April 3, 2020: SEVEN SORROWS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Rank: Greater Double.
[Friday after I Sunday of the Passion]
“And thy own soul a sword shall pierce that out of many hearts thoughts
may be revealed.”
(St. Luke, ii. 35)
Thou art overwhelmed with grief and tears, O Virgin Mary, standing by the cross of our Lord Jesus thy Son, the Redeemer.
Remember, O Virgin mother of God, whilst thou standest in the presence of the Lord, to speak in our favour, that he may turn away his wrath from us.
O God, in whose passion, according to Simeon's prophecy, the sword of grief pierced the sweet soul of glorious Mary, the Virgin Mother; grant in thy mercy that we, who with honour commemorate her sorrows and sufferings, may be helped by the glorious merits and prayers of all the saints that faithfully stood by thy cross, so as to partake of the happy fruits of thy passion. Who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
This Friday of Passion Week is consecrated, in a special manner, to the sufferings which the Holy Mother of God endured at the foot of the Cross. The whole of next week is fully taken up with the celebration of the mysteries of Jesus' Passion; and, although the remembrance of Mary's share in those sufferings is often brought before the Faithful during Holy Week, yet, the thought of what her Son, our Divine Redeemer, goes through for our salvation, so absorbs our attention and love, that it is not then possible to honour, as it deserves, the sublime mystery of the Mother's Compassion.
It was but fitting, therefore, that one day in the year should be set apart for this sacred duty; and what day could be more appropriate, than the Friday of this Week, which, though sacred to the Passion, admits the celebration of Saints' Feasts, as we have already noticed? As far back as the 15th century, (that is, in the year 1423,) we find the pious Archbishop of Cologne, Theodoric, prescribing this Feast to be kept by his people. It was gradually introduced, and with the connivance of the Holy See, into several other countries; and at length,… Pope Benedict the Thirteenth, by a decree dated August 22nd, 1727, ordered it to be kept in the whole Church, under the name of the Feast of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for, up to that time, it had gone under various names. We will explain the title thus given to it, as also the first origin of the devotion of the Seven Dolours, when our Liturgical Year brings us to the [15th] of September, the second Feast of Mary's Dolours. What the Church proposes to her children's devotion for this Friday of Passion Week, is that one special Dolour of Mary,—her standing at the Foot of the Cross. Among the various titles given to this Feast,—before it was extended, by the Holy See to the whole Church,—we may mention, Our Lady of Pity, The Compassion of our Lady, and the one that was so popular throughout France, Notre Dame de la Pamoison. These few historical observations prove that this Feast was dear to the devotion of the people, even before it received the solemn sanction of the Church.
That we may clearly understand the object of this Feast, and spend it, as the Church would have us do, in paying due honour to the Mother of God and of men,—we must recall to our minds this great truth: that God, in the designs of his infinite wisdom, has willed that Mary should have a share in the work of the world's Redemption. The mystery of the present Feast is one of the applications of this Divine law, a law which reveals to us the whole magnificence of God's Plan; it is also, one of the many realisations of the prophecy, that Satan's pride was to be crushed by a Woman. In the work of our Redemption, there are three interventions of Mary, that is, she is thrice called upon to take part in what God himself did. The first of these was in the Incarnation of the Word, who takes not Flesh in her virginal womb until she has given her consent to become his Mother; and this she gave by that solemn FIAT which blessed the world with a Saviour. The second was in the sacrifice which Jesus consummated on Calvary, where she was present, that she might take part in the expiatory offering. The third was on the day of Pentecost, when she received the Holy Ghost, as did the Apostles, in order that she might effectively labour in the establishment of the Church. […] To-day we must show what part she took in the mystery of her Son's Passion; we must tell the sufferings, the Dolours, she endured at the foot of the Cross, and the claims she thereby won to our filial gratitude.
On the fortieth day after the Birth of our Emmanuel, we followed, to the Temple, the happy Mother carrying her Divine Babe in her arms. A venerable old man was there, waiting to receive her Child; and, when he had him in his arms, he proclaimed him to be the Light of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. But, turning to the Mother, he spoke to her these heart-rending words: Behold! this Child is set to be a sign that shall he contradicted, and a sword shall pierce thine own soul. This prophecy of sorrow for the Mother told us that the holy joys of Christmas were over, and that the season of trial, for both Jesus and Mary, had begun. It had, indeed, begun; for, from the night of the Fight into Egypt, up to this present day, when the malice of the Jews is plotting the great crime,—what else has the life of our Jesus been, but the bearing humiliation, insult, persecution, and ingratitude? And if so, what has the Mother gone through?—what ceaseless anxiety? what endless anguish of heart? But, let us pass by all her other sufferings, and come to the morning of the great Friday.
Mary knows, that on the previous night, her Son has been betrayed by one of his Disciples, that is, by one that Jesus had numbered among his intimate friends; she herself had often given him proofs of her maternal affection. After a cruel Agony, her Son has been manacled as a malefactor, and led by armed men to Caiphas, his worst enemy. Thence, they have dragged him before the Roman Governor, whose sanction the Chief Priests and the Scribes must have before they can put Jesus to death. Mary is in Jerusalem; Magdalene, and the other holy women, the friends of Jesus, are with her; but they cannot prevent her from hearing the loud shouts of the people, and if they could, how is such a heart as hers to be slow in its forebodings? The report spreads rapidly through the City that the Roman Governor is being urged to sentence Jesus to be crucified. Whilst the entire populace is on the move towards Calvary, shouting out their blasphemous insults at her Jesus,—will his Mother keep away, she that bore him in her womb, and fed him at her breast? Shall his enemies be eager to glut their eyes with the cruel sight, and his own Mother be afraid to be near him?
The air resounded with the yells of the mob. Joseph of Arimathia, the noble counsellor, was not there, neither was the learned Nicodemus; they kept at home, grieving over what was done. The crowd that went before and after the Divine Victim was made up of wretches without hearts, saving only a few who were seen to weep as they went along; they were women; Jesus saw them, and spoke to them. And if these women, from mere sentiments of veneration, or, at most, of gratitude, thus testified their compassion,—would Mary do less? could she bear to be elsewhere than close to her Jesus? Our motive for insisting so much upon this point, is that we may show our detestation of that school of modern rationalism, which, regardless of the instincts of a mother's heart and of all tradition, has dared to call in question the Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way to Calvary. These systematic contradictors are too prudent to deny that Mary was present when Jesus was crucified; the Gospel is too explicit,—Mary stood near the Gross (St. John, xix. 25): but, they would persuade us, that whilst the Daughters of Jerusalem courageously walked after Jesus, Mary went up to Calvary by some secret path! What a heartless insult to the love of the incomparable Mother.
No,—Mary, who is, by excellence, the Valiant Woman (Prov, xxxi. 10), was with Jesus as he carried his Cross. And who could describe her anguish and her love, as her eye met that of her Son tottering under his heavy load? Who could tell the affection, and the resignation, of the look he gave her in return? Who could depict the eager and respectful tenderness wherewith Magdalene and the other holy women grouped around this Mother, as she followed her Jesus up Calvary, there to see him crucified and die? The distance between the Fourth and Tenth Station of the Dolorous Way is long:—it is marked with Jesus' Blood, and the Mother's tears.
Jesus and Mary have reached the summit of the hill, that is to be the Altar of the holiest and cruelest Sacrifice: but the divine decree permits not the Mother as yet to approach her Son. When the Victim is ready, then She that is to offer him shall come forward. Meanwhile, they nail her Jesus to the Cross; and each blow of the hammer was a wound to Mary's heart. When, at last, she is permitted to approach, accompanied by the Beloved Disciple, (who has made amends for his cowardly flight,) and the disconsolate Magdalene and the other holy women,—what unutterable anguish must have filled the soul of this Mother, when, raising up her eyes, she sees the mangled Body of her Son, stretched upon the Cross, with his face all covered with blood, and his head wreathed with a crown of thorns!
Here, then, is this King of Israel, of whom the Angel had told her such glorious things in his prophecy! Here is that Son of hers, whom she has loved both as her God and as the fruit of her own womb! And who are they that have reduced him to this pitiable state? Men,—for whose sakes, rather than for her own, she conceived him, gave him birth, and nourished him! Oh! if, by one of those miracles, which his Heavenly Father could so easily work, he might be again restored to her! If that Divine Justice, which he has taken upon himself to appease, would be satisfied with what he has already suffered!—but no; he must die; he must breathe forth his blessed Soul after a long and cruel agony.
Mary, then, is at the foot of the Cross, there to witness the death of her Son. He is soon to be separated from her. In three hours' time, all that will be left her of this beloved Jesus will be a lifeless Body, wounded from head to foot. Our words are too cold for such a scene as this: let us listen to those of St. Bernard, which the Church has inserted in her Matins of this Feast. “O Blessed Mother! a sword of sorrow pierced thy soul, and we may well call thee more than Martyr, for the intensity of thy compassion surpassed all that a bodily passion could produce. Could any sword have made thee smart so much as that word which pierced thy heart, reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit: ‘Woman! behold thy son!’ What an exchange!—John, for Jesus! the servant, for the Lord! the disciple, for the Master! the son of Zebedee, for the Son of God! a mere man, for the very God! How must not thy most loving heart have been pierced with the sound of these words, when even ours, that are hard as stone and steel, break down as we think of them! Ah! my Brethren, be not surprised when you are told that Mary was a Martyr in her soul. Let him alone be surprised, who has forgotten that St. Paul counts it as one of the greatest sins of the Gentiles, that they were without affection. Who could say that of Mary? God forbid it be said of us, the servants of Mary!”
Amidst the shouts and insults vociferated by the enemies of Jesus, Mary's quick ear has heard these words, which tell her, that the only son she is henceforth to have on earth is one of adoption. Her maternal joys of Bethlehem and Nazareth are all gone; they make her present sorrow the bitterer: she was the Mother of a God, and men have taken him from her! Her last and fondest look at her Jesus, her own dearest Jesus, tells her that he is suffering a burning thirst, and she cannot give him to drink! His eyes grow dim; his head droops;—all is consummated!
Mary cannot leave the Cross; love brought her thither; love keeps her there, whatever may happen! A soldier advances near that hallowed spot; she sees him lift up his spear, and thrust it through the breast of the sacred Corpse. “Ah,” cries out St. Bernard, “that thrust is through thy soul, O Blessed Mother! It could but open his side, but it pierced thy very soul. His Soul was not there; thine was, and could not but be so.” No, the undaunted Mother keeps close to the Body of her Son. She watches them as they take it down from the Cross; and when, at last, the friends of Jesus, with all the respect due to both Mother and Son, enable her to embrace it, she raises it upon her lap, and He that once lay upon her knees receiving the homage of the Eastern Kings, now lays there cold, mangled, bleeding, dead! And as she looks upon the wounds of this divine Victim, she gives them the highest honour in the power of creatures,—she kisses them, she bathes them with her tears, she adores them, but oh! with what intensity of loving grief!
The hour is far advanced; and before sunset, he,—Jesus,—the author of life,—must be buried. The Mother puts the whole vehemence of her love into a last kiss, and oppressed with a bitterness great as is the sea (Lament, i. 4; ii. 13), she makes over this adorable Body to them that have to embalm and then lay it on the sepulchral slab. The sepulchre is closed; and Mary,—accompanied by John, her adopted son, and Magdalene, and the holy women, and the two disciples that have presided over the Burial,—returns sorrowing to the deicide City.
Now, in all this, there is another mystery besides that of Mary's sufferings. Her dolours at the Foot of the Cross include and imply a truth, which we must not pass by, or we shall not understand the full beauty of to-day's Feast. Why would God have her assist in person at such a scene as this of Calvary? Why was not she, as well as Joseph, taken out of this world before this terrible day of Jesus' Death?—Because God had assigned her a great office for that day, and it was to be under the Tree of the Cross that she, the second Eve, was to discharge her office. As the heavenly Father had waited for her consent before he sent his Son into the world; so, likewise, he called for her obedience and devotedness, when the hour came for that Son to be offered up in sacrifice for the world's Redemption. Was not Jesus hers? her Child? her own and dearest treasure? And yet, God gave him not to her, until she had assented to become his Mother; in like manner, he would not take him from her, unless she gave him back.
But, see what this involved, see what a struggle it entailed upon this most loving Heart! It is the injustice, the cruelty, of men that rob her of her Son; how can she, his Mother, ratify, by her consent, the Death of Him, whom she loved with a twofold love,—as her Son, and as her God? But, on the other hand,—if Jesus be not put to death, the human race is left a prey to Satan, sin is not atoned for, and all the honours and joys of her being Mother of God are of no use or blessing to us. This Virgin of Nazareth, this noblest heart, this purest creature, whose affections were never blunted with the selfishness which so easily makes its way into souls that have been wounded by original sin,—what shall she do? Her devotedness to mankind, her conformity with the will of her Son who so vehemently desires the world's salvation, lead her, a second time, to pronounce the solemn FIAT:—she consents to the immolation of her Son. It is not God's justice that takes him from her; it is she herself that gives him up;—but, in return, she is raised to a degree of greatness, which her humility could never have suspected was to be hers:—an ineffable union is made to exist between the two offerings, that of the Incarnate Word and that of Mary; the Blood of the Divine Victim, and the Tears of the Mother, flow together for the redemption of mankind.
We can now understand the conduct and the courage of this Mother of Sorrows. Unlike that other mother, of whom the Scripture speaks,—the unhappy Agar, who, after having sought in vain how she might quench the thirst of her Ismael in the desert, withdrew from him that she might not see him die;—Mary no sooner hears that Jesus is condemned to death, than she rises, hastens to him, and follows him to the place where he is to die. And what is her attitude at the foot of his cross? Does her matchless grief overpower her? Does she swoon? or fall? No: the Evangelist says: “There stood by the Cross of Jesus, his Mother.” (St. John, xix. 25) The sacrificing Priest stands, when offering at the altar; Mary stood for such a sacrifice as hers was to be. St. Ambrose,—whose affectionate heart and profound appreciation of the mysteries of religion have revealed to us so many precious traits of Mary's character,—thus speaks of her position at the foot of the Cross: “She stood opposite the Cross, gazing, with maternal love, on the wounds of her Son; and thus she stood, not waiting for her Jesus to die, but for the world to be saved.”
Thus, this Mother of Sorrows, when standing on Calvary, blessed us who deserved but maledictions; she loved us; she sacrificed her Son for our salvation. In spite of all the feelings of her maternal heart, she gave back to the Eternal Father the divine treasure he had entrusted to her keeping. The sword pierced through and through her soul,—but we were saved; and she, though a mere creature, cooperated with her Son in the work of our salvation. Can we wonder, after this, that Jesus chose this moment for the making her the Mother of men, in the person of John the Evangelist, who represented us? Never had Mary's Heart loved us as she did then; from that time forward, therefore, let this second Eve be the true Mother of the living! (Gen, iii. 20) The Sword, by piercing her Immaculate Heart, has given us admission there. For time and eternity, Mary will extend to us the love she has borne for her Son, for she has just heard him saying to her that we are her children. He is our Lord, for he has redeemed us; She is our Lady, for she generously co-operated in our redemption.
Animated by this confidence, O Mother of Sorrows! we come before thee, on this Feast of thy Dolours, to offer thee our filial love. Jesus, the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, filled thee with joy as thou gavest him birth; we, thy adopted children, entered into thy Heart by the cruel piercing of the Sword of Suffering. And yet, O Mary! love us, for thou didst co-operate with our Divine Redeemer in saving us. How can we not trust in the love of thy generous Heart, when we know, that, for our salvation, thou didst unite thyself to the Sacrifice of thy Jesus? What proofs hast thou not unceasingly given us of thy maternal tenderness, O Queen of Mercy! O Refuge of Sinners! O untiring Advocate for us in all our miseries! Deign, sweet Mother, to watch over us, during these days of grace. Give us to feel and relish the Passion of thy Son. It was consummated in thy presence; thine own share in it was magnificent! Oh! make us enter into all its mysteries, that so our souls, redeemed by the Blood of thy Son, and helped by thy Tears, may be thoroughly converted to the Lord, and persevere, henceforward, faithful in his service.
In honour of the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Click here, for the Latin version.
(An indulgence of 100 days to those who devoutly repeat the Stabat Mater in honour of the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.)
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has pass’d.
sad and sore distress’d
Was that mother highly blest
Of the sole begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm’d in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear mother to behold!
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain
In that mother’s pain untold?
Bruis’d, derided, curs’d, defil’d,
She beheld her tender Child,
All with bloody scourges rent;
For the sins of His own nation
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou mother! Fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with thine accord;
Make me feel as thou hast felt,
Make my soul to glow and melt,
With the love of Christ my Lord.
Holy Mother pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew,
Of my Saviour crucified.
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the Cross with thee to stay;
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share thy grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death,
Of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with His every wound
Steep my soul till it hath swooned,
In His very Blood away.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful judgment day.
Christ, when thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy mother, my defence,
Be Thy Cross my victory;
While my body here decays
May my soul Thy goodness praise
Safe in Paradise with thee.
Happy senses of the blessed Virgin Mary, who without dying, merited the crown of martyrdom, under the cross of the Lord.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Passiontide and Holy Week, Edition 1870; and
The Missal for the Laity according to the use of the Holy Roman Church, 1846.
Related Links –
1. The Passiontide and Holy Week.
2. The Holy Season of Lent.
3. Laws of Fasting and Abstinence.
4. Perfect Contrition.
5. The Seven Penitential Psalms.
6. Devotion to our Lord’s Passion.
7. Devotion to our Lady’s Sorrows.
Virgin most Sorrowful, pray for us.
April 2, 2020: ST. FRANCIS OF PAULA, CONFESSOR
[Founder of the Order of Minims]
“The just shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.
They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of the house of our God.”
(Ps, xci. 13, 14)
O God, who exaltest the humble, and didst raise blessed Francis to the glory of thy saints; grant, we beseech thee, that, thro’ his merits, and by following his example, we may happily obtain those rewards, which thou hast promised to the humble. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The founder of a Religious Order, whose distinguishing characteristics were humility and penance, comes before us to-day: it is Francis of Paula. Let us study his virtues and beg his intercession. His whole life was one of great innocence; and yet, we find him embracing, from his earliest youth, mortifications which, now-a-days, would not be expected from the very worst sinners. How was it that he could do so much? and we, who have so often sinned, do so little? The claims of Divine Justice are as strong now as ever they were; for God never changes, nor can the offence we have committed against him by our sins be pardoned, unless we make atonement. The Saints punished themselves, with life-long and austere penances, for the slightest sins; and the Church can scarcely induce us to observe the law of Lent, though it is now reduced to the lowest degree of severity.
What is the cause of this want of the spirit of expiation and penance? It is that our Faith is weak, and our Love of God is cold, because our thoughts and affections are so set upon this present life, that we seldom if ever consider things in the light of Eternity. How many of us are like the King of France, who having obtained permission from the Pope that St. Francis of Paula should come and live near him, threw himself at the Saint's feet, and besought him to obtain of God that he, the King, might have a long life! Louis the 11th had led a most wicked life; but his anxiety was, not to do penance for his sins, but to obtain, by the Saint's prayers, a prolongation of a career, which had been little better than a storing up wrath for the day of wrath. We, too, love this present life; we love it to excess. The laws of Fasting and Abstinence are broken, not because the obeying them would endanger life, or even seriously injure health,—for, where either of these is to be feared, the Church, does not enforce her Lenten penances: but people dispense themselves from Fasting and Abstinence, because the spirit of immortification renders every privation intolerable, and every interruption of an easy comfortable life insupportable. They have strength enough for any fatigue that business or pleasure call for; but the moment there is question of observing those laws, which the Church has instituted for the interest of body as well as of the soul, all seems impossible; the conscience gets accustomed to these annual transgressions, and ends by persuading the sinner that he may be saved without doing penance.
St. Francis of Paula was of a very different way of thinking and acting. The Church gives us the following abridged account of his life.
Francis was born at Paula, an unimportant town of Calabria. His parents, who were for a long time without children, obtained him from heaven, after having made a vow, and prayed to St. Francis. When very young, being inflamed with the love of God, he withdrew into a desert, where, for six years, he led an austere life, but one that was sweetened by heavenly contemplations. The fame of his virtues having spread abroad, many persons went to him, out of a desire to be trained in virtue. Out of a motive of fraternal charity, he left his solitude, built a Church near Paula, and there laid the foundation of his Order.
He had a wonderful gift of preaching. He observed virginity during his whole life. Such was his love for humility, that he called himself the last of all men, and would have his disciples named Minims. His dress was of the coarsest kind; he always walked barefooted, and his bed was the ground. His abstinence was extraordinary: he ate only once in the day, and that not till after sunset. His food consisted of bread and water, to which he scarcely ever added those viands which are permitted even in Lent: and this practice he would have kept up by his Religious, under the obligation of a fourth vow.
God bore witness to the holiness of his Servant by many miracles, of which this is the most celebrated; that when he was rejected by the sailors, he and his companion passed over the straits of Sicily on his cloak, which he spread out on the water. He also prophesied many future events. Louis the Eleventh, king of France, had a great desire to see the Saint, and treated him with great respect. Having reached his ninety-first year, he died at Tours, in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and seven. His body, which was left unburied for eleven days, so far from becoming corrupt, yielded a sweet fragrance. He was canonised by Pope Leo the Tenth.
Another account of St. Francis of Paula.
This saint was born about the year 1416, at Paula, a small city near the Tyrrhenian sea, in Calabria, the midway from Naples to Reggio. His parents were very poor, but industrious, and happy in their condition, making the will and love of God the sole object of all their desires and endeavours. Their whole conduct was, as it were, one straight line directed to this point. Having lived together several years without issue, they earnestly begged of God, through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisium, a son who might faithfully and assiduously serve him, and become an instrument to glorify his name, to whose service they solemnly devoted him. A son some time after this was born, whom they considered as the fruit of their prayers, named him after their patron, St Francis, and made it their chief care to inspire him with pious sentiments, and give him an education suitable to his holy destination. Francis, whilst yet a child, made abstinence, solitude, and prayer his delight. In the thirteenth year of his age, his father, whose name was James Martotille, placed him in the convent of Franciscan friars at St. Mark's, an episcopal town of that province, where he learned to read, and laid the foundation of the austere life which he ever after led. He, from that time, denied himself all use of linen and flesh meat; and though he had not professed the rule of that Order, he seemed, even in that tender age, to surpass all the religious in a scrupulous observance of every thing prescribed by it. Having spent one year here, he performed, with his parents, a pilgrimage to Assisium, the Portiuncula, and Rome. When he was returned to Paula, with their consent, he retired to a lonesome solitude about half a mile from the town: and, to avoid the distraction of visits, he shortly after chose a more remote retreat in the corner of a rock upon the sea-coast, where he made himself a cave. He was scarcely fifteen years old, when he shut himself up in this hermitage, in 1432. He had no other bed than the rock itself, nor other food than the herbs which he gathered in the neighbouring wood, or what was sometimes brought him by his friends. Before he was quite twenty years old, two other devoutly inclined persons joined him, imitating his holy exercises. The neighbours built them three cells and a chapel, in which they sung the divine praises, and a certain priest from the parish church came, and said mass for them. This is reputed the first foundation of his religious Order, in 1436. Near seventeen years after, their number being much increased, with the approbation of the archbishop of Cosenza, a large church and monastery were built for them in the same place, towards the year 1454. So great was the devotion of the people, that the whole country joined, and all hands were set to this work; even noblemen would share in carrying burdens. During the erection of this building, our saint performed several miracles. Among others, a person deposed upon oath in the process of the saint's canonization, that he himself was healed in an instant of a painful lameness in his thigh by the prayer of the servant of God. — When the house was completed, he applied himself to establish regularity and uniformity in his community, not abating in the least of his former severity with regard to himself. His bed was no longer indeed the rock, but it was a board or the bare floor, with a stone or a log of wood for his pillow, till, in his old age, he made use of a mat. He allowed himself no more sleep than was absolutely necessary to refresh weary nature, and to enable him to resume his devout exercises with greater vigour. He took but one repast a day, in the evening, and usually nothing but bread and water. Sometimes he passed two days without taking any food, especially before great festivals.
Penance, charity, and humility he laid down for the groundwork and basis of his rule. He obliged his followers to observe a perpetual Lent, and always to abstain not only from flesh, but also from all white meats, or food made of milk, such as cheese, butter, &c., also from eggs, all which the ancient canons forbid in Lent. In order more effectually to enforce obedience to this injunction, he prescribed a fourth vow, by which every religious of his Order binds himself to observe it. His intention in enjoining this perpetual abstinence was to repair, in some sort, the abuses of Lent among Christians. He always lamented to see that holy fast so much relaxed by the mitigations which the church has been obliged to tolerate, in condescension to the lukewarmness of the generality of her children. He hoped also, by example, to open the eyes of the rest of the faithful, to whom the sight of such a perpetual Lent compared to their remissness in one of only forty days, might be a continual reproach and silent preaching, perhaps more effectual than by words. The saint took charity for the motto and symbol of his Order, to show it was to be its soul, and its most distinguishing characteristic, whereby to signify the intimate union of all its members, not only with one another, but with all the faithful, by their ardent love of God, that divine flame which glowed so warmly in his own breast, and which he eagerly endeavoured to kindle in all others. Humility, however, was his darling virtue. The greater he was before God, and the more he was distinguished in the sight of heaven, the less he appeared in his own eyes; and the more he was exalted among men, honoured and reverenced by popes and kings, the more earnestly did he study to live concealed and to debase himself beneath all creatures. It was his fondness for living concealed, unknown, and entirely forgotten by all men, that inspired him with the design in his earliest years of burying himself in a desert: in which part of his life, we know nothing of his sublime contemplations and his heavenly raptures, or of his severe penance, emulating the Eliases and the Baptists, because he sought to live hidden from the eyes of men, according to that maxim of true humility, love to be unknown; nor did he only seek to conceal himself and draw a veil over his other virtues, but also over his humility itself. A humility which sets itself forth with an exterior show of piety, which draws respect, and receives honour, is generally false; only the shadow of that virtue, and in reality a subtle refined pride. At least it is always dangerous, and much to be suspected. But the humility of Francis was both true and secure, because hidden. When God discovered him to the world, the saint conversed with it so as always to retain the same spirit. Not yet twenty years old, he was the legislator and oracle of all who approached him: yet he was no ways elated on this account, he assumed nothing to himself, and professed that he knew nothing save Jesus Christ crucified, and that there is no virtue, no happiness, but in knowing our own littleness, and in being humble of heart with our divine Master. By this humility he was filled with the spirit of God, and by a wonderful prodigy of grace, at nineteen years of age, became the founder of an eminent religious Order. Other Orders have their principal end and distinguishing characters; some being remarkable for their poverty, others for austerity, others for prayer, holy zeal, &c. That of St. Francis of Paula eminently includes all the above-mentioned; but to show his value for humility, which he most earnestly recommended to his followers as the ground of all Christian virtues, he gave them a name that might express it, and begged of the pope, as a singular privilege, that his religious might be called Minims, to signify that they were the least in the house of God. Moreover, as in every community there must be a supreme, St. Francis would have the superior of each house in his Order called Corrector, to put him in continual remembrance that he is only the servant of all the rest, according to that of Luke xxii. He who is greater among you, let him be as the least. But the more this saint humbled himself, the more did God exalt him.
The archbishop of Cosenza approved the rule and Order of this holy man, in 1471. Pope Sixtus IV confirmed it by a bull, dated the 23rd of May, in 1474, and established Francis superior-general. This Order was then chiefly composed of laymen, with a few clerks, and only one priest, Balthasar de Spino, doctor of laws, afterward confessor to Innocent VIII. About the year 1476, the saint founded another convent at Paterno, on the gulf of Tarentum; and a third at Spezza, in the diocess of Cosenza. In the year 1479, being invited into Sicily, he was received there as an angel from heaven, wrought miracles, and built several monasteries in that island, where he continued a whole year. Being returned into Calabria, in 1480, he built another at Corigliano, in the diocess of Rossano — Ferdinand, king of Naples, provoked at some wholesome advice the saint had given him and his two sons, Alphonsus, duke of Calabria, and John, cardinal of Arragon, persecuted him: but his third son, Frederic, prince of Tarentum, was his friend.—The king, alleging that he had built monasteries without the royal assent, ordered a messenger to apprehend him at Paterno, and bring him prisoner to Naples. But, the officer approaching to seize his person, was so moved at his humility, and the readiness with which he disposed himself to follow him, that, struck with awe, he returned to Naples, and dissuaded the king from attempting any thing against the servant of God. The holy man was favoured with an eminent spirit of prophecy. He foretold to several persons, in the years 1447, 1448, and 1449, the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, which happened on the 29th of May, in 1453, under the command of Mahomet II., when Constantine Palæologus, the last Christian emperor, was slain, fighting tumultuously in the streets. He also foretold that Otranto, one of the most important places and keys of the kingdom of Naples, would fall into the hands of the same infidels, three months before Achmat Bacha surprised it on the last day of August, 1480, to the great consternation of Italy and all Europe. But the servant of God promised the Christians, especially the pious John, count of Arena, one of the general of Ferdinand I, king of Naples, certain success the year following, when they recovered that city, and drove the infidels out of Italy, their victory being facilitated by the death of the Turkish emperor, and a civil war between the two brothers, Bajazet II, and Zizimes. The authentic depositions of many unexceptionable witnesses, given with all the formalities which both the civil and canon law require, prove these and many other illustrious predictions of the holy man, on several public and private occasions, with regard to the kings of Naples, Ferdinand I, and Alphonsus II, and Louisa of Savoy, countess, afterward Dutchess of Angouleme, mother of King Francis I. in France, and many others. Lawrence bishop of Grenoble, of the most noble house of Alemans, in Dauphiné, uncle to the most valiant and pious captain De Bayard, in his letter to Pope Leo X for the canonization of St. Francis, writes: “Most holy Father, he revealed to me many things which were known only to God and myself.” In 1469, Pope Paul II sent one of his chamberlains, an ecclesiastic of the noble family of Adorno in Genoa, into Calabria, to inform himself of the truth of the wonderful things that were related of the saint. The chamberlain addressed himself to the vigilant archbishop of Cosenza, who assured him, from his own intimacy with the saint, of his sincere virtue and extraordinary sanctity, and sent one of his ecclesiastics, named Charles Pyrrho, a canon of Cosenza, a man of great learning and probity, to attend him to Paula. This Pyrrho had been himself healed ten years before of a violent tooth-ache by the man of God touching his cheek with his hand, (of which the authentic depositions are extant,) and had from that time frequently visited him. The saint was at work, according to his custom, among the masons who were laying the foundation of his church; but seeing two strangers coming towards him, left his work, and came to meet them. He made them a low obeisance; and when the chamberlain offered to kiss his hand, according to the Italian custom of saluting priests and religious men, he would by no means allow it, and falling on his knees, said he was bound to kiss his hands, which God had consecrated for the thirty years he had said mass. The chamberlain was exceedingly struck at his answer, hearing him, who was an entire stranger to his person, tell him so exactly how long he had been a priest; but concealing himself and his commission, desired to converse with him in his convent. The saint conducted him into a chamber. The chamberlain, who was a very eloquent man, made him a long discourse, in which, to try his virtue, he censured his institute as too austere, spoke much on the illusions and dangers to which extraordinary and miraculous gifts are liable, and exhorted him to walk in ordinary paths, trodden by eminent servants of God. The saint answered his objections with great modesty and humility; but seeing him not yet satisfied, he went to the fire, and taking out some burning coals, held them a considerable time in his hand without receiving any harm, saying: “All creatures obey those who serve God with a perfect heart.”—Which golden words are inserted by Leo X in the bull of his canonization. The chamberlain returned to Cosenza full of veneration for the holy man, and told both the archbishop and his holiness at his return to Rome, that the sanctity of Francis was greater than his reputation in the world. A youth, nephew to the saint, being dead, his mother, the saint's own sister, applied to him for comfort, and filled his apartment with lamentations. After the mass and divine office had been said for the repose of his soul, St. Francis ordered the corpse to be carried from the church into his cell, where he ceased not to pray till, to her great astonishment, he had restored him to life and presented him to her in perfect health. The young man entered his Order, and is the celebrated Nicholas Alesso, who afterward followed his uncle into France, and was famous for sanctity and many great actions.
Lewis XI king of France, a prince perhaps the most absolute, the most tenacious of his authority, jealous of his prerogative, and impatient of control, that ever wore that crown, after an apoplectic fit fell into a lingering decay. Never had any man a stronger passion for life, or a greater dread of the very thoughts of death. Such was his frowardness and impatience, that every one trembled to approach him: nor durst any ask him a favour. He gave his physician ten thousand crowns a month, as long as he should prolong his life, and stood in the greatest awe of him. He shut himself up in his palace or castle of Plessis-les-Tours, near the city of Tours. Jesters, buffoons, and dancers were employed to divert his melancholy and peevishness, but in vain. He ordered prayers, processions, and pilgrimages for his health, and even against the north-wind, which he found injurious to him, and he caused holy relics from the remotest places to be brought to Plessis, into his chamber. His distemper still increasing, he sent an ambassador to our holy hermit in Calabria, begging he would come to see him, and restore his health, making the greatest promises to serve both him and his Order. Hearing that the man of God would not be prevailed on by his promises to comply with his request, he entreated Ferdinand, king of Naples, to send him. Francis answered positively, that he could not tempt God, nor undertake a voyage of a thousand miles to work a miracle, which was asked upon low and merely human motives. Lewis did not yet desist, but desired the pope to interpose in favour of his request. Sixtus IV by two briefs, commanded Francis immediately to repair to the king. Hereupon the obedient saint, without delay, set out and passed through Naples, where he was exceedingly honoured by King Ferdinand. He took also Rome in his way, where he was treated with the highest distinction by the pope and cardinals. Embarking at Ostia, he landed in France, and cured many sick of the plague, in Provence, as he passed. Lewis, in great joy, gave a purse of ten thousand crowns to him who brought the first news of the saint's arrival in his dominions, and sent the dauphin, with the principal lords of his court, to meet him at Amboise, and to conduct him to his palace. The saint arrived at Plessis, on the 24th of April, in 1482. The king went out to meet him, attended with all his court, and falling on his knees, conjured him to obtain of God the prolongation of his life. St. Francis told him, no wise man ought to entertain such a desire. To which he added this useful lesson, that the lives of kings had their appointed limits no less than those of his meanest subjects, that God's decree was unchangeable, and that there remained nothing to be done but for his majesty to resign himself to the divine will, and prepare for a happy death. The king gave orders that he should be lodged in an apartment in his palace, near the chapel, and assigned him an interpreter. St Francis often spoke to his majesty both in private and before his courtiers, and always with such wisdom, though a man without learning, that Philip Commines, who frequently heard him, says, that all present were persuaded the Holy Ghost spoke by his mouth. By his prayers and exhortations he effected a perfect change in the king's heart, who, having recommended to him his three children, and the repose of his soul, died in his arms, perfectly resigned, on the 30th of August, in 1483.
King Charles VIII honoured the saint even more than his father Lewis had done; would do nothing in the affairs of his conscience, or even in those of the state, without his advice; visited him every day as long as he stayed at Plessis, standing before him as a disciple, and engaged him to stand godfather to his son the dauphin, to whom he gave the name of our saint. He built for him a beautiful convent in the park of Plessis, in a place called Montils: and another at Amboise, and upon the very spot where he met him when he was dauphin: and going to Rome in 1495, where he made a triumphant entry, and was saluted Emperor of Constantinople by Pope Alexander VI, he built there, on Mount Pincio, a stately monastery for this Order, under the name of the Blessed Trinity, in which none but Frenchmen can be admitted. In his reign the saint founded the convent of Nigeon, near Paris, on which occasion two doctors, who had violently opposed the institute before the bishop of Paris, were so moved by the sight of the saint at Plessis, that they entered his Order in 1506. Pope Julius II again approved the rule, in which the saint had made some alterations. King Charles VIII dying in 1498, Lewis XII succeeded him. He at first gave the saint leave to return to Italy; but quickly recalled it, and heaped honours and benefactions on all his relations. St. Francis spent the three last months of his life within his cell, to prepare himself for a happy death, denying himself all communication with mankind, that nothing might divert his thoughts from death and eternity. He fell sick of a fever on Palm-Sunday, in 1506. On Maundy-Thursday he assembled all his religious in the sacristy, and exhorted them to the love of God, charity with one another and with all men, and to a punctual observance of all the duties of their rule. After having made his confession, he communicated barefoot, and with a cord about his neck, which is the custom of his Order. He died on the 2nd of April, in 1508, being ninety-one years old. He was canonized by Leo X in 1519. His body remained uncorrupted in the church of Plessis-les-Tours, till the year 1562, when the Hugonots broke open the shrine and found it entire, fifty-five years after his death. They dragged it about the streets, and burned it in a fire which they had made with the wood of a great crucifix. Some of his bones were recovered by the Catholics, and are kept in several churches of his Order at Plessis, Nigeon, Paris, Aix, Naples, Paula, and Madrid. In Tours the same Calvinists burned the body of St Martin, Alcuin, and many others. But Lewis of Bourbon, Duke of Montpensier, governor of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, a virtuous and valiant prince, soon gave chase to those sacrilegious plunderers, and restored the churches and religious places to their former possessors. St. Francis wrote two rules for his friars, with a Correctorium, or method of enjoining penances, and a third rule for nuns; all approved by Pope Julius II in 1506.
Vanity and the love of the world make men fond of producing themselves in public, and by having never cultivated an acquaintance with themselves, they shun the very means, look upon retirement as intolerable, and pass their life in wandering always from home, and in a studied series of dissipation, in which they secretly seek the gratification of their vanity, sloth, and other passions, but meet only with emptiness, trouble, and vexation. Man can find happiness only in God and in his own heart. This he flies who cannot bear to converse with God and his own heart. On the contrary, he who is endued with the spirit of prayer, finds the greatest relish in the interior exercises of compunction and contemplation, and in conversing with heaven. Solitude is his chief delight, and his centre: here he lives sequestered from creatures, and as if there were only God and himself in the world, except that he ceases not to recommend all men to God. In paying the debts of charity, and other exterior duties to his neighbours, his heart is fixed on God, and he has purely his divine will in view; so that, even in his public actions, he deposits his intention and sentiments in the bosom of his God and Redeemer, and has no regard to creatures but as he considers God and his holy will in them. You are dead, says the apostle, (Colos, iii. 8) and your life is hidden with God in Jesus Christ.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Lent, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. IV, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Related Links –
1. The Passiontide and Holy Week.
2. The Holy Season of Lent.
3. Laws of Fasting and Abstinence.
4. Perfect Contrition.
5. The Seven Penitential Psalms.
6. Devotion to our Lord’s Passion.
7. Devotion to our Lady’s Sorrows.
St. Francis of Paula, pray for us.
March 29, 2020: I SUNDAY OF THE PASSION (Passion Sunday)
Rank: Double of the I Class.
“But now you seek to kill
me, a man who have spoken the truth to you, which I have heard of God.”
(St. John, viii. 40)
“They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.”
(St. John, viii. 59)
“Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy, deliver me from the unjust and deceitful
man. For thou art God my strength.”
(Ps, xlii. 1, 2)
Mercifully look down on thy people, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that, by thy bounty and protection, they may be governed and guarded, both in body and soul. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Against the Persecutors of the Church.
Mercifully hear, we beseech thee, O Lord, the prayers of thy Church: that, all oppositions and errors being removed, she may serve thee with a secure liberty. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
For the Pope.
O God, the Pastor and Ruler of all the Faithful, look down, in thy mercy, on thy servant, whom thou hast appointed Pastor over thy Church; and grant, we beseech thee, that both by word and example, he may edify all those that are under his charge: and, with the flock intrusted to him, arrive at length at eternal happiness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
To-day, if ye shall hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.
The Holy Church begins her Night Office of this Sunday with these impressive words of the Royal Prophet. Formerly, the faithful considered it their duty to assist at the Night Office, at least on Sundays and Feasts; they would have grieved to have lost the grand teachings given by the Liturgy. Such fervour has long since died out; the assiduity at the Offices of the Church, which was the joy of our Catholic forefathers, has now become a thing of the past; and, even in countries which have not apostatised from the faith, the clergy have ceased to celebrate publicly Offices at which no one assisted. Excepting in Cathedral Churches and in Monasteries, the grand harmonious system of the Divine Praise has been abandoned, and the marvellous power of the Liturgy has no longer its full influence upon the Faithful.
This is our reason for drawing the attention of our readers to certain beauties of the Divine Office, which would otherwise be totally ignored. Thus, what can be more impressive than this solemn Invitatory of to-day's Matins, which the Church takes from one of the psalms, and which she repeats on every Feria between this and Maundy Thursday? She says: To-day, if ye shall hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts! The sweet voice of your suffering Jesus now speaks to you, poor sinners! be not your own enemies by indifference and hardness of heart. The Son of God is about to give you the last and greatest proof of the love that brought him down from heaven; his Death is nigh at hand: men are preparing the wood for the immolation of the new Isaac: enter into yourselves, and let not your hearts, after being touched with grace, return to their former obduracy,—for nothing could be more dangerous. The great anniversaries we are to celebrate have a renovating power for those souls that faithfully correspond with the grace which is offered them; but they increase insensibility in those who let them pass without working their conversion. To-day, therefore, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts!
During the preceding four weeks, we have noticed how the malice of Jesus' enemies has been gradually increasing. His very presence irritates them; and it is evident, that any little circumstance will suffice to bring the deep and long nurtured hatred to a head. The kind and gentle manners of Jesus are drawing to him all hearts that are simple and upright; at the same time, the humble life he leads, and the stern purity of his doctrines, are perpetual sources of vexation and anger, both to the proud Jew that looks forward to the Messias being a mighty conqueror, and to the Pharisee, who corrupts the Law of God, that he may make it the instrument of his own base passions. Still, Jesus goes on working miracles; his discourses are more than ever energetic; his prophecies foretell the fall of Jerusalem, and such a destruction of its famous Temple, that not a stone is to be left on stone. The doctors of the Law should, at least, reflect upon what they hear; they should examine these wonderful works, which render such strong testimony in favour of the Son of David, and they should consult those divine prophecies which, up to the present time, have been so literally fulfilled in his person. Alas! they themselves are about to carry them out to the very last iota. There is not a single outrage or suffering foretold by David and Isaias, as having to be put upon the Messias, which these blind men are not scheming to verify.
In them, therefore, was fulfilled that terrible saying: He that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come (St. Matth, xii. 32). The Synagogue is nigh to a curse. Obstinate in her error, she refuses to see or to hear; she has deliberately perverted her judgment: she has extinguished within herself the light of the Holy Spirit; she will go deeper and deeper into evil, and at length fall into the abyss. This same lamentable conduct is but too often witnessed now-a-days, in those sinners, who, by habitual resistance to the light, end by finding their happiness in sin. Neither should it surprise us, that we find in people of our own generation a resemblance to the murderers of our Jesus: the history of his Passion will reveal to us many sad secrets of the human heart and its perverse inclinations; for what happened in Jerusalem, happens also in every sinner's heart. His heart, according to the saying of St. Paul, is a Calvary, where Jesus is crucified. There is the same ingratitude, the same blindness, the same wild madness, with this difference,—that the sinner who is enlightened by faith, knows Him whom he crucifies; whereas the Jews, as the same Apostle tells us, knew not the Lord of Glory (I Cor, ii. 8). Whilst, therefore, we listen to the Gospel, which relates the history of the Passion, let us turn the indignation we feel for the Jews against ourselves and our own sins: let us weep over the sufferings of our Victim, for our sins caused him to suffer and die.
Everything around us urges us to mourn. The images of the Saints, the very crucifix on our Altar, are veiled from our sight. The Church is oppressed with grief. During the first four weeks of Lent, she compassionated her Jesus fasting in the desert; his coming Sufferings and Crucifixion and Death are what now fill her with anguish. We read in to-day's Gospel, that the Jews threaten to stone the Son of God as a blasphemer: but his hour is not yet come. He is obliged to flee and HIDE himself. It is to express this deep humiliation, that the Church VEILS the Cross. A God hiding himself, that he may evade the anger of men,—what a mystery! Is it weakness? Is it, that he fears death? No,—we shall soon see him going out to meet his enemies: but, at present, he hides himself from them, because all that had been prophesied regarding him has not been fulfilled. Besides, his death is not to be by stoning; he is to die upon a Cross, the tree of malediction, which, from that time forward, is to be the Tree of Life. Let us humble ourselves, as we see the Creator of heaven and earth thus obliged to hide himself from men, who are bent on his destruction! Let us go back, in thought, to the sad day of the first sin, when Adam and Eve hid themselves because a guilty conscience told them they were naked. Jesus is come to assure us of our being pardoned! and lo! he hides himself, not because he is naked,—He that is to the Saints the garb of holiness and immortality,—but because he made himself weak, that he might make us strong. Our First Parents sought to hide themselves from the sight of God; Jesus hides himself from the eye of men; but it will not be thus for ever. The day will come, when sinners, from whose anger he now flees, will pray to the mountains that they fall on them to shield them from his gaze; but their prayer will not be granted, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with much power and majesty (St. Matth, xxiv. 30).
This Sunday is called I Sunday of the Passion (Passion Sunday), because the Church begins, on this day, to make the Sufferings of our Redeemer her chief thought. It is called also, Judica, from the first word of the Introit of the Mass; and again, Neomania, that is, the Sunday of the new (or, the Easter) moon, because it always falls after the new moon which regulates the Feast of Easter Day.
In the Greek Church, this Sunday goes under the simple name of the Fifth Sunday of the Holy Fests.
During Passion Week, a Saint’s Feast, if it occur, will be kept; but I Sunday of the Passion (Passion Sunday) admits no Feast, however solemn it may be; and even on those which are kept during the days intervening between Passion and Palm Sundays, there is always made a commemoration of the Passion, and the holy Images are not allowed to be uncovered.
The severity of the Lenten Fast is increased during these it’s last days; the whole energy of the spirit of penance is now brought out.
VEILING OF THE CRUCIFIX, IMAGES, AND STATUES
All crucifixes and Images in the Church are covered in violet veils (the color of vestments in Lent) starting on Passion Sunday. The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord's passion on Good Friday. Statues and images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil, specifically, those veils are removed during the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis. The veiling was associated with Passion Sunday's Gospel (St. John viii. 46-59), in which Jesus "hid himself" from the people. [The statues of the Saints, too, are covered; for it is but just, that if the glory of the Master be eclipsed, the Servant should not appear.]
(According to St. John, viii. 46-59)
At that time: Jesus said to the multitude of the Jews: Which of you shall convince me of sin? If I say the truth to you, why do you not believe me? He that is of God, heareth the words of God. Therefore, you hear them not, because you are not of God. The Jews, therefore, answered, and said to him: Do not we say well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? Jesus answered: I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and you have dishonoured me. But I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. Are thou greater than our Father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself? Jesus answered: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom you say that He is your God; and you have not known him, but I know him. And if I should say that I know him not, I should be like to you, a liar. But I do know him, and do keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad. The Jews then said to him: Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you, before Abraham was made, I AM. They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.
The fury of the Jews is evidently at its height, and Jesus us obliged to hide himself from them. But he is to fall into their hands before many days are over; then will they triumph and put him to death. They triumph, and Jesus is their victim; but how different is to be his lot from theirs! In obedience to the decrees of his heavenly Father, and out of love for men, he will deliver himself into the hands of his enemies, and they will put him to death; but he will rise victorious from the tomb, he will ascend into heaven, he will be throned on the right hand of his Father. His enemies, on the contrary, after having vented all their rage, will live on without remorse, until the terrible day come for their chastisement. That day is not far off, for observe the severity wherewith our Lord speaks to them: You hear not the words of God, because you are not of God. Yet there was a time, when they were of God, for the Lord gives his grace to all men; but they have rendered this grace useless; they are now in darkness, and the light they have rejected will not return.
You say, that my Father is your God, and you have not known him; but I know him. Their obstinacy in refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Messais, has led these men to ignore that very God, whom they boast of honouring; for if they knew the Father, they would not reject his Son. Moses, and the Psalms, and the Prophets, are all a dead letter to them; these sacred Books are soon to pass into the hands of the Gentiles, who will both read and understand them. If, continues Jesus, I should say that I know him not, I should be like to you, a liar. This strong language is that of the angry Judge who is to come down, at the last day, to destroy sinners. Jerusalem has not known the time of her visitation: the Son of God has visited her, he is with her, and she dares to say to him: Thou hast a devil! She says to the Eternal Word, who proves himself to be God by the most astounding miracles, that Abraham and the Prophets are greater than He! Strange blindness, that comes from pride and hardness of heart! The Feast of the Pasch is at hand: these men are going to eat, and with much parade of religion, the flesh of the figurative lamb; they know full well, that this lamb is a symbol, or a figure, which is to have its fulfillment. The true Lamb is to be sacrificed by their hands, and they will not know him. He will shed his Blood for them, and it will not save them. How this reminds us of those sinners, for whom this Easter promises to be as fruitless as those of the past years! Let us redouble our prayers for them, and beseech our Lord to soften their hearts, lest trampling the Blood of Jesus under their feet, they should have it to cry vengeance against them before the throne of the Heavenly Father.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Passiontide and Holy Week, Edition 1870; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Related Links –
1. The Passiontide and Holy Week.
2. The Holy Season of Lent.
3. Laws of Fasting and Abstinence.
4. Perfect Contrition.
5. The Seven Penitential Psalms.
6. Devotion to our Lord’s Passion.
7. Devotion to our Lady’s Sorrows.
Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, save us.
THE PASSIONTIDE AND HOLY WEEK
“But now you seek to kill me, a man who have spoken the
truth to you, which I have heard of God.”
(St. John, viii. 40)
“They took up stones therefore to cast
at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.”
(St. John, viii. 59)
The History of the Passiontide and Holy Week
After having proposed the forty-days' Fast of Jesus in the Desert to the meditation of the Faithful, during the first four weeks of Lent, the Holy Church gives the two weeks, which still remain before Easter, to the commemoration of the Passion. She would not have her children come to the great Day of the immolation of the Lamb, without their having prepared for it by compassionating with him in the Sufferings he endured in their stead.
The most ancient Sacramentaries and Antiphonaries of the several Churches attest, by the Prayers, the Lessons, and the whole Liturgy of these two weeks, that the Passion of our Lord is now the one sole thought of the Christian world. During Passion Week, a Saint's Feast, if it occur, will be kept; but Passion Sunday admits no Feast, however solemn it may be; and even on those which are kept during the days intervening between Passion and Palm Sundays, there is always made a commemoration of the Passion, and the holy Images are not allowed to be uncovered.
We cannot give any historical details upon the first of these two Weeks; its ceremonies and rites have always been the same as those of the four preceding ones. We, therefore, refer the reader to the following Chapter, in which we treat of the mysteries peculiar to Passiontide. The second week [the Holy Week], on the contrary, furnishes us with abundant historical details; for there is no portion of the Liturgical Year, which has interested the Christian world so much as this, or which has given rise to such fervent manifestations of piety.
This week [Holy Week] was held in great veneration even as early as the 3rd century, as we learn from St. Denis, Bishop of Alexandria, who lived at that time. In the following century, we find St. John Chrysostom calling it the Great Week: “not,” says the holy Doctor, “that it has more days in it than other weeks, or that its days are made up of more hours than other days; but we call it Great, because of the great Mysteries which are then celebrated.” We find it called also by other names: the Painful Week (Hebdomada Pӕnosa), on account of the Sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the fatigue required from us in celebrating them; the Week of Indulgence, because sinners are then received to penance; and, lastly Holy Week, in allusion to the holiness of the Mysteries which are commemorated during these seven days. This last name is the one, under which it most generally goes with us; and the very days themselves are, in many countries, called by the same name, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.
The severity of the Lenten Fast is increased during these its last days; the whole energy of the spirit of penance is now brought out… The Eastern Churches have kept up far more of the ancient traditions; and their observance of abstinence, during these days, is far more severe than ours. The Greeks call this week Xérophagia, that is, the week when no other food is allowed but that which is dry, such as bread, water, salt, dried fruits, raw vegetables: every kind of seasoning is forbidden. In the early ages, Fasting, during Holy Week, was carried to the utmost limits that human nature could endure. We learn from St. Epiphanius, that there were some of the Christians who observed a strict fast from Monday morning to cock-crow of Easter Sunday. Of course, it must have been very few of the Faithful who could go so far as this. Many passed two, three, and even four consecutive days, without tasting any food; but the general practice was to fast from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter morning. Many… in the East, and in Russia, observe this fast, even in these times:—would that such severe penance were always accompanied by a firm faith, and union with the Church, out of which, the merit of such penitential works is of no avail for salvation!
Another of the ancient practices of Holy Week were the long hours spent, during the night, in the Churches. On Maundy Thursday, after having celebrated the divine mysteries in remembrance of the Last Supper, the faithful continued a long time in prayer. The night between Friday and Saturday was spent in one uninterrupted vigil, in honour of our Lord's Burial. But the longest of all these vigils was that of Saturday, which was kept up till Easter Sunday morning: it was one in which the whole of the people joined: they assisted at the final preparation of the Catechumens, as also at the administration of Baptism, nor did they leave the Church until after the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, which was not over till sunrise.
Cessation from servile work was, for a long time, an obligation during Holy Week. The civil law united with that of the Church in order to bring about this solemn rest from toil and business, which so eloquently expresses the state of mourning of the christian world. The thought of the sufferings and death of Jesus was the one pervading thought: the divine Offices and Prayer were the sole occupation of the people: and, indeed, all the strength of the body was needed for the support of the austerities of fasting and abstinence. We can readily understand what an impression was made upon men's minds, during the whole of the rest of the year, by this universal suspension of the ordinary routine of life. Moreover, when we call to mind how, for five full weeks, the severity of Lent had waged war on the sensual appetites, we can imagine the simple and honest joy, wherewith was welcomed the feast of Easter, which brought both the regeneration of the soul, and respite to the body.
[Previously in Lent], we mentioned the laws of the Theodosian Code, which forbade all law business during the forty days preceding Easter. This law of Gratian and Theodosius, which was published in 380, was extended by Theodosius, in 389; this new decree forbade all pleadings during the seven days before, and the seven days after, Easter. We meet with several allusions to this then recent law, in the Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, and in the Sermons of St. Augustine. In virtue of this decree, each of these fifteen days was considered, as far as the courts of law were concerned, as a Sunday.
But christian Princes were not satisfied with the mere suspension of human justice during these days, which are so emphatically days of mercy; they would, moreover, pay homage, by an external act, to the fatherly goodness of God, who has deigned to pardon a guilty world, through the merits of the death of his Son. The Church was on the point of giving Reconciliation to repentant sinners, who had broken the chains of sin, whereby they were held captives: Christian Princes were ambitious to imitate this their Mother, and they ordered that prisoners should be loosened from their chains, that the prisons should be thrown open, and that freedom should be restored to those who had fallen under the sentence of human tribunals. The only exception made was that of criminals, whose freedom would have exposed their families or society to great danger. The name of Theodosius stands prominent in these acts of mercy. We are told by St. John Chrysostom, that this Emperor sent letters of pardon to the several cities, ordering the release of prisoners, and granting life to those that had been condemned to death, and all this in order to sanctify the days preceding the Easter Feast. The last Emperors made a law of this custom, as we find in one of St. Leo's Sermons, where he thus speaks of their clemency: “The Roman Emperors have long observed this holy practice. In honour of our Lord's Passion and Resurrection, they humbly withold the exercise of their sovereign justice, and, laying aside the severity of their laws, they grant pardon to a great number of criminals. Their intention in this is to imitate the divine goodness by their own exercise of clemency during these days, when the world owes its salvation to the divine mercy. Let, then, the christian people imitate their Princes, and let the example of kings induce subjects to forgive each other their private wrongs, for, surely, it is absurd that private laws should be less unrelenting than those which are public. Let trespasses be forgiven, let bonds be taken off, let offences be forgotten, let revenge be stifled; that thus the sacred Feast may, by both divine and human favours, find us all happy and innocent.”
This christian amnesty was not confined to the Theodosian Code; we find traces of it in the laws of several of our western countries. We may mention France as an example. Under the first race of its kings, St. Eligius, Bishop of Noyon, in a sermon for Maundy Thursday, thus expresses himself: “On this day, when the Church grants indulgence to Penitents and absolution to sinners,—Magistrates, also, relent in their severity, and grant pardon to the guilty. Throughout the whole world, prisons are thrown open; Princes show clemency to criminals; Masters forgive their slaves.” Under the second Race, we learn, from the Capitularia of Charlemagne, that Bishops had a right to exact from the Judges, for the love of Jesus Christ, (as it is expressed,) that prisoners should be set free on the days preceding Easter, and, should the Magistrates refuse to obey, the Bishops could refuse them admission into the Church. And, lastly, under the third Race, we find Charles the 6th, after quelling the rebellion at Rouen, giving orders, later on, that the prisoners should be set at liberty, because it was Painful Week, and very near to the Easter Feast.
A last vestige of this merciful legislation was a custom observed by the Parliament of Paris. The ancient christian practice of suspending its sessions during the whole of Lent, had long been abolished: it was not till the Wednesday of Holy Week that the House was closed, which it continued to be from that day until after Low Sunday. On the Tuesday of Holy Week, which was the last day granted for audiences, the Parliament repaired to the Palace prisons, and there, one of the Grand Presidents, generally the last installed, held a session of the House. The prisoners were questioned; but, without any formal judgment, all those whose case seemed favourable, or who were not guilty of some capital offence, were set at liberty.
[…] At the approach of those solemn anniversaries which so forcibly remind us of the Justice and Mercy of God, they beheld Princes abdicating, as it were, their sceptre, leaving in God's hands the punishment of the guilty, and assisting at the holy Table of Paschal Communion, side by side with those very men, whom, a few days before, they had been keeping chained in prison, for the good of society. There was one thought, which, during these days, was strongly brought before all nations: it was the thought of God, in whose eyes all men are sinners, of God, from whom alone proceed justice and pardon. It was in consequence of this deep christian feeling, that we find so many diplomas and charts of the Ages of Faith speaking of the days of Holy Week as being the Reign of Christ: such an event, they say, happened on such a day, “Under the Reign of our Lord Jesus Christ:” Regnante Domino nostro Jesu Christo.
When these days of holy and christian equality were over, did subjects refuse submission to their Sovereigns? Did they abuse the humility of their Princes, and take occasion for drawing up what modern times call the Rights of Man? No: that same thought which had inspired human justice to humble itself before the Cross of Jesus, taught the people their duty of obeying the powers established by God. The exercise of power, and submission to that power, both had God for their motive. They who wielded the sceptre might be of various dynasties; the respect for authority was ever the same. Now-a-days, the Liturgy has none of her ancient influence on society; Religion has been driven from the world at large, and her only life and power is now with the consciences of individuals; and as to political institutions, they are but the expression of human pride, seeking to command, or refusing to obey.
And yet, the 4th century, which, in virtue of the christian spirit, produced the laws we have been alluding to, was still rife with the pagan element. How comes it, that we, who live in the full light of Christianity, can give the name of Progress to a system, which tends to separate society from everything that is supernatural? Men may talk as they please,—there is but one way to secure order, peace, morality, and security to the world; and that is God's way, the way of Faith, the living in accordance with the teachings and spirit of Faith. All other systems can, at best, but flatter those human passions, which are so strongly at variance with the mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we are now celebrating.
We must mention another law made by the Christian Emperors in reference to Holy Week. If the spirit of charity, and a desire to imitate Divine Mercy, led them to decree the liberation of prisoners; it was but acting consistently with these principles, that, during these days, when our Saviour shed his blood for the emancipation of the human race, they should interest themselves in what regards Slaves. Slavery, a consequence of sin, and the fundamental institution of the pagan world, had received its death-blow, by the preaching of the Gospel; but its gradual abolition was left to individuals, and to their practical exercise of the principle of Christian Fraternity. As our Lord and his Apostles had not exacted the immediate abolition of Slavery, so, in like manner, the Christian Emperors limited themselves to passing such laws as would give encouragement to its gradual abolition. We have an example of this in the Justinian Code, where this Prince, after having forbidden all law-proceedings during Holy Week and the week following, lays down the following exception: “It shall, nevertheless, be permitted to give Slaves their liberty; in such manner, that the legal acts necessary for their emancipation shall not be counted as contravening this present enactment.” This charitable law of Justinian was but the applying to the fifteen days of Easter the decree passed by Constantine, which forbade all legal proceedings on the Sundays throughout the year, excepting only such acts as had for their object the emancipation of Slaves.
But long before the peace given her by Constantine, the Church had made provision for Slaves, during these days when the mysteries of the world's redemption were accomplished. Christian Masters were obliged to grant them total rest from labour during this holy fortnight. Such is the law laid down in the Apostolic Constitutions, which were compiled previously to the 4th century. “During the Great Week preceding the Day of Easter, and during the week that follows, Slaves rest from labour, inasmuch as the first is the Week of our Lord's Passion, and the second is that of his Resurrection, and the Slaves require to be instructed upon these mysteries.”
Another characteristic of the two Weeks, upon which we are now entering, is that of giving more abundant alms, and of greater fervour in the exercise of works of mercy. St. John Chrysostom assures us that such was the practice of his times; he passes an encomium on the Faithful, many of whom redoubled, at this period, their charities to the poor, which they did out of this motive,—that they might, in some slight measure, imitate the Divine generosity, which is now so unreservedly pouring out his graces on sinners.
The Mystery of the Passiontide and Holy Week
The holy Liturgy is rich in mystery, during these days of the Church's celebrating the anniversaries of so many wonderful events; but as the principal part of these mysteries is embodied in the rites and ceremonies of the respective days, we shall give our explanations according as the occasion presents itself. Our object, in the present Chapter, is to say a few words respecting the general character of the Mysteries of these two Weeks.
We have nothing to add to the explanation, already given in our “Lent,” on the mystery of Forty. The holy season of expiation continues its course, until the fast of sinful man has imitated, in its duration, that observed by the Man-God in the desert. The army of Christ's faithful children is still fighting against the invisible enemies of man’s salvation; they are still vested in their spiritual armour, and, aided by the Angels of light, they are struggling hand to hand with the spirits of darkness, by compunction of heart and by mortification of the flesh.
As we have already observed, there are three objects which principally engage the thoughts of the Church during Lent. The Passion of our Redeemer, which we have felt to be coming nearer to us each week; the preparation of the Catechumens for Baptism, which is to be administered to them on the Easter eve; the Reconciliation of the public Penitents, who are to be re-admitted into the Church, on the Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. Each of these three objects engages more and more the attention of the Church, the nearer she approaches the time of their celebration.
The miracle performed by our Saviour, almost at the very gates of Jerusalem, and by which he restored Lazarus to life, has roused the fury of his enemies to the highest pitch of phrensy. The people's enthusiasm has been excited at seeing him, who had been four days in the grave, walking in the streets of their City. They ask each other, if the Messias, when he comes, can work greater wonders than these done by Jesus, and whether they ought not at once to receive this Jesus as the Messias, and sing their Hosanna to him, for he is the Son of David? They cannot contain their feelings:—Jesus enters Jerusalem, and they welcome him as their King. The High Priests and Princes of the people are alarmed at this demonstration of feeling; they have no time to lose; they are resolved to destroy Jesus. We are going to assist at their impious conspiracy: the Blood of the Just Man is to be sold, and the price put on it is thirty silver pieces. The Divine Victim, betrayed by one of his Disciples, is to be judged, condemned, and crucified. Every circumstance of this awful tragedy is to be put before us by the Liturgy, not merely in words, but with all the expressiveness of a sublime ceremonial.
The Catechumens have but a few more days to wait for the Fount that is to give them Life. Each day, their instruction becomes fuller; the figures of the Old Law are being explained to them; and very little now remains for them to learn with regard to the mysteries of salvation. The Symbol of Faith is soon to be delivered to them. Initiated into the glories and the humiliations of the Redeemer, they will await, with the Faithful, the moment of his glorious Resurrection; and we shall accompany them, with our prayers and hymns, at that solemn hour, when, leaving the defilements of sin in the life-giving waters of the Font, they shall come forth pure and radiant with innocence, be enriched with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and be fed with the divine Flesh of the Lamb that liveth for ever.
The Reconciliation of the Penitents, too, is close at hand. Clothed in sackcloth and ashes, they are continuing their work of expiation. The Church has still several passages from the Sacred Scriptures to read to them, which, like those we have already heard during the last few weeks, will breathe consolation and refreshment to their souls. The near approach of the day, when the Lamb is to be slain, increases their hope, for they know that the Blood of this Lamb is of infinite worth, and can take away the sins of the whole world. Before the day of Jesus' Resurrection, they will have recovered their lost innocence; their pardon will come in time to enable them, like the penitent Prodigal, to join in the great Banquet of that Thursday, when Jesus will say to his guests: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer (St. Luke, xxii. 15).
Such are the sublime subjects which are about to be brought before us: but, at the same time, we shall see our holy Mother the Church mourning, like a disconsolate widow, and sad beyond all human grief. Hitherto she has been weeping over the sins of her children; now she bewails the death of her Divine Spouse. The joyous Alleluia has long since been hushed in her canticles; she is now going to suppress another expression, which seems too glad for a time like the present. Partially, at first, but entirely during the last three days, she is about to deny herself the use of that formula, which is so dear to her: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. There is an accent of jubilation in these words, which would ill suit her grief and the mournfulness of the rest of her chants.
Her Lessons, for the Night Office, are taken from Jeremias, the Prophet of lamentation above all others. The colour of her Vestments is the one she had on when she assembled us at the commencement of Lent to sprinkle us with ashes; but when the dreaded day of Good Friday comes, purple would not sufficiently express the depth of her grief; she will clothe herself in black, as men do when mourning the death of a fellow-mortal, for Jesus, her Spouse, is to be put to death on that day: the sins of mankind and the rigors of the Divine Justice are then to weigh him down, and, in all the realities of a last agony, he is to yield up his soul to his Father.
The presentiment of that awful hour leads the afflicted Mother to veil the image of her Jesus: the Cross is hid from the eyes of the Faithful. The statues of the Saints, too, are covered; for it is but just, that if the glory of the Master be eclipsed, the Servant should not appear. The interpreters of the Liturgy tell us, that this ceremony of veiling the Crucifix, during Passiontide, expresses the humiliation, to which our Saviour subjected himself, of hiding himself when the Jews threatened to stone him, as is related in the Gospel of Passion Sunday. The Church begins this solemn rite with the Vespers of the Saturday before Passion Sunday. Thus it is, that in those years, when the Feast of our Lady's Annunciation falls in Passion Week, the statue of Mary, the Mother of God, remains veiled, even on that very day when the Archangel greets her as being full of grace, and Blessed among women.
Practice during the Passiontide and Holy Week
The past four weeks seem to have been but a preparation for the intense grief of the Church during these two. She knows that men are in search of her Jesus, and that they are bent on his Death. Before twelve days are over, she will see them lay their sacrilegious hands upon him. She will have to follow him up the hill of Calvary; she will have to receive his last breath; she must witness the stone placed against the Sepulchre where his lifeless body is laid. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at her inviting all her children to contemplate, during these weeks, Him who is the object of all her love and all her sadness.
But our Mother asks something more of us than compassion and tears; she would have us profit by the lessons we are to be taught by the Passion and Death of our Redeemer. He himself, when going up to Calvary, said to the holy women, who had the courage to show their compassion even before his very executioners: Weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children (St. Luke, xxiii. 28). It was not that he refused the tribute of their tears, for he was pleased with this proof of their affection; but it was his love for them that made him speak thus. He desired, above all, to see them appreciate the importance of what they were witnessing, and learn from it how inexorable is God's justice against sin.
During the four weeks that have preceded, the Church has been leading the Sinner to his conversion; so far, however, this conversion has been but begun now, she would perfect it. It is no longer our Jesus fasting and praying in the Desert, that she offers to our consideration; it is this same Jesus, as the great Victim immolated for the world's salvation. The fatal hour is at hand; the power of darkness is preparing to make use of the time that is still left; the greatest of crimes is about to be perpetrated. A few days hence, and the Son of God is to be in the hands of sinners, and they will put him to death. The Church no longer needs to urge her children to repentance; they know too well, now, what sin must be, when it could require such expiation as this. She is all absorbed in the thought of the terrible event, which is to close the life of the God-Man on earth; and by expressing her thoughts through the holy Liturgy, she teaches us what our own sentiments should be.
The pervading character of the prayers and rites of these two weeks, is a profound grief at seeing the Just One persecuted by his enemies even to death, and an energetic indignation against the deicides. The formulas, expressive of these two feelings, are, for the most part, taken from David and the Prophets. Here, it is our Saviour himself, disclosing to us the anguish of his soul; there, it is the Church pronouncing the most terrible anathemas upon the executioners of Jesus. The chastisement, that is to befal the Jewish nation, is prophesied in all its frightful details; and on the last three days, we shall hear the Prophet Jeremias uttering his Lamentations over the faithless City. The Church does not aim at exciting idle sentiment; what she principally seeks, is to impress the hearts of her children with a salutary fear. If Jerusalem's crime strike them with horror, and if they feel that they have partaken of her sin, their tears will flow in abundance.
Let us, therefore, do our utmost to receive these strong impressions, too little known, alas! by the superficial piety of these times. Let us reflect upon the love and affection of the Son of God, who has treated his creatures with such unlimited confidence, lived their own life, spent his three and thirty years amidst them, not only humbly and peaceably, but in going about, doing good (Acts, x. 38). And now, this life of kindness, condescension and humility, is to be cut short by the disgraceful death, which none but slaves endured—the death of the Cross. Let us consider, on the one side, this sinful people, who, having no crimes to lay to Jesus' charge, accuse him of his benefits, and carry their detestable ingratitude to such a pitch, as to shed the Blood of this innocent and Divine Lamb; and then, let us turn to this Jesus, the Just by excellence, and see him become a prey to every bitterest suffering,—his Soul sorrowful even unto death (St. Matth, xxvi. 38),—weighed down by the malediction of our sins,—drinking, even to the very dregs, the Chalice he so humbly asks his Father to take from him;—and, lastly, let us listen to his dying words: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (St. Matth, xxvii. 46) This it is that fills the Church with her immense grief; this it is that she proposes to our consideration: for she knows, that if we once rightly understood the Sufferings of her Jesus, our attachments to sin must needs be broken, for, by sin, we make ourselves guilty of the crime we detest in these Jews.
But the Church knows, too, how hard is the heart of man, and how, to make him resolve on a thorough conversion, he must be made to fear. For this reason, she puts before us those awful imprecations, which the Prophets, speaking in Jesus' person, pronounced against them that put our Lord to death. These prophetic anathemas were literally fulfilled against the obdurate Jews. They teach us what the Christian, also, must expect, if, as the Apostle so forcibly expresses it, we again crucify the Son of God (Heb, vi. 6). In listening to what the Church now speaks to us, we cannot but tremble as we recal to mind those other words of the same Apostle: How much more, think ye, doth he deserve worse punishments, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the Blood of the testament unclean, (as though it were some vile thing,) by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said: Vengeance belongeth to me, and I will repay. And again: The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb, x. 29, 30, 31).
Fearful indeed it is! Oh! what a lesson God gives us of his inexorable Justice, during these days of the Passion! He that spared not even his own Son (Rom, viii. 32),—his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased (St. Matth, iii. 17),—will he spare us, if, after all the graces he has bestowed upon us, he should find us in sin, which he so unpitifully chastised even in Jesus, when he took it upon himself, that he might atone for it? Considerations such as these,—the Justice of God towards the most innocent and august of Victims, and the punishments that befel the impenitent Jews,—must surely destroy within us every affection to sin, for they will create within us that salutary fear, which is the solid foundation of firm hope and tender love.
For, if, by our sins, we have made ourselves guilty of the death of the Son of God, it is equally true, that the , which flows from his sacred Wounds, has the power to cleanse us from the guilt of our crime. The Justice of our heavenly Father cannot be appeased, save by the shedding of this precious Blood; and the Mercy of this same Father of ours wills that it be spent for our ransom. The cruelty of Jesus' executioners have made Five Wounds in his sacred Body; and from these, there flow Five sources of salvation, which purify the world, and restore within each one of us that image of God, which sin had destroyed. Let us, then, approach with confidence to this redeeming Blood, which throws open to the sinner the gates of heaven, and whose worth is such that it could redeem a million worlds, were they even more guilty than this of ours. We are close upon the anniversary of the day when it was shed; long ages have passed away since it flowed down the wounded body of our Jesus, and fell in streams, from the cross, upon this ungrateful earth; and yet, its power is as great as ever.
Let us go, then, and draw from the Saviour’s fountains (Isaias, xii. 3); our souls will come forth full of life, all pure, and dazzling with heavenly beauty; not one spot of their old defilements will be left; and the Father will love us with the love wherewith he loves his own Son. Why did he deliver up unto death this his tenderly beloved Son? Was it not that he might regain us, the children whom he had lost? We had become, by our sins, the possession of Satan; hell had undoubted claims upon us; and lo! we have been suddenly snatched from both, and all our primitive rights have been restored to us. Yet, God used no violence in order to deliver us from our enemy; how comes it, then, that we are now free? Listen to the Apostle: Ye are bought at a great price? And what is this price? The Prince of the Apostles explains it: Know ye, says he, that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver,—but with the precious Blood of Christ, as of a Lamb unspotted and undefiled (I St. Peter, i. 18, 19). This divine Blood was placed in the scales of God's Justice, and so far did it outweigh the weight of our iniquities, as to make the bias in our favour. The power of this Blood has broken the very gates of hell, severed our chains, and made peace both as to the things on earth, and the things that are in heaven (Coloss, i. 20). Let us receive upon us, therefore, this precious Blood, wash our wounds in it, and sign our foreheads with it as with an indelible mark, which may protect us on the day of wrath, from the sword of vengeance.
There is another object most dear to the Church, and which she, during these two weeks, recommends to our deepest veneration; it is the Cross, which is, as it were, the altar upon which our incomparable Victim is immolated. Twice, during the course of the year, that is, on the Feasts of its Invention and Exaltation, this sacred Wood will be offered to us that we may honour it as the trophy of our Jesus' victory; but now, it speaks to us but of his Sufferings, it brings with it no other idea than that of his humiliation. God had said in the ancient Covenant: Accursed is he that hangeth on a tree (Deut, xxi. 23). The Lamb, that saved us, disdained not to suffer this curse; but, for that very cause, this tree, this wood, of infamy, has become dear to us beyond measure. It is the instrument of our salvation, it is the sublime pledge of Jesus' love for us. On this account, the Church is about to lavish her veneration and love upon it; and we intend to imitate her, and join her, in this as in all else she does. An adoring gratitude towards the Blood that has redeemed us, and a loving veneration of the holy Cross,—these are the two sentiments which are to be uppermost in our hearts, during these two weeks.
But for the Lamb himself,—for him that gave us this Blood, and so generously embraced the Cross that saved us,—what shall we do? Is it not just, that we should keep close to him, and that, more faithful than the Apostles who abandoned him during his Passion, we should follow him, day by day, nay hour by hour, in the way of the Cross that he treads for us? Yes,—we will be his faithful companions, during these last days of his mortal life, when he submits to the humiliation of having to hide himself from his enemies. We will envy the lot of those devoted few, who shelter him in their houses, and expose themselves, by this courageous hospitality, to the rage of his enemies. We will compassionate his Mother, who suffered an anguish that no other heart could feel, because no other creature could love him as She did. We will go, in spirit, into that most hated Sanhedrim, where they are laying the impious plot against the life of the Just One. Suddenly, we shall see a bright speck gleaming on the dark horizon; the streets and squares of Jerusalem will re-echo with the cry of Hosanna to the Son of David. That unexpected homage paid to our Jesus, those palm branches; those shrill voices of admiring Hebrew children, will give a momentary truce to our sad forebodings. Our love shall make us take part in the loyal tribute thus paid to the King of Israel, who comes so meekly to visit the daughter of Sion, as the Prophet had foretold he would: but, alas! this joy will be short-lived, and we must speedily relapse into our deep sorrow of soul!
The traitorous disciple will soon strike his bargain with the High Priests; the last Pasch will be kept, and we shall see the figurative lamb give place to the true One, whose Flesh will become our food, and his Blood our drink. It will be our Lord's Supper. Clad in the nuptial robe, we will take our place there, together with the Disciples; for that day is the day of Reconciliation, which brings together, to the same Holy Table, both the penitent sinner, and the just that has been ever faithful. Then, we shall have to turn our steps towards the fatal Garden, where we shall learn what sin is, for we shall behold our Jesus agonising beneath its weight, and asking some respite from his Eternal Father. Then, in the dark hour of mid-night, the servants of the High Priests and the soldiers, led on by the vile Iscariot, will lay their impious hands on the Son of God; and yet, the legions of Angels who adore him, will be withheld from punishing the awful sacrilege! After this, we shall have to repair to the various tribunals, whither Jesus is led, and witness the triumph of injustice. The time that elapses between his being seized in the Garden and his having to carry his Cross up the hill of Calvary, will be filled up with the incidents of his mock trial,—lies, calumnies, the wretched cowardice of the Roman Governor, the insults of the by-standers, and the cries of the ungrateful populace thirsting for innocent Blood! We shall be present at all these things; our love will not permit us to separate ourselves from that dear Redeemer, who is to suffer them for our sakes, for our salvation.
Finally, after seeing him struck and spit upon, and after the cruel scourging and the frightful insult of the crown of thorns, we will follow our Jesus up Mount Calvary; we shall know where his sacred feet have trod by the Blood that marks the road. We shall have to make our way through the crowd, and, as we pass, we shall hear terrible imprecations uttered against our Divine Master. Having reached the place of execution, we shall behold this august Victim stripped of his garment, nailed to the cross, hoisted into the air, as if the better to expose him to insult! We will draw near to the Tree of Life, that we may lose neither one drop of that Blood which flows for the cleansing of the world, nor one single Word spoken, for its instruction, by our dying Jesus. We will compassionate his Mother, whose Heart is pierced through with a sword of sorrow; we will stand close to her, when her Son, a few moments before his Death, shall consign us to her fond care. After his three hours' agony, we will reverently watch his sacred Head bow down, and receive, with adoring love, his last breath.
A bruised and mangled corpse, stiffened by the cold of death,—this is all that remains to us of that Son of Man, whose first coming into the world caused us such joy! This Son of the Eternal Father was not satisfied with emptying himself, and taking the form, of a servant (Philipp, ii. 7); this his being born in the flesh was but the beginning of his sacrifice; his love was to lead him even unto death, even to the death of the cross. He foresaw that he would not win our love save at the price of such a generous immolation, and his heart hesitated not to make it. Let us, therefore, love God, says St. John, because God first loved us (I St. John, iv. 19). This is the end the Church proposes to herself by the celebration of these solemn anniversaries. After humbling our pride and our resistance to grace, by showing us how Divine Justice treats sin,—she leads our hearts to love that Jesus, who delivered himself up, in our stead, to the rigors of that Justice. Wo to us, if this great Week fail to produce in our souls a just return towards Him, who loved us more than himself, though we were, and had made ourselves, his enemies. Let us say with the Apostle: The charity of Christ presseth us; that they who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them (II Cor, v. 14, 15). We owe this return to Him who made himself a Victim for our sakes, and who, up to the very last moment, instead of pronouncing against us the curse we so justly deserved, prayed and obtained for us mercy and grace. He is, one day, to re-appear on the clouds of heaven, and, as the Prophet says, men shall look upon Him, whom they have pierced (Zach, xii. 10). God grant that we may be of the number of those who, having made amends, by their love, for the crimes they had committed against the Divine Lamb, will then find confidence at the sight of those Wounds!
Let us hope that, by God's mercy, the holy time we are now entering upon will work such a happy change in as, that, on the Day of Judgment, we may confidently fix our eyes on Him we are now about to contemplate crucified by the hands of sinners. The Death of Jesus puts the whole of nature in commotion; the mid-day sun is darkened, the earth is shaken to its very foundations, the rocks are split;—may it be, that our hearts, too, be moved, and pass from indifference to fear, from fear to hope, and, at length, from hope to love; so that, having gone down, with our Crucified, to the very depths of sorrow, we may deserve to rise again with him unto light and joy, beaming with the brightness of his Resurrection upon us, and having within ourselves the pledge of a new life, which shall then die no more!
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Passiontide and Holy Week, Edition 1870.
1. March 29, 2020: I Sunday of the Passion.
2. The Holy Season of Lent.
3. Laws of Fasting and Abstinence.
4. Perfect Contrition.
5. The Seven Penitential Psalms.
6. Devotion to our Lord’s Passion.
7. Devotion to our Lady’s Sorrows.
Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, save us.
March 28, 2020: ST. JOHN CAPISTRAN, CONFESSOR
“The Lord is my
strength and my praise, and he is become salvation to me: he is my God and I will glorify him. The Lord is as a man of war, Almighty is his name. The Lord putteth an end to wars, the Lord is his name.”
(Exodus, xv. 2, 3; Judith, xvi. 3)
O God, through Blessed John, You made Your faithful people triumph over the enemies of the Cross by the power of the most holy name of Jesus; grant, we beseech You, that by his intercession, we may overcome the snares of our spiritual foes and be found worthy to receive from You the crown of righteousness. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
An account of St. John Capistran.
Among the Saints who glorified and illustrated the Church of Christ in the 15th Century, St. John was one of the most famous. He derived his surname from the place of his birth, Capistran, a town in the kingdom of Naples. After he had studied the liberal arts, he was sent to Perugia to study theology and law, in both of which he soon became so proficient, that he was made an officer at the Court of Justice, and gained the highest esteem of the whole city. One of the richest and first men gave him his daughter in marriage, together with a large fortune. Every thing seemed to smile upon John; but his good fortune lasted not long. Perugia refused to acknowledge Ladislas, King of Naples, as her rightful Lord, and revolted against him. John was secretly an adherent of the King, and stood well with the royal army. This no sooner became known, than he was put in prison. He expected surely that he, in whose service he had lost his liberty, would take his defence and set him free; but as this did not take place, John began to see how faithless the world is, and how changeable is all temporal happiness. About the same time, his young wife died, and he determined to leave the world and endeavor to gain, in a religious order, the grace of the Most High and eternal salvation.
To this end, he. sold all his property and gave the money he received for it as ransom for his liberty, and then went to the convent of St Francis, humbly praying to be admitted. The superior, fearing that John had made his resolution too hastily, and that he would not persevere, examined him very strictly, and tried his vocation with the greatest severity. John stood the test and was allowed to take the vows after the novitiate; and from that time, his life was a continual fast. He partook of food only once a day, and ate no meat for 36 years. Three hours was all the time he gave to sleep, and that upon the bare ground. Besides this, he scourged himself daily to blood, and endeavored to mortify himself in every possible manner. His heart was inflamed with love for God, and nothing was more agreeable to him than union with the Almighty in prayer, reading devout books and listening to the word of God. Before the Crucifix or in presence of the Blessed Sacrament, he passed whole hours on his knees, either with tears in his eyes or in deep rapture. The name of John, said he, had been given him by the special design of God, in order that he should endeavor to become a favorite disciple of the Lord and a faithful son of the Blessed Virgin. He was zealous for the salvation of men, and travelled, for several years, through the principal cities of Italy, preaching everywhere the word of God. He had an especial gift to move the most hardened sinners; and the sighs and tears of his audience sometimes obliged him to interrupt his sermon. At that period lived St Bernardine of Sienna, a holy missionary, who possessed the same zeal as John, but who had been accused at Rome, on account of his veneration for the most holy Name of Jesus, which to some seemed immoderate. St. John went to Rome to defend his friend, and thus his virtue and wisdom became known to the Popes, who employed him in many important affairs, all of which he conducted to their greatest satisfaction. Nicholas V. sent him as apostolic Legate to Hungary, Poland and Germany, which gave him an opportunity to do indescribable good in those countries. Many heretics, especially Hussites, were led back to the true Church; and in converting them, he heeded not the peril in which he placed his own life. Twice was poison given him by the enemies of the true faith, but God miraculously protected his life. Many other labors of the holy man for the benefit of the faithful we omit for want of space.
One deed, however, for which he deserved the thanks of the whole Christian world, must not fail to find a place in this work. Mahomet II. threatened to exterminate Christianity. He had put an end to the Greek empire in 1453, by taking Constantinople and more than 200 other Cities; and in 1456, with an immense army, he besieged the city and fortress of Belgrade, with the intention of becoming master of the entire Western Empire. The Pope, relying more on virtue and holiness than on the arms of the Christian princes, sent St. John to preach the holy war against the arch-enemy of Christianity, and to exhort all Christian princes to take up arms, and commanded him to be present in person with the Christian army during the campaign. The holy man executed the command, united the Christian powers and urged them to the battle. The two armies, the Turkish and the Christian, were arrayed against one another, but the former was far superior to the latter in numbers; and yet on the issue of this battle depended the fate of Christendom. St. John, with a crucifix in his hand, went from rank to rank, encouraging the soldiers to fight bravely, by repeating to them that it was Christ and His Church whom they were defending. The presence and the exhortation of so holy a man gave courage to the soldiers, and, at the first assault, they carried consternation into the army of the infidels. Mahomet himself was wounded, and his soldiers were lying in thousands on the field of battle in their blood. The victory was complete, and so visibly the fruit of a miracle, that neither the leaders of the Christian armies, nor the soldiers, ascribed it to the power of arms, but to the holiness and prayers of St. John. Thanking the Lord of armies for His protection, the Saint after the war, retired to the cloister of Villich, in Hungary, whence, after three months of a most holy life, he was called to receive the crown of everlasting glory, in the 72nd year of his age. The Almighty glorified His faithful servant, before and after his death, by many miracles. At Vienna, in the church of St. Stephen, is yet to be seen the pulpit from which St. John preached.
I. As soon as St. John recognized the instability of the world, the faithlessness of the favor and friendship of man, and the vanity of all temporal happiness, he began to seek most earnestly the favor and friendship of the greatest of all monarchs, and with it, eternal salvation. He acted wisely; for, the grace of God is to be esteemed more highly than that of all the monarchs of the world. It is more necessary, useful and desirable than the friendship of all men. It is very difficult to gain the friendship of men; it is also very easy to lose it; and when we need it most we seldom find it. The favor of God is easily gained; and no one can take it from us while we deserve it. In every need, we can promise ourselves to be supported by Him. Why, then, do you not more eagerly seek after it? Why do you not endeavor to preserve it? Why are you more solicitous to gain the favors of mortal man than the grace of your God? “The love of a human being,” says the pious Thomas à Kempis, “is a false and unstable love: but the love of Jesus is true and constant.” Love and keep as a friend, Him who does not leave you, especially not at a moment when all others will forsake you. Remain with Jesus in life and death. Give yourself to Him who alone can help you when all others abandon you.
II. Nothing was more agreeable to St. John than his communion
with God in prayer, in reading devout books and listening to the word of God. In prayer, we speak to the Almighty, according to St. Augustine. In pious books and religious instructions, the Almighty speaks to us. Do you also love this kind of intercourse with
God? How much time do you devote to it? Your conduct shows that you converse more willingly with men than with God, because you give
so much more time to the former than to the latter. Your many frivolous visits, your long, empty conversations are a proof of it. Can you believe that such intercourse with human beings is more useful or more necessary than an intercourse with the Almighty? You can hardly be so foolish. “The greatest Saints,” says Thomas à Kempis, “have avoided the society of men. As often as I have been among men, I have returned from them less good. I wish I had been more silent, and that I had not had any intercourse with men.” It is seldom that one returns from long conversations without sin; for, the Holy Ghost assures us that long conversations are a cause of sin. By this, however, I do not mean to forbid necessary or proper intercourse with others. But do not frequent the society of the wanton or wicked; and do not go too much into society. Do not prolong your conversations without need. Guard yourself against empty, useless or idle conversations. If you observe these rules, you will have more time to be with God in prayer, devout reading and sermons. “If you withdraw from gossiping and idle visits, you will find time enough for pious meditation,” writes Thomas à Kempis.
from: The Lives of the Saints, Vol. II, 1875; and
Saint Joseph Daily Missal, Imprimatur 1957.
St. John Capistran, pray for us.