O Life, How Can You Die?

 

In a tomb they laid You, O Christ the Life. The angelic hosts were overcome with awe and glorified Your condescension.
O Life, how can You die? How can You dwell in a tomb? Yet by Your death You have destroyed the reign of death and raised all the dead from Hell.

The music of Holy Week is the most beautiful of all the liturgical year, whether in the Western Church or the East, or in the Orthodox Church.  The words above are taken from the Lamentations for Holy and Great Saturday in the Orthodox Church.  These are sung as part of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday, during a unique service that takes place on Good Friday  evening.

A tomb festooned with flowers is erected in the church upon which is placed a life-sized icon of the dead Savior, called the epitaphios, or winding sheet, around which the service is centered.  You can read more about the service here.  One beautiful part which struck us is that after a procession around the outside of the church with the epitaphios, the faithful enter the church again by passing under the icon, signifying their entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ.

As with so much of the Eastern and Orthodox liturgy, the words of the many chants are poetic and sublime.  Below are the three Lamentations sung professionally by a Greek Orthodox Church in California.  They make an ethereal and contemplative background for your Holy Saturday as you prepare for the Mother of All Feasts tonight, the Easter Vigil.

The words (though not this exact translation) of the Lamentations, as well as many of the other Holy Week chants may be found here.

 

The Institution of the Eucharist

The Holy Sacrament Altarpiece, by Dieric Bouts, is an important piece of Flemish art with an interesting story. The work presents the Last Supper in the central panel, surrounded by four panels showing Old Testament pre-figurements of the Eucharist. It was commissioned by the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament for a church in Leuven, with specific instructions given by the two commissioning theology professors. Unlike traditional depictions of the Last Supper, which show Our Lord announcing the betrayal of Judas, they wanted this painting to depict Our Lord and His apostles at the moment when He first instituted the Eucharist.  You can read more about the piece here.

Eucharistic devotion was very strong in the Southern Netherlands, and there were many confraternities there devoted to the Blessed Sacrament.  In fact, there was a special sort of tabernacle in use in Germany and the Low Countries, called a sacrament house.  The Church prohibited them in the 1860s in order to make reservation of the Blessed Sacrament more uniform in tabernacles, but for 400 years they were in use.  The oldest known example is in this same church, St Peter’s in Leuven, where the Bouts altarpiece is located.  Many sacrament houses were destroyed during the iconoclasm of the reformation, but there are still examples extant, and you also see them in many Flemish paintings, although I must say, I have never really noticed them until now.  A sacrament house was a large tower shaped structure, usually located on the north side of the church, intricately carved, sometimes with stairs and a railing leading up to it, where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved.  The door had a grille or lattice, so that the Eucharist could be seen at all times.

For our community, Holy Thursday is an important feast: The beginning of the Sacred Triduum, and the day on which Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist.  His Real Presence is the Sun around which our lives as adorers revolve.  And mixed with the joy of this gift He gives us, we have the sorrow of the Passion, about to begin in earnest after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  For all our PCPA houses this is a sad day because Jesus is removed from the monstrance, removed from the tabernacle, and taken to the altar of repose.  And though we follow him there, the open tabernacle is like a gaping wound, there is no mistaking the empty feeling that takes over the darkened chapel during these three days that He is absent.  We will follow Him to the Garden, follow Him as He is dragged before His many accusers, Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin; we will follow Him to prison, to Pilate, to Herod, and finally, we will follow Him along the Via Dolorosa, and to Calvary.  With Our Lady as Mother and guide, we will accompany Him, in our own inadequate way, throughout the events of our redemption, awaiting His victory over death and hell, and His return to our midst.

Spy Wednesday Traditions

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

-Mt 26:14-16

Tonight we begin Tenebrae, one of the beautiful Holy Week practices to which we look forward each year.  Although Holy Week began with Palm Sunday, it seems that after Sunday we don’t really “get into the good stuff” liturgically until Spy Wednesday rolls around.  In the Orthodox Church Holy and Great Wednesday is marked by the chanting of a beautiful, medieval hymn commemorating the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoints them with nard, as read in Matthew 26:6-16, the Gospel for Holy Wednesday in the Orthodox Church.

The Hymn of Kassiani, or Troparion of Kassiani (in Byzantine music a troparion is a short hymn of one stanza, or a series of stanzas) is written from the perspective of the sinful woman, and this hymn is sung only once a year. Following the custom of beginning a feast the preceding evening, it is sung on Tuesday evening at the Matins and Presanctified Liturgy of Holy Wednesday.  The words are beautiful, and adding to this is the tradition behind this hymn and its author. Continue reading

The King’s Welcome: Calvary

1846 Christs_Entry_into_Jerusalem_Hippolyte_FlandrinFrom Fulton J. Sheen’s Life of Christ:

It was the month of Nisan.  The Book of Exodus ordered that in this month the Paschal Lamb was to be selected, and four days later was to be taken to the place where it was to be sacrificed.  On Palm Sunday, the Lamb was chosen by popular acclaim in Jerusalem; on Good Friday He was sacrificed.

His last Sabbath Our Lord spent in Bethany with Lazarus and his sisters.  news was now circulated that Our Lord was coming into Jerusalem.  In preparation for His entrance, He sent two of His disciples into the village, where they were told they would find a colt tethered on which no man had ridden.  they were to untie it and bring it to Him.

And if anybody asks you,
Why are you untying it?
This must be your answer,
The Lord hath need of it.
Luke 19:31

Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this – on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other His “need.”  This combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was the consequence of the Word becoming flesh.  Truly, He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might be rich.  He borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; He borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed the multitude; He borrowed a grave from which He would rise; and now He borrowed an ass on which to enter Jerusalem.  Sometime God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from Him.  It is sufficient for those who know Him to hear:  “The Lord hath need of it.”

As he approached the city, a “great multitude” came to meet Him; among them were not only the citizens but also those who had come up for the feast and, of course, the Pharisees.  The Roman authorities also were on the alert during great feasts lest there be an insurrection.  On all previous occasions, Our Lord rejected the false enthusiasm of the people, fled the spotlight of publicity, and avoided anything that savored of display.  At one time:

He strictly forbade them to tell any man
That He, Jesus, was the Christ
Matthew 16:20

When He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead:

He laid a strict charge on them
To let nobody hear of this.
Mark 5:43

After revealing the glory of His Divinity in the Transfiguration:

He warned them not to tell anyone what they had seen,
Until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
Mark 9:8

When the multitudes, after the miracle of the loaves, sought make Him king:

He withdrew on to the hillside all alone.
John 6:15

When His relatives asked Him to go to Jerusalem and publicly astound the festival with miracles, He said:

My Hour is not yet come.
John 7:6

But the entrance into Jerusalem was so public, that even the Pharisees said:

Look, the whole world has trend aside to follow Him.
John 12:19

All this was in opposition to His usual manner.  Before he dampened all their enthusiasms; now He kindled them.  Why?

Because His “Hour” had come.  It was time now for Him to make the last public affirmation of His claims.  He knew it would lead to Calvary, and His Ascension and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth.  Once He acknowledged their praise, then there were only two courses open to the city: confess Him as did Peter, or else crucify.  Either He was their King, or else they would have no king but Caesar.  No Galilean seacoast or mountaintop, but the royal city on the Passover was the best time to make His last proclamation.

He drew attention to His Kingship in two ways, first by the fulfillment of a prophecy familiar to the people, and second by the tributes of Divinity which He accepted as His own.

Matthew explicitly states that the solemn procession was to fulfill the prophecy made by Zacharias years before:

Tell the daughter of Sion,
Behold Thy King is coming to Thee,
Humbly riding on as ass.
Matthew 21:5

The prophecy came from God through a prophet, and now God Himself was bringing it to fulfillment.  The prophecy of Zacharias was meant to contrast the majesty and the humility of the Savior.  As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Roman columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes.  In contrast to this, here is One Who comes triumphant upon an ass.  How Pilate, if he was looking out of his fortress that Sunday, must have been amused by the ridiculous spectacle of a man being proclaimed as a King, and yet seated on the beast that was the symbol of the outcast – a fitting vehicle for one riding into the jaws of death!  If He had entered into the city with regal pomp in the manner of conquerors, He would have given occasion to believe that He was a political Messias.  But the circumstance He chose validated His claim that His Kingdom was not of this world.  There is no suggestion that this pauper King was a rival of Caesar.

The acclaim of the people was another acknowledgment of His Divinity.  Many took off  their garments and spread them before Him; others cut down boughs from the olive trees and palm branches and strewed them on the way.  The Apocalypse speaks of a great multitude standing before the Throne of the Lamb with palms of victory in their hands.  Here the palms, so often used throughout their history to signify victory, as when Simon Maccabeus entered Jerusalem, witnessed to His victory – even before He was vanquished.

Then taking verses from the great Hillel which referred to the Messias, the multitudes followed Him, shouting:

Blessed is the King
Who comes in the name of the Lord;
Peace in heaven; glory above.
Luke 19:38

Admitting now that He was the One sent by God,  they practically repeated the song of the angels of Bethlehem, for the peace He brought was the reconciliation of earth and heaven.  Repeated too is the salutation the Wise Men gave Him at the crib: “The King of Israel.”

Hosanna for the Son of David;
Hosanna in heaven above
Matthew 21:9
King of Israel.
John 12:13

He was the promised Prince of David’s line; the One Who came with a Divine Mission.  Hosanna, which was originally a prayer, was now a triumphant welcome to a Savior King.  Not wholly understanding why He was sent, nor the kind of peace He would bring, they nevertheless confessed that He was Divine. The only ones who did not share in their acclaim were the Pharisees:

Some of the Pharisees who were among the multitude
Said to Him:  Master, rebuke They disciples.
Luke 19:39

It was unusual that they should have appealed to Our Lord, since they were disgusted with Him for having accepted homage from he crowds.

With awful majesty, Our Lord retorted:

I tell you, if they should keep silence
The stones will cry out instead.
Luke 19:40

If men were silent, nature itself would cry out and proclaim His Divinity.  Stones are hard, but if they would cry out, then how much harder must be the hearts of men who would not recognize God’s mercy before them.  If the disciples were silent, enemies would have nothing to gain, for mountains and seas would become vocal.

The entry has been called triumphant; but well He knew that “Hosannas” would change to “Crucify,” that palms would be turned into spears.  Amid the shouts of the multitude He could hear the whispers of a Judas and the angry voices before Pilate’s palace.  The throne to which He was hailed was a Cross, and His real coronation would be a Crucifixion.  Garments aplenty beneath His feet today, but on Friday He would be denied even His own.  From the very beginning He knew what was in the heart of man, and never once did He suggest that the Redemption of men’s souls could be accomplished by vocal fireworks.   Though He was a King, and though they now admitted Him as their King and Lord, He knew the King’s welcome which awaited Him was to be Calvary.

Tears were in His eyes, not because of the Cross which awaited Him, but because of the woes impending over those whom He came to save and would have none of Him.  Looking over the city:

He wept over it, and said;
Ah, if Thou too couldst understand
Above all in this day that is granted thee,
The ways that can bring Thee peace!
As it is, they are hidden from they sight.
Luke 19: 41, 42

He saw with historical accuracy the descent of the forces of Titus, and yet the eyes that saw the future so clearly were almost blinded with tears.  He spoke of Himself as willing and able to have averted that doom by gathering the guilty ones under HIs wing as the hen doth gather chickens, but they would not.  As the great patriot of all ages, He looked beyond His own suffering and fixed His eye on the city that rejected Love.  To see evil, and to be unable to remedy it because of human perversity, is the greatest anguish of all. To see the wickedness and be baffled by the waywardness of the evildoer is enough to break a heart.  The father is cast down with anguish when he sees the wrongdoing of his son. What prompted His tears were the eyes that would not see and the ears that would not hear.

In the life of every individual and in the life of every nation, there are three moments:  a time of visitation or privilege in the form of a blessing from God; a time of rejection in which the Divine is forgotten: and a time of doom or disaster.  Judgment (or disaster) is the consequence of human decisions and proves that the world is guided by God’s presence.  His tears over the city showed Him as the Lord of History, giving men grace, and yet never destroying their freedom to reject it. But in disobeying His will, men destroy themselves; in stabbing Him, it is their own hearts they slay; in denying Him, it is their city and their nation that they bring to ruin.  Such was the message of His tears as the King goes to the Cross.

Prayer for Priests

the-savior-juan-de-juanesPrayer for Priests

O Jesus, I pray for your priests;
for your faithful and fervent priests,
your unfaithful and tepid priests;
for your priests laboring
at home or abroad
in distant mission fields;
for your tempted priests;
for your lonely and desolate priests,;
for your young priests;
for your sick priests;
for your dying priests;
for your persecuted priests;
for the souls of your priests
in purgatory;
for all your priests worldwide.
Above all,
I recommend to You the priests
dearest to me –
the priest who baptized me;
the priests who have absolved me
from my sins;
the priests who presided at Masses
I attended;
all the priests to whom I am indebted
in any way.
O Jesus,
keep them close to Your heart,
and bless them abundantly
unto eternity.
Amen.

Some more prayers for priests can be found here and here.