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.

Friday of Sorrows

 

As we view the headlines today, and feel sorrow and the need for prayer, we turn to Our Lady on this Friday before Holy Week, traditionally called Friday of Sorrows, a day during Passion Week when we especially remember the sorrows of Our Lady, who suffered with her Divine Son as He was mocked and scourged and crucified.  In the Divine Worship Missal this day is called “St. Mary in Passiontide” and many Spanish-speaking countries, so devoted to the sorrows of Our Lady, consider this the beginning of Holy Week observances, including processions and public acts of penance.

Here is the Collect for this day as found in Divine Worship: The Missal:

O LORD in whose Passion, according to the prophecy of
Simeon, the sword of sorrow did pierce the most loving
soul of thy glorious Virgin Mother Mary: mercifully grant that we, who devoutly call to mind the suffering whereby she was pierced, may, by the glorious merits and prayers of all the Saints who have stood beneath the Cross, obtain with gladness the benefits of thy Passion; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.
Amen.

And because we just can’t let pass an opportunity to post the Stabat Mater, here is a contemporary rendition by Stefano Lenten

Death and Redemption

mary-eve-tree-life-death-1 Remember o man that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.  These words we heard on Ash Wednesday, as our foreheads were signed with ashes, come back to mind today, as the Mass readings present the entrance of death into the paradise God had created.  We were made for life, and for deep communion with God and one another, but the disobedience of Adam and Eve opened up a chasm between God and man which could only be bridged by Our Lord’s Passion and Death.  We were not made for death, but when man’s rebellion brought death into the world, our merciful Father gave us a new path to life through the Blood of His Son.

the-hague-mmw-10-f-17-73rWe tend to shy away from thinking about death, our own death or that of our loved ones, but it is something none of us can escape.  Continuing the practice of the Romans, Christians in past ages made a point to consider the reality of death as part of their spiritual practices.  Memento Mori (remember death), was a common phrase, stamped on holy cards and carved on ivory skulls.  Meditating on the fact that we will one day stand before the throne of God to make an account of our lives gives us pause to consider the course we are on and where it will lead us.

Just yesterday my great-uncle, Milton, passed away at the hour of mercy, surrounded by prayer and family. (Please pray for the blessed repose of his soul, and comfort for his family.)  The grace of a happy death is a grace indeed, and one we should all pray for, but we begin that journey now, with every choice we make.  To assist and support a dying person is one of the greatest works of mercy and charity we can perform, helping them prepare for the most important moment of their entire life: the moment when they step out of time and into eternity, the moment their soul stands before God’s judgement seat.  Reading the prayers for the dying is a sobering experience.  Death often seems like such an abstract, a vague cloud hovering at the edge of our lives or in the back of our minds.  Death takes on a more definite character when I consider that I do not know the day nor the hour, but at the appointed time God, Who created me, will command my soul to His judgement seat where I will make an accounting of my life to Him.

245f0f93d70d3d8278c84bf0a0ead49b-jpgOur Lord is a just judge, but He is also merciful, and in His Church He gives us all that we need to attain eternal life – and not just eternal life, but a deep and transformative relationship with Him here and now as well.  May we take full advantage of the graces of this penitential season and re-commit ourselves to following Our Lord closely on the path of life.  We may sometimes lose our way; we may, either willfully or by mistake, take a wrong turn, but as soon as we realize that Jesus is no longer in sight we can run to confession and plunge our souls into the cleansing water of mercy and forgiveness.  Death is the fate  of all men, but it is not the end.  We make our choice now by the choices we make each day, so let us choose for God.

Light & Shadow

The symbolic interplay of light and shadows comes to life in the events of Holy Week.  Today, Spy Wednesday, we watch as Judas trades his Master for a pittance, and now looks for an opportunity to betray Jesus.  Darkness begins to swallow the Light of the World.  We must closely accompany Our Lord through these days of sorrow and glory as He teaches us, by word and deed, the true meaning of life, and love and sacrifice.

Tenebrae, Latin for shadows, is a liturgical service of ancient origin, with beginnings in the fifth century.  Celebrated in the evening on Spy Wednesday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, it anticipates the next day.  This rich and beautiful practice has been revived in many dioceses, and we are very blessed to make it a part of our yearly Holy Week devotions. Please consider enriching your Holy Week by attending Tenebrae at Our Lady of the Atonement, beginning this evening at 7pm.  Click here for more information and times.

Help for the Journey

wyczolkowski-bochnia

We each received a beautiful book for Laetare Sunday, a little Lenten gift to help us on the journey: Meditations for Lent by Bishop Bossuet.  Can’t say we’ve read much of him before, but his writings are lyrical and poetic, and it’s easy to see why he has been compared to St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom.

There’s a beautiful meditation for each day of Lent, and we just wanted to share a little bit from Sunday’s reading:

…It is with respect to the life of Christian righteousness that St. Paul says, “and your life is hidden.”  Set free from human judgment, we should count as true only what God sees in us, what he knows, and what he judges.  God does not judge as man does.  Man sees only the countenance, only the exterior.  God penetrates to the depths of our hearts.  God does not change as man does.  His judgment is in no way inconstant.  He is the only one upon whom we should rely.  How happy we are then, and how peaceful!  We are no longer dazzled by appearances, or stirred up by opinions; we are united to the truth and depend upon it alone.

I am praised, blamed, treated with indifference, disdained, ignored, or forgotten; none of this can touch me.  I will be no less than I am.  Men and women want to play at being a creator.  They want to give me existence in their opinion, but this existence that they want to give me is nothingness.  It is an illusion, a shadow, an appearance, that is, at bottom, nothingness.  What is this shadow, always following me, behind me, at my side?  Is it me, or something that belongs to me?  No.  Yet does not this shadow seem to move with me?  No matter:  it is not me.  So it is with the judgments of men:  they would follow me everywhere, paint me, sketch me, make me move according to their whim, and, in the end, give me some sort of existence.  But in the end, I know it well:  this is only a flickering light that takes me from one side or the other, that lengthens, shortens, swells, or shrinks the shadow that follows me, that makes it appear in various ways and disappear without my gaining or losing anything of my own.  And what is this image of myself that I see reflected in the flowing stream?  It blurs and erases itself; it disappears when the water is stirred up, but what have I lost?  Nothing but a useless amusement.  So it is with the opinions and judgments men form according to their lights;  Alas, not only do I amuse myself with them as with a game; I stop, and I take them for something serious and true, and this shadow, this fragile image troubles me and makes me anxious, and I believe myself to be losing something.  But I am disabused of this error.  I am content with a hidden life.  How peaceful it is!  Whether I truly live this Christian life of which St. Paul speaks, I do not know, nor can I know with certainty. But I hope that I do, and I trust in God’s goodness to help me.

Hope this little nugget helps you on your Lenten pilgrimage!

 

Purifying Our Spirit

 

Catherine of Cleves distributing almsWhat the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin

-Pope St. Leo the Great

The saints said it best, and today’s second reading from the Office of Readings fits in perfectly with what we talked about yesterday on A Good Habit.  Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are what the Church asks us to do during Lent.  Actually, we are called to do  this always, but we intensify our practice during Lent as we work to detach from sin in our lives.  Being God-centered (prayer), and other-oriented (almsgiving), as well as mortifying our appetites (fasting) helps us to detach from our vices, addictions and sinful habits and attach to our Loving Redeemer.

But you don’t have to take our word for it, you can listen to what Pope St. Leo the Great had to say about it:

Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens, the sea and all that is Continue reading