Calvary and the Mass
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D.,
D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.
There are certain things in life which are too beautiful to be forgotten,
such as the love of a mother. Hence we
treasure her picture. The love of soldiers who sacrificed themselves for their country is
likewise too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we revere their memory on Memorial
Day. But the greatest blessing
which ever came to this earth was the visitation of the Son of
God in the form and habit of man.
His life, above all lives, is too beautiful
to be forgotten, hence we treasure the divinity
of His Words in Sacred Scripture,
and the charity of
His Deeds in our daily actions.
Unfortunately this is all some souls
remember, namely His Words and His Deeds; important as these are, they are not the greatest
characteristic of the Divine
The Crucifixion - by GRÜNEWALD, Matthias - from
Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar
The most sublime act in the history
of Christ was His Death. Death
is always important, for it seals
a destiny. Any dying man is
a scene. Any dying scene
is a sacred place. That is why the great
literature of the past which has touched on the emotions
surrounding death has never passed out of
date. But of all deaths in the record of
man, none was more important than the Death of
Christ. Everyone else who was ever born into
the world, came into it to live;
our Lord came into it to die. Death
was a stumbling block to the life of
Socrates, but it was the crown to the life of Christ. He
Himself told us that He came
"to give His life a redemption for many";
that no one could take away His Life; but He would lay it down of Himself.
If then Death was the supreme moment for which Christ
lived, it was
therefore the one thing He wished to have remembered. He did not ask that men
should write down His Words
into a Scripture; He
did not ask that His kindness
to the poor should be recorded in history; but He did ask that men
remember His Death. And in order that
its memory might not be any haphazard narrative on the
part of men, He Himself instituted
the precise way it should be recalled.
The memorial was
instituted the night before He
died, at what has since been called
"The Last Supper." Taking
bread into His Hands, He
said: "This is My Body, which shall be delivered for you,"
i.e., delivered unto death. Then over the chalice
of wine, He said, "This is My Blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many
unto remission of sins." Thus in an unbloody symbol of
the parting of the Blood
from the Body, by the separate consecration
of Bread and Wine, did Christ
pledge Himself to death in the sight of God
and men, and represent His
death which was to come the next afternoon at three. He was offering Himself as a Victim
to be immolated, and that men might
never forget that "greater love than this no man hash, that
a man lay down his life for his friends," He
gave the divine command
to the Church:
"Do this for a commemoration of Me."
The following day, that
which He had prefigured
and foreshadowed, He
realized in its completeness, as He was crucified between two thieves and His Blood
drained from His Body
for the redemption of the world.
The Church which Christ founded has not
only preserved the Word He spoke, and the wonders He
wrought; it has
also taken Him seriously when He said: "Do this
for a commemoration of me." And that action whereby we re-enact
His Death on
the Cross is
the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which we do as a memorial what He
did at the Last Supper
as the prefiguration of His
Hence the Mass
is to us the crowning act of Christian worship.
A pulpit in which the words of our
Lord are repeated does not unite
us to Him; a choir in which
sweet sentiments are sung brings us no closer to His
Cross than to His
garments. A temple without an altar
of sacrifice is non-existent among primitive peoples, and is
meaningless among Christians. And so in the Catholic Church
the altar, and not the pulpit
or the choir or the organ, is the center
of worship, for there is re-enacted the memorial
of His Passion. Its value
does not depend on him who says it, or on
him who hears it; it depends on Him Who is the One
High Priest and Victim, Jesus Christ our
Lord. With Him we are
united, in spite of our nothingness; in a certain sense, we lose our individuality for the
time being; we unite our intellect
and our will, our
heart and our soul, our body
and our blood, so
intimately with Christ, that the Heavenly Father sees not so much us with our
imperfection, but rather sees us in Him, the Beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased. The Mass
is for that reason the greatest event in the history of mankind; the only Holy Act which keeps the wrath
of God from a sinful world, because
it holds the Cross between heaven and earth, thus renewing
that decisive moment when our sad and tragic humanity journeyed
suddenly forth to the fullness of
What is important at this point is that we take the proper mental attitude
toward the Mass, and remember this important
fact, that the Sacrifice of the Cross
is not something which happened nineteen hundred years ago.
It is still happening. It
is not something past like the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the curtain has
not yet rung down. Let it not be believed that it
happened a long time ago, and therefore no
more concerns us than anything else in the past. Calvary
belongs to all times and to all places. That is why, when our Blessed
Lord ascended the heights of Calvary, He was fittingly stripped of all His garments, as required by Roman
Law: He would save
the world without the trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to time,
for they localized Him,
and fixed Him as a
dweller in Galilee. Now that He
was shorn of them all, and utterly dispossessed of earthly things, He belonged not to Galilee,
not to a Roman world, belonging to no one people, but
to all men.
To express further the universality
of the Redemption, the Cross
was erected at the crossroads of civilization, at a central
point between the three great cultures
of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens,
in whose names He was
crucified. The Cross
was thus placarded before the eyes of men, to arrest the
careless, to appeal to the thoughtless, to arouse the worldly. It
was the one inescapable fact that the cultures and civilizations
of His day could not
resist. It is also the one inescapable fact
of our day which we cannot resist.
The figures at the Cross
were symbols of all who crucify.
We were there in our representatives.
What we are doing now to the Mystical
Christ, they were doing in our names
to the historical Christ.
If we are envious of the good,
we were there in the Scribes and Pharisees.
If we are fearful of losing some temporal advantage by embracing
Divine Truth and Love, we were there in Pilate.
If we trust in
material forces and seek to conquer through
the world, instead of through
the spirit, we were there in Herod.
And so the story goes on for the typical sins
of the world. They
all blind us to the fact that He is God. There was
therefore a kind of inevitability about the Crucifixion.
Men who were free to sin,
were also free to crucify.
As long as there is sin in the world, the Crucifixion
is a reality. As the poet
has put it:
"I saw the Son of man go
Crowned with a crown of thorns.
'Was it not finished Lord,' said I,
'And all the anguish borne?'
"He turned on me His awful eyes;
'Hast Thou not understood?
So every soul is a Calvary
And every sin a rood.'"
We were there then during that Crucifixion. The drama was already completed as far as the vision of Christ was concerned, but it had not yet been unfolded to all men
and all places and all times. If a motion
picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it
would know the drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the
theater would not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the
screen. In like manner, our
Lord on the Cross
saw in His eternal mind, the whole drama of history, the story
of each individual soul,
and how later on it would react
to His Crucifixion;
but though He saw all, we
could not know how we would react to the
Cross until we were unrolled
upon the screen-of-time. We were not conscious of
being present there on Calvary that day, but
He was conscious of
our presence. Today we know the role we
played in the theater of Calvary,
by the way we live and act
now in the theater of the
That is why Calvary is actual;
why the Cross is the Crisis;
why in a certain sense the scars are still
open; why Pain still stands deified, and why blood
like falling stars is still dropping upon our souls.
There is no escaping the Cross not even by denying it
as the Pharisees did; not even by selling Christ as Judas did; not even by crucifying Him
as the executioners did. We all see
it, either to embrace it in salvation,
or to fly from it into
But how is it made visible?
Where shall we find Calvary perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed, re-enacted,
re-presented, as we have seen, in the
is one with the Mass,
and the Mass is one with
Calvary, for in both there
is the same Priest
The Seven Last Words are
like the seven parts of
the Mass. And
just as there are seven notes in music
admitting an infinite variety of harmonies and combinations,
so too on the Cross there are seven divine
notes, which the dying
Christ rang down the centuries,
all of which combine to form the beautiful
harmony of the world's redemption.
Each word is a part of the Mass:
Word, "Forgive," is the Confiteor;
the Second Word, "This Day in
Paradise," is the Offertory;
Word, "Behold Thy Mother,"
is the Sanctus;
Word, "Why hast Thou abandoned Me,"
is the Consecration;
Word, "I thirst," is the Communion;
Word, "It is finished," is
the Ite, Missa Est;
Word, "Father, into Thy Hands,"
is the Last Gospel.
Picture then the High
Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of
heaven for the altar of Calvary. He
has already put on the vestment of our human nature,
the maniple of our suffering,
the stole of priesthood,
the chasuble of the Cross.
Calvary is His
cathedral; the rock of Calvary
is the altar stone; the sun turning to red is the sanctuary lamp; Mary
and John are the living side altars; the Host is His
Body; the Wine
is His Blood.
He is upright as Priest, yet He
is prostrate as Victim.
His Mass is
about to begin.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not
what they do." - Luke 23:34.
The Mass begins with
the Confiteor. The Confiteor
is a prayer in which we confess our sins and ask the Blessed
Mother and the saints to
intercede to God for our forgiveness, for only the clean
of heart can see God.
Our Blessed Lord too begins His Mass with the Confiteor.
But His Confiteor differs from ours in this:
He has no sins to confess. He is God
and therefore is sinless. "Which of you shall convince me of sin?" His Confiteor then cannot be a prayer for the forgiveness of His
sins; but it
can be a prayer for the forgiveness
of our sins.
Others would have screamed,
as the nails pierced their hands
and feet. But no vindictiveness
finds place in the Saviour's breast; no
appeal comes from His lips for vengeance on His murderers;
He breathes no prayer for strength
to bear His moment of concentrated agony, thus
revealing something of the height, the depth, and the breadth
of the wonderful love of God, as He says His Confiteor: "Father,
forgive them, for they know nor what they do."
He did not say "Forgive Me," but "Forgive
them." The moment of death
was certainly the one most likely to produce confession of sin, for conscience
in the last solemn hours does assert its authority; and yet not a single sigh of penitence escaped His lips. He
was associated with sinners, but never
associated with sin.
In death as well as life,
He was unconscious of a single unfulfilled
duty to His heavenly Father. And why?
Because a sinless Man
is not just a man; He is more than mere man.
He is sinless, because He
is God - and there
is the difference. We draw our prayers from the depths of our consciousness of sin: He
drew His silence from His
own intrinsic sinlessness.
That one word "Forgive" proves Him to be the Son of
Notice the grounds on which He
asked His heavenly Father
to forgive us - "Because they know not what they do." When anyone injures us, or blames us wrongly, we say: "They
should have known better." But when we sin
against God, He finds an excuse for forgiveness,
There is no redemption for the fallen angels. The blood drops that fell from the Cross on Good Friday in that Mass
of Christ did not touch
the spirits of the fallen angels.
Why? Because they knew
what they were doing? They
saw all the consequences of their acts, just as clearly as we see that two and two
make four, or that
a thing cannot exist and not exist at the same time. Truths
of this kind, when understood, cannot be taken back; they are irrevocable
and eternal. Hence when they
decided to rebel against
Almighty God, there was no taking back the
decision. They knew
what they were doing!
But with us it is different.
We do not see the consequences of our acts as clearly as the angels;
we are weaker, we are ignorant.
But if we did know that every sin of pride
wove a crown of thorns for the Head of Christ; if we knew that every contradiction of His divine command
made for Him the sign
of contradiction, the Cross;
if we knew that every grasping avaricious act
Hands, and every journey into the byways of sin
Feet; if we knew how good God is and still went on sinning,
we would never be saved.
It is only our ignorance of the infinite love of the Sacred
Heart that brings us within the hearing of His
Confiteor from the Cross:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
These words, let it be deeply graven on our souls,
do not constitute an excuse for continued sin,
but a motive for contrition and penance.
Forgiveness is not a
denial of sin.
Our Lord does not deny
the horrible fact of sin, and that
is where the modern world is wrong. It
explains sin away: it ascribes it to a fall
in the evolutionary process, to a survival of ancient taboos;
it identifies it with psychological
In a word, the modern world denies sin. Our Lord
reminds us that it is the most terrible of all realities.
Otherwise why does it give
Sinlessness a Cross?
Why does it shed innocent blood? Why does it
have such awful associations: blindness, compromise,
and cruelty? Why does it
now lift itself out of the realm of the
impersonal and assert itself as personal
by nailing Innocence to
a gibbet? An abstraction cannot do that. But sinful
Hence He, Who loved men unto death, allowed sin
to wreak its vengeance upon Him, in order that they might
forever understand its horror as the crucifixion of Him Who loved them most.
There is no denial of sin
here and yet, with all its horror, the Victim forgives.
In that one and the same event, there is the
sign of sin's
utter depravity and the seal
of divine forgiveness.
From that point on, no man can look upon a Crucifix
and say that sin is not serious, nor can he ever say that it cannot be forgiven.
By the way He suffered,
He revealed the
reality of sin; by the way He bore it, He
shows His mercy toward
It is the Victim Who has
suffered that forgives;
and in that combination of a Victim so humanly beautiful, so divinely
loving, so wholly innocent,
does one find a Great Crime and a Greater
Forgiveness. Under the shelter of the Blood of
Christ the worst sinners may
take their stand; for there is a power in
that Blood to turn back the tides of vengeance which threaten to drown
The world will give you sin
explained away, but only on Calvary do you
experience the divine contradiction of
On the Cross supreme
self-giving and divine love transforms
sin's worst act in the noblest
deed and sweetest prayer the
world has ever seen or heard, the Confiteor of
Christ: "Father, forgive them, for they
know not what they do."
That word "Forgive," which
rang out from the Cross that day when sin rose to its
full strength and then fell defeated by Love, did not die
with its echo. Not long before that same merciful Saviour had taken means to
prolong forgiveness through
space and time, even to the consummation of the world.
Gathering the nucleus of His Church
round about Him, He
said to His Apostles: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven."
Somewhere in the world today then, the successors of the
Apostles have the power to forgive.
It is not for us to ask: But how can man forgive
sins? - for man cannot forgive
sins. But God
can forgive sins
through man, for is not that the way God forgave His executioners
on the Cross,
namely through the instrumentality of His human nature?
Why then is it not reasonable to expect Him
still to forgive sins through other human natures to whom He
gave that power? And where do we find those human
You know the story of the box
which was long ignored and even ridiculed as worthless; and one day it was opened and
found to contain the great heart of a giant. In every Catholic Church that box exists. We call it the confessional box. It
is ignored and ridiculed by many, but in it is to be found the Sacred
Heart of the forgiving Christ, forgiving
the uplifted hand of His
priest as He once forgave through
His own uplifted Hands on
the Cross. There is only one forgiveness
- the Forgiveness of God. There is
only one "Forgive"- the "Forgive" of an eternal
Divine Act in which we come in contact at
various moments of time.
As the air is always filled with symphony and speech, but we do not hear
it unless we tune it in on our radios, so neither do souls
feel the joy of
that eternal and divine
"Forgive" unless they
are attuned to it
in time; and the confessional box is the
place where we tune in to that cry
from the Cross.
Would to God that our modern
mind, instead of denying the guilt,
would look to the Cross, admit its
guilt, and seek forgiveness;
would that those who have uneasy consciences that worry
them in the light, and haunt
them in the darkness, would seek relief, not
on the plane of medicine but on the
plane of Divine Justice;
would that they who tell the dark secrets of
their minds, would do so not for the sake of sublimation, but
for the sake of purgation; would that those poor mortals who
shed tears in silence would find an absolving hand to wipe them away.
Must it be forever true that the greatest
tragedy of life is not what
happens to souls, but rather what souls miss. And what greater
tragedy is there than to miss the peace
of sin forgiven? The Confiteor
is at the foot of the altar our cry
of unworthiness: the Confiteor from
the Cross is our hope
of pardon and absolution. The wounds
of the Saviour
were terrible, but the worst
wound of all would be to be
unmindful that we caused it all. The Confiteor
can save us from that, for it is an admission that there is something to
be forgiven - and more than we shall ever know.
There is a story told of a nun who was one day dusting a small image of our Blessed Lord in the chapel. In the course of her
duty, she let it slip to
the floor. She picked it
up undamaged, she kissed it,
and put it back again in its place, saying, "If
You had never fallen, You never would have received that." I wonder if
our Blessed Lord does not feel the same way
about us, for if we had never sinned, we
never could call Him
"Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be
with Me in paradise." - Luke 23:43.
This is now the offertory of the
Mass, for our Lord is offering Himself to His heavenly Father.
But in order to remind us that He is not offered
alone, but in union with
us, He unites
with His offertory
the soul of the thief
at the right. To make His
ignominy more complete, in a master stroke of malice, they crucified
Him between two
walked among sinners
during His life, so now they let Him
hang between them at
death. But He changed the picture,
and made the two thieves
the symbols of the sheep
and the goats, which will stand
at His right and left Hand
when He comes in
the clouds of heaven, with His then triumphant
Cross, to judge both the living and the dead.
|The Good Thief in Glory . . . . by
at first reviled and blasphemed,
but one of
tradition calls Dismas,
turned his head to
read the meekness and dignity on the face of the crucified
Saviour. As a piece of coal thrown
into the fire is transformed into
a bright and glowing thing, so the black soul of this thief
thrown into the fires
of the Crucifixion
glowed with love for the Sacred Heart.
While the thief on
the left was saying: "If thou be Christ, save
thyself and us," the repentant
thief rebuked him saying: "Neither cost thou fear God, seeing thou art under the same
condemnation. And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this
Man hath done no evil." That same thief
then emitted a plea, not for a place in the seats of the
mighty, but only not to
be forgotten: "Remember me, when Thou shalt
come into Thy kingdom."
Such sorrow and faith must not go unrewarded. At a moment when the power
of Rome could not make Him speak, when His friends thought all was lost and His
enemies believed all was won,
our Lord broke the
silence. He Who was the accused, became the Judge: He Who
was the crucified, became
the Divine Assessor of souls; as to
the penitent thief
He trumpeted the
words: "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise."
This day - when you
said your first prayer
and your last;
this day - thou
shalt be with Me - and where I am, there is paradise.
With these words our
Lord Who was offering
Himself to His heavenly Father as the great
Host, now unites with Him on the paten of the Cross the first small host ever offered in the Mass,
the host of the repentant thief,
a brand plucked from the burning,
a sheaf torn from the earthly reapers;
the wheat ground in the mill
of the crucifixion and made bread
for the Eucharist.
Our Lord does
not suffer alone on the Cross; He suffers with us.
That is why He united
the sacrifice of the thief
with His own. It
is this Saint Paul means when he says that we should
fill up those things that are wanting to the sufferings of
Christ. This does not mean our Lord on the Cross did not suffer
all He could. It means rather that the physical,
historical Christ suffered all He
could in His own human
nature, but that the Mystical Christ,
which is Christ and us, has not suffered
to our fullness. All the other good thieves in the history of the world have not
yet admitted their wrong and pleaded for
remembrances. Our Lord is now in heaven. He
therefore can suffer no more in His human nature,
but He can
suffer more in
reaches out to other human natures, to yours
and mine, and asks us to do as the thief
did, namely, to incorporate ourselves to
Him on the Cross, that sharing in
we might also share in His
Resurrection, and that made partakers
of His Cross we might also be made partakers
of His glory in
As our Blessed Lord on that day chose the thief
as the small host of
chooses us today as the other small hosts united with Him on the paten of the altar. Go back in your mind's
eye to a Mass, to
any Mass which was celebrated in the first centuries of the Church, before civilization became completely financial
and economic. If we went to the Holy Sacrifice in the early Church,
we would have brought to the altar each morning some bread and some wine.
The priest would have used one piece
of that unleavened bread and some of that wine for the sacrifice of the Mass. The rest would
have been put aside, blessed,
and distributed to the poor. Today we do not bring bread
and wine. We bring its equivalent; we bring that which buys bread
and wine. Hence the offertory collection.
Why do we bring bread and wine or
its equivalent to the Mass? We
bring bread and wine because these two
things, of all things in nature,
most represent the substance of life.
Wheat is as the very marrow of the ground, and
the grapes its very blood, both of which give us the body and blood of life. In bringing those two
things, which give us life,
nourish us, we are equivalently bringing ourselves to
the Sacrifice of the Mass.
We are therefore present at each and every Mass
under the appearance of bread and wine, which stand as symbols
of our body and blood.
We are not passive spectators as we might be
watching a spectacle in a theater, but we are co-offering our Mass with Christ. If any picture
adequately describes our role in this drama
it is this: There is a great Cross before us on which is stretched the great Host, Christ.
Round about the hill of Calvary are
our small crosses on which we, the small hosts, are to be offered.
When our Lord goes to
we go to our little
crosses, and offer ourselves
in union with Him,
as a clean oblation
to the heavenly Father.
At that moment we literally fulfill to the smallest detail the Saviour's command: Take
up your cross daily and follow Me. In doing so, He
is not asking us to do anything He has not
already done Himself. Nor is it any excuse
to say: "I am a poor unworthy host." So
was the thief.
Note that there were two attitudes
in the soul of
that thief, both
of which made him acceptable to
our Lord. The
first was the recognition of the fact that he deserved what he was suffering,
but that the sinless Christ
did not deserve His
Cross; in other words, he
was penitent. The second was faith in Him Whom men rejected, but Whom the thief
recognized as the very King of
Upon what conditions do we become small
hosts in the Mass? How does
our sacrifice become one with
Christ's and as acceptable as the thief's? Only by reproducing in our souls the two
attitudes in the soul
of the thief: penitence and faith.
First of all we must be penitent with the thief
and say: "I deserve punishment for my sins. I stand in need
of sacrifice." Some of us do not know how wicked
or how ungrateful to
God we are. If we did, we would not so complain about the shocks
and pains of life.
Our consciences are like darkened rooms from
which light has been long excluded. We draw
the curtain, and lo! everywhere what we thought was cleanliness,
we now find dust.
Some consciences have been
so filmed over with excuses that
they pray with the Pharisee: "I thank Thee, O God, that I am not as the rest of men."
Others blaspheme the God of heaven for their pain and sins,
but repent not.
The World War, for example, was meant to be
a purgation of
was meant to teach us that we cannot get along without God, but the world
refused to learn the lesson. Like the thief on the
left, it refuses
to be penitent: it refuses to see any
relation of justice between sin and sacrifice,
between rebellion and a Cross.
But the more penitent we
are, the less anxious we are to escape our
cross. The more we see ourselves as we are, the more we say with the good thief:
"I deserved this cross." He did not want to be excused; he did not want to have his
sin explained away; he did
not want to be let off; he did not ask to be
taken down. He wanted
only to be forgiven.
He was willing
even to be a small host on his own little cross - but that was because he
was penitent. Nor
is there given to us any other way to become little hosts
with Christ in
the Mass than by breaking
with sorrow; for
unless we admit we are wounded, how
can we feel the need of healing? Unless we
are sorry for our part in the Crucifixion, how could we ever ask to be forgiven its
The second condition of becoming a host in the offertory of the Mass is faith.
The thief looked above the head of our Blessed Lord and saw a sign
which read: "KING." Queer king
For a crown:
purple: His own blood.
For a throne:
For a coronation:
And yet beneath all that dross the thief
saw the gold; amidst all those blasphemies he
His faith was so strong he was content to remain on his
cross. The thief
on the left asked to be taken down, but not the thief on the right. Why? Because he knew there were greater
evils than crucifixions, and
another life beyond
the cross. He
had faith in the Man on the central cross Who could have turned thorns into garlands
and nails into rosebuds
if He willed; but he had faith
in a Kingdom beyond
the Cross, knowing that the sufferings of this world are not
worthy to be compared with the joys that are
to come. With the Psalmist his
soul cried: "Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death I will fear
no evils, for Thou art with me."
Such faith was like that of
the three youths in the fiery furnace who were commanded by the king, Nebuchadnezzar,
to adore the golden statue. Their answer was:
"For behold our God, Whom we worship, is able to save us
from the furnace of burning fire, and to deliver us out of thy hands, O king. But if He
will not, be it known to thee, O king, that we will not worship thy gods, nor adore the
golden statue which thou hast set up." Note that they did not ask
God to deliver
them from the fiery furnace, though they
knew God could do it, "for He is able to save us from the furnace of burning fire."
They left themselves wholly in God's Hands,
and like Job they trusted Him.
So likewise with the good thief: He
knew our Lord
could deliver him.
But he did not ask to be taken down from the
Cross, for our
Lord did not come down Himself
even though the mob challenged
Him. The thief
would be a small host, if need be, unto the
very end of the Mass. This did not mean the thief did not love
life: He loved life as much as we
love it. He
wanted life, and a long
life, and he found it, for what life
is longer than Life Eternal. To each and
every one of us in like manner it is given to discover that Eternal
Life. But there is no other way to enter it
than by penance
and by faith which
unite us to that Great Host
- the Priest and Victim Christ.
Thus do we become spiritual thieves, and steal heaven once again.
"Woman, behold thy son . . . behold thy
mother." - John 19:26-27.
days ago our Blessed Lord
made a triumphal entry into the city
of Jerusalem: Triumphant cries
rang about His ears;
palms dropped beneath His feet,
as the air resounded with hosannas to the Son of David and praises
to the Holy One of Israel. To those who
would have silenced the demonstration in His honor,
our Lord reminds them that if their voices
were silent, even the "very stones"
would have cried out. That was the birthday of Gothic Cathedrals.
They did not know the real reason why they were calling Him holy; they did not even understand why He accepted the tribute
of their praise. They thought that they were proclaiming
Him a kind of earthly king.
But He accepted their demonstration because He was going to be the King of a spiritual empire. He
accepted their tributes, their hosannas, their paens of
praise because He was going
to His Cross
as a Victim. And every victim
must be holy
- Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.
Five days later came
the Sanctus of the
Mass of Calvary. But at that Sanctus
of His Mass, He does not say "holy"
- He speaks to the
holy ones; He
does not whisper "Sanctus" - He addresses Himself to saints, to His sweet Mother
Mary, and His beloved disciple, John.
Mary, Help of
Striking words they are: "Woman, behold thy
son . . . behold thy mother." He
was speaking now to saints. He had no need of saintly
intercession, for He was the
Holy One of God. But we
have need of holiness, for every victim of the Mass must be holy,
undefiled, and unpolluted.
But how can we be holy
participants in the Sacrifice of the Mass?
He gave the answer: namely, by putting
ourselves under the protection of His Blessed Mother. He addresses the Church and all its
members in the person of John,
and says to each of us: "Behold thy mother."
That is why He addressed her not as "Mother"
but as "Woman." She
had a universal mission, to be not only His Mother,
but to be the Mother of all Christians.
She had been His
Mother; now she
was to be the Mother of
His Mystical Body, the Church.
And we were to be her children.
There is a tremendous mystery
hidden in that one word "Woman." It was
really the last lesson in detachment which Jesus
had been teaching her these
many years, and the first lesson
of the new attachment. Our Lord
had been gradually "alienating," as it
were, His affections from
not in the sense that she was to love Him less, or that He was to love
her less, but only in the sense that she was to love
us more. She was to be
detached from motherhood in the flesh,
only to be more attached to that greater motherhood in the spirit. Hence the word "Woman." She
was to make us other Christs, for as Mary
had raised the Holy One of God, so
only she could raise us as holy ones for God, worthy to say Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, in the Mass
of that prolonged Calvary.
The story of the preparation for her role
as Mother of
the Mystical Body of
Christ is unfolded in three scenes
in the life of her divine
Son, each one suggesting the lesson which Calvary
itself was to reveal: namely, that she
was called to be not only the Mother of
God, but also the Mother of men:
not only the Mother of
Holiness, but the Mother
of those who ask to be holy.
The first scene took place
in the Temple where Mary
and Joseph found Jesus
after a three-day search. The Blessed Mother reminds Him
that their hearts were broken
with sorrow during
the long search, and He answers: "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"
Here He was equivalently saying: "I have another business, Mother, than the business of the carpenter
shop. My Father has sent Me into this world on the supreme business of Redemption, to make
all men adopted sons of My heavenly Father in the greater kingdom of the brotherhood of
Christ, Thy Son." How far the full vision of those words dawned upon Mary, we know not; whether she
then understood that the Fatherhood of God
meant that she was to be the Mother of men,
we know not. But certainly, eighteen years later,
in the second scene, the marriage
feast of Cana, she came to
a fuller understanding of that mission.
What a consoling thought it is to think that our Blessed
Lord, Who talked
Who insisted upon taking up the cross daily
and following Him, should have begun His public life by assisting at a wedding
festival! What a beautiful understanding of our hearts!
When in the course
of the banquet the wine was exhausted, Mary,
always interested in others, was the first
to notice and the first to seek relief from
the embarrassment. She
simply said to our Blessed Lord, "They have no wine." And our Blessed
Lord said to her, "Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come."
"Woman, what is that to me?" He did not call her
"Mother," but "Woman"
- the same title she was to
receive three years later.
He was equivalently saying
to her: "You
are asking Me to do something which belongs to Me as the Son of God. You are asking Me to
work a miracle which only God can work; you are asking Me to exercise My divinity which
has relationship to all mankind, namely as its Redeemer. But once that divinity operates
for the salvation of the world, you become not only My Mother, but the Mother of redeemed
humanity. Your physical motherhood passes into the wider world of spiritual motherhood,
and for that reason I call you: 'Woman.'" And in order to prove that her intercession is powerful
in that role of universal
motherhood, He ordered the
pots filled with water, and in the language of Crashaw the first miracle
was worked: "the conscious waters saw their God and
The third scene happens
within two years. One day as our Lord was preaching, someone interrupted His discourse to say, "Thy
mother . . . stands without, seeking thee." Our
Blessed Lord said, "Who is My mother?"
and stretching forth His Hands toward His disciples He said: "Behold My
mother and My brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of My Father, that is in heaven,
he is My brother, and My sister, and mother." The meaning was
unmistakable. There is such a thing as spiritual maternity;
there are bonds other than those of the flesh;
there are ties other than the ties of blood,
namely spiritual ties which band together
those of the Kingdom where reign the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Christ.
These three scenes have
their climax at the Cross where Mary is called "Woman."
It was the second Annunciation.
The angel said to her
in the first: "Hail,
Mary." Her Son speaks to her
in the second: "Woman." This did not mean she
ceased to be His Mother;
she is always the Mother
of God; but her
and expanded; it
became spiritual, it
became universal, for at that moment she became our
mother. Our Lord created the
bond where it did not exist by nature
as only He could do.
And how did she become the Mother of men?
By becoming not only the mother, but also
the spouse of Christ. He
was the new Adam, she
is the new Eve.
And as Adam and Eve brought forth
their natural progeny,
which we are, so Christ and His Mother
brought forth at the Cross
their spiritual progeny, which we
are: children of Mary,
or members of the Mystical
Body of Christ. She
brought forth her First-born at Bethlehem.
Note that Saint Luke calls our Lord
the First-born - not that our Blessed Mother was to have other children according to the flesh, but only because she was to have other children according to the spirit. That moment when our
Blessed Lord said to her,
became in a certain sense the spouse of Christ and she brought forth in sorrow her first-born in the spirit, and his
name was John. Who the second-born
was we know not. It might have been Peter. It might have been Andrew.
But we at any rate are the millionth-and-millionth-born
of that woman at
the foot of the Cross.
It was a poor exchange indeed, receiving the son of Zebedee in
place of the Son of God. But surely
our gain was greater, for while she acquired but undutiful
and often rebellious children, we
obtained the most loving
Mother in the world - the Mother of Jesus.
We are children of Mary
- literally, children. She is our Mother, not by title of fiction, not by title of
courtesy; she is our
Mother because she
endured at that particular moment the pains of childbirth for all of us. And
why did our Lord give her
to us as Mother? Because He knew we could never be holy without her.
He came to us through her
purity, and only through her purity
can we go back to her.
There is no Sanctus apart from Mary. Every victim
that mounts that altar under the species of bread
and wine, must have said the Confiteor,
and become a holy victim - but there is no
holiness without Mary.
Note that when that word was spoken to our Blessed
Mother, there was another woman there who was prostrate. Have you ever
remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion
always pictures Magdalene on her knees at
the foot of the Crucifix?
But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed
Mother prostrate. John was
there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our
minister, our Mother.
If Mary could have prostrated
herself at that moment as Magdalene
did, if she could have only wept,
would have had an outlet. The sorrow that
cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart.
It is the heart
that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears
which cracks; it
is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks.
And all that sorrow was part of our purchase
price paid by our Co-Redemptrix,
Mary the Mother of
Because our Lord willed
her to us as our Mother,
He left her
on this earth after He ascended
into heaven, in order that she might mother
the infant Church. The
infant Church had need of a mother,
just as the infant Christ. She had to remain on earth until her family had grown. That is why we find her on Pentecost
abiding in prayer with the Apostles, awaiting
the descent of the Holy Ghost.
She was mothering
the Mystical Body of Christ.
Now she is crowned in heaven
as Queen of Angels and Saints,
turning heaven into another marriage
feast of Cana when she intercedes
with her divine
Saviour in behalf of us, her
other children, brothers of Christ and sons of
the heavenly Father.
Virgin Mother! What a
beautiful conjunction of virginity and motherhood, one supplying the defect of the other.
Virginity alone lacks something: there is an
incompleteness about it; something
unfulfilled; a faculty unused. Motherhood
alone loses something: there is a surrender, an unflowering, a plucking of a blossom. Oh!
for a rapprochement in which there would be a virginity
that never lacked anything, and a motherhood
that never lost anything! We have both
in Mary, the Virgin
Mother: Virgin by the overshadowing
of the Holy Spirit in Bethlehem
and Pentecost; Mother
by the millions of her progeny from
Jesus unto you
There is no question here of confusing our
Lady and our Lord; we venerate our
Mother, we worship our Lord. We ask of Jesus
those things which only God can give: mercy, grace,
forgiveness. We ask that Mary should intercede for
us with Him, and especially at the hour of our death. Because of her nearness to Jesus,
which her vocation
involves, we know our Lord listens
especially to her appeal.
To no other saint can we speak as a child
to its mother: no other virgin,
or martyr, or mother, or confessor
has ever suffered as much for us as
she has; no one has ever established better
claim to our love and patronage
As the Mediatrix of all
Graces, all favors come
to us from Jesus,
as Jesus Himself came to us through
her. We wish to be holy,
but we know there is no holiness
without her, for she
was the gift of Jesus to us at the Sanctus of His Cross.
No woman can ever forget the child of her womb; then certainly Mary
can never forget us. That is
why we feel way down deep in our hearts that
every time she sees
another innocent child at the First Communion rail, or another penitent sinner
making his way to
the Cross, or another broken
that the water of a wasted life be changed
into the wine of God's love,
that she hears once again that word: "Woman, behold thy son."
"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!"
- Matthew 27:46.
The Fourth Word is the Consecration of the Mass of Calvary. The first three Words were spoken to
men, but the last
four Words were spoken to God.
We are now in the final stage of
the Passion. In the fourth
Word, in all the universe, there is but God
and Himself. This is the hour of darkness. Suddenly out-of its blackness, the silence is broken by a cry-so terrible, so unforgettable,
that even those who did not understand the dialect remembered the strange tones: "Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani." They recorded it so, a
rough rendering of the Hebrew, because they could never get the sound of
those tones out of their ears all the days of their life.
The darkness which was
covering the earth at that moment was only the external symbol of
the dark night of the soul
within. Well indeed might the sun hide its face, at the terrible
crime of deicide. A real reason why the earth was made was to
have a Cross erected upon it. And now that
the Cross was erected, creation felt the pain and went into darkness.
But why the cry of darkness?
Why the cry of abandonment: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" It was
the cry of atonement for sin. Sin
is the abandonment of
God by man;
it is the creature
forsaking the Creator,
as a flower might abandon the sunlight which
gave its strength and beauty. Sin is a separation, a divorce-
the original divorce from
unity with God,
whence all other divorces are
Since He came on earth to redeem men
from sin, it was
therefore fitting that He feel
that abandonment, that separation,
that divorce. He
felt it first internally, in His
soul, as the base of a mountain, if conscious, might feel abandoned by the
sun when a cloud drifted about it, even though its great heights were radiant with light. There was no
sin in His
soul, but since He willed
to feel the effect of sin, an awful sense of isolation and loneliness crept over Him - the loneliness
of being without God.
Surrendering the divine
consolation which might have been His,
He sank into an awful human aloneness, to atone for
the solitariness of
a soul that has lost
God by sin; for the loneliness
of the atheist who
says there is no God, for the isolation of the man who gives up his faith for things, and for the broken-heartedness
of all sinners who are homesick
without God. He
even went so far as to redeem all
those who will not trust,
who in sorrow and misery,
curse and abandon
God, crying out: "Why
this death? Why should I lose my property? Why should I suffer?" He atoned for all these things by asking
a "Why" of God.
But in order better to reveal the intensity of that feeling
of abandonment, He revealed
it by an external sign.
Because man had separated
himself from God,
He, in atonement,
permitted His Blood
to be separated from His Body. Sin
had entered into the blood of man; and as if the sins of the world were upon Him, He
drained the chalice of
His Body of His
sacred Blood. We can almost hear Him
say: "Father, this is My Body; this is My Blood. They are
being separated from one another as humanity has been separated from Thee. This is the
consecration of My Cross."
What happened there on the Cross that day
is happening now in the Mass,
with this difference: On the Cross the Saviour was alone;
in the Mass He is
with us. Our Lord
is now in heaven at
the right hand of the Father,
making intercession for us. He therefore can
again in His human
nature. How then can the Mass
be the re-enactment of Calvary?
How can Christ renew
the Cross? He
cannot suffer again in His
own human nature
which is in heaven enjoying
beatitude, but He can suffer
again in our human natures. He
cannot renew Calvary
in His physical body, but He
can renew it in
His Mystical Body - the Church. The Sacrifice of the Cross can
be re-enacted provided we give Him our body and
our blood, and
give it to Him so completely that as His
own, He can offer Himself anew to His
heavenly Father for the redemption
of His Mystical Body,
So the Christ goes out into
the world gathering up other human
natures who are willing to be Christs. In order that our sacrifices, our sorrows, our Golgothas, our crucifixions, may not be isolated,
disjointed, and unconnected, the Church
collects them, harvests
them, unifies them, coalesces them, masses them, and this massing of
all our sacrifices of our individual
human natures is united
with the Great Sacrifice of
Christ on the Cross in
When we assist at the Mass
we are not just individuals of the earth or solitary
units, but living parts of
a great spiritual order in which the Infinite
penetrates and enfolds the finite,
the Eternal breaks into
the temporal, and the Spiritual
clothes itself in the garments of
materiality. Nothing more solemn
exists on the face of God's earth than the
awe-inspiring moment of
Consecration; for the Mass
is not a prayer, nor a hymn,
nor something said - it
is a Divine Act
with which we come in contact at a given moment of time.
An imperfect illustration may be drawn from the radio.
The air is filled with symphonies and speech. We do not
put the words or music there; but, if we choose, we may establish contact with them by
tuning in our radio. And so with the Mass.
It is a singular, unique Divine Act with which we come in contact each time it is represented and re-enacted
in the Mass.
When the die of a medal or coin is struck, the medal is the material,
visible representation of a spiritual idea existing in the mind of the artist. Countless
reproductions may be made from that original as each new piece of metal is brought in
contact with it, and impressed by it. Despite the multiplicity of coins made, the pattern
is always the same. In like manner in the Mass,
the Pattern - Christ's sacrifice on Calvary - is renewed
on our altars as each human
being is brought in contact with it
at the moment of consecration; but the sacrifice is one and the same despite the multiplicity
of Masses. The Mass then is the communication
of the Sacrifice of Calvary to us
under the species of bread and wine.
We are on the altar
under the appearance of bread and wine, for both are the
sustenance of life; therefore in
giving that which gives us life we are
symbolically giving ourselves. Furthermore, wheat must suffer to become bread; grapes
must pass through the wine-press to become wine.
Hence both are representative of Christians who
are called to suffer with Christ, that they may also reign with Him.
As the consecration of
the Mass draws near our
Lord is equivalently saying to us: "You,
Mary; you, John; you, Peter; and
you, Andrew - you, all of you - give Me your body; give Me your blood. Give Me your whole
self! I can suffer no more. I have passed through My cross, I have filled up the
sufferings of My physical body, but I have not filled up the sufferings wanting to My
Mystical Body, in which you are. The Mass is the moment when each one of you may literally
fulfill My injunction: 'Take up your cross and follow Me.'"
On the Cross our Blessed Lord was looking forward to you, hoping
that one day you would be giving yourself to
Him at the moment
of consecration. Today, in the Mass,
that hope our Blessed
Lord entertained for you is fulfilled. When you assist at the Mass He expects you now actually to give Him yourself.
Then as the moment of
consecration arrives, the priest
in obedience to the words of our Lord, "Do this
for a commemoration of me," takes bread in his
hands and says "This is My body";
and then over the chalice of wine says, "This is the chalice of My blood of the new and eternal testament."
He does not
consecrate the bread
and wine together, but separately. The separate
consecration of the bread
and wine is a symbolic representation of the separation of body and blood,
and since the Crucifixion entailed that very mystery, Calvary
is thus renewed on our altar.
But Christ, as has been said, is not alone
on our altar; we are with Him. Hence the words of consecration have a double
sense; the primary
signification of the words is: "This is the
Body of Christ; this is the Blood of Christ;" but the secondary signification is "This is my body; this is my blood."
Such is the purpose of life!
To redeem ourselves in union with Christ; to apply His
merits to our souls by being
like Him in all things, even to His death
on the Cross. He
passed through His consecration
on the Cross that
we might now pass through ours in the Mass.
There is nothing more tragic in all the
world than wasted pain.
Think of how much suffering
there is in hospitals, among the poor, and the bereaved.
Think also of how much of that suffering goes
to waste! How many of those lonesome,
are saying with our Lord at the moment of consecration, "This
is my body. Take it"? And yet that is what we all should be saying at that second:
I give myself to God.
Here is my Body. Take it.
Here is my Blood. Take it.
Here is my Soul, my Will, my Energy, my Strength,
my Property, my Wealth - all that I have. It is Yours.
Take it! Offer it! Offer it with Thyself to the heavenly Father
in order that He, looking down on this Great Sacrifice,
may see only Thee, His beloved Son, in Whom He is well pleased.
Transmute the poor bread of my life into Thy Divine Life;
thrill the wine of my wasted life into Thy Divine Spirit;
unite my broken heart with Thy Heart;
change my cross into a Crucifix.
Let not my abandonment, and my sorrow, and my bereavement go to waste.
Gather up the fragments,
and as the drop of water is absorbed by the wine at the Offertory of the Mass,
let my life be absorbed in Thee;
let my little cross be entwined with Thy Great Cross,
so that I may purchase the joys of everlasting happiness in union with Thee.
Consecrate these trials of my life which would
go unrewarded unless united with Thee;
transubstantiate me so that like bread which is now Thy Body,
And wine which is now Thy Blood, I too may be wholly Thee.
I care not if the species remain, or that, like the bread and the wine,
I seem to all earthly eyes the same as before.
My station in life, my routine duties, my work, my family -
all these are but the species of my life which may remain unchanged;
but the substance of my life, my soul, my mind, my will, my heart -
transubstantiate them, transform them wholly into Thy service,
so that through me all may know how sweet is the love of Christ.
"I thirst." - John
Our Blessed Lord reaches
the communion of His Mass when out from the depths
of the Sacred Heart
there wells the cry: "I thirst." This was
certainly not a thirst for water, for the earth is His
and the fullness thereof; it was not a thirst for any of the refreshing droughts of earth,
for He calmed the
seas with doors when they burst forth in their fury. When they offered Him a drink, He
took it not. It was another kind of thirst which tortured
was thirsty for the souls
and hearts of men.
The cry was a cry for
communion - the last in a long series of
shepherding calls in the quest of God for
men. The very fact that it was expressed in
the most poignant of all human sufferings,
namely, thirst, was the measure of its depth and intensity.
Men may hunger for
God, but God
thirsts for men. He
thirsted for man in Creation
as He called
him to fellowship with divinity
in the garden of Paradise;
He thirsted for man
in Revelation, as He tried
to win back man's erring
heart by telling the secrets
of His love; He thirsted for man in the Incarnation
when He became like the one He loved, and was found in the form
and habit of man.
Now He was thirsting
for man in Redemption,
for greater love than this no man has, that
he lay down his life for his friends. It was the final
appeal for communion
before the curtain rang down on the Great Drama
of His earthly
life. All the myriad loves of parents for children, of spouse for spouse, if compacted
into one great love, would have been the
smallest fraction of God's love for
man in that cry of thirst.
It signified at once, not only how much He thirsted
for the little ones, for hungry hearts and empty
souls, but also how intense was His desire to satisfy our deepest longing.
Really, there should be nothing mysterious
in our thirst for God, for does not the plant pant after the
fountain, and the sunflower turn
to the sun, and the rivers run
into the sea? But that He should love us, considering our own unworthiness, and how little our love is worth - that is the mystery!
And yet such is the meaning of God's thirst
for communion with us.
had already expressed it in the parable of the Lost Sheep, when He
said He was not satisfied with the ninety-nine; only the lost
sheep could give Him perfect joy.
Now the truth was expressed again from the Cross: Nothing could adequately satisfy
His thirst but the heart
of every man, woman, and child, who were made for Him,
and therefore could never be happy until they found their rest in Him.
The basis of this plea for communion
is Love, for Love
by its very nature tends to unity. Love
of citizens one for another begets the unity of the
state. Love of man and woman
begets the unity of two
in one flesh. The love
of God for man therefore calls for a unity
based upon the Incarnation, namely, the unity
of all men in
the Body and Blood of Christ.
In order, therefore, that God
might seal His love for us, He gave us to Himself
in Holy Communion,
so that as He and His
human nature taken from
the womb of the Blessed Mother were
one in the unity of His Person, so He
and we taken from the womb of humanity might be one in the unity
of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Hence, we use the word "receive" when
speaking of communion with our Lord in the Eucharist, for literally we do "receive" Divine Life,
just as really and truly as a babe receives the life of its mother.
All life is sustained by
communion with a higher
life. If the plants could speak
they would say to the moisture and sunlight, "Unless you enter into communion with me, become possessed of my higher laws and powers, you shall not
have life in you."
If the animals could speak, they would say to the plants: "Unless you
enter into communion with me,
you shall not have my higher life in you." We say to all lower
creation: "Unless you enter into communion with me, you shall not share in my
Why then should not our Lord
say to us: "Unless you enter into communion with Me, you shall not have life
in you"? The lower is transformed into the
into animals, animals into
man, and man,
in a more exalted way, becomes "divinized,"
if I may use that expression, through and through by the life
Communion then is first of all the receiving of
Divine Life, a life
to which we are no more entitled than marble is entitled to blooming. It is a pure gift
of an all-merciful God Who so loved us that He willed to be united with us, not in the bonds
of flesh, but in
the ineffable bonds of the Spirit
where love knows no satiety, but only rapture and joy.
And oh, how quickly we should have forgotten Him
could we not, like Bethlehem and Nazareth, receive Him into our souls!
Neither gifts nor portraits take the place of the beloved one. And our
Lord knew it well. We needed Him,
and so He gave us Himself.
But there is another aspect of Communion
of which we but rarely think. Communion
implies not only receiving Divine
Life, it means also God giving
human life. All love is
reciprocal. There is no one-sided love,
for love by
its nature demands mutuality. God
thirsts for us, but that means that man
must also thirst for God.
But do we ever think of Christ
receiving Communion from us? Every time we
go to the Communion rail we say we "receive" Communion,
and that is all many of us do, just "receive Communion."
There is another aspect of Communion
than receiving Divine Life, of which Saint
John speaks. Saint Paul gives us the complementary truth in his Epistle to
the Corinthians. Communion is not
only an incorporation to the life of Christ; it is also an incorporation to His death.
"As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the
chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until He come."
Natural life has two sides: the anabolic and the katabolic.
The supernatural also has two sides: the building up
of the Christ-pattern and the tearing
down of the old Adam. Communion
therefore implies not only a "receiving"
but also a "giving." There can be no
ascent to a higher life without death to a lower one. Does not an Easter
Sunday presuppose a Good Friday?
Does not all love imply mutual self-giving
which ends in self-recovery? This being so, should not the Communion
rail be a place of exchange, instead of a place of exclusive receiving? Is
all the Life to pass from
Christ to us and
nothing to go back in return? Are we to drain the chalice
and contribute nothing to its filling? Are
we to receive the bread without giving wheat to
be ground, to receive the wine and give no
grapes to be crushed? If all we did during our lives was to go to Communion to receive
Divine Life, to take it
away, and leave nothing behind, we would be parasites
on the Mystical Body of
The Pauline injunction bids us fill up in our body the sufferings
wanting to the Passion of
Christ. We must therefore bring a spirit of sacrifice to the Eucharistic
table; we must bring the mortification of
our lower self, the crosses
patiently borne, the crucifixion of our egotisms, the death of
our concupiscence, and even the very difficulty of our coming
to Communion. Then does Communion become what it
was always intended to be, namely, a commerce between Christ and the soul,
in which we give His Death shown forth in
our lives, and He
gives His Life
shown forth in our adopted sonship? We give Him
our time; He gives us His eternity. We give Him
our humanity; He
gives us His divinity.
We give Him our nothingness;
He gives us His
Do we really understand the nature of
love? Have we not sometimes, in great
moments of affection for a little child, said in language which might vary from this, but
which expresses the idea, "I love that child so much, I
should just like to possess it within myself?" Why? Because all love craves for unity.
In the natural order, God
has given great pleasures to
the unity of the flesh. But those
are nothing compared to the pleasure of
the unity of the spirit, when divinity passes out to humanity,
and humanity to divinity
- when our will goes to Him, and He
comes to us, so that we cease to be men and
begin to be children of God.
If there has ever been a moment in your life
when a fine, noble
affection made you feel as if you had been lifted into the third or the seventh heaven; if there has ever
been a time in your life when a noble love
of a fine human heart
cast you into an ecstasy; if there has ever
been a time when you have really loved
a human heart
- then, I ask you, think of what it must be to be united with the great Heart of Love! If the human heart
in all of its fine, noble, Christian riches
can so thrill, can so exalt, can make us so ecstatic,
then what must be the great heart of Christ?
Oh, if the spark is so bright,
what must be the flame!
Do we fully realize how much Communion
is bound up with Sacrifice, both on the part
of our Lord and on the part of us, His poor weak creatures? The Mass
makes the two inseparable: there is no Communion without a Consecration.
There is no receiving the bread and wine we offer, until
they have been transubstantiated
into the Body and Blood of Christ. Communion is the consequence of the Calvary; namely, we live by what we slay. All nature
witnesses this truth; our bodies live by the slaying
of the beasts of the fields and the plants of
the gardens. We draw life from
their crucifixion. We slay
them not to destroy, but to
fulfill; we immolate them for the
sake of communion.
And now by a beautiful paradox of Divine
Love, God makes
the very means of our salvation. We have slain Him;
we nailed Him
there; we crucified Him; but Love
in His eternal Heart willed
not to be defeated. He willed to give us the very Life we slew;
to give us the very Food we destroyed; to nourish
us with the very Bread we buried, and the very Blood we poured
forth. He made our very
crime a happy
fault; He turned
a Crucifixion into
a Redemption; a Consecration
into a Communion;
a death into life everlasting.
And it is just that which makes man
all the more mysterious! Why man should be loved
is no mystery, but why he
does not love in return is
the great mystery. Why should our Lord be the Great
Unloved; why should Love not
be loved? Why then, whenever He says: "I thirst," do we give Him vinegar
The Ite, Missa est
"It is finished." - John
Our Blessed Saviour now
comes to the Ite, missa est of
His Mass, as He
utters the cry of triumph:
"It is finished."
The work of salvation is finished,
but when did it begin? It
began back in the agelessness of eternity,
when God willed to make man. Ever since the beginning of the world there
was a Divine "Impatience"
to restore man
to the arms of God.
The Word was impatient in heaven
to be the "Lamb slain from the beginning of the world."
He was impatient
in prophetic types and symbols, as His dying face was reflected in a hundred
mirrors stretching through all Old Testament history.
He was impatient
to be the real Isaac carrying the wood of His
sacrifice in obedience
to the commands of
His heavenly Abraham. He
was impatient to
fulfill the mystic symbol of the Lamb of the Jewish Pasch, Who was slain
without a single bone of its body being
broken. He was impatient
to be the new Abel, slain
by his jealous brethren of the race of Cain,
that His Blood might cry to
Heaven for forgiveness. He was
impatient in His mother's womb, as He saluted His precursor John. He was impatient
in the Circumcision, as He anticipated His blood-shedding and received
the name of "Saviour." He was impatient
at the age of twelve, as He reminded His Mother
that He had to be about His Father's business. He
was impatient in His public life, as He
said He had a baptism
wherewith He was to be baptized and He
was "straightened until it be accomplished."
He was impatient
in the Garden, as He
turned His back to
the consoling twelve
legions of angels
to crimson olive roots with His redemptive Blood.
He was impatient
at His Last Supper as He
anticipated the separation of
His Body and Blood under the appearance of bread
and wine. And then, impatience
closed as the hour of darkness drew
near at the end of that Last Supper - He
sang. It was the only time He
ever sang, the moment He went to His death.
It was a trivial matter for the world if the stars burned brightly, or the
mountains stood as symbols of perplexity, or the hills made their tribute to valleys which
gave them birth. What was important was that every single word predicted
of Him should be
and earth would not pass away until every jot and tittle
had been fulfilled. There was only a little iota remaining, one
tiny little jot; it was a word of David's about every prediction being
fulfilled. Now that all else was fulfilled, He
fulfilled that iota; He, the true David, quoted the prophetic
David: "It is finished."
What is finished? The Redemption
of man is
finished. Love had
completed its mission, for Love had done all that
There are two things Love can do. Love
by its very nature tends to an Incarnation, and every Incarnation
tends to a Crucifixion. Does not all true love tend toward an
Incarnation? In the order of human love, does not the affection of husband for
wife create from their mutual loves the incarnation of their confluent
love in the form of a child? Once they have
begotten their child, do not they make sacrifices
for it, even to the point of death? And thus
their love tends to a crucifixion.
But this is just a reflection of the divine
order, where the love of God
for man was so
deep and intense that it ended in an Incarnation, which found God
in the form and habit of man, whom
He loved. But our Lord's love for man did not stop with the Incarnation.
Unlike everyone else who was ever born, our Lord
came into this world to redeem it. Death was the supreme
goal He was seeking. Death
interrupted the careers of great
men, but it was no interruption to our
Lord; it was His crowning glory;
it was the unique goal He
His Incarnation thus tended
to the Crucifixion, for "greater love than this no man has, that he lay down his life for his
friends." Now that Love had
run its course in the Redemption
of man, Divine Love could say: "I
have done all for My vineyard that I can do." Love
can do no more than die. It is
finished: "Ite, missa est."
His work is finished. But is
ours? When He said, "it is finished," He
did not mean that the opportunities of His life
had ended; He meant that His work was done so perfectly
that nothing could be added to it to make it more perfect
- but with us, how seldom that is true. Too many of us end our lives, but few of us see
them finished. A sinful life may end, but a sinful life is never a finished life.
If our lives just "end,"
our friends will ask: "How much did he leave?"
But if our life is "finished" our friends will ask: "How much did he take with him?" A finished
life is not measured by years but by deeds; not
by the time spent in the vineyard, but by the work done. In a short time a man may fulfill
many years; even those who come at the eleventh hour
may finish their lives; even those who come to God
like the thief at the last breath, may
finish their lives in the Kingdom of God.
Not for them the sad word of regret:
"Too late, O ancient Beauty, have I loved Thee."
Our Lord finished
His work, but we have not finished ours. He pointed the way we must follow. He laid down the Cross at the finish, but we must take
it up. He finished Redemption in His
physical Body, but we have not finished it
in His Mystical Body. He
has finished salvation, we
have not yet applied it to our souls. He
has finished the Temple, but we must live in it. He
has finished the model Cross, we must
fashion ours to its pattern. He has finished sowing the seed, we must reap the
harvest. He has finished filling the chalice, but we have not finished drinking its refreshing draughts.
He has planted the wheat
field; we must gather it into our barns. He
has finished the Sacrifice of Calvary; we
must finish the Mass.
The Crucifixion was not
meant to be an inspirational drama, but a pattern act on
which to model our lives. We are not meant to sit and watch the Cross
as something done and ended like the life of Socrates. What was
done on Calvary avails for us only in the degree that we repeat it in our own lives. The Mass
makes this possible, for at the renewal of Calvary
on our altars we are not on-lookers but
sharers in Redemption, and there it is that we "finish"
our work. He has told us: "And I, if I be lifted up from
the earth, will draw all things to Myself." He
finished His work when He
was lifted up on the Cross; we finish ours
when we permit Him to draw us unto Himself in the Mass.
The Mass is that which makes
the Cross visible to every eye; it placards the Cross
at all the crossroads of civilization; it
brings Calvary so close that even tired feet
can make the journey to its sweet embrace;
every hand may now reach out to touch its Sacred Burden,
and every ear may hear its sweet appeal, for
the Mass and the Cross
are the same. In both there is the same offering of
a perfectly surrendered will of the beloved Son, the same Body
broken, the same Blood
flowed forth, the same Divine
Forgiveness. All that has been said and done and acted during Holy Mass is to be taken away with us, lived,
practiced, and woven into all the circumstances and conditions of our daily lives. His sacrifice
is made our sacrifice by making it the oblation
of ourselves in union with Him;
His life given for us becomes our life given for Him.
Thus do we return from Mass as those who
have made their choice, turned their backs upon the world, and become for the generation
in which we live other Christs living potent
witnesses to the Love that died that we might live
This world of ours is full of half-completed Gothic
cathedrals, of half-finished lives
and half-crucified souls.
Some carry the Cross to
Calvary and then abandon
it; others are nailed to
it and detach themselves before the
elevation; others are crucified, but in
answer to the challenge of the world "Come
down," they come down after one hour.
. . two hours. . . after two hours and fifty-nine minutes. Real Christians
are they who persevere unto the end. Our Lord
stayed until He had finished.
The priest must likewise stay at the altar until the Mass
is finished. He may not come down. So we must stay with
the Cross until our lives are finished. Christ on the Cross is the pattern and model of a finished life.
Our human nature is the raw material; our will is the chisel; God's
grace is the energy
and the inspiration.
Touching the chisel to our unfinished nature
we first cut off huge chunks of selfishness,
then by more delicate chiselings we dig away smaller bits of egotism
until finally only a brush of the hand is needed to bring out the completed masterpiece a
finished man made to the image and likeness of the pattern on the Cross.
We are at the altar under the symbol of bread
and wine; we have offered ourselves to our
Lord; He has consecrated us.
We must therefore not take ourselves back, but remain there unto the end,
praying unceasingly, that when the lease of our life has ended and we look back upon a
life lived in intimacy with the Cross, the
echo of the Sixth Word may ring out on our
lips: "It is finished."
And as the sweet accents of that Ite, missa
est reach beyond the corridors of Time and pierce the "hid battlements of eternity," the angel choirs and the white-robed
army of the Church Triumphant
will answer back: "Deo gratias."
The Last Gospel
"Father, into Thy hands I commend My
spirit." - Luke 23:46.
It is a beautiful paradox that the Last Gospel
of the Mass takes
us back to the beginning, for it opens
with the words "In the beginning." And
such is life: the last of this life is the beginning of the next. Fittingly indeed, then,
that the Last Word of our Lord was His Last Gospel: "Father,
into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Like the Last
Gospel of the Mass,
it too takes Him back to the beginning, for He now goes back to the Father
whence He came. He
has completed His work. He began His Mass
with the word: "Father." And He ends it
with the same word.
perfect," the Greeks would say, "travels in circles." Just as the great planets only
after a long period of time complete their orbits, and then go back again to their
starting point, as if to salute Him Who sent
them on their way, so the Word Incarnate, Who came down to say His
Mass, now completes His
earthly career and goes back again to His heavenly Father
Who sent Him on the journey
of the world's redemption. The Prodigal Son is about to return to His Father's House, for is He
not the Prodigal Son? Thirty-three
years ago He left the Father's House and the blessedness
of heaven, and came down to this earth of ours, which is a
foreign country - for every country is foreign which is away from the Father's House.
For thirty-three years He had been spending His
substance. He spent the substance of His Truth in the infallibility of His Church; He spent the substance
of His Power in the authority He
gave to His apostles and their successors. He spent the substance
of His Life in the Redemption
and the Sacraments. Now every drop of it is gone, He
looks longingly back again to the Father's House,
and with a loud cry throws His Spirit into His Father's arms, not in the attitude of one who
is taking a plunge into the darkness, but as
one who knows where He is going - to a
homecoming with His Father.
In that Last Word and Last Gospel which took Him
back to the Beginning of all beginnings,
namely, His Father, is revealed the history
and rhythm of life. The end of all things must in some way get back to their beginning. As
the Son goes back to the Father; as Nicodemus must be born
again; as the body returns to the dust - so
the soul of man which came from God
must one day go back to
Death is not the end of all.
The cold clod falling upon the grave does not mark finis to the history of a man. The way he
has lived in this life determines how he shall live in the next. If he has sought God during life, death
will be like the opening of a cage, enabling him to use his wings to fly to the arms of the divine Beloved. If he has
fled from God during life, death will be the beginning of an eternal flight away
from Life and Truth and Love
- and that is hell.
Before the throne of God,
whence we came on our earthly novitiate, we must one day go back to render an account of
our stewardship. There will not be a human
creature who, when the last
sheaf is garnered, will not be found either to have accepted or rejected the divine
gift of Redemption, and in accepting or
to have signed the warrant of his eternal destiny.
As the sales on a cash register are recorded for the end of our business
day, so our thoughts, words, and deeds are recorded for the final Judgment.
If we but live in the shadow of the Cross, death will not be an ending but
a beginning of eternal life.
Instead of a parting, it
will be a meeting; instead of a going away, it will be an arriving; instead
of being an end, it will be
a Last Gospel - a return to the beginning.
As a voice whispers, "You must leave the earth,"
the Father's voice will say, "My child, come unto Me."
We have been sent into this world as children of God,
to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We are to take our stand at the foot of the Cross and, like those who stood under it the first day,
we will be asked to declare our loyalties. God
has given us the wheat and the grapes of life, and as
the men who, in the Gospel, were given talents, we will have to show
return on that divine gift.
God has given us our lives
as wheat and grapes. It is our duty to consecrate them and bring them back to God as bread and wine
- transubstantiated, divinized,
and spiritualized. There must be harvest in
our hands after the springtime of the earthly pilgrimage.
That is why Calvary is
erected in the midst of us, and we are on its sacred hill.
We were not made to be mere on-lookers, shaking our dice like the executioners
of old, but rather to be participants in the mystery
of the Cross.
If there is any way to picture Judgment in terms of the Mass, it is to picture it in the way the Father greeted His Son, namely, by looking at His Hands. They
bore the marks of labor, the callouses of redemption, and the scars
of salvation. So
too when our earthly pilgrimage is over, and we go back to the beginning, God will look at both of our hands. If our hands
in life touched the Hands of His divine Son
they will bear the same livid marks of nails;
if our feet in life have trod over the same road that leads to eternal
glory through the detour of a rocky
and thorny Calvary, they too
shall bear the same bruises; if our hearts beat in unison with His,
then they too shall show the riven side
which the wicked lance of jealous earth
Blessed indeed are they who
carry in their Cross-marked hands the bread
and wine of consecrated
lives signed with the sign and sealed with the seal of redemptive
Love. But woe unto them who come from Calvary
with hands unscarred and white.
God grant that when life
is over, and the earth is vanishing like a dream of one awakening, when eternity is flooding our souls
with its splendors, we may with humble and triumphant
faith re-echo the Last Word of
Christ: "Father, into Thy hands I commend
And so the Mass of Christ ends:
was His prayer to the Father
for the forgiveness of our sins;
was the presentation on the paten of
the Cross of small
hosts of the thief and ourselves;
was His commending ourselves to Mary, the Queen
was the separation of His Blood from His
Body, and the seeming separation of divinity and humanity;
was His thirst for
the souls of men;
missa est was the finishing of the work of
Gospel was the return to the Father
whence He came.
And now that the Mass
is over, and He has commended His Spirit to the Father, He
prepares to give back His Body to His Blessed Mother
at the foot of the Cross.
Thus once again will the end be the beginning, for at the beginning of His earthly life He was nestled on her lap in Bethlehem, and now, on
will take His place there once again.
Earth had been cruel
to Him; His
Feet wandered after lost sheep
and we dug them
with steel; His Hands stretched out the Bread of everlasting life and we fastened them
with nails; His lips spoke the Truth and we sealed them
with dust. He
came to give us Life and we took away His. But that was our fatal mistake. We really did not take it away. We only tried to take it away. He
laid it down of Himself. Nowhere do the Evangelists
say that He died.
They say, "He gave up the ghost." It was a
relinquishment of life.
It was not death which approached Him, it was He Who
That is why, as the end draws near, the Saviour
commands the portal of death
to open unto Him in the presence of the Father. The chalice
is gradually being drained of its rich red wine of
salvation. The rocks of
earth open their hungry mouths to drink as if more thirsty for the draughts of salvation
than the parched hearts
of man; the earth
itself shook in horror because men had erected God's
Cross upon its breast. Magdalene,
the penitent, as usual clings to His Feet, and there she will be again Easter morn; John, the priest,
with a face like a cast moulded out of love,
listens to the beating of the Heart Whose secrets
he learned and loved
and mastered; Mary
thinks how different Calvary is from Bethlehem.
Thirty-three years ago Mary looked down at His
Sacred Face; now He looks
down at her. In Bethlehem, heaven looked up into the face
of earth; now the roles are reversed. Earth
looks up into the face of heaven -
but a heaven marred by the scars of earth.
her above all the creatures of
earth, for she was His Mother
and the Mother of us all. He saw her
first on coming to earth; He shall see her
last on leaving it. Their eyes meet, all
aglow with life, speaking a language all their own. There is a rupture of a heart through a rapture of love,
then a bowed head, a broken
heart. Back to the Hands
of God He goes, pure
and sinless, His
Spirit, in loud and ringing voice that trumpets eternal
victory. And Mary stands
alone a Childless Mother. Jesus is dead!
Mary looks up into His eyes which are so clear even in the face of death: "High Priest
of Heaven and earth, Thy Mass is finished! Leave the altar of the Cross and repair into
Thy Sacristy. As High Priest Thou didst come forth from the Sacristy of Heaven, panoplied
in the vestments of humanity and bearing Thy Body as Bread and Thy Blood as Wine."
Now the Sacrifice has been
consummated. The Consecration bell has rung.
Thou didst offer Thy Spirit
to Thy Father; Thy Body
and Thy Blood to man.
There remains now nothing but the drained
chalice. Enter into Thy
Sacristy. Take off the garments of mortality and
put on the white robes of immortality.
Show Thy Hands, and Feet,
and Side to Thy
heavenly Father and say: "With these was I
wounded in the house of those that love Me."
"Enter, High Priest, into Thy heavenly
Sacristy, and as Thy earthly ambassadors hold aloft the Bread and Wine do Thou show
Thyself to the Father in loving intercession for us even unto the consummation of the
world. Earth has been cruel to Thee; but Thou wilt be kind to earth. Earth lifted Thee on
the Cross, but now Thou shalt lift earth unto the Cross. Open the door of the heavenly
Sacristy, O High Priest! Behold it is now we who stand at the door and knock!"
"And Mary, what shall we say to Thee? Mary,
Thou art the Sacristan of the High Priest! Thou wert a Sacristan in Bethlehem when He did
come to thee as wheat and grapes in the crib of Bethlehem. Thou wert His Sacristan at the
Cross, where He became the Living Bread and Wine through the Crucifixion. Thou art His
Sacristan now, as He comes from the altar of the Cross wearing only the drained chalice of
His sacred Body."
"As that chalice is laid in your lap it may
seem that Bethlehem has come back again, for He is once more yours. But it only seems -
for in Bethlehem He was the chalice whose gold was to be tried by fire; but now at Calvary
He is the chalice whose gold has passed through the fires of Golgotha and Calvary. In
Bethlehem He was white as He came from the Father, now He is red as He came from us. But
thou art still His Sacristan! And as the Immaculate Mother of all hosts who go to the
altar, do thou, O Virgin Mary, send us there pure, and keep us pure, even unto the day
when we enter into the heavenly Sacristy of the Kingdom of Heaven, where thou wilt be our
eternal Sacristan and He our eternal Priest."
And you, friends of the Crucified, your High
Priest has left the Cross,
but He has left us the Altar.
On the Cross He
was alone; in the Mass He is with us. On the
suffered in His
physical Body; on the altar
in the Mystical Body which we are. On the Cross He
was the unique Host; in the Mass we are the small
hosts, and He the large host receiving His
Calvary through us. On the Cross He
was the wine; in the Mass,
we are the drop of
water united with the wine and consecrated
with Him. In that
sense He is still on the Cross, still saying the Confiteor
with us, still forgiving us, still commending
us to Mary, still thirsting for us, still
drawing us unto the Father, for as long as sin
remains on earth, still will the Cross remain.
"Whenever there is
silence around me
By day or by night
I am startled by a cry.
It came down from the Cross.
The first time I heard it
I went out and searched-
And found a man in the throes of Crucifixion.
And I said: 'I will take you down,'
And I tried to take the nails out of His Feet,
But He said: 'Let them be
For I cannot be taken down
Until every man, every woman, and every child
Come together to take me down.'
And I said: 'But I cannot bear your cry.
What can I do?'
And He said: 'Go about the world-
Tell every one that you meet
There is a Man on the Cross.'"