Entering Into Passiontide

Sketch of the cross by Saint John of the Cross.

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ (Jn. 12:20).

The veiled statues and images in our churches indicate that we have entered into Passiontide. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, in the reading of the Lord’s Passion we will hear that at Our Lord’s death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mk. 15:38). This veil which was 45 feet in length and four inches thick served as the barrier to the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence rested and where the Ark of the Covenant was. This great veil concealed a greater and invisible reality; and in our worship, veils invite us to perceive and to enter into deeper realities that can only be accessed through faith, prayer, and above all, love; our own personal love. A veil is a sign of the great mysteries. Hidden behind or under the veil is something precious and worth pondering. So we enter into Passiontide, and the veils all around us invite us to enter into depth of the Mystery of Our Lord’s Passion and to ponder our own participation in His saving work as it unfolds around us and within us.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). We are familiar with these words. They speak of St. Paul’s identification with Our Lord’s Passion; and they invite us to conform ourselves to Our Lord’s Passion intimately and personally. What we participate in and gaze upon with the eyes of our heart are eternal realities that are signs of authentic meaning; and they are important because we all want to live lives of meaningful purpose. The great liturgies that we will celebrate in the coming weeks will re-present the events of salvation history in all their detail and we will have the opportunity to enter into the depths of these mysteries so that we may perceive and understand what God has done for us in the Sacrifice of Calvary. In the coming days the sacred liturgy will set before us in great detail the Mystery of human redemption. If the sacrament of the Lord’s Passion is to work its effect in us, we must imitate what we receive and proclaim to mankind what we revere (St. Gregory the Great). The proclamation of the truth of salvation is surely our work but to do this effectively we must know Christ Jesus Our Lord intimately and be willing to count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord (Phil. 3:8). What would our life be like if we did not know Christ?  Do we love Our Saviour? Do we love Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? It is essential that you and I give an answer to these questions in the depth of our own hearts for only the gift of love [our love] enables us to become in reality what we celebrate as mystery in the sacrifice (Fulgentius of Ruspe, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, p.379). In other words, in the absence of our own personal love we are at best observers and not participants in these realities.

‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also’ (Jn. 12:26). These words are part of Our Lord’s lengthy response to the simple request made to Philip: ‘Sir we wish to see Jesus’. To see Him and to know Him as He truly is means that we participate and share in a deeper reality. Again St. Paul gives expression to the passionate love for Our Lord which we should desire to possess when he prays that he may gain Christ and be found in him  (Phil. 3:8-9).  Jesus is no mere man. He is the Messiah, the Saviour. The Epistle to the Hebrews says of Him that He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word and power (1:3). Our Lord’s response to a simple desire to see Him clearly indicates that what is soon to be revealed especially in His death is a truth that saves, a truth that liberates. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified ’…‘ And me, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.’ Jesus said this indicate the kind of death he was to die (Jn. 12:33). The Crucifixion is the revelation of God’s very nature; and as such, the Cross is the key to understanding all reality. St John Henry Newman spoke of the Cross as the measure of the world. In the Cross and in Him who hung upon it, all things meet, all things subserve it, all things need it. It is their centre and their interpretation. For He was lifted upon it, that He might draw all things unto Him. (The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World, Parochial and Plain Sermons).

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’. This hour begins at the Last Supper. At the Last Supper Our Lord prayed: Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee (Jn. 17:1). The Catechism explains that this prayer, the longest transmitted by the Gospel, embraces the whole economy of creation and salvation, as well as his death and Resurrection. The prayer of the Hour of Jesus always remains his own, just as his Passover ‘once for all’ remains ever present in the liturgy of his Church (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2746-47).

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass makes present through the ages this prayer of Our Lord and it enables us to be one with Him in His saving work of salvation; and this is the most important of all our works for what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mk. 8:36). Our Mass readings today make it very clear that the scope of God’s saving will is universal. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (Jn. 12:33).

Next Sunday, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion will begin the observance of Holy Week and we will devoutly recall both the events of Our Lord’s Passion and the gift of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. United to this Sacrifice our lives are marked by a reverent submission. In this submission we participate in Our Lord’s own Passion and with Him we are raised up in glory. This is what it means to become in reality what we celebrate as mystery in the sacrifice. Practically, among other ways, this manifest itself in a greater sensitivity of heart; and I suggest that we ask for this particular grace during this Passiontide. These are profound realities and mysteries that can only be accessed through faith, prayer and love. As we enter into Passiontide, may Our Lady’s love for Jesus expressed by her fidelity at the foot of the Cross inspire us to make the gift of our own love generously and gratefully for what is set before us and what we prayerfully ponder is the path for the rest of our lives. Our love and devotion to the God who created and saved us is the only path to true human happiness and fulfillment. So we endeavour to respond to Love Crucified with a crucified love; that in our own time and given place we who love and serve Our Lord may be with Him a sign of hope and of salvation for the whole world.