The Holy Time of the Passion

With the liturgy of Lent and Passion tide, the Church calls us to the sorrowful way that the divine Savior is to walk from the Garden of Olives to Calvary. First comes Passion Sunday and the preparations for the funeral of the God-Man. The Church is in tears: everything proclaims public mourning… Violet crepe covers the cross, statues, images…

At Mass on Passion Sunday, the holy spouse of the God-Man (the Church) goes up to the summit of Calvary with her sorrowing family. In the Epistle, Saint Paul describes the death of the great Victim of the human race and tells us that His sacrifice was the only thing capable of atoning for sin, because the ancient sacrifices were merely the figure of that of the cross. In the Gospel we are reminded of both the perfect innocence and divinity of the Victim, and the crime of the obstinate Jews who, despite the evidence of the Savior’s miracles and holiness, formed the iniquitous project of immolating Him.

By manifesting His divinity in all its splendor to the conspiring Jews, Jesus gave them a great proof of His love, for He exposed to them the greatest motive for not setting sacrilegious hands upon Him. He told them the same thing the prophet Jeremiah had said to their fathers: “Behold I am in your hands: do with me what you will. But know and understand that if you put me to death, you will be shedding innocent blood against your own selves, and against Jerusalem and its inhabitants. For in truth I am the envoy of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 26:14-15.)

These grave words which the Savior spoke to the Jews two thousand years ago, He speaks again each year at the opening of Easter time to all who are disposed to receive Him:  “Behold I am going to place Myself at your disposal. When I am in your heart, you will do with Me what you will. But know and understand that if you crucify Me anew, you will be shedding innocent blood against your own selves; for in truth I am the Son of God.” This warning serves to make us reflect in order to prove ourselves seriously, as Saint Paul the Apostle wishes, for fear that in going to the holy table, we may eat and drink judgment to ourselves. (Cf. I Corinthians 11:27-29.)

The Gospel of the Mass also tells us clearly that the Passion, Calvary and the Cross are going to become the fixed thought of the Church. Thus, as everything in the holy temple proclaims mourning, we chant the hymn of Saint Fulgentius, Vexilla Regis prodeunt.

Behold the standard of the great King:
Behold the mystery of the Cross shining;
Behold the mystery which shows us a God nailed to a cross,
A God nailed to an infamous gibbet
for our sakes!
See the blood flowing from the Savior’s side;
It flows, mingled with water, to wash
our sins away.
Now the words of David are fulfilled.
The Prophet said to the nations:
God shall rule from the wood.
Tree which the King of kings watered
with His blood:
Tree so beautiful and so bright!
Privileged tree, chosen among all others,
Thou didst touch the sacred limbs
of the Holy of holies.
Oh, how blessed are thy branches!
They bore the ransom of the world!
And it is from thy branches, as on a scale,
That the divine body was weighed,
And that it snatched from hell its prey.
Hail, O Cross! Our only hope!
O Cross! In these days of the Passion,
Augment piety in the hearts of the just,
Obtain forgiveness for sinners.

These last words are oft repeated during the Holy Days that are to follow, as with every word apt to produce sentiments of true compunction in Christian hearts. Let us allow ourselves to feel the impressions of faith, and let us mingle at least our tears with the blood of our Father immolating Himself for us.

Beginning on Monday, the Church shows us the Savior far less occupied with the torments being prepared for Him than with the salvation of His enemies. He calls to them, beseeching them to convert with these pressing words: If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me. (John 7:37.)  Yet a little time I am with you, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and will not find Me. (John 7:33-34.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday in the Gospel we see, on the one hand, the evil plots of the Jews who manifest themselves more and more, and on the other hand the God-Man, ever calm, suspending His enemies’ fury at will and continuing His moving exhortations till the very moment determined for the powers of darkness.

Thursday’s Gospel discloses to us everything concerning the merciful fatherhood of the Savior’s heart. It is the story of the penitent sinner woman who watered the divine Redeemer’s feet with her tears and then deserved to hear these words: Her sins, many as they are, shall be forgiven her, because she has loved much. (Luke 7:47.)  O Jerusalem! Had you only wished, a few tears of repentance would have sufficed to obtain your forgiveness! That was what the Savior said to the Jews with this miracle of mercy. How true it is that our God is slow to punish, that He punishes only with regret and after having exhausted every means to bring back hardened sinners. And it is this good Savior whom the Jews want to put to death like a criminal!

Yes, so it is; and the next day’s Gospel relates the deliberations, the debates, the votes of that dreadful council which decided the death of a God-Man.

While the heart of Jesus suffered over such perversity, another heart also felt the most bitter pains: that of Mary. And to touch her children more surely, more deeply, on Friday the Church has us honor the sweet Virgin’s passion. Yes, she wants us to have compassion on this sorrowful Mother, sorrowful because of us. She wants us to console Her sorrow with the only comfort She can and wants to receive: a bitter sorrow for our sins, a sorrow such as that felt by a well-bred child when he sees his mother weep.

The Feast of the Compassion

The feast of the Compassion was intended to honor the sorrows of Mary, whom the Church calls the Queen of Martyrs. It was prescribed in 1413 by the Council of Cologne in order to make reparation for the blasphemies and outrages that the Hussites were committing against the Holy Mother of God…

Children of the great Catholic family, behold our Father and our Mother, Jesus and Mary, drowning in an ocean of bitterness. Does this sight not speak to your heart? It is for us, it is because of us that They are suffering such inexpressible sorrows. Tell me, can the Church remind you during Lent of anything more capable of detaching your heart from sin?

On Saturday, the day after the Compassion, the Gospel shows us the Savior dining with Lazarus, whom He has just resurrected. His sister Mary pours a perfume of great price upon the feet of the God-Man, and the divine Master speaks tender words with which He prepares His Disciples for the most cruel separation of all…

Msgr. Jean Joseph Gaume, Catéchisme de persévérance (Emmanuel Vitte: Paris, 1889 — 13th ed.), Vol. VIII, pp. 63-74.

Published in the Magnificat Magazine, February 1996, p. 31-33