Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery

Jesus' Crucifixion and Death

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. John (19:16b-42)
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

As I said in the last meditation, I tend to incorporate other devotions into my meditations on the last two Sorrowful Mysteries. When meditating on Jesus' Crucifixion, I finish the 14 Stations of the Cross (for all intents and purposes) which I began in the Carrying of the Cross. I also incorporate for seven of the Hail Marys the Seven Last Words of Christ. I conclude with brief yet meaningful meditations on Jesus' pierced Heart--the source of the Devotion to the Divine Mercy--, and, finally, what's commonly referred to as the Pietà, that is, Mary holding the lifeless body of her Son. As with my last article, I've decided to write this meditation in that format, for the same reasons I gave in my last post.

Without further ado, then, I invite you to stand with Our Mother as Beloved Disciples of Jesus at the foot of His Cross.

Hail Mary...
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
I have, in my living room, one of those religious pillar candles. You know, the ones in the glass jar, with a sacred image on it of Jesus or a saint, with a prayer on the back, which one often can find in the Dollar Store (which, incidentally, is where I got mine). It is inscripted to "Jesus of the Supreme Power", and, accordingly, has His image on the front. It was the particular image, juxtaposed with the caption, which prompted me to buy this particular candle. For when one thinks of Jesus' "supreme power", images of His triumphant return, in blazing white raiments on a white horse, with the double-edged sword coming from His mouth and fire in His eyes, as per Revelation 19, spring readily to mind. Or, perhaps the Resurrected Christ, showing Himself alive and well to the Apostles, or maybe an image of Him flying back up to heaven at the Ascension. These images of a powerful, triumphant Christ would seem naturally to spring to mind at the title, "Jesus of the Supreme Power." But the image on my candle is a close-up of Jesus' face, crowned with thorns, with blood dripping down His nose and cheeks, an expression of utter agony in His features, as He hangs from the Cross. This image is what the makers of the candle labeled "Jesus of the Supreme Power".

When mortal men undertook to kill omnipotent God, they nailed His hands and His feet to the Cross, in an attempt to make Him immobile and impotent. And yet it is here, at Christ's ultimate act of kenosis, His utter self-emptying in obedient sacrifice, that His true and supreme power does in fact blaze forth. His power is so absolute, that even in the midst of what seems to be total defeat, when evil seems to have finally prevailed--then it is that Christ achieved the greatest victory and accomplished His mission: "to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

Hail Mary...
Jesus' First Words from the Cross
The Cross was lifted up for all to see--and indeed, people from all the known world were present to witness the Crucifixion, as evidenced by Pilate's need to write the inscription of Jesus' "crime" in Latin and Greek as well as Aramaic: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." And as all people were being drawn to Him (cf. John 12:32-33), watching and mocking the dying King, they heard Him pray, for them, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Second Words from the Cross
As Jesus hung in agony on the Cross, the physical pain of crucifixion was secondary to the real pain in His soul, as the Sinless One bore our sins. Those sins, which separate us from God, weighed heavily on our Lord's heart, as He hung heavily on the cross. Nature itself could not bear to witness our Lord's agony, and so at noon, the sky became as dark as night, and Jesus cried out in Aramaic, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Yet the Father had not forsaken His Son. How could He turn His back? At what moment was His Son more lovely, more beautiful, than now, when out of His pure love for the Father and for us, He became our Sin Offering? And yet, how true it is that when God is closest to us, we can feel that He is so very far away. Yet again, there is another side to Jesus' question, for it is actually a quotation of Psalm 22:1. For those who had ears to hear and minds to discern, Jesus was referencing David's poem which in striking detail predicted this very event--the mocking of the crowds, the travesty of justice, the nails in His hands and feet, the dividing up of His clothes! Most importantly, what seems a psalm of abject despair ends on a note of victorious rejoicing, and all the world will know the power of God!

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Third Words from the Cross
Had the people ears to hear and minds to understand, they would have realised that Christ was proclaiming His victory, His resurrection. Instead, they assumed that He was crying out in a vain appeal for rescue, and they mocked Him even more. Even one of the other criminals crucified with Him mocked Him, daring Him, if He really were the Christ, to save Himself and them, too. But the other thief, whom we revere today as St. Dismas, had been paying attention. A hardened criminal, nevertheless God's grace had illumined his heart, and he did see and understand. And so he rebuked his unbelieving compatriot. He accepted the just punishment for his sins in a spirit of penitence, and he turned to our Lord and asked, not even to be saved, but just, whether Jesus might spare a thought of remembrance for him once He sat on His throne in heaven.

There is nothing that God loves more, or can resist less, than true humility. And Jesus looked at this criminal beside Him, full of love and compassion for him, and promised him, "In truth I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise."

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Fourth Words from the Cross
At Jesus' arrest, all His apostles left Him. Peter and John recovered their courage, and followed Jesus at a distance. Peter, however, having been found out (by a servant girl) denied knowing his Lord three times, and went away weeping bitterly. John was the only one of the twelve apostles to follow Christ all the way to Calvary. There he stood at the foot of the Cross with Mary, Jesus' mother, as well as several other women--for it was the women in Christ's life who showed themselves to be the brave, loyal, and faithful friends of Christ.

Jesus looked down from the Cross, and seeing His Mother there with His beloved disciple, He spoke with a Son's loving concern, "Woman, this is your son." To John, He then said, "Son, this is your mother." Knowing that His Mother, ever-virgin and widowed, now had no one to take care of her, Jesus entrusted her to the care of His most faithful disciple. And John took her into his own home, and loved her as his own mother.

But there is a mystery here that goes beyond simple domestic arrangements and the care of loved ones left behind--as important as those things are. The early Fathers of the Church, and the Tradition of the Church from then to now, has seen in Jesus' words the gift of His Mother to the whole Church and to each Christian, for all of us are His "beloved disciples." At the Cross, when Christ gave Himself up for us completely, He held nothing back--not even His own Mother. When St. John was given his Revelation, he confirmed this truth when, seeing the vision of the glorified Mary in Revelation 12, he refers to "the rest of her children, who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus" (v. 17). The most blessed Virgin Mary is our own Mother! Let us, as beloved disciples, take her into our homes as well.

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Fifth Words from the Cross
After providing for His Mother, and for His Church by giving us His Mother, Jesus knew that everything He had set out to accomplish was now nearing its fulfilment. And now it was time to complete one more thing. At the Last Supper, Jesus had celebrated the Passover Meal with His apostles. He took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to His disciples, now His own flesh. He then took the cup after the meal, blessed it, and gave it to them, now His blood. This cup, as St. Paul tells us, is the "Cup of Blessing." At the Passover meal, there are four cups: The cup of sanctification (Kiddush), the cup of Magid (the telling of the Passover story), the cup of blessing (Birkat Hamazon), and the cup of consummation or praise (Hallel). According to the narrative of St. Luke, after the Cup of Blessing was given to the apostles, the meal ended, and they went out to the Garden of Olives. Further, Jesus had told them that He would never again drink wine "until the kingdom of God comes."

When He was being crucified, St. Mark tells us that Jesus was offered some wine mixed with myrrh as an anaesthetic, but Jesus refused it (Mark 15:23). Now, John tells us that when Jesus knows that all things are fulfilled, He Himself asks for something to drink: "I am thirsty." A nearby guard offered Him more of the sour wine, and this time, Jesus did accept and drink of it. Interestingly, St. John tells us that the wine was given to Jesus on a sprig of hyssop, which was what the ancient Hebrews used to mark their doorposts with the blood of the passover lamb (Exodus 12:22).

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Sixth Words from the Cross
Once Jesus drank from the wine, He proclaimed, "It is finished." What did He mean? What was finished? I believe several things simultaneously reached their consummation: First, the wine Jesus drank was, in essence, the Fourth Passover Cup--the Cup of Hallel. He had brought to completion the Passover Meal that He had left unfinished from the previous night, bringing home to us the truth that He is our Passover Lamb. The second thing that had been fulfilled were all the prophecies concerning His Passion, and all the requirements of animal sacrifices prescribed to forgive sins. He fulfilled all those requirements in His own person on the Cross, once for all. The third thing that was accomplished goes back to Jesus' declaration that He would never drink wine again until the Kingdom of God comes. Now, on the cross, Jesus drank wine, and declared "It is accomplished." That is, the Kingdom of God has come! Through His death on the Cross, Christ has reconciled heaven and earth, and the Kingdom of God is present within us. This is why the Cup of Praise (Hallel) could be drunk on the Cross itself!

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Seventh Words from the Cross
Now that all had been accomplished, Jesus, reminding us that no one could take His life from Him, but that He laid it down freely for us, said in a loud voice, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit." After having said this, He breathed His last. Despite the pain, the suffering, the seeming helplessness, Jesus Christ was in complete control from beginning to end. He died on His terms, even to the surprise of Pilate, who asked the centurion to confirm His death since it had occurred so quickly. And so he does...

Hail Mary...
Jesus' Side is Pierced
In order to hasten the crucifixion of the criminals so that it would be over in time for the Passover to be celebrated and the Sabbath not to be violated, the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves to hasten their asphyxiation caused by hanging in the cruciform position. When they came to Jesus, however, they found Him already dead. The Centurion, though, in order to confirm it, pierced Jesus' heart with a lance. Out of the wound flowed blood and water. For the Centurion, this was confirmation that indeed Jesus had been dead. For St. John and the Church after him, it was the fulfilment of prophecy, that the passover lamb should have none of its bones broken, and that the people would look upon their pierced Messiah (Ex 12:46; Zech 12:10). Further, the Church has always seen in the Blood and Water the very birth of the Church itself, in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Jesus' pierced Heart gives us the source of the Sacraments--the vehicles for His Divine Mercy, as St. Faustina tells us. And these streams continue to pour out graces for the Church, for all those who humbly approach, and pray, "Jesus, I trust in You!"

Hail Mary...
Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two secret disciples of Jesus, both discover some hidden courage, and ask Pilate for Jesus' body, in order to prepare it for burial. As they remove His body from the Cross, they see His sorrowful Mother, and give the body of her Son into her arms in order that she may hold Him one last time. As she holds Jesus' lifeless body, her sorrow is overwhelming, but it is tempered by hope. She will not give in to despair. She knows that Jesus is, as He must be, about His Father's business, and she begins counting the days until she will see Him again. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus then gently took Christ from His mother, and laid Him in a new tomb, anointing His body as a king, and rolled the stone in place. And Mary waited, knowing, in the words of the old song, that "the best is yet to come..."

As I would meditate on this scene, the thought would gradually form in my mind, regarding Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant that we discussed in the first few Rosary Mysteries. I offer these thoughts for your reflection, and not specifically as "official teaching".

The original Ark, in the Old Testament, was surmounted by what was called the "Mercy Seat". This was essentially the Ark's "lid", which had the two kneeling cherumbim on each side. It was on the Mercy Seat that the blood of sacrifices was sprinkled in atonement for sins on the one day of the year when the priest could enter the Holy of Holies--the Day of Atonement. The seat was never occupied, except on the few occasions when the Shekinah cloud of God's glory would overshadow it.

As I would pray my rosary, I would come to this image in my mind, and the thought came to me: The Mercy Seat is now occupied. Mary, Ark of the New Covenant, over whom the Holy Spirit hovered at Jesus' conception, was now covered in the saving blood of her Son as she held Him in her arms, and cradled Him in her lap. Holding Jesus such, she became a seat for Him. When His Sacred Heart was pierced, His Divine Mercy was unleashed in streams of blood and water. Now, the body of God-made-man occupied the Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, as His blood of sacrifice poured out on His Mother. No more would further sacrifices be required. No more would the high priest enter the holy of holies once a year to offer sacrifice. The veil was torn open. The Mercy Seat was occupied. Jesus' Divine Mercy is available to all who will approach the Throne of Grace with confidence!

Let us then endeavour to do so, partaking of the grace and mercy so freely granted to us. Amen!

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

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