The following ‘Ancient Homily on the Lord’s Descent into Hell’ is found in the order for ‘A Liturgy of the Word for Holy Saturday’ as found in the Ordinariate’s Divine Worship: The Missal. It is attributed to Bishop Melito of Sardis, who died c.180.
‘Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.
“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity”’.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through the same 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. - A collect for Holy Saturday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Good Friday is explained by Holy Thursday, the hour of darkness by the hour of the Son of Man. Nevertheless there remains this disconcerting fact that the prince of darkness has had his hour; his pride perished with his conquest, and yet the Son of Man had to be delivered to him. It is the “scandal of the cross”, “the folly of the cross”, as St Paul does not hesitate to say: a scandal and a folly in which the generosity of God’s love, revealed at the Last Supper, appears to have no limit except that of having none. If this truth, once penetrated, becomes eminently comforting, it is at this the most disturbing of mysteries: nothing else than the “problem of evil” sounded to the depth, and not thereby solved.
…Christ’s sorrow is first the sorrow of God, touched to the quick by that hostility His people, without even realising it, generated in sinning against Him. Will not this enmity reject His love the instant that He comes in person to repair for sinners the wrong they have done to Him? The sorrow of Christ is at the same time the sorrow of man, becoming conscious of the impassable abyss that sin has hollowed between him and his God. Having come as far as he can on the bloody way back to God, he is only made aware of his infinite remoteness from the One whom he was attempting to reach. This sorrow of man in Jesus Christ is still, however, the sorrow God, since in Him God made Himself man; so that his double sorrow appears, in the last analysis, as one single agony of the Man-God. In His divine incarnate Person, the unifying plenitude of divine love assumes the pain of separation which sin had imposed upon man. In the horrific torture of the cross to which the Saviour chose to submit, we can see an image of that division that the Man-God felt as none of us would be capable of feeling, between His divinity and the humanity which that divinity had accepted; between God’s love and man’s sin. Who will ever describe this interior cross of the God made man, who feels Himself, as God, abandoned by men, and, as man, abandoned by God?’
from The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week
by Fr Louis Bouyer, Cong. Orat., 1913-2004
‘The celebration of… Holy Thursday renews for us the hour of Christ, the hour when, by the sign of the Eucharist, He declared Himself the Champion of humanity in the combat against Satan. But the Holy Thursday observance renews that hour not only as any commemoration might revive a memory: it actually reproduces that hour so that we may all have part in it. In anticipating His Passion in this sign, Christ gave at the same time the sacrament that was to re-enact the Passion for His followers and, by this sacrament, gave the entire Christian sacramental system. All the other sacraments are in germ in the Eucharist since it embodies the Saviour’s Passion and they are only complementary aspects of the victory He won for us. On Holy Thursday, too, the blessing of the oils establishes a link between the primordial Mass and the important sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and extreme unction. Speaking more generally, all the Christian liturgy is a perpetual renewal of the mystery of Christ, suffering, dying, and rising again to deprive the demon of his power over men and to reconcile them with His Father’.
from The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week
by Fr Louis Bouyer, Cong. Orat., 1913-2004
‘The Church has prepared us step by step for this sacred experience [of Holy Week]. A steady crescendo in the liturgy has been taking place since Septuagesima Sunday. Each week the sound rose higher, and louder. Although Mother Church often spoke about the Cross and the resurrection, she did so in veiled signs and figures, as if she feared exposing a most precious object to profane eyes. Not until this moment does she remove the curtain. Now we see the Holy of Holies; and more than that, we are asked to participate in the most sublime drama of religious history.
…We should not call it a week of mourning, for Cross and resurrection are inseparable. Christ’s redemptive work did not end with death, it continues on in the victory of His resurrection. Therefore, we must not separate the passion from the resurrection, but rather regard the Cross as the way to Easter victory.
The liturgy does not make this week one of sorrowful lamentation or tearful sympathising with our suffering Lord. That was the medieval approach. No, through the whole week there runs a note of victory and joy, a realisation that Christ’s sacred passion was a prerequisite to Easter glory. We cannot understand the Church’s liturgy unless we keep this in mind’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O Lord God, whose blessed Son, our Saviour, gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame: grant us grace to take joyfully the suffering of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same 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. - Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ gives us the confidence of glory and a lesson in the endurance of suffering.
Is there anything which the hearts of the faithful may not promise themselves from the grace of God? It was not enough that the only Son of God, co-eternal with the Father, should be born as man from man for them – he even died for them at the hands of men, whom he had created.
What God promises us for the future is great, but what we recall as already done for us is much greater. When Christ died for the wicked, where were they or what were they? Who can doubt that he will give the saints his life, since he has already given them his death? Why is human weakness slow to believe that men will one day live with God?
A much more incredible thing has already happened: God died for men… he carried out a wonderful transaction with us through our mutual sharing: he died from what was ours, we will live from what is his.
So far from being ashamed at the death of the Lord our God, we must have the fullest trust in it; it must be our greatest boast, for by assuming from us death, which he found in us, he pledged most faithfully to give us life in himself, which we could not have our ourselves’.
from a sermon by St Augustine of Hippo, 354-430
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same 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. - Collect for Monday in Holy Week, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘They had always wanted to make Him a king. Right up to the end His immediate disciples always had this idea very prominent in their thoughts. Even on the Mount of the Ascension they were to ask Him that question which seems to us so unbelievably stupid: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Still harping on their idea of an earthly kingdom greater than Solomon’s!
Well, today they should have their will. The time had come for the fulfilling of the remaining prophecies about Him.
So He rode forward on the ass, and they hailed Him as king… With Him goes a great crowd from outside Jerusalem, mostly Galileans come up for the Feast, at least half-convinced that He is the Messiah, ready to go all the way with Him if He will give them a lead, the more so that He is a Galilean, and they will show these Judean Jews that Galilee can do something worth while after all. And as they go on towards Jerusalem they will be joined by many who heard that He had arrived at Bethany, and were on their way out to see Him who had not been seen since He raised Lazarus.
…We keep Palm Sunday. We sing our hymn: “All glory, laud, and honour to Thee, Redeemer, King”. It is a royal procession we take part in. He is our King. Even knowing about Good Friday and what He will be like then, scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed up there – as Cardinal Newman said once – like a noxious bird on a barn door, He is our King. His Kingdom is not of this world. But then men are not of this world either – mid-way between animal and angel is man – and it is in men’s hearts and wills that His Kingdom lies. He will convert men, and they will reconstruct society. And He will conquer by love, or He will not conquer at all. Earthly kings are not crowned with thorns, and scourged, and robed in blood, or, if they are, they do not turn the world upside down.
…We take our part in the procession.
Some go before and make ready the way – getting branches of trees and strewing them in the way – spreading garments in the way. So some of you give personal service, and make personal sacrifices. You long by any means in your power to do honour to Him. Some follow after, attracted by the crowd, and worked up by their enthusiasm – attracted by music, or by a popular preacher, or by striking ceremonial, or by the influence of a personal friend. And there are His nearest disciples, around Him wherever He goes, whether they understand or not. Even they will fail Him later in the week. Will you?’
from an address on Palm Sunday 1933 by Dom Bernard Clements OSB, 1880-1942
Lord, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.
O Christ, hear us. O Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy upon us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy upon us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy upon us.
Jesus, the Eternal Widsom, have mercy upon us.
The Word made flesh, have mercy upon us.
Hated by the world, have mercy upon us.
Sold for thirty pieces of silver, have mercy upon us.
Sweating blood in Thy agony, have mercy upon us.
Betrayed by Judas, have mercy upon us.
Forsaken by Thy disciples, have mercy upon us.
Struck upon the cheek, have mercy upon us.
Accused by false witnesses, have mercy upon us.
Spit upon in the face, have mercy upon us.
Denied by Peter, have mercy upon us.
Mocked by Herod, have mercy upon us.
Scourged by Pilate, have mercy upon us.
Rejected for Barabbas, have mercy upon us.
Loaded with the cross, have mercy upon us.
Crowned with thorns, have mercy upon us.
Stripped of Thy garments, have mercy upon us.
Nailed to the tree, have mercy upon us.
Reviled by the Jews, have mercy upon us.
Scoffed at by the malefactor, have mercy upon us.
Wounded in the side, have mercy upon us.
Shedding Thy last drop of blood, have mercy upon us.
Forsaken by Thy Father, have mercy upon us.
Dying for our sins, have mercy upon us.
Taken down from the cross, have mercy upon us.
Laid in the sepulchre, have mercy upon us.
Rising gloriously, have mercy upon us.
Ascending into Heaven, have mercy upon us.
Sending down the Paraclete, have mercy upon us.
Jesus our Sacrifice, have mercy upon us.
Jesus our Mediator, have mercy upon us.
Jesus our Judge, have mercy upon us.
Be merciful. Spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful. Graciously hear us, O Lord.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee,
Because through Thy Holy Cross Thou didst redeem the world.
Let us pray. O God, who for the redemption of the world wast pleased to be born; to be circumcised; to be rejected; to be betrayed; to be bound with thongs; to be led to the slaughter; to be shamefully gazed at; to be falsely accused; to be scourged and torn; to be spit upon, and crowned with thorns; to be mocked and reviled; to be buffeted and struck with rods; to be stripped; to be nailed to the cross; to be hoisted up thereon; to be reckoned among thieves; to have gall and vinegar to drink; to be pierced with a lance: through Thy most holy passion, which we, Thy sinful servants, call to mind, and by Thy holy cross and gracious death, deliver us from the pains of hell, and lead us whither Thou didst lead the thief who was crucified with Thee, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.
from his Litany of the Passion by Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
In both the Ordinariate and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, one week exactly before Good Friday, Our Lady of Sorrows is today commemorated. In the Ordinariate it is known as ‘Saint Mary in Passiontide’, a day to recall the sufferings of Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross of her Son.
‘With Mary, God has worked for good in everything, and he does not cease, through Mary, to cause good to spread further in the world.
Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveller and protector on life’s journey. “By her motherly love she cares for her son’s sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home”, as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.
Our trust in the powerful intercession of the Mother of God and our gratitude for the help we have repeatedly experienced impel us, as it were, to think beyond the needs of the moment. What does Mary actually want to say to us, when she rescues us from some trial? She wants to help us grasp the breadth and depth of our Christian vocation. With a mother’s tenderness, she wants to make us understand that our whole life should be a response to the love of our God, who is so rich in mercy. “Understand”, she seems to say to us, “that God, who is the source of all that is good and who never desires anything other than your true happiness, has the right to demand of you a life that yields wholly and joyfully to his will, striving at the same time that others may do likewise”. Where God is, there is a future.
Indeed — when we allow God’s love to pervade and to shape the whole of our lives, then heaven stands open. Then it is possible so to shape the present that it corresponds more and more to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the little things of everyday life acquire meaning, and great problems find solutions.
Confident of this, we pray to Mary; confident of this, we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. Amen’.
Pope Benedict XVI
‘How pleasing and dear to God is that soul, and how fruitful will his meditations be, in which he inwardly suffers the pains of Jesus’ passion, is wounded to the heart by His wounds, and by reflecting on his death experiences a love-death with Him.
…Most gracious Lord Jesus, I ask thee, who in thy vast love deigned to pray for thine enemies, to pray with that same love for me to the Father that He grant me full pardon for all my sins and mercifully free me from the punishment I deserve for them. Grant me a firm and abiding trust in thy love, that I yield not to despair because of the greatness of my sins, rather that I remember that thou hast come into this world to save sinners and that it was thy will to suffer, to be crucified, and to die for the sinful.
…Lord, let my soul rejoice in thee and find joy in thy salvation, as I reflect on thy most consoling words, your second utterance from the Cross, “Amen I say unto thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise”. May these words, more tender because they came from thee as thou hung upon thy Cross, be often on my lips and still more often in my heart. Words addressed to me from the lips of my crucified Lord are most endearing and eloquent, and for this reason they merit more serious attention and profound reflection.
…Let meditating on Jesus Christ and Him crucified be your daily prayer. Keep Jesus always before your eyes and keep ever near the foot of His Cross. Whether in life or death, enter the tomb with Jesus so that when Christ, who is your life, shall appear again, you will rise with Him in glory. Amen’.
from On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists by Thomas à Kempis, c.1380-1471
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw one hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near his cross I stood.
Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with his death,
Though not a word he spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins his blood had spilt,
And helped to nail him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did:
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain.
A second look he gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live’.
Thus while his death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue;
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is filled,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.
John Newton, 1725-1807
O Christ, my Lord, which for my sins didst hang upon a tree,
grant that thy grace in me, poor wretch, may still ingrafted be.
Grant that thy naked hanging there may kill in me all pride
and care of wealth, sith thou didst then in such poor state abide.
Grant that thy crown of pricking thorns, which thou for me didst wear,
may make me willing for thy sake all shame and pain to bear.
Grant that those scorns and taunts which thou didst on the cross endure
may humble me and in my heart all patience still procure.
Grant that thy praying for thy foes may plant within my breast
such charity as from my heart I malice may detest.
Grant that thy pierced hands, which did of nothing all things frame,
may move me to lift up my hand and ever praise thy name.
Grant that thy wounded feet, whose steps were perfect evermore,
may learn my feet to tread those paths which thou hast gone before.
Grant that those drops of blood which ran out from thy heart amain
may meek my heart into salt tears to see thy grievous pain.
Grant that thy blessed grave, wherein thy body lay awhile,
may bury all such vain delights as may my mind defile.
Grant that thy going down to them which did thy sight desire
may keep my soul, when I am dead, clean from the purging fire.
Grant that thy rising up from death may raise my thoughts from sin;
grant that thy parting from this earth from earth my heart may win.
Grant, Lord, that they ascending then may lift my mind to thee
that there my heart and joy may rest, though here in flesh I be. Amen.
St Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel, 1557-1595
‘The body we receive in this sacrament is a body that died, and having died was buried. The body was done to death and laid in a tomb, to wait for a divine miracle. Christ lies in his sepulchre the image of Christian hope; nothing lies there but the bare hope of resurrection. Hope stretches between sacrifice and life renewed. Vision can often see no further than the sacrifice which God’s commandments impose; it cannot descry the enrichment of life which God’s grace intends. Hope holds the gap. “Must I rule the appetite of sex within the law of Christ, must I persevere in practices of prayer which are dry and seemingly infertile? It is death to my spirits. What life will ever come of it for the Christian people or for me?” If this is death, I ought to embrace it for Christ’s sake, and be willing not only to die, but to lie dead in sure and certain hope. Where the burial of Christ is, there the resurrection of Christ will be”’.
from The Crown of the Year: Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament, 1952
by Austin Farrer, 1904-1968
We beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people: that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and in soul; 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. - Collect for Passion Sunday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Frederick Faber, Cong. Orat., 1814-1863
O MOST HOLY MOTHER, Queen of Sorrows,
who didst follow thy beloved Son through all the Way of the Cross,
and whose Heart was pierced with a fresh sword of grief
at all the Stations of that most sorrowful journey,
obtain for us, we beseech thee, O most loving Mother,
a perpetual remembrance of our Blessed Saviour's Cross and Death,
and a true and tender devotion to all the mysteries of His most holy Passion.
Obtain for us the grace to hate sin,
even as He hated it in the agony in the garden;
to endure wrong and insult with all patience
as He endured them in the judgement hall;
to be meek and humble in all our trials
as He was before His judges;
to love our enemies even as He loved his murderers,
and prayed for them upon the Cross;
and to glorify God and to do good to our neighbour,
even as He did in every mystery of His suffering.
O Queen of Martyrs,
who by the Dolours of thy Immaculate Heart on Calvary,
didst merit to share the Passion of Our Most Holy Redeemer,
obtain for us some portion of thy compassion,
that for love of Jesus crucified,
we may be crucified to the world in this life,
and in the life to come may,
by His infinite merits and thy most powerful intercession,
reign with Him in glory everlasting.
1. My God, who could have imagined, by any light of nature, that it was one of Thy attributes to lower Thyself, and to work out Thy purposes by Thy own humiliation and suffering? Thou hadst lived from eternity in ineffable blessedness. My God, I might have understood as much as this, viz. that, when Thou didst begin to create and surround Thyself with a world of creatures, that these attributes would show themselves in Thee which before had no exercise. Thou couldest not show Thy power when there was nothing whatever to exercise it. Then too, Thou didst begin to show thy wonderful and tender providence, Thy faithfulness, Thy solicitous care for those whom Thou hadst created. But who could have fancied that Thy creation of the universe implied and involved in it Thy humiliation? O my great God, Thou hast humbled Thyself, Thou hast stooped to take our flesh and blood, and hast been lifted up upon the tree! I praise and glorify Thee tenfold the more, because Thou hast shown Thy power by means of Thy suffering, than hadst Thou carried on Thy work without it. It is worthy of Thy infinitude thus to surpass and transcend all our thoughts.
2. O my Lord Jesu, I believe, and by Thy grace will ever believe and hold, and I know that it is true, and will be true to the end of the world, that nothing great is done without suffering, without humiliation, and that all things are possible by means of it. I believe, O my God, that poverty is better than riches, pain better than pleasure, obscurity and contempt than name, and ignominy and reproach than honour. My Lord, I do not ask Thee to bring these trials on me, for I know not if I could face them; but at least, O Lord, whether I be in prosperity or adversity, I will believe that it is as I have said. I will never have faith in riches, rank, power, or reputation. I will never set my heart on worldly success or on worldly advantages. I will never wish for what men call the prizes of life. I will ever, with Thy grace, make much of those who are despised or neglected, honour the poor, revere the suffering, and admire and venerate Thy saints and confessors, and take my part with them in spite of the world.
3. And lastly, O my dear Lord, though I am so very weak that I am not fit to ask Thee for suffering as a gift, and have not strength to do so, at least I will beg of Thee grace to meet suffering well, when Thou in Thy love and wisdom dost bring it upon me. Let me bear pain, reproach, disappointment, slander, anxiety, suspense, as Thou wouldest have me, O my Jesu, and as Thou by Thy own suffering hast taught me, when it comes. And I promise too, with Thy grace, that I will never set myself up, never seek pre-eminence, never court any great thing of the world, never prefer myself to others. I wish to bear insult meekly, and to return good for evil. I wish to humble myself in all things, and to be silent when I am ill-used, and to be patient when sorrow or pain is prolonged, and all for the love of Thee, and Thy Cross, knowing that in this way I shall gain the promise both of this life and of the next.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
‘I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty, or he may be thirty. Sometimes he looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about his face that I cannot solve. Perhaps, as he bears all burdens, he bears that of old age too. But so it is; his face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever and will not cease.
And I see suddenly someone come to him and raise his hand and sharply strike him on that heavenly face. It is a hard hand, the hand of a rude man, and perhaps has iron upon it. It could not be so sudden as to take by surprise him who knows all things past and future, and he shows no sign of resentment, remaining calm and grave as before; but the expression of his face is marred; a great welt arises, and in a short time that all-gracious face is hidden from me by the effects of this indignity, as if a cloud came over it.
A hand was lifted up against the face of Christ. Whose hand was that? My conscience tells me: “You are the man”. I trust it is not so with me now. But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before you, and fancy yourself lifting up your hand and striking him! You will say, ‘It is impossible: I could not do so.’ Yes, you have done so. When you sinned wilfully, then you have done so. He is beyond pain now: still you have struck him, and had it been in the days of his flesh, he would have felt pain. Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by wilful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things, or by profaneness, or by hard hatred of your brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice, or in any other devilish way known to you, you have struck the All-Holy One.
O injured Lord, what can I say? I am very guilty concerning you, my brother; and I shall sink in sullen despair if you do not raise me. I cannot look on you; I shrink from you; I throw my arms round my face; I crouch to the earth. Satan will pull me down if you do not take pity. It is terrible to turn to you; but oh, turn me, and so shall I be turned. It is a purgatory to endure the sight of you, the sight of myself – I most vile, you most holy. Yet make me look once more on you whom I have so incomprehensibly affronted, for your countenance is my only life, my only hope and health lies in looking on you whom I have pierced. So I put myself before you; I look on you again; I endure the pain in order to receive the purification.
O my God, how can I look you in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable – or rather so awfully increasing! You load me day by day with your favours and feed me with yourself, as you did Judas, yet not only do I not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time. Lord, how long? When shall I be free of this real, this fatal captivity? He who made Judas his prey has got foothold of me in my old age, and I cannot get loose. It is the same day after day. When will you give me a still greater grace than you have given, the grace to profit by the graces that you give? When will you give me your effectual grace, which alone can give life and vigour to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine? My God, I know not in what sense I can pain you in your glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes that once fell on you in your Passion. Oh, let me have as little share in those past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them. I know that at best I have a real share of them all, but still it is shocking to find myself having a greater and greater share. Let others wound you – let not me. Let me not have to think that you would have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me. O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Lord, I come to Thee in a cloudy day
And bring to Thee my weight of weariness.
Forgive me if I do not kneel to pray
But sit in mute and utter helplessness.
O Lord most pitiful, stoop down to me;
The power is palsied that would rise to Thee.
In this lone church there is a sculptured rood
Crowning the entrance to Thy sanctuary:
Thou hangest patient, nailed and stained with blood,
Mary and John on either side of Thee.
To the dear love of that divine defeat
I bring my baffled soul, O Saviour sweet.
My need must cry to Thee, my soul is dumb,
And oh, my sky is dark as dark can be:
My fear must plead to Thee, my heart is numb,
Without response even to Calvary:
And yet, my lord, this awful sense of loss
Draws me with Dismas to Thee on Thy Cross.
Thou didst take life for us and lay it down,
Yielding Thyself to death’s cold helplessness;
Thou didst take thorns of sorrow for Thy crown;
Our hope is fashioned by the hopelessness
Of that dark night that heard Thy bitter cry
When Thou, the Lord of Love, for love wouldst die.
Saviour, forgive me if I flinch from fear
And teach me to go onward through the night,
Trusting that in the darkness Thou art near,
That following love I must be following light.
In this lone church may there be born in me
Love’s faith that faces fear courageously!
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
to the tune St Cross, by J.B. Dykes, 1823-1876
Frederick Faber, Cong. Orat., 1814-1863
Today is the memorial of Our Lady of the Sorrows, also known in the liturgy of Ordinariate as Saint Mary at the Cross.
‘Behold thy mother!... Behold thy son! No evangelist records this saying except St John, the disciple whom JESUS loved. The others tell, indeed, of the company of weeping women, faithful to the last, who watched by the Cross. But the presence of the mother of JESUS was unmarked except by the friend to whose care she was commended in the loving words which escaped the notice of the rest. Little is told about the Blessed Virgin in the Gospels; she is but the highly favoured handmaid of the Lord. But enough is told to assure us, what indeed we would readily believe, even if we were not told, that the tie between mother and Son was a perfect pattern of that most sacred relationship. From the beginning, she kept in her heart all that was said of her wondrous Son, she had a premonition that all generations would call her Blessed. Yet she had heard, in the days of His tender infancy, that because of Him the sword of grief would pierce her heart. And so now it had to come to pass. She saw Him brought to the Cross. But His love took thought for her future even in His last pains. He commended her to His best earthly friend, to the disciple who had drunk most deeply of His spirit. And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home’.
from Verba Crucis: Good Friday Addresses, 1915
by John Henry Bernard, 1860-1927 (Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, 1915-1919)
O Lord, in whose Passion, according to the word of Simeon, the sword of sorrow didst pierce the most sweet soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary: graciously grant that we, who devoutly call to mind her sorrows, may obtain the blessed effects of thy Passion; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross. Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal was offered this evening, followed by the Veneration of the Relic of the True Cross. Then home for tea and hot cross buns. A blessed Roodmass!
‘As we look up at the Cross, let each one of us say, “Sin nailed Him there, and my sin had a share in it”. As the Cross reveals the value to God of the individual soul, each one of us can say, “It is a wonderful thing to think I am worth all that to Him. My poor worthless soul is none the less so precious to Him that He thought me worthy dying for, me, His sinful child”.
...We must remember that what we are celebrating today is a triumph, the supreme triumph of perfect human nature. We see our own nature transfigured, made in the image of God and fulfilling that image. In his contest with the prophets of Baal, when Elijah wished to make it clear that the fire would come from heaven was really divine, he recklessly bade the people to pour water over the sacrifice. If the fire came from God, let it be made clear that nothing man could do could stop that fire. He laid his sacrifice upon the altar and bade them pour barrels of water upon it: he bade them dig a trench round it and fill it with water. Then he prayed to the God of Israel, the fire descended, and the sacrifice was indeed accepted. Our Lord in His great sacrifice of Himself for us filled His trench with everything that sorrow, hate, tears, and blood could bring, and the victory is manifest. The thorns became His crown, the gibbet His altar and His throne, and the dire day of His death bears the name of Good Friday. People have often thought of Easter as the victory. Easter was not the victory, but the revelation of the victory. The Resurrection made the made victory clear. The victory is the victory of love, and we gather here today in all humility, penitence, and adoring love to celebrate that victory. On Calvary we see the way of love challenged by every force that can be brought against it, and we see Love winning in His defeat. Love’s greatest defeat has been Love’s greatest victory’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘“Woman, behold thy son.” “Behold thy mother.” Can’t you see it all down the years since, till it drew near to you and me, until at last now she is your mother and mine? At Jerusalem, when they brought in the newly won Christians, and showed them to her, and her to them, and said: “This was His mother”. And then, as they went about His business, I see them telling her before they went out, and coming to her with their story when they returned, and her praying for their work, and loving it, because it was His work. And at Ephesus I do not see that it was different. And now that she is in Heaven when JESUS I cannot believe that it is different. What sort of Heaven would it be to a Mother to know nothing of how her Son’s dearest friends were prospering, and to be cut off from praying for them? So I believe that she is my Mother, and that I am her son, as much as any of the earthly Christians who lived during her earthly life, and I believe that she loves me, because JESUS loves me; and I believe that she prays for me, because she wills that I should become what JESUS would have me be. And in these days when I in London can hear a broadcasting announcer clearing his throat in Madrid, I do not find it difficult to believe that Our Lady hears me in Heaven when I ask her in my sore need to pray for me. I beg you, don’t set the resources of the spiritual kingdom below the present achievements of radio-telephony.
...She is our Mother. He gave her to us. So when we pray with Gabriel, God’s archangel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women,” and with Elizabeth: “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, JESUS,” we add from ourselves as her children: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death”. And in Heaven “A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” will turn to her beloved Son, and an angel will come to help us and them to conquer in the fight’.
from Dom Bernard Clements OSB, 1880-1942
‘Mary is the “Regina Martyrum,” the Queen of Martyrs. Why is she so called? - she who never had any blows, or wound, or other injury to her consecrated person. How can she be exalted over those whose bodies suffered the most ruthless violence and the keenest torments for our Lord’s sake? She is, indeed, Queen of all Saints, of those who “walk with Christ n white, for they are worthy;” but how of those “who were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held?”
To answer this question, it must be recollected that the pains of the soul may be as fierce as those of the body. Bad men who are now in hell, and the elect of God who are in purgatory, are suffering only in their souls, for their bodies are still in the dust; yet how severe is that suffering! And perhaps most people who have lived long can bear witness in their own persons to a sharpness of distress which was like a sword cutting them, to a weight and force of sorrow which seemed to throw them down through bodily pain there was none.
What an overwhelming horror it must have been for the Blessed Mary to witness the Passion and the Crucifixion of her Son! Her anguish was, as Holy Simeon had announced to her, at the time of that Son’s Presentation in the Temple, a sword piercing her soul. If our Lord Himself could not bear the prospect of what was before Him, and was covered in the thought of it with a bloody sweat, His soul thus acting upon His body, does not this show how great mental pain can be? and would it have been wonderful Mary's head and heart had given way as she stood under His Cross?
Thus is she most truly the Queen of Martyrs’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
What mist hath dimmed that glorious face?
What seas of grief my sun doth toss?
The golden rays of heavenly grace
lie now eclipsèd on the cross.
Jesus! my Love, my Son, my God,
behold thy mother washed in tears;
Thy bloody wounds be made a rod
to chasten these my latter years.
Thou messenger that didst impart
his first descent into my womb,
Come help me now to cleave my heart,
that I may there my Son intomb.
Ye angels all, that present were,
to show his birth in harmony;
Why are you not now ready here,
to make a mourning symphony?
But wail, my soul, thy comfort dies,
my woeful womb lament thy fruit;
My heart, give tears unto my eyes,
let sorrow string my heavy lute.
St Robert Southwell, c.1561-1595
from The Prayers of Saint Brigid of Sweden
O Jesus! Inexhaustible Fountain of compassion,
Who in a profound gesture of love
Cried from the Cross ‘I thirst’,
Suffering there the thirst for the salvation of the human race.
I beg of Thee, my Saviour,
Inflame within our hearts a yearning towards perfection in all we do,
And extinguish in us the fire of concupiscence
And the passion of earthly desires. Amen.
O Jesus! Strong Lion, Immortal and Invincible King,
Remember the pain which Thou didst endure
When all the strength of Thy body and mind was utterly spent,
Thou didst bow Thy Head and say
‘It is finished!’
Through this anguish and grief, I beg of Thee, Lord Jesus,
Have mercy on me in the hour of my death,
When my mind will be in turmoil
And my soul in anguish. Amen.
Today, in the Calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, is the feast of the Most Precious Blood. From 1849 to 1969 it was part of the General Roman Calendar, but was removed on account of its commemoration, as a theme, in the Masses of the Passion, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It remains however, in the Ordinary Form, as a Votive Mass, but it does not feature, under this title, in the Ordinariate’s liturgical usage. Rather, in Divine Worship: The Missal, provision is made for a Votive Mass of the Five Wounds, a medieval devotion, popular in England especially, which was found in the missal of the Sarum Use. The emblem of the Five Wounds was notably employed on the banner rallying the faithful - clergy, religious, and lay - in the famous Pilgrimage of Grace between 1536-1537 which saw unsuccessful uprisings across Northern England in protest at Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Highly appropriate, then, that such a hallowed devotion, dear to Ecclesia Anglicana, should be revived in a collection intended to preserve, liturgically, the English spiritual tradition within the Catholic Church. The Collect and Postcommunion for the Mass of the Five Wounds in Divine Worship make specific mention of the Precious Blood, and whilst there is no feast of the same, it would be both suitable and felicitous to offer this beautiful Mass in this month of July, which remains dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Christ.
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
The Acolyte’s Toolbox