Practice DURING PASSIONTIDE AND HOLY WEEK
The past four weeks seems to have been but a preparation for the
intense grief of the Church during these two. She knows that men
are in search of her Jesus, and that they are bent on His death.
Before twelve days are over, she will see them lay their
sacrilegious hands upon Him. She will have to follow Him up the
hill of Calvary; she will have to receive His last breath; she
must witness the stone placed against the sepulchre where His
lifeless Body is laid. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at her
inviting all her children to contemplate, during these weeks, Him
who is the object of all her love and all her sadness.
But our mother asks something more of us than compassion and
tears; she would have us profit by the lessons we are to be taught
by the Passion and Death of our Redeemer. He Himself, when going
up to Calvary, said to the holy women who had the courage to show
their compassion even before His very executioners: 'Weep not over
Me; but weep for yourselves and for your children'.1 It was not
that He refused the tribute of their tears, for He was pleased
with this proof of their affection; but it was His love for them
that made Him speak thus. He desired, above all, to see them
appreciate the importance of what they were witnessing, and learn
from it how in exorable is God's justice against sin.
During the four weeks that have preceded, the Church has been
leading the sinner to his conversion; so far, however, this
conversion has been but begun: now she would perfect it. It is no
longer our Jesus fasting and praying in the desert, that she
offers to our consideration; it is this same Jesus, as the great
Victim immolated for the world's salvation. The fatal hour is at
hand; the power of darkness is preparing to make we of the time
that is still left; the greatest of crimes is about to be
perpetrated. A few days hence the Son of God is to be in the
hands of sinners, and they will put Him to death. The church no
longer needs to urge her children to repentance; they know too
well, now, what sin must be, when it could require such expiation
as this. She is all absorbed in the thought of the terrible event,
which is to close the life of the God-Man on earth; and by
expressing her thoughts through the holy liturgy, she teaches us
what our own sentiments should be.
The pervading character of the prayers and rites of these two
weeks, is a profound grief at seeing the just One persecuted by
His enemies even to death, and an energetic indignation against
the deicides. The formulas, expressive of these two feelings are,
for the most part, taken from David and the Prophets. Here, it is
our Saviour Himself, disclosing to us the anguish of His soul;
there, it is the Church pronouncing the most terrible anathemas
upon the executioners of Jesus. The chastisement that is to befall
the Jewish nation is prophesied in all its frightful details; and
on the last three days, we shall hear the prophet Jeremias
uttering his lamentations over the faithless city. The Church does
not aim at exciting idle sentiment; what she principally seeks, is
to impress the hearts of her children with a salutary fear. If
Jerusalem's crime strike them with horror, and if they feel that
they have partaken in he: sin, their tears will flow in abundance.
Let us, therefore, do our utmost to receive these strong
impressions, too little known, alas! by the superficial piety of
these times. Let us reflect upon the love and affection of the Son
of God, who has created His creatures with such unlimited
confidence, lived their own life, spent His three and thirty years
amidst them, not only humbly and peaceably, but in going about
doing good.2 And now this life of kindness, condescension, and
humility, is to be out short by the disgraceful death, which none
but slaves endured the death of the gross. Let us consider, on the
one side, this sinful people, who, having no grimes to lay to
Jesus' charge, accuse Him of His benefits, and carry their
detestable ingratitude to such a pitch as to shed the Blood of
this innocent and divine Lamb, and then let us turn to this Jesus,
the Just by excellence, and see Him become a prey to every
bitterest suffering His Soul sorrowful even unto death;3 weighed
down by the malediction of our sins; drinking even to the very
dregs the chalice He so humbly asks His Father to take from Him;
and lastly, let us listen to His dying words: 'My God, My God, why
hast Thou forsaken Me?'4 This it is that fills the Church with her
immense grief; this it is that she proposes to our consideration;
for she knows that, if we once rightly understood the sufferings
of her Jesus, our attachments to sin must needs be broken, for, by
sin, we make ourselves guilty of the grime we detest in these
But the Church knows, too, how hard is the heart of man, and how,
to make him resolve on a thorough conversion, he must be made to
fear. For this reason, she puts before us those awful
imprecations, which the prophets, speaking in Jesus' person,
pronounced against them that put our Lord to death. These
prophetic anathemas were literally fulfilled against the obdurate
Jews. They teach us what the Christian, also, must expect, if, as
the apostle so forcibly expresses it, we again crucify the Son of
God.5 In listening to what the Church now speaks to us, we cannot
but tremble as we recall to mind those other words of the same
apostle: How much more, think ye, doth he deserve worse
punishment, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath
esteemed the Blood of the testament unclean, (as though it were
some vile thing), by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an
affront to the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said
'Vengeance belongeth to Me, and I will repay.' And again: 'The
Lord shall judge His people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into
the hands of the living God.6
Fearful indeed it is! Oh! what a lesson God gives us of His
inexorable justice, during these days of the Passion! He that
spared not even his own Son,7 His beloved Son, in whom He is well
pleased,8 will He spare us, if, after all the graces He has
bestowed upon us, He should find us in sin, which He so
unpitifully chastised even in Jesus, when He took it upon Himself,
that He might atone for it? Considerations such as these-the
justice of God towards the most innocent and august of victims,
and the punishments that befell the impenitent Jews-must surely
destroy within us every affection to sin, for they will create
within us that salutary fear which is the solid foundation of firm
hope and tender love.
For if, by our sins, we have made ourselves guilty of the death of
the Son of God, it is equally true that the Blood which flowed
from His sacred wounds has the power to cleanse us from the guilt
of our crime. The justice of our heavenly Father cannot be
appeased, save by the shedding of this precious Blood; and the
mercy of this same Father wills that it be spent for our ransom.
The cruelty of Jesus' executioners has made five wounds in His
saved Body; and from these, there flow five sources of salvation,
which purify the world, and restore within each one of us the
image of God which sin had destroyed. Let us, then, approach with
confidence to this redeeming Blood, which throws open to the
sinner the gates of heaven, and whose worth is such that it could
redeem a million worlds, were they even more guilty than ours. We
are close upon the anniversary of the day when it was shed; long
ages have passed away singe it flowed down the wounded Body of our
Jesus, and fell in streams from the cross upon this ungrateful
earth; and yet its power is as great as ever.
Let us go, then, and draw from the Saviour's fountains;9 our souls
will come forth full of life, all pure, and dazzling with heavenly
beauty; not one spot of their old defilements will be left; and
the Father will love us with the love wherewith He loves His own
Son. Why did He deliver up unto death this His tenderly beloved
Son? Was it not that He might regain us, the children whom He had
lost? We had become, by our sins, the possession of satan; hell
had undoubted claims upon us; and, lo! we have been suddenly
snatched from both, and all our primitive rights have been
restored to us. Yet God used no violence in order to deliver us
from our enemy; how comes it, then, that we are now free? Listen
to the apostle: 'Ye are bought at a great price.'10 And what is
this price? The prince of the apostles explains it: 'Know ye,'
says he, 'that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as
gold or silver, but with the precious Blood of Christ as of a Lamb
unspotted and undefiled.'11 This divine Blood was placed in the
scales of God's justice, and so far did it outweigh our
iniquities, as to make the bias in our favour. The power of this
Blood has broken the very gates of hell, severed our chains, and
made peace both as to the things on earth, and the things that are
in heaven.12 Let us receive upon us, therefore, this precious
Blood, wash our wounds in it, and sign our foreheads with it as
with an indelible mark, which may protect us, on the day of wrath,
from the sword of vengeance.
There is another object most dear to the Church, which she, during
these two weeks, recommends to our deepest veneration; it is the
cross, the altar upon which our incomparable Victim is immolated.
Twice during the course of the year, that is, on the feasts of its
Invention and Exaltation, this sacred Wood will be offered to us
that we may honour it as the trophy of our Jesus" victory; but
now, it speaks to us but of His sufferings, it brings with it no
other idea but that of His humiliation. God had said in the
ancient Covenant: 'Accursed is he that hangeth on a tree'.13 The
Lamb, that saved us, disdained not to suffer this curse; but, for
that very cause, this tree, this wood of infamy, has become dear
to us beyond measure. It is the instrument of our salvation, it is
the sublime pledge of Jesus' love for us. On this account, the
Church is about to lavish her veneration and love upon it; and we
intend to imitate her, and join her in this, as in all else she
does. An adoring gratitude towards the Blood that has redeemed us,
and a loving veneration of the holy cross-these are the two
sentiments which are to be uppermost in our hearts during these
But for the Lamb Himself-for Him that gave us this Blood, and so
generously embraced the gross that saved us what shall we do? is
it not just that we should keep close to Him, and that, more
faithful than the apostles who abandoned Him during His Passion,
we should follow Him day by day, nay, hour by hour, in the way of
the gross that He treads for us? Yes, we will be His faithful
companions during these last days of His mortal life, when He
submits to the humiliation of having to hide Himself from His
enemies. We will envy the lot of those devoted few, who shelter
Him in their houses, and expose themselves, by this courageous
hospitality, to the rage of His enemies. We will compassionate His
Mother, who suffered an anguish that no other heart could feel,
because no other creature could love Him as she did. We will go,
in spirit, into that most hated Sanhedrim, where they are laying
the impious plot against the life of the just One. Suddenly, we
shall see a bright speck gleaming on the dark horizon; the streets
and squares of Jerusalem will re-echo with the cry of Hosanna to
the Son of David. That unexpected homage paid to our Jesus, those
palm branches, those shrill voices of admiring Hebrew children,
will give a momentary truce to our sad forebodings. Our love shall
make us take part in the loyal tribute thus paid to the King of
Israel, who comes so meekly to visit the daughter of Sion, as the
prophet had foretold He would: but alas! this joy will be short-
lived, and we must speedily relapse into our deep sorrow of soul!
The traitorous disciple will soon strike his bargain with the high
priests; the last Pasch will be kept, and we shall see the
figurative lamb give place to the true one, whose Flesh will
become our food, and His Blood our drink. It will be . Clad in the nuptial robe, we will take our place there,
together with the disciples; for that day is the day of
reconciliation, which brings together, to the same holy Table,
both the penitent sinner, and the just that has been ever
faithful. Then, we shall have to turn our steps towards the fatal
garden, where we shall learn what sin is, for we shall behold our
Jesus agonizing beneath its weight, and asking some respite from
His eternal Father. Then, in the dark hour of midnight, the
servants of the high priests and the soldiers, led on by the vile
Iscariot, will lay their impious hands on the Son of God; and yet
the legions of angels, who adore Him, will be withheld from
punishing the awful sacrilege! After this, we shall have to repair
to the various tribunals, whither Jesus is led, and witness the
triumph of injustice. The time that elapses between His being
seized in the garden and His having to carry His gross up the hill
of Calvary, will be filled up with the incidents of His mock
trial- lies, calumnies, the wretched cowardice of the Roman
governor, the insults of the by-standers, and the cries of the
ungrateful populace thirsting for innocent Blood! We shall be
present at all these things; our love will not permit us to
separate ourselves from that dear Redeemer, who is to suffer them
for our sake, for our salvation.
Finally, after seeing Him struck and spit upon, and after the
cruel scourging and the frightful insult of the grown of thorns,
we will follow our Jesus up Mount Calvary; we shall know where His
sacred feet have trod by the Blood that marks the road. We shall
have to make our way through the crowd, and, as we pass, we shall
hear terrible imprecations uttered against our divine Master.
Having reached the place of execution, we shall behold this august
Victim stripped of His garment, nailed to the gross, hoisted into
the air, as if the better to expose Him to insult! We will draw
near to the tree of life, that we may lose neither one drop of
that Blood which flows for the cleansing of the world, nor one
single word spoken, for its instruction, by our dying Jesus. We
will compassionate His Mother, whose heart is pierced through with
a sword of sorrow; we will stand close to her, when her Son, a few
moments before His death, shall consign us to her fond care. After
His three hours' agony, we will reverently watch His sacred Head
bow down, and receive, with adoring love, His last breath.
A bruised and mangled corpse, stiffened by the cold of death-this
is all that remains to us of that Son of Man, whose first coming
into the world caused us such joy! The Son of the eternal Father
was not satisfied with emptying Himself and taking the form of a
servant;14 this His being born in the flesh was but the beginning
of His sacrifice; His love was to lead Him even unto death, even
to the death of the gross. He foresaw that He would not win our
love save at the price of such a generous immolation, and His
heart hesitated not to make it. 'Let us, therefore, love God,'
says St. John, 'because God first loved us.'15 This is the end the
Church proposes to herself by the celebration of these solemn
anniversaries. After humbling our pride and our resistance to
grace by showing us how divine justice treats sin, she leads our
hearts to love Jesus, who delivered Himself up, in our stead, to
the rigours of that justice. Woe to us, if this great week fail to
produce in our souls a just return towards Him who loved us more
than Himself, though we were, and had made ourselves, His enemies.
Let us say with the apostle: 'The charity of Christ presseth us;
that they who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto Him
who died for them.'16 We owe this return to Him who made Himself a
Victim for our sake, and who, up to the very last moment, instead
of pronouncing against us the curse we so justly deserved, prayed
and obtained for us mercy and grace. He is, one day, to reappear
on the clouds of heaven, and as the prophet says, men shall look
upon Him whom they have pierced.17 God grant that we may be of the
number of those who, having made amends by their lore for the
grimes they have committed against the divine Lamb, will then find
confidence at the sight of those wounds!
Let us hope that, by God's mercy; the holy time we are now
entering upon will work such a happy change in us, that, on the
day of judgment, we may confidently fix our eyes on Him we are now
about to contemplate crucified by the hands of sinners. The death
of Jesus puts the whole of nature in commotion; the midday sun is
darkened, the earth is shaken to its very foundations, the rooks
are split: may it be that our hearts, too, be moved, and pass from
indifference to fear, from fear to hope, and, at length, from hope
to love; so that, having gone down, with our Crucified, to the
very depths of sorrow, we may deserve to rise again with Him unto
light and joy, beaming with the brightness of His Resurrection,
and having within ourselves the pledge of a new life, which shall
then die no more!
1 St. Luke xxiii. 28.
2 Acts x 38.
3 St. Matt. xxvi 38.
4 xxvii 46.
5 Heb. vi. 6.
6 x. 29-31.
7 Rom. viii 32.
8 St. Matt. iii 17.
9 Is. xii. 3.
10 I Cor. vi 20.
11 I St. Peter i. 18, 19.
12 Coloss . i 20.
13 Deut. xxi . 23.
14 Phil ii. 7.
15 I St. John iv. 19.
16 2 Cor. v. 14, 15.
17 Zach. xii 10.
(Taken from Volume VI of "The Liturgical Year" by Abbot Gueranger
O.S.B. published by Marian House, Powers Lake, ND 58773.)