Oh blessed body! Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
Sure there is room within our hearts good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toys dwell there, yet out of door
They leave thee.
But that which shows them large, shows them unfit.
Whatever sin did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now? Who hath indicted it
Where our hard hearts have took up stones to brain thee,
And missing this, most falsely did arraign thee;
Only these stones in quiet entertain thee,
And as of old, the law by heav’nly art,
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word, find’st no fit heart
To hold thee.
Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can,
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
George Herbert, 1593-1633
'There is no Mass today. That which is done at the altar is but the summing up of what, in time, was begun yesterday, that Act which although it has its moments in time, is of the Eternal order of reality in itself, is not made more by that immersion in time but only made accessible and available to us men and for our salvation. As in the Incarnation God comes to and adds to man, not man to God, so in Holy Mass, ever is it that our emptiness is filled, our nothingness finds its sole accompaniment in Jesus, our poverty enriched by the Divine Liberality, our frailty charged with power from on high. Is it not in order to emphasise this that the Church today throws us back on the very Act and moment of the first Good Friday, bids us contemplate the Mystery of the Cross in all its stark reality, strips herself bare to leave us face to face with the Crucifix, would have us see with the eye of faith alone the profundity of the Divine Love, the malice of sin, the perfection of the Sacrifice, which exhibits the one and atones for the other, would have us seek nought else but to stand silent, worshipful, penitent, all-loving at the Cross with Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Magdalene, Queen of Penitents, John, prince of lovers, and those other few, known scarcely but by name, to whom. we, indeed, are more akin?
Ite Missa est. No translation is possible save in that word of Jesus, Consummatum est, which our It is finished fails to express. For here is not something finished in the sense of being ended, done with, and laid aside, but in the fullest sense of an act which had not only accomplished all that was necessary, filled out and completed the whole designed, but this in order that it may remain an abiding thing, of permanent value and use. The Cross is not the end of the Gospel but the centre, to which all tends, from which all flows. It is not a cul-de-sac but a way, the Way to Life, to freedom, to peace and joy'.
Dom Bede Frost OSB, 1875-1947
'Holy Thursday is not only the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, whose splendour bathes all else and in some ways draws it to itself. To Holy Thursday also belongs the dark night of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus goes with his disciples; the solitude and abandonment of Jesus, who in prayer goes forth to encounter the darkness of death; the betrayal of Judas, Jesus’ arrest and his denial by Peter; his indictment before the Sanhedrin and his being handed over to the Gentiles, to Pilate. Let us try at this hour to understand more deeply something of these events, for in them the mystery of our redemption takes place.
Jesus goes forth into the night. Night signifies lack of communication, a situation where people do not see one another. It is a symbol of incomprehension, of the obscuring of truth. It is the place where evil, which has to hide before the light, can grow. Jesus himself is light and truth, communication, purity and goodness. He enters into the night. Night is ultimately a symbol of death, the definitive loss of fellowship and life. Jesus enters into the night in order to overcome it and to inaugurate the new Day of God in the history of humanity.
On the way, he sang with his Apostles Israel’s psalms of liberation and redemption, which evoked the first Passover in Egypt, the night of liberation. Now he goes, as was his custom, to pray in solitude and, as Son, to speak with the Father. But, unusually, he wants to have close to him three disciples: Peter, James and John. These are the three who had experienced his Transfiguration – when the light of God’s glory shone through his human figure – and had seen him standing between the Law and the Prophets, between Moses and Elijah. They had heard him speaking to both of them about his “exodus” to Jerusalem. Jesus’ exodus to Jerusalem – how mysterious are these words! Israel’s exodus from Egypt had been the event of escape and liberation for God’s People. What would be the form taken by the exodus of Jesus, in whom the meaning of that historic drama was to be definitively fulfilled? The disciples were now witnessing the first stage of that exodus – the utter abasement which was nonetheless the essential step of the going forth to the freedom and new life which was the goal of the exodus. The disciples, whom Jesus wanted to have close to him as an element of human support in that hour of extreme distress, quickly fell asleep. Yet they heard some fragments of the words of Jesus’ prayer and they witnessed his way of acting. Both were deeply impressed on their hearts and they transmitted them to Christians for all time. Jesus called God “Abba”. The word means – as they add – “Father”. Yet it is not the usual form of the word “father”, but rather a children’s word – an affectionate name which one would not have dared to use in speaking to God. It is the language of the one who is truly a “child”, the Son of the Father, the one who is conscious of being in communion with God, in deepest union with him.
Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us. He experiences anguish before the power of death. First and foremost this is simply the dread natural to every living creature in the face of death. In Jesus, however, something more is at work. His gaze peers deeper, into the nights of evil. He sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in that chalice from which he must drink. His is the dread of one who is completely pure and holy as he sees the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him. He also sees me, and he prays for me. This moment of Jesus’ mortal anguish is thus an essential part of the process of redemption'.
from a Maundy Thursday Homily, 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI
'Today, the Gospel continues to explore Judas's act of betrayal. The act of betrayal was seemingly very simple. Judas handed over a very simple secret for a very straightforward reason. What he betrayed was, quite simply, the whereabouts of Jesus in the hours of darkness. Why he betrayed was financial gain.
Some have found this too unsubtle. Surely what and why Judas betrayed must have been more profound than that? Isn't it rather a let-down if the climax of the Incarnation, the redemptive death of the God-man, was triggered by something as simple and sordid as a bag of shekels?
Actually, there is a deep fittingness in the betrayal for money of the Saviour of the world. Economics agree with philosophers that money is a mysterious thing. You might think nothing could be less mysterious than the pound in your pocket. But in fact it takes a lot of understanding. Money has been described as a kind of knot that ties together all the processes of society - whether this be for good or for evil.
If so, what more appropriate than that the life of the infinitely precious God-an, spent for the revaluing of humanity in the eyes of the Father, should be exchanged for hard cash.
Money is the symbol of all we value, all that matters to us. The exchange of money makes the world go round. And this is what through a 'marvellous exchange' the blood of Christ will start to do, from Good Friday onwards. It will become the medium in which to value - indeed, to re-value - all human life'.
Fr Aidan Nichols OP
Thou that on sin’s wages starvest,
Behold we have the joy in harvest:
For us was gather’d the first-fruits
For us was lifted from the roots,
Sheaved in cruel bands, bruised sore,
Scourged upon the threshing-floor;
Where the upper mill-stone roof’d His head,
At morn we found the heavenly Bread,
And on a thousand Altars laid,
Christ our Sacrifice is made!
Those whose dry plot for moisture gapes,
We shout with them that tread the grapes:
For us the Vine was fenced with thorn,
Five ways the precious branches torn;
Terrible fruit was on the tree
In the acre of Gethsemane;
For us by Calvary’s distress
The wine was rackèd from the press;
Now in our altar-vessels stored
Is the sweet Vintage of our Lord.
In Joseph’s garden they threw by
The riv’n Vine, leafless, lifeless, dry:
On Easter morn the Tree was forth,
In forty days reach’d Heaven from earth;
Soon the whole world is overspread;
Ye weary, come into the shade.
The field where he has planted us
Shall shake her fruit as Libanus,
When He has sheaved us in His sheaf,
When he has made us bear His leaf.--
We scarcely call that banquet food,
But even our Saviour’s and our blood,
We are so grafted on His wood.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, 1844-1889
'Holy Week sets before us for ever that the Christian and the Christian Church will conquer by God's methods or not at all. You and I are the Church, remember. The Church is not some vague body outside us that we think ought to do this or ought to do that. She is us. And if she conquers in any other way than God's way she will not be the Christian Church.
The Cross, then, shall be our glory. Its way and our way. It redeems us, and then redeemed we carry it, and then one day it carries us - very likely in some quite great act of sacrifice, material or intellectual. It is not that one day death will be swallowed up in victory. It is swallowed up now. As we die with Him we begin to live. The darkest moment of Holy Week leads directly into the glory of the Garden on Easter morning. In us the Christ advances this Holy Week to Calvary once more, and once more hatred and hostility will be met by Love, and pain will be conquered by the suffering of it. The triumphal procession on Palm Sunday was a real one, not a mock one. The King of Glory in real truth rode in that morning conquering. Whatever it may look like to the world, Good Friday is a complete victory of God's methods over man's, as we shall see, you and I, if we have the courage to try them. But it will need courage, because Calvary is not a pathway of roses, and a cross almost always hurts'.
Dom Bernard Clements OSB, 1880-1942
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Yet they at these
and ’gainst Him rise.
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He
to suffering goes,
That He His foes
from thence might free.
In life no house, no home,
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav'n was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay.
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
in Whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.
Samuel Crossman, 1623-1683
'Early in the morning of this day Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph that Jesus is to receive to-day in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosannas to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome’s emperor, and of the high priests and Pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.
The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Saviour. He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.’ Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfilment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him an ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Beth phage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.
The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat, is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence: the Jews will be rejected, for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God’s people, and become docile and faithful.
The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Saviour, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him, and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King. They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm-trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.
Thus did God, in His power over men’s hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamour for His Blood. This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews. Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate’s order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: ‘What I have written, I have written.’ Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: ‘The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.’ Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.
This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of to-day, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse'.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Today, in the Ordinariate and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, we commemorate Our Lady of Sorrows. In the Ordinariate Form it is known as 'St Mary in Passiontide' and in the Extraordinary as the 'Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary'. It is a day, a week before Good Friday, in which we recall the sufferings of Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross, in fulfilment of Simeon's prophecy, spoken to Mary: 'and a sword will pierce through your own soul also'.
The Stabat Mater, below, is appointed as the Sequence for today's commemoration. The text is that found in Divine Worship: The Missal. As Pius Parsch reflects, 'We see Christ's agony through the heart of His mother. She is our guide, she teaches us how to suffer and sympathise with her Son.'
'Who is it that is watched? Jesus - true God and true Man. Jesus my Lord is crucified. Crucified. Yes, that explains where He is while they watch. On the cross - naked and alone.
Certainly he had said, "A man's life consisteth not in the things which he possessth'. He now has nothing: all has been taken from Him, even His garments. His friends have deserted and His reputation is destroyed.
Yet He is not naked, for He is clothed with the robe of Righteousness and He still has the one treasure of man's life, complete Purity of Heart, a stainless conscience. The Pure in Heart see God, so He is not alone. Did He not say so? "and yet I am not alone for the Father is with me."
They watched Him - some of that crowed who had stood outside Pilate's courtyard, people of all kinds who, together with the ignorant soldiers, had by their demand "Crucify him" or by their silence given consent to His condemnation.
We know all this so well but do we remember that what we know from the written record of the Gospels is the revelation of eternal truth? We watch too. We are not commemorating a past event but moving in the realm of eternity. We have not come... merely out of a kind of respect, like attending the funeral of a relative. Nor have we come to pity a friend in His sufferings, like those friends of Job who sat in silence and watched him on his dung-hill.
No, we are here because we belong here at the Crucifixion, we are here not only because our Lord died for us, but because we have helped to bring about His death - for by our sins we crucify the Son of God afresh.
We are without excuse... [and] it is our sins for which we mourn, not for His sufferings. We creep to the Cross in penitence and lowly adoration to worship, for we see love rejected yet still loving. Love wants to be loved, but God who is love does not love in order to be loved. He loves us whatever we do.
Remember our Lord was crucified by ordinary people. It is just the same today. Do we not recognise in ourselves the Pilate who smothers his conscience for expediency and pretends not to be responsible? Have I not often chosen Barabbas, made a sinful choice for the inferior; even the sin of Judas had echoes in my own heart, for to what treachery has not disappointed pride led many disciples of Jesus?
We come and we watch in no spirit of condescending pity but penitently, humbly desiring to weep for our sins.
"And whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out". The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. He will not reject us however poor our contrition. He will not despise us.
From the Cross He will speak to us and His words are spirit and are life'.
from the Three Hours' Devotion preached at All Saints, Margaret Street, 1956, by Raymond Raynes CR, 1903-1958
from Hymns on the Lord's Supper, 1745, by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
from Prayer and Contemplation in Laudate by Dom Denys Prideaux OSB, 1864-1934
When the tools are put in their places and the day’s work is done,
When between Carmel and the Jordan, Israel falls asleep in the wheatfields and the night,
As when he was once a young boy and it began to get too dark for reading,
Joseph enters with a deep sigh into conversation with God.
He preferred Wisdom and she had been brought to him for marriage.
He is as silent as the earth when the dew rises,
He feels the fulness of night, and he is at ease with joy and with truth.
Mary is in his possession and he surrounds her on all sides.
It is not in a single day he learned how not to be alone any more.
A woman won over each part of his heart which is now prudent and fatherly.
Again he is in Paradise with Eve!
The face which all men need turns with love and submission toward Joseph.
It is no longer the same prayer and no longer the ancient waiting since he has felt
Like an arm suddenly without hate the pressure of his profound and innocent being.
It is no longer bare Faith in the night, it is love explaining and working.
Joseph is with Mary and Mary is with the Father.
And for us, too, so that God at last may be allowed, whose works surpass our reason,
So that this light may not be extinguished by our lamp and His word by the noise we make,
So that man cease, and Your kingdom come and Your Will be done,
So that we may find again the beginning with boundless delight,
So that the sea may quiet down and Mary begin,
She who has the better part and who consummates the struggle of ancient Israel,
Inner Patriarch, Joseph, obtain silence for us!
Paul Claudel, 1868-1955
Thus, in a most mysterious way, all that is needful for this sinful world, the life of our souls, the regeneration of our nature, all that is most joyful and glorious, hope, light, peace, spiritual freedom, holy influences, religious knowledge and strength, all flow from a fount of blood. A work of blood is our salvation; and we, as we would be saved, must draw near and gaze upon it in faith, and accept it as the way to heaven. We must take Him, who thus suffered, as our guide; we must embrace His sacred feet, and follow Him. No wonder, then, should we receive on ourselves some drops of the sacred agony which bedewed His garments; no wonder, should we be sprinkled with the sorrows which He bore in expiation of our sins!'
from 'Bodily Suffering' in 'Parochial and Plain Sermons', Book 3: Sermon 11
by Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
For a Friday in Lent
From thence to heaven's bribeless hall,
Where no corrupted voices brawl,
No conscience molten into gold,
No forged accuser bought or sold,
No cause deferred, no vain-spent journey;
For there Christ is the King's attorney,
Who pleads for all without degrees,
And he hath *angels, but no fees.
And when the twelve grand million jury
Of our sins with direful fury
'Gainst our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads His death, and then we live.
Sir Walter Raleigh, 1552-1618
*Angels is a punning reference to the gold coin of Sir Walter's day
'We want to come to our prayer in the spirit of a disciple. Always saying the same prayers just as a matter of duty will be to lack the spirit of discipleship in prayer. The disciple will always have something to bring to the Master. There is the day's work behind him, for which he wants criticism, correction, forgiveness, and teaching; there is the day's work before him, for which he wants guidance and direction. Therefore in his prayer there will be much listening and expectant silence, and obedient readiness for alteration or abandonment, so the holiest way of the Master may be communicated to his listening spirit. It makes the whole difference if, instead of bringing a plan to Him and asking Him to bless it, we come to Him as disciples to learn what His best plan may be, quite ready to abandon our own plan and to have all our idea altered as we kneel before Him. Perhaps we were going to ask Him how we should do or say something: we find it would be much better not to do or say anything at all. When the Master has finished giving us His advice, as in simple prayer and meditation we lay our souls before Him, we shall not get up immediately and go away, but in meditation we shall contemplate the Master's own work, His skill in doing the thing we have bungled. Then we shall cease from looking even at the Master's work and contemplate the Master Himself. Himself - myself - my work - His work - Himself. That will be the kind of order in which we bring ourselves and our interests to Him.
If we really love God we shall not be saying that we have not time for prayer. People do not talk like that when they are in love. Romeo had to haunt the hosue of Juliet, and Juliet could not have said that she had no time to see Romeo. They could not help coming together. A disciple will find the time for prayer to the Master; and the more we pray, the more precious does prayer become. Throughout the day we want to keep the spirit of recollection, in other words, the remembrance of vocation. The boat that meets the storm is the same boat that lay quietly at anchor. It came to harbour that it might go forth again; it goes forth that it may come back: but the captain was with it in port or at sea. We must keep in our life this sense of going out from Jesus and returning to Him, and yet keeping Him with us all the day'.
from The Way of Victory: Meditations for Lent and After by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
'Temptations do not make a man evil, but they show what he is. Temptations are the occasions by which also the power of God may be shown in those who will live in his power. And as they live in his power, they are taken up into the glory of his holiness. In the world we are then in the midst of continual temptations, and these temptations are the very means by which our spiritual life is perfected.
Whenever God permits us to experience some great temptation, we must humble ourselves before him; but along with the humiliation we must always have more confidence, for he giveth more grace.
Satan tries to persuade us when he tempts us that we cannot come to Jesus because of the temptation, - that it makes us unfit to come. But oh! that is the very reason why we should come. Temptations should form the very closest bond between us and our divine Lord, because they are a bond which makes us sure of the divine sympathy.
Even if we feel that we cannot come because of our halfheartedness, because of fear that we have connived with Satan by reason of our sinfulness; we must still remember that it is only by coming to Jesus that we can be cleansed from our halfheartedness, and that we can only be washed from our sinfulness by plunging into the ocean of his love.
God will not reject us because we have borne many wounds in coming to him, and are bleeding in the fight. He rejoices to see us longing for himself above all. He owns us as his children when the violence of Satan does not stay not stifle us, but evokes from the depth of love a fresh tide of grateful song. We must press onward through these adverse circumstances to the glory of the Father's throne. Angels will guard, the Holy Spirit will strengthen us. The defilement will turn to glory amidst the welcome of heaven'.
Richard Meux Benson SSJE, 1824-1915
'Most people's wilderness is inside them, not outside. Thinking of it as outside is generally a trick we play upon ourselves - a trick to hide from us what we really are, not comfortingly wicked, but incapable, for the time being, of establishing communion. Our wilderness, then, is an inner isolation. It's an absence of contact. It's a sense of being alone - boringly alone, or saddeningly alone, or terrifyingly alone.
Our isolation is really us - inwardly without sight or hearing or taste or touch. But it doesn't seem like that. Oh no. I ask myself what I'm isolated from, and the answer looks agonisingly easy enough. I feel isolated from Betty whom I love desperately and is just the sort of woman who could never could love me. And so to feel love, I think, must be at the same time to feel rejection. Or I feel isolated from the social people who, if noise the index of happiness, must be very happy indeed on Saturday evenings. Or I feel isolated from the competent people, the success-boys who manage to get themselves into print without getting themselves into court. Or I feel isolated, in some curious way, from my work. I find it dull and uninviting. It's meant - it used - to enliven me and wake me up. Now it deadens me and sends me to sleep.
Is it to go on always like now, just - tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow - a slow process of dusty greyish events with a lot of forced laughter, committee laughter, cocktail laughter, and streaks of downright pain?
This then is our Lent, our going with Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. And we might apply to it some words from the First Epistle of St Peter: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice, insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed"'.
HA Williams CR, 1919-2006
‘Every year readers write to the Telegraph pointing out that the mid-Sunday in Lent is not “Mother’s Day” but “Mothering Sunday”. Many blame America for introducing the former and making it commercial.
In America, of course, Mother’s Day is the second Sunday in May, as proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. It is marked on that day because it was the result of a campaign by Anna Jarvis (1864–1948), whose own mother had died on 9th May.
This is where the British tradition grows a little complicated. For the revival of Mothering Sunday must be attributed to Constance Smith (1878–1938), and she was inspired in 1913 by reading a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis’s campaign in America.
A big difference was that Constance Smith was a High Anglican who believed that “a day in praise of mothers” was fully expressed in the liturgy of the Church of England for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. This is not entirely the case, for the Collect on that Sunday traditionally asks God that “we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved”. That doesn’t sound specifically maternal.
It is only the traditional Lesson for the day that declares: “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all,” a day known by another title, Laetare Sunday, from the Introit, the first prayer of the Mass, which says: “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem: and be ye glad for her, all ye that delight in her: exult and sing for joy with her, all ye that in sadness mourn for her… and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.” A third title, Refreshment Sunday, evokes this imagery, and echoes the anticipatory joy of the day, which points towards the fulness of Easter joy in the new Jersualem, and this is expressed through the use of rose vestments, flowers, and the resumption of the organ at Mass.
Laetare Sunday’s connections with mothers came through it being the day to visit the mother church or cathedral. Some customs of the day outlived the Reformation. These included making a simnel cake and taking it to Mother. “I’ll to thee a Simnel bring, / Gainst thou go’st a Mothering,” wrote the celebratory poet Robert Herrick in the mid 17th century.
Constance Smith reconnected simnel cakes and what local customs of the day that survived with the honouring of mothers. Under the pen-name C. Penswick Smith she published a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920. Things snowballed, impelled by feelings consequent on the loss by many mothers of their sons in the First World War.
Constance Smith’s idea was not that Mothering Sunday should be limited to one Christian denomination, and its popularity spread through such open organisations as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. “By 1938,” wrote Cordelia Moyse, the modern historian of the Mothers’ Union, “it was claimed that Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire.”
Neither Constance Smith nor Anna Jarvis ever became mothers themselves. Anna Jarvis regretted the growing commercialisation of the day, even to disapproving of pre-printed Mother’s Day cards. “A printed card means nothing,” she said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world”’.
Christopher Howse in The Daily Telegraph
'Easter will soon be here! That is the new theme which permeates this Sunday's liturgy. From it all other motifs and topics take their inspiration. Christ, the new Moses, provides heavenly manna, the Eucharist, for his disciples. He leads them to the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church, and makes them God's free children.
This Sunday has a unique distinction in the Church year - a day of joy in the season of penance and sorrow! All the Mass texts ring with joy: the entrance song is a joyous shout, "Laetare - rejoice!"
Clear and loud like a bugle call, the Introit heralds its message to rejoice because the "mourning" of Lent will soon be over. New children will soon be born (through baptism) and nourished "at the breast of Mother Church" (the Eucharist). Psalm 121 is an excellent song for a procession approaching the altar, its sentiments will be on the lips of the white-robed catechumens on Holy Saturday, and on ours when at death we pass into the heavenly Jerusalem.
It may perhaps seem strange to find the Church in a mood so devoid of sadness and penance during this season of austerity and mortification. Nevertheless today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the last before Passiontide, she is ringingly jubilant... Nor is this any way unnatural because joy and sorrow so often are very close together in the human heart! How frequently joy is born of suffering'.
from The Church's Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O LORD Jesu Christ, Maker, Redeemer, Lover and Benefactor of mankind, who graciously hearest those who earnestly call upon thee, have mercy upon me. Cleanse me, I beseech thee, by thy most holy Incarnation and passion from all sin. Cast down in me all haughtiness of pride; destroy all arrogance; break in pieces and utterly crush all hardness of spirit which is contrary to sincere love. Calm the troubled risings of impatience. Repress and quell the wild impulse and madness of anger; extinguish the wrong desire of vain glory. Root out and destroy the evil motions of wicked lusts. Take from me whatever in me displeaseth thee, and give me what is pleasing unto thee. Teach, enlighten, direct, assist, protect and keep me every moment and hour of my life, that I may do those things which are pleasing to thee, and rest secure in thee for ever. Amen.
from A Manual of Catholic Devotion for Members of the Church of England, 1950
'At times during our lives, like Our Lord, we too need to live for forty days in the desert, to attend more closely to God and to purify our hearts. Each year we penetrate more deeply, and share more fully, the mystery of divine life and love revealed in the death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. During Lent we reflect on the mystery by recalling the three temptations of Our Lord after his forty days of fasting and prayer.
The temptations of Christ reveal the human condition. They tell us something about faith and hope and the sovereignty of God over the whole of creation. First, the devil took advantage of Jesus' hunger after forty days of fasting to tempt him to limit his concern to the relief of physical human need: giving bread to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the homeless. These are vital concerns and God cares about them, but they cannot be the sole concern of the Saviour or of the Church which continues his mission. We need too a reason for living, a sense of purpose, a vision. We need the bread of life, the word of truth which comes from God. The best gift to the world is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
The second temptation was to seek a sign from the Father, a dramatic intervention to overwhelm all disbelief and opposition. On Calvary there was an echo of the same temptation: "Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him." (Matthew 27:42). But miraculous escape is a delusion. The children of God have to be prepared to wait in faith and enduring hope. We realise, like Christ, that love alone will conquer hate and that life is found only in the experience of death. In darkness we have faith in the light, we hope for life without end. Despair paralyses the human will. Instead, we are offered the inspiration of hope and new life.
The final temptation is to use earthly power and strength to enforce the good we wish to achieve. But whatever the motive, we must follow the path God the Father has shown us in the life of his Son. In faith and hope we must be content with weakness and apparent failure. The blessing we bring to our world is the message of Jesus Christ, a message that we must communicate and put into practice. It is the only answer to the unbelief and moral anarchy that causes so much misery.
It is our task to witness to the truth and commit ourselves to the Gospel of reconciliation, peace, unity and love of others. We must be consistent and wholehearted in our service of God.'
from The Mystery of the Cross, 1998, by Basil, Cardinal Hume OSB, 1923-1999
'And when the populace called for them into the midst, that as the sword penetrated into their body they might make their eyes partners in the murder, they rose up of their own accord, and transferred themselves whither the people wished; but they first kissed one another, that they might consummate their martyrdom with the kiss of peace. The rest indeed, immoveable and in silence, received the sword-thrust; much more Saturus, who also had first ascended the ladder, and first gave up his spirit, for he also was waiting for Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might taste some pain, being pierced between the ribs, cried out loudly, and she herself placed the wavering right hand of the youthful gladiator to her throat. Possibly such a woman could not have been slain unless she herself had willed it, because she was feared by the impure spirit.
O most brave and blessed martyrs! O truly called and chosen unto the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! whom whoever magnifies, and honours, and adores, assuredly ought to read these examples for the edification of the Church, not less than the ancient ones, so that new virtues also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit is always operating even until now, and God the Father Omnipotent, and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whose is the glory and infinite power for ever and ever. Amen.'
from The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, c.203
O holy God, who gavest great courage to Saints Perpetua, Felicitas and their Companions:
grant that, through their prayers, we may be worthy to climb the ladder of sacrifice,
and be received into the garden of peace;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Divine Worship: The Missal
'The Lenten journey, in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, is meant to reproduce within us "the pattern of his death" (Ph 3:10), so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives; that we may be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus; that we may firmly orient our existence according to the will of God; that we may be freed of our egoism, overcoming the instinct to dominate others and opening us to the love of Christ. The Lenten period is a favourable time to recognise our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.
Through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism. This Lent, let us renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all of our actions. What the Sacrament signifies and realises, we are called to experience every day by following Christ in an ever more generous and authentic manner. In this our itinerary, let us us entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary, who generated the Word of God in faith and in the flesh, so that we may immerse ourselves - just as she did - in the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, and possess eternal life.'
from Rediscovering our Baptism: Message for Lent 2011, given at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI
Fr Lee Kenyon
Priest, Husband, Father, Lancastrian, Mancunian