Mary Immaculate, never counting the cost and always considering a privilege to suffering with her and to offer it to her Divine Son through her Immaculate Heart.
III. Jesus Falls for the First Time
The weight of sins and the punishment they had already inflicted on Our Lord’s Sacred Humanity caused Him to fall for the first time as He walked the Via Dolorosa. He could have died right there if He had chosen to give up His spirit. He wanted to fulfill perfectly the Father’s will by redeeming us on the wood of the Holy Cross. He got up to continue to walk on the road to Calvary amidst the jeers and the hatred of the crowd, which just five days before had hailed him to the cheers of “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Our merciful Lord has compassion on us erring sinners. He wants to rise up from our falls, whether venial or mortal, into sin, and to seek out His Divine Mercy in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance. Moreover, having been the recipients of such an unmerited, gratuitous gift as His sacramental absolution in the confessional, He expects us to be administrators of mercy, of forgiveness, to everyone else. That is, we must will the good of all other people, no matter how badly they have hurt us. We must pray for those who refuse to forgive us the wrongs we have done them, praying that there will be a happy reconciliation in eternity, please God we and they die in states of sanctifying grace. We must not only rise from our sins to try once again to scale the heights of sanctity with joy. We must rise from our pettiness and natural desire to hold grudges in order to pray for those from whom we are estranged and those who will only understand the intentions of our own hearts on the Last Day, when all of the just will be reconciled one unto the other.
Similarly, we can never permit the seemingly “heavy” weight of our daily crosses to crush our zeal for the Catholic Faith, including our zeal for the Cross itself. We must realize that Our Lord really meant it when He said:
Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Mt. 11:29-30)
We can never permit ourselves to stay on the ground when we fall by means of sins or surrender to human discouragement, surrender to a loss of visible consolations in this vale of tears. We must rise up each day and walk the royal road of the cross anew without complaint and without hesitation.
IV. Jesus Meets His Most Afflicted Mother
The encounter between Our Lord and His Most Blessed Mother on the Via Dolorosa was truly heart-wrenching. The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which had been formed out of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, is consoled by the loving glance of Our Lady as she experiences her fourth dolor. The Son and His Blessed Mother suffered as one. There was a total communion of Hearts as the most perfect human being to have lived, the jewel of our race, Mary, grieved to see what our sins had caused her Divine Son, the Theandric Person, in the Sacred Humanity she had given Him by the power of the Holy Ghost at the Annunciation. Indeed, the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich recounts that Our Lady fainted as she saw what our sins had done to her Divine Son as He walked the Via Dolorosa.
How much do we continue to grieve Our Lady by means of our sins, by means of our lukewarmness, by means of our unwillingness to pray the Rosary well and to ask her, the Mediatrix of all graces, for all of the graces that we need to save our souls and to fulfill our duties in our freely chosen states-in-life? Do we really fly unto her, the Virgin of Virgins, to beg her to help us to undo the effects of sins on our sins by the patient carrying of our own daily crosses? Do we invoke her in times of trouble, both spiritual and temporal? Do we believe that she is all powerful with her Divine Son, that she will answer our prayers if we have total confidence in her intercessory power? Are we resolved never to grieve her again by means of our sins?
No fully human being has ever suffered as Mary suffered. No mother has ever suffered as Mary suffered. None of our sufferings and sacrifices can compare to Mary’s, who so loved the Father’s will that she watched her Divine Son be manhandled by means of our sins and ingratitude throughout the course of His Passion and Death. The way to Jesus Our Lord runs through Mary Our Blessed Mother. We must resolve not only to grieve her no more by means of our sins. We must resolve to love her perfectly as her consecrated slaves, resolving to make her known and loved by all men, generously dispensing her Miraculous Medal and her Green Scapular to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Our Lady converted the Catholic-hating Jew named Alphonse Ratisbonne on January 20, 1842, by appearing to him in the Church of San Andrea delle Fratte in the image that is impressed upon the Miraculous Medal, which Ratisbonne had been given to wear by his brother Theodore, who had converted to the Faith. Why do we not think that Our Lady will convert us by means of these sacramentals that she has given so mercifully for the salvation of the souls of the lost and the confused, the souls of infidels and heretics and schismatics and apostates?
Mary must be our constant companion during this Lent–and during every day of our lives, remembering her by various invocations and short prayers, making sure to honor her daily by praying her Most Holy Rosary and meditating upon her Seven Dolors.
V. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross
Mary’s prayers won for Jesus the reluctant help of Simeon of Cyrene as He carried His Cross. Our Lord did not need Simon’s help. However, He accepted Simon’s help to give us an example that we must follow: that we must never be slow to come to the spiritual or temporal assistance of others, especially as they are carrying some heavy cross.
It is part of slothful human nature to be slow to perform the Spiritual and the Corporal Works of Mercy. We are so reluctant to embrace even the smallest of inconveniences to serve our brothers and sisters in Our Lord, forgetting the words of Our Lord, Who said:
Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. (Mt. 25:40)
We must especially seek to serve the spiritual needs of our family members and friends, never ceasing to invite them into a deeper union with Our Lord through His true Church, especially by means of embracing Our Lord’s perennial teaching without any hint of compromise with the ethos of conciliarism by fleeing from the false shepherds of the false church who have done so much harm to so many souls. For the only way to be able to carry our daily crosses, be they spiritual or temporal, is as believing Catholics who recognize that the Cross is the means of our redemption, that our individual crosses are required in strict justice and are part of God’s merciful plan for our salvation. This is how we can truly help our family members and friends carry their crosses.
Moreover, we must learn from Our Lord to accept the help of others when it is offered to us. We must not be so proud or seemingly self-reliant as to refuse to accept the generosity of others as they seek to help us carry our own crosses. We must accept the help of others with grace, recognizing that we cannot deny to others the possibility of gaining merits from assisting us. We can be a source of grace for others just as Our Lord was for Simon of Cyrene and his two sons, Rufus and Alexander.
VI. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Saint Veronica wiped the face of Our Lord as He walked the Via Dolorosa. His Most Holy Face was bruised and swollen from having been slapped and beaten. It was covered with blood, sweat and spittle. That Holy Face, which radiated with bright beams the purity and glory of His Sacred Divinity when He was born in Bethlehem on Christmas Day, was marred beyond recognition. Our sins were responsible for the marring of Our Lord’s Most Holy Face.
Our souls radiated with the bright beams of the very inner life of the Blessed Trinity when at the moment they were baptized. Our sins, however, have marred and obscured the baptismal innocence of our souls, thus requiring us to have them bathed repeatedly in the Sacred of Penance in the Most Precious Blood of the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world. We must beg Our Lord to leave an impression of His Most Holy Face on our own souls just as He left an impression of It on Saint Veronica’s veil. We want to see the face of Christ in all others and for others to see His face of true charity, which wills the good of each person, on our own faces. We want to remake the world in the image of the Most Holy Face of Jesus.
We should take to heart the Prayer of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus to the Most Holy Face of Jesus:
O Jesus, who in Thy bitter Passion didst become “the most abject of men, a man of sorrows”, I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men. The tears which well up abundantly in Thy sacred eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value. O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy divine image and to set me on fire with Thy Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of Thy glorious Face in Heaven. Amen.
We should also take to hearts the words of Our Lord to Sister Pierina, who was told by Our Lord and His Blessed Mother to promote devotion to His Holy Face:
I firmly wish that My face reflecting the intimate pains of My soul, the suffering and love of My, be more honored! Whoever gazes upon Me already consoles Me.
VII. Jesus Falls for a Second Time
Our sins caused Our Lord to fall a second time. Our Lord had thrown the devil off of a cliff at the end of His forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. The devil had his way with Our Lord, thrusting Him down under the weight of our sins the first time in retribution for his having been cast out of Heaven and thrusting Him down this second time under the weight of our sins in retribution for Our Lord’s refusal to worship Him during the those forty days in the desert.
Oh, we fall so many times. Our faith fails us so many times. We trust in our own strength–or that of other mere mortals, not realizing that Our Lord really meant it when He said:
I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. (Jn. 15:5)
We will fall and we will fail in our merely human, naturalistic efforts to seek to resolve problems in our own life and the world without referencing Our Lord and the Deposit of Faith He has entrusted solely to the Catholic Church, without relying upon His sanctifying graces to root out the grip that sin has on our souls. We must walk the rocky, frequently dangerous road that leads to the Narrow Gate of Life Himself, being willing to get up when we fall, to accept humiliations and misunderstandings in the spirit that Our Lord Himself accepted them, to avoid even the slightest temptation to walk the smooth road that leads to the wide gate of eternal perdition. We must never give the devil dominion over any aspect of our lives, cleaving to Our Lord through everything He has revealed to the Catholic Church, including His Social Teaching, at all times without hint of compromise with the spirit of the world.
VIII. Jesus Speaks to and Consoles the Daughters of Jerusalem
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. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry? (Lk. 23:27-31)
Yes, we must weep over our sins.
There was the story of a man some years ago who was grieving for himself in a time personal sorrow. He had the sensus Catholicus, however, to utter the following words as he cried, “Dear Lord, if only I grieved for my sins as I am grieving for myself right now.”
A priest once said, “I wish I could spend the rest of my life in a monastery grieving for my sins.”
As was noted earlier, none of us knows how much our sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His fearful Passion and Death. We must seek to do penance for our sins and to live penitentially, especially now during this season of penance. We must embrace a spirit of Holy Poverty, seeking to be enriched spiritually and not materially, to live as the Holy Family of Nazareth lived, content with modesty of means rather than desiring to covet the most luxurious lifestyle imaginable.
Our Lord consoled the daughters of Jerusalem. We must console His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary with our acts of penance, offered in love for what He gave us on the wood of the Holy Cross: the possibility of eternal life in Heaven.
IX. Jesus Falls for a Third Time
Exhausted by His lack of sleep and nutrition and hydration, spent by the loss of His Most Precious Blood and the effort that it took to carry His Cross, Our Lord fell for a third time on the Via Dolorosa. He could have died then and there. To fulfill perfectly His Co-Equal Father’s Holy Will, He lifted Himself up as He was derided by the Roman soldiers and jeered by the crowd. He had to go on to Calvary to win back for us on the tree of the Holy Cross what was lost for us on the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden: eternal life.
We must ask Our Lord give us the supernatural strength that we need every day to rise up out of our spiritual slumber and to persevere, especially when things appear, humanly speaking, to be the most difficult. We live in the midst of unimaginable difficulties within the true Church in her human elements. The easiest thing to do would be to quit, to think that all is lost. We must rise up each day and simply be about the business of saving our souls as Catholics, offering up all of our personal and ecclesiastical difficulties to Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart with total confidence and joy.
The devil knows that he will be shut up in Hell for all eternity at the end of time, which is one of the reasons he used the weight of our sins to cast Our Lord to the ground, bleeding and prostrate, for yet a third time. The adversary, who prowls around the world like a roaring lion seeking to devour souls, as Saint Peter reminded us:
Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pt. 5:8)
It is the devil who wants us to quit and to be discouraged in the midst of difficulties. Relying upon Our Lord’s graces that come to us through the loving hands of Our Lady, we must walk to Calvary every day of our lives. There is just no other way to live if one want to live forever in Heaven.
X. Jesus is Stripped of His Garment
Our Lord arrived at Calvary and is stripped of the only thing He owned, His tunic, exposing His Body to great pain as entire pieces of His Flesh are ripped off with the tunic. He is subjected to further mockery as His Holy Body, lacerated by the scourging and bruised with the blows He received from the Roman soldiers, is exposed to public view.
The figurative tunic that covers the stench of our own sins will be exposed to public view on the Last Day. May it be the case that the true state of our soul will not be one of mockery and derision by those who have adjudged just by Our Lord. May it be the case by the graces of Our Lady that our souls will be healed of any and all wounds caused by our sins. We must keep this ever in mind when we pray at the Tenth Station. Our Lord’s Holy Body, Which was wounded by our sins, stood as an object of derision and mockery. We must strive with all of our being to cooperate with the graces won for us on Calvary so that we will die in such a way that our souls, having been purified if need be in Purgatory, will shine as brilliantly as Our Lord’s Glorified Body did on Easter Sunday.
We must also remember that we must be detached from all of the possessions and people and places of this passing vale of tears. We must be attached to God’s Holy Will alone as He has manifested It through the Catholic Church. It matters not if we lose all of our friends and if we lose all of our possessions and lack even a fit dwelling place as we make our pilgrimage here in the Church Militant to eternity. It matters only that we are attached to God through His Holy Church by remaining always in a state of Sanctifying Grace. We must also be stripped of our own selfishness and pride, willing to die to self more and more each day, especially during this season of Lent, so as to let Our Lord live more and more in every fiber of our being.
XI. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Our sins nailed Our Lord to the gibbet that is the Holy Cross. The soldiers thrust His wounded back onto the vertical beam, causing great pain as splintered pieces of wood went directly into the lacerations caused by the scourging. Our sins pounded those nails into His Holy Hands, with which He had instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders the night before, to the horizontal beam of the Cross. The nails were pounded in at the juncture of the wrist and the hand, severing the median nerve, which played like a violin against the nails, causing unspeakable torture throughout Our Lord’s Holy Body, as examinations of the Shroud of Turin have revealed. Our sins then nailed Our Lord’s Holy Feet, which had walked the face of the earth to teach and preach and perform miracles, to the base of the Holy Cross.
Our Lord was lifted high on the Cross. Just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent high in the desert to heal those who had been bitten by the seraph serpents, so are we healed by looking at the One Who was lifted up high on the Holy Cross on the heights of Golgotha, the Skull Place. He extended His arms in the gesture of the Eternal High Priest on the horizontal beam of the Cross to lift us up on the vertical beam to the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
We must be willing to be nailed to our own crosses every day. The great saints prayed for crosses. Imagine that? They prayed for crosses, knowing that the only way to save their own souls and the souls of others was to suffer with Our Lord by being nailed to Cross day in and day out.
As he was dying a few years ago, one priest asked the priest who had come to administer the Sacrament of Extreme Unction to him why he, the dying priest, had to suffer so much. The other priest’s was very simple: “Because souls are expensive.”
Yes, souls are expensive. Their redemption was won by Our Lord’s being nailed to the wood of the Holy Cross. We must therefore die to self for love of Him as He died on the Cross for love of us, making it possible for us to know the crown of eternal glory in Paradise.
XII. Jesus Dies on the Cross
Here it is: the supreme moment in the history of the world. The moment for which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had become Incarnate in Our Lady’s virginal and immaculate womb by the power of the Holy Ghost. The moment at which the New and Eternal Covenant that had been instituted at the Last Supper was ratified. The moment at which the Old Covenant was superceded forever when the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The moment in which the New Adam won back for on the tree of the Holy Cross what was lost for us by the first Adam on the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. The moment in which what appeared to those who lacked Faith to be Our Lord’s defeat but was actually His supreme victory over the power of sin and eternal death: His Bloody Sacrifice of the Cross to atone once and for all for human sins.
Only a handful of people stood beneath the Holy Cross to console Our Lord as He breathed His last. The Blessed Mother and the young man given to her to be her son, Saint John the Evangelist, were there. So was Saint Mary Magdalene. So were a handful of others. The vast majority of those present as Our Lord died and the centurion’s lance pierced His Side to issue forth Blood and Water, the sacramental elements of the Church, were there to goad Him to the last. Others passed by in utter indifference as they went about their business as usual, not realizing that their own redemption was being wrought on the wood of the Cross upon which hung the Saviour of the world.
Our sins put us on the wrong side of the Cross on Good Friday. We were in the crowd goading Our Lord. We were “passing by,” too busy to notice the Sacrifice that was taking place for our sakes.
In His ineffable Mercy, however, Our Lord permits us to be with Him on the right side of the Cross every time we assist at Holy Mass, which is the unbloody perpetuation of that one Sacrifice of the Cross. The Mass, although it takes place at a given time in a given place at the hands of a given priest, is timeless, which is one of the reasons the sanctuary of the Church is set off from the nave. As the Mass is the timeless perpetuation of Calvary in an unbloody manner, its rites must reflect the transcendent mystery of Our Lord’s Redemptive Act, not the passing fads of the time in the name of the slogan called “inculturation of the Gospel.” The Immemorial Mass of Tradition clearly communicates this sense of the transcendent, the immutable, the timeless. The Protestan and Masonic Novus Ordo worship service does not. Anyone who does not see this is steeped in self-deception. Something that is premised on lies and misrepresentations cannot clearly communicate what originated with God Himself. It admits of various legitimate options and adaptations, to say nothing of unchecked improvisations that are undertaken precisely to undermine the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood in the minds of ordinary Catholics.
Indeed, the very ethos of the Novus Ordo service eschews the spirit of penance and mortification that should mark the interior life of any serious Catholic at all times, especially so during Lent. There are only two days appointed for obligatory fasting in the Novus Ordo, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This bias against penance and self-denial is found in Paragraph 15 of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal:
The same awareness of the present state of the world also influenced the use of texts from very ancient tradition. It seemed that this cherished treasure would not be harmed if some phrases were changed so that the style of language would be more in accord with the language of modern theology and would faithfully reflect the actual state of the Church’s discipline. Thus there have been changes of some expressions bearing on the evaluation and use of the good things of the earth and of allusions to a particular form of outward penance belonging to another age in the history of the Church.
Who says that forms of outward penance belong “another age in the history of the Church”? Not God. Not His Catholic Church. Only prideful men who pose as shepherds and who have convinced most Catholics in the world that the practices of the “past” were “bad” and that we must do “positive” things in Lent rather than “negative” things such as fasting and denying ourselves various legitimate pleasures dare to assert such a thing. Not God. Not His Catholic Church.
We must love the Mass as Our Lord taught it to the Apostles before He Ascended to the Father’s right hand in glory. It is the sole means by which we can access to Our Beloved before we see Him face to face in Heaven, please God we die in a state of sanctifying grace. We keep Him company at the foot of the Cross in every Mass with Our Lady, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Mary Magdalene–and all of the angels and the saints, each of whom is present mystically. If we want to appreciate the fullness of Our Lord’s love for us we must cleave to Him in the Mass and make whatever sacrifices we need to make to assist exclusively at the Mass that is all about God from the moment a priest of the Roman Rite enters the sanctuary and addresses God, not us, and recites the Judica me (Psalm 42), except in Masses for the dead and during Passiontide, to the time he recites, at least during most Masses of the year, the Gospel of the Incarnation at the end of Mass.
A deep and abiding love for the Mass, which is one of the fruits of the Twelfth Station of the Cross, will lead us to spend time with Our Lord in fervent prayer before His Real Presence. If we want to spend all eternity with Our Lord in Heaven, isn’t it a pretty good idea to want to spend time with Him here as He remains for us the Prisoner of Love in the tabernacle, where Our Lady, the Mediatrix of all graces and Co-Redemptrix of the world, who suffered the fifth of her seven dolors at the foot of the Holy Cross, stands with us in supplication? We must be supremely willing to be present–as far as is possible given our circumstances, obviously–at the daily offering of the Immemorial Mass of Tradition to participate interiorly in the supreme moment in the history of salvation, to receive worthily the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man in Our Lady’s virginal and immaculate womb.
XIII. The Body of Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Our Lord’s Body is taken down from the Cross and placed into the loving arms of Our Lady, who has just given birth to us spiritually in great pain as the adopted sons and daughters of the living God. She suffers the sixth of her seven dolors as the One Whose infant Body she cradled in her tender arms in Bethlehem is now placed in her arms without any life in Him at all. She weeps over the sins that caused Him to suffer. She weeps over the fact that her Divine Son had died for many men in vain, those who would not even minimally say “My Jesus, Mercy” as they breathed their last.
As is described by the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich in The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
When the body was taken down it was wrapped in linen from the knees to the waist, and then placed in the arms of the Blessed Virgin, who, overwhelmed with sorrow and love, stretched them forth to receive their precious burden.
The Blessed Virgin seated herself upon a large cloth spread on the ground, with her right knee, which was slightly raised, and her back resting against some mantles, rolled together so as to form a species of cushion. No precaution had been neglected which could in any way facilitate to her–the Mother of Sorrows–in her deep affliction of soul, the mournful but must sacred duty which she was about to fulfill in regard to the body of her beloved Son. The adorable head of Jesus rested upon Mary’s knee, and his body was stretched upon a sheet. The Blessed Virgin was overwhelmed with sorrow and love. Once more, and for the last time, did she hold in her arms the body of her most beloved Son, to whom she had been unable to give any testimony of love during the long hours of his martyrdom. And she gazed upon his wounds and fondly embraced his blood-stained cheeks, whilst Magdalen pressed her face upon his feet.
No Lent is well-lived unless one renews his total consecration to Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, which was pierced with the sword of sorrow that had been prophesied by the aged Simeon at her Purification as her Divine Son was presented in the Temple. We must pray that Our Lady will receive our souls at the hour of our deaths as she received her Divine Son’s dead Body at the hour of His death on the wood of the Holy Cross, that we will not be one of those for whom her Divine Son had died in vain.
One of the ways we can console Our Lady is to promote the praying of her Seven Dolors. Our Lady said that great graces would be extended to us if we prayed her Seven Dolors and made them known to others. Our Lady pleaded with Saint Bernadette and she pleaded with the Fatima seers for us to do penance for our sins. This is an excellent way to do penance for our sins.
XIV. The Body of Jesus is Buried
And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea (because he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews) besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. (Jn. 19:38)
Our Lord was born in a cave that He did not own. His dead Body was buried in a cave that He did not own. Our Lady wrapped His infant Body in swaddling clothes. She wrapped His dead Body in the burial shroud.
The tombstone was sealed against the tomb. Our Lady had to say goodbye to her Divine Son until the Resurrection forty hours later on Easter Sunday. She had to keep a vigil in prayer as she grieved the death of her Son before He manifested Himself to her immediately after He rose from the dead. Saint John the Evangelist consoled her.
The other ten Apostles, however, lacking Our Lady’s Faith, hid in fright, not knowing what was to come next. Their own faith would not be strengthened until the saw Our Lord after the Resurrection, although Saint Thomas the Apostle would not take the word of his brother bishops: he wanted to see Our Lord and to put his fingers in His nail prints and to put his hand in His Wounded Side. Yes, they hid in fright.
We undergo a figurative “death,” if you will, every night, putting on a different set of clothes as we enter into, for however a long or short period of time, a period of suspended animation in sleep, which is a figure of death. If God’s will is for us to arise the following morning we do so as a figure of the first day of creation and the first day of our re-creation, that is, Easter Sunday. In other words, each day of our lives follows both the Order of Creation and the Order of Redemption, which is why Holy Mother Church teaches us to meditate on the Four Last Things before we go to bed each night: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. One day, you see, we will go to sleep only to wake up with the eyes of our soul at the moment of the Particular Judgment.
The burial of Our Lord’s Body, therefore, reminds us that we must be prepared for the day when our own mortal bodies will return to the dust of the earth. We receive ashes tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, to remind us of that very fact. It is thus incumbent upon us to be buried to the concerns of this passing world and to concentrate on participating in the glories of the Last Day, when the bodies of the just will rise up incorrupt and glorious and be reunited with their souls for all eternity in Heaven, gazing upon the splendor of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The burial of Our Lord’s Body also reminds us that we must be patient as He manifests His Holy Will in our own lives and in the life of the Church. Our Lady kept a vigil for forty hours. We must keep a vigil in prayer during the forty days of Lent and during every day of our lives, understanding that Our Lord may very well restrain us from seeing any “resolution” to our current difficulties in this mortal life, that we, like the Apostles, who did not see the glory of Christendom with their own eyes, may not see the glory of a restored Christendom as the fruit of the Triumph of His Most Blessed Mother’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart with the eyes of the body. We must be content to work in cooperation with His ineffable graces for such a day and to receive an apostle’s reward when we die. And what better place to keep that vigil than in front of Our Lord Himself, where, as noted before, Our Lady herself awaits us to keep her company in prayer, especially by means of her Most Holy Rosary.
This reflection contains nothing novel or profound. Indeed, it would be a bad thing if it were novel. This reflection is merely a review of some basic facts of the Faith that we must keep in mind and seek to live out more fully during this great season of penance that will be upon us in but a few hours.
May each of us, relying upon Our Lady’s maternal love and intercessory power, have the best Lent of your lives as we seek to lift high her Divine Son’s Holy Cross by walking the royal road to eternal victory that is the Way of the Cross, the Via Crucis, the Via Dolorosa.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.