A Silent Passion Sunday, Filled with Hope

The Flagellation of Christ (Caravaggio, 1607) Museo de Capodimonte, Napoli (wikipedia.org)

Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of Go, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6). ⧾

The observance of Holy Week this year has no precedent in the Church’s history. For weeks now a pandemic has resulted in the closure of our churches. Our commemorations of the Paschal Triduum will be marked by a profound silence and sorrow. Palms will be blessed but not distributed. A much cherished sacramental, held in hand during the reading of the Lord’s Passion and then placed in homes everywhere, will remain hidden as it were, waiting for the return of the faithful to our churches. Palms are a visible expression of our faith; specifically of our faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour. With those who acclaimed Him Son of David as He entered the Holy City of Jerusalem, we affirm our faith in His divinity, His messianic mission and His universal kingship. These profound and fundamental truths are summarized and expressed by a blessed palm or olive branch. Such is the power of a blessing; nature is enriched and transformed by grace, and the physical becomes metaphysical communicating grace and truth to us. Yes, there is profound meaning in the sacred rites and objects of the sacred liturgy and this year, the faithful must access these realities not visibly but invisibly, in mystery.

Priests will celebrate these rites in solitude and the faithful will assist from a distance, separated; sheep deprived of their shepherds and shepherds deprived of their flocks. Nevertheless, it is possible for all of us, both clergy and laity to derive great spiritual benefit from these unusual circumstances. These remind us that the sacred liturgy is always the action of Christ the High Priest. The silence  and sobriety of an empty church will benefit the priest and remind him that it is Christ Our Lord who is always the agent of the sacred rites. The essence of the priest’s role in the sacred rites is his personal union with Christ so that Christ may truly be seen and heard. The words of John the Baptist come to mind. He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn. 3:30).

In the physical absence of the faithful (sine populo), the priest will realise all the more that he stands before God (coram Deo) on behalf of his flock (cum populo) in prayer, sacrifice and supplication. The prayerful union of the scattered flock will also help all of us to appreciate perhaps for the first time that our active participation in the sacred rites is principally a matter of the heart and mind united to the sacred action of Christ the High Priest. This is why the images of priests offering Mass facing an empty church, even as photos of parishioners are affixed to the pews are disturbing. They betray a theological misunderstanding of the Mass as Sacrifice and of the role of the priest as intercessor. Even more disturbing are captions describing this as the new norm. God deliver us from this, and soon! What will it take for Catholics collectively to understand once again that the sanctuary in the church is not a stage but the Holy of Holies, where in mystery the Sacrifice of Calvary is offered to the Father?

In mystery, from afar, like Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night and Joseph of Arimathea, we will recall the Lord’s Passion and celebrate the Paschal Triduum almost secretly. Will this increase in us a love of the sacred truths and rites of our faith? Perhaps this is the hidden grace of this unusual and unprecedented time, a grace accessible, however, only to those who come to Our Lord in faith and humility. Let this be our petition as we begin the Week of our Salvation, even as we pray and make intercession for everyone affected by this pandemic. Jesus the Good Shepherd has not abandoned His flock: ‘Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (Lk. 12:32). Be assured that your faithful shepherds, your bishops and priests carry you in their hearts as they ascend the steps to the Altar for Holy Mass each day and throughout the day in the prayers of the Divine Office. Pray that we may remain steadfast.

The reading of the Lord’s Passion marks the beginning of our observances of the great mysteries of our faith and life. In His Sacred Passion Our Saviour has given us an example of humility for the human race to follow. He teaches us to submit to the Cross and to trust in the Father’s love for a sinful humanity. The Church, Christ’s mystical body on earth is now experiencing the desolation and humiliation of her own passion. Our suffering is great and many are desolate; but we know and firmly believe that just as God highly exalted Jesus, and gave Him the name that is above every name, in God’s time the Church will once again be exalted and unequivocally and fearlessly proclaim salvation for those who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:11).

May God the Father hasten the Triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. ⧾