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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Thursday, 13 April 2017

HOLY WEEK IN EAST AND WEST: THE CROSS AND GOOD FRIDAY



Good Friday challenges us to look at the Cross.  In the Latin Church there is no Mass on this day, nor on  Holy Saturday, even though the Mystery of Christ Crucified is actually present in the Mass and we  participate in it.  However, the Church wants us to look at the Cross in itself, just as Christ in the Gospels reveals it to us. Let us look at the Cross, and it will teach us about everything else; and we shall take part in the Mass all the better for our encounter with the Cross on Good Friday.


This is emphasised in the Liturgy of Good Friday when, just before the "Our Father", just where the Eucharistic Prayer should be in the Mass, where bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the celebrant uncovers the veiled cross in three stages, singing three times, each time on a higher note:
"This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world."The people reply:"Come, let us worship!"

 Both photos from the Easter Triduum in Blackfriars, Oxford. Taken from The New Liturgical Movement
This is the meaning of Good Friday, and we could do nothing better than spend all day just goggling at the Cross, drinking in its meaning, which is the fundamental meaning of everything else this week, and worshipping with our whole body.

THE CROSS, REVELATION OF THE TRUE SERIOUSNESS OF SIN AND THE MERCY OF GOD.
The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him...When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he. 

The ancient peoples knew that, while serpents can be deadly, the very venom that kills can be used as a cure from their bite.  The serpent is a symbol for evil, for the tempter.  The people must look at and recognise what has tempted and bitten them, then use the venom in a medicinal way to cure themselves. Jesus is drawing a parallel: we are all subject to the death of sin, and we can be saved by facing the worst sin of all.  

What do we see when we look at the crucifix?  Firstly, we see a depiction of the worst sin of all, one besides which the fall of Adam and Eve and the construction of the Tower of Babel appear almost trivial.  Eating the fruit of the tree was an ancient equivalent of lowering God's colours over paradise and replacing them with the colours of Adam and Eve; and constructing the Tower was making humankind independent of God.  Far worse is to capture God and crucify Him!!

Too often we reduce the meaning of sin to the level of our personal moral faults: basically, I am responsible for myself, we think; my sins are what I have done or what I have failed to do; and, although we influence each other and can even cause weaker people to sin by our example, the sin of the world is for us the sum total of everybody's individual sins.  If only it were! This is not scriptural: sin throughout the world and throughout history has a certain unity, a cohesion and a deeper  evil than mere immorality, a gravely distorted good brought about by the presence of the devil and his angels; and we participate in this diabolic unity in and through our own personal sins.  We have small horizons and weak spiritual sight and cannot see the full consequences of our participation in the "mystery of sin and evil".

Looking at the crucifix, we be given the insight that all our sins have contributed to the crucifixion of Christ.  The crucifix reveals sin at its worst, sin achieving its hidden object in the mind of Satan, as all the built-up evil across the world and down the centuries is drawn into one single aim to bring about the total destruction of Christ; and Christ walks into the situation willingly.

The second thing brought to our attention is the kenotic love for us of God in Christ, as he "empties himself "into the very worst sin that creation could commit, to grasp the hands of sinners in love of those who are captive, in however deep a hole that they have dug for themselves, in whatever sin they have committed. He "reconciles the world to himself"  crosses every barrier,  even the ultimate one which is Hell, "He reconciles the world to himself", "leaving the ninety-nine sheep for the sake of the one" crossing any barrier, removing any obstacle He identifies himself with those who feel themselves utterly abandoned by God, "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me!" and he even descends into Hell, to those for whom God is absent.

Just as when the Israelites looked at a model of the serpents that were killing them and were cured; so we, when we look at the crucifix, see our sin,  recognise the evil of sin and encounter the love of Christ who loves us, bears the sins of the whole world and their consequences, including mine, and is there to pardon every sin.  Sin meets Grace and is transformed for all who accept the crucified Christ.

Fr Cantalamessa OFM (Cap) says:
The cross is the tomb which absorbs all human pride:"Come thus far; I said, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break” (Job 38:11). The waves of human pride break against the rock of Calvary and they can go no further. The wall God erected against them is too high and the abyss he dug before them too deep. 'We must realize that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body' (Romans 6:6). The body of pride -- for this is the sin par excellence, the sin that gives rise to all other sins. 'He was bearing our faults in his own body on the cross' (1 Peter 2:24). He bore our pride in his body.But what concerns us in all this? Where is the 'gospel', the good and joyful news? It is that Jesus humbled himself also for me, in my place. 'If one man has died for all, then all have died' (2 Corinthians 5:14); one has humbled himself for all, therefore all have humbled themselves. Jesus on the cross is the new Adam obeying for all. He is the head, the beginning of a new mankind. He acts in the name of all and for the benefit of all. As 'by one man's obedience many will be made righteous' (Romans 5:19),  by one man's humility, many will be made humble.
Pride, like disobedience, is no longer part of us. It is part of the Old Adam. It has become old-fashioned. The new thing now is humility, which is full of hope because it opens up a new existence based on giving, love and solidarity and no longer on competitiveness, social climbing and taking advantage of one another. 'The old creation has gone, and now the new one is here' (2 Corinthians 5:17). Humility is one of these marvelous new things. What, therefore, does it mean to celebrate the mystery of the cross 'in spirit and in truth'? When applied to what we are celebrating, what is the significance of the ancient maxim: 'Acknowledge what you are doing, imitate what you are celebrating'? It signifies that you should implement within yourself what you represent externally; put into practice what you are commemorating in the liturgy.


THE CROSS REVEALS GOD'S GLORY

There are two scenes in the synoptic gospels that are very distinct in almost every way except for a few indications that tell us we should take them together.  One is bright with light and triumph, the other is dark, fearful and sad.  Peter, James and John are in both scenes; but in one they are filled with awe, and in the other they are tired and sad.  In one Christ is transfigured while in the other he is sweating blood.   In both scenes, the Father is being glorified in and through Christ, which is why the feast of the Transfiguration and that of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross belong together. 

In the mosaic in Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, the two themes become one.  In fact, it is a depiction of the Transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah looking very Roman, the three apostles are depicted as sheep, and the transfigured Christ has become a jewelled cross with his face in the centre.

If Christ is glorified by the Resurrection in the Synoptics, "glory" is associated with the Passion in St John's Gospel.
Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you;..And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  (John 17, 1...)
"Glory" means whatever impresses on others the status, importance, beauty or prowess or high qualities of a person:   a king's crown, a general's badges of rank, a soldier's medals, that which shows off a woman's beauty - "a woman's glory is her hair" - an actor's performance etc.   God's glory and Christ's glory is whatever reveals to us what or who they are.   The greatest glory of the Father is Jesus as incarnate Lord; and that which gives greatest glory to both, that reveals to those with faith the tremendous, earthshaking truth that "God is Love", is the crucifixion.  Hence,  God's kenotic Love in the presence of sin, entering into that sin to rescue us, to bring us out and to transforms us into "sons of God", is the Passion.   The Light with all its transforming power, as experienced by Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration is the same kenotic Love as we shall experience it at the Resurrection.  Christ's total self-giving in loving obedience in his Passion of pain and death is now a dimension of what He is as Resurrected Saviour; and, in the Resurrection all is Light.  His wounds are still there, like his self-giving is still there, but they are now lit up with incredible beauty as inseparable qualities of His resurrected Self.

However, in this reality, in our humble experience, the Christ-life can be experienced both as darkness and as light: light and darkness cannot be mixed because the latter is only the absence of the former.  We still remember the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, Good Friday and Easter, separately.   Bloody Spanish crucifixes and glorious Greek icons of the Resurrection simply look at the same Christian mystery from different standpoints, and we shouldn't project our own miserable schism on to them.  The 40 or so years of spiritual blankness suffered by Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the wonderful years of light enjoyed by Saint Hildegarde of Bingen are experiences of the same Christian mystery: God treats each of us in different ways for our own spiritual good; and both saints had confidence in God.

Hence, glorious be-jewelled crucifixes that are symbols of "Christus Victor" are just as valid, Catholic and Orthodox as the more graphic kind.

At the fall of Communism in Moscow in 1991, the Moscow crowd, having witnessed the capitulation of the KGB group that had tried to reverse the process, went on to the KGB headquarters and smashed the statue of the founder of Stalin's secret police.  Something that wasn't recorded in the western media, as far as I can remember, is that they erected in its place a makeshift cross, and somebody sprayed on the statue base in liturgical Russian with a paint spray:
"By this sign you will conquer!"
These were the words, according to the legend, that appeared in the sky before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312AD.

Christ conquered Satan, sin and death.  Death no longer has dominion over Christ nor over us. (Rom 6. 8)  

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

“Our swords — exclaims Saint John Chrysostom — were not bloodied, we were not in agony, we were not wounded, we did not even see the battle and yet we obtain the victory. His was the fight, ours the crown. And because we are also the conquerors, let us imitate what soldiers do in such cases: with joyful voices let us exalt the victory, let us intone hymns of praise to the Lord”

This is taken for granted in the hymn Vexilla Regis Prodeunt:

A Translation of "Vexilla Regis Prodeunt"


Abroad the Regal Banners fly,
Now shines the Cross's mystery;
Upon it Life did death endure,
And yet by death did life procure. 
Hail, Cross, of hopes the most sublime;
 Now in this mournful Passion time,
 Improve religious souls in grace,
The sins of criminals efface. 

Blest Trinity, salvation's spring,
 May every soul Thy praises sing;
To those Thou grantest conquest
By the holy Cross, rewards apply. Amen.

Christus vincit was probably first sung at the coronation of Charlemagne:

THE CROSS IS CONTEMPORARY WITH ALL TIMES AND ALL PLACES
(including the heart)
Before God became man in Palestine, the Word was breathed by the Father's Spirit into everyone who comes into this world, enlightening each one in a subtle way that does not impair his need to discover and to choose, while giving to each that relationship with the Father that makes us human.  The Word is outside time and place, yet is in touch with all times and all spaces, and it has eternally been true of Him that he could always say, "Before Abraham was, I am."

That relationship with God that the Word gave to each and every one of us was distorted when sin entered the world, and we have all contributed to that distortion.  It was not completely destroyed, otherwise we would have reverted to our original monkey status; but it made a mutual relationship with God very difficult and our sharing in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity completely impossible.  It became necessary for the Father to extend his hand to us through his Son; as it says in Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation II:
You, therefore, almighty Father, we bless through Jesus Christ your Son, who comes in your name. He himself is the Word that brings salvation, the hand you extend to sinners, the way by which your peace is offered to us. When we ourselves had turned away from you on account of our sins, you brought us back to be reconciled, O Lord, so that, converted at last to you, we might love one another through your Son, whom for our sake you handed over to death.
"He is the Word that brings salvation, the hand that you extend to sinners."  He came, not just to forgive us our sins - that could have been done from the comfort of heaven, not just to change our status once forgiven - he would not need to die for that.  He revealed something of the depth and strength of his kenotic Love, of his Mercy, not by mere words, but by forgiving us while being himself the victim of the very worst sin ever known in human history, the murder of God.  "Forgive them for they know not what they do," was addressed, not just for the soldiers who crucified him, but, through the proclamation of the Gospel, for every sinner who ever lived and, of course, for all who hear the Gospel preached.  

The death of Christ is the greatest and the deepest revelation of what it means for us that "God is Love".  He extends his hand to each and all of us in all his pain and degradation,  through all the filth of our own sin, even as he is suffering and we are sinning, as he challenges us by his Passion to have confidence in his love.

As the supreme expression of God's love for us, the Cross cannot be reduced to a memory, to mere words.  We said at the beginning that the Word is outside time and place but in living contact with all times and places, and the Cross is an expression of this Word: when we meet the Cross, the historical incident comes alive!!   Father R. Cantalamessa, in one of his homilies, quotes a 4th century homily:
“For every man, the beginning of life is when Christ was immolated for him. However, Christ is immolated for him at the moment he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that immolation” (The Paschal Homily of the Year 387 : SCh, 36 p. 59f.).

WE TAKE UP OUR CROSS
For this occasion, I invite you to reflect on the conditions that Jesus asked of those who wanted to be his disciples:  “If anyone wishes to come after me”, he said, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”(Lk 9:23). Jesus is not a Messiah of triumph and power. In fact, he did not free Israel from Roman rule and he never assured it  of political glory. As a true Servant of the Lord, he carried out his mission in solidarity, in service, and in the humiliation of death.  He is the Messiah who did not fit into any mould and who came without fanfare, and who cannot be “understood” with the logic of success and power, the kind of logic often used by the world to verify its projects and actions.


Having come to carry out the will of the Father, Jesus remained faithful to it right to the end. He thus carried out his mission of salvation for all those who believe in him and love him, not in word, but in deed. Love is the condition  for following him, but it is sacrifice that is the proof of that love (cf. Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, 17-18)
Pope John Paul II

 Holy Week - Friday: The Cross -Alexander Schmemann
From the light of Holy Thursday we enter into the darkness of Friday, the day of Christ's Passion, Death and Burial. In the early Church this day was called "Pascha of the Cross," for it is indeed the beginning of that Passover or Passage whose whole meaning will be gradually revealed to us, first, in the wonderful quiet of the Great and Blessed Sabbath, and, then, in the joy of the Resurrection day.

But, first, the Darkness. If only we could realize that on Good Friday darkness is not merely symbolical and commemorative. So often we watch the beautiful and solemn sadness of these services in the spirit of self-righteousness and self-justification. Two thousand years ago bad men killed Christ, but today we -- the good Christian people -- erect sumptuous Tombs in our Churches -- is this not the sign of our goodness? Yet, Good Friday deals not with past alone. It is the day of Sin, the day of Evil, the day on which the Church invites us to realize their awful reality and power in "this world." For Sin and Evil have not disappeared, but, on the contrary, still constitute the basic law of the world and of our life. And we who call ourselves Christians, do we not so often make ours that logic of evil which led the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers and the whole crowd to hate, torture and kill Christ? On what side, with whom would we have been, had we lived in Jerusalem under Pilate? This is the question addressed to us in every word of Holy Friday services. It is, indeed, the day of this world, its real and not symbolical, condemnation and the real and not ritual, judgment on our life... It is the revelation of the true nature of the world which preferred then, and still prefers, darkness to light, evil to good, death to life. Having condemned Christ to death, "this world" has condemned itself to death and inasmuch as we accept its spirit, its sin, its betrayal of God -- we are also condemned... Such is the first and dreadfully realistic meaning of Good Friday -- a condemnation to death...

But this day of Evil, of its ultimate manifestation and triumph, is also the day of Redemption. The death of Christ is revealed to us as the saving death for us and for our salvation.

It is a saving Death because it is the full, perfect and supreme Sacrifice. Christ gives His Death to His Father and He gives His Death to us. To His Father because, as we shall see, there is no other way to destroy death, to save men from it and it is the will of the Father that men be saved from death. To us because in very truth Christ dies instead of us. Death is the natural fruit of sin, an immanent punishment. Man chose to be alienated from God, but having no life in himself and by himself, he dies. Yet there is no sin and, therefore, no death in Christ. He accepts to die only by love for us. He wants to assume and to share our human condition to the end. He accepts the punishment of our nature, as He assumed the whole burden of human predicament. He dies because He has truly identified Himself with us, has indeed taken upon Himself the tragedy of man's life. His death is the ultimate revelation of His compassion and love. And because His dying is love, compassion and co-suffering, in His death the very nature of death is changed. From punishment it becomes the radiant act of love and forgiveness, the end of alienation and solitude. Condemnation is transformed into forgiveness...

And, finally, His death is a saving death because it destroys the very source of death: evil. By accepting it in love, by giving Himself to His murderers and permitting their apparent victory, Christ reveals that, in reality, this victory is the total and decisive defeat of Evil. To be victorious Evil must annihilate the Good, must prove itself to be the ultimate truth about life, discredit the Good and, in one word, show its own superiority. But throughout the whole Passion it is Christ and He alone who triumphs. The Evil can do nothing against Him, for it cannot make Christ accept Evil as truth. Hypocrisy is revealed as Hypocrisy, Murder as Murder, Fear as Fear, and as Christ silently moves towards the Cross and the End, as the human tragedy reaches its climax, His triumph, His victory over the Evil, His glorification become more and more obvious. And at each step this victory is acknowledged, confessed, proclaimed -- by the wife of Pilate, by Joseph, by the crucified thief, by the centurion. And as He dies on the Cross having accepted the ultimate horror of death: absolute solitude (My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me!?), nothing remains but to confess that "truly this was the Son of God!..." And, thus, it is this Death, this Love, this obedience, this fulness of Life that destroy what made Death the universal destiny. "And the graves were opened..." (Matthew 27:52) Already the rays of resurrection appear.

Such is the double mystery of Holy Friday, and its services reveal it and make us participate in it. On the one hand, there is the constant emphasis on the Passion of Christ as the sin of all sins, the crime of all crimes. Throughout Matins during which the twelve Passion readings make us follow step by step the sufferings of Christ, at the Hours (which replace the Divine Liturgy: for the interdiction to celebrate Eucharist on this day means that the sacrament of Christ's Presence does not belong to "this world" of sin and darkness, but is the sacrament of the "world to come") and finally, at Vespers, the service of Christ's burial the hymns and readings are full of solemn accusations of those, who willingly and freely decided to kill Christ, justifying this murder by their religion, their political loyalty, their practical considerations and their professional obedience.

But, on the other hand, the sacrifice of love which prepares the final victory is also present from the very beginning. From the first Gospel reading (John 13:31) which begins with the solemn announcement of Christ: "Now is the Son of Man glorified and in Him God is glorified" to the stichera at the end of Vespers -- there is the increase of light, the slow growth of hope and certitude that "death will trample down death..."

"When Thou, the Redeemer of all,hast been laid for all in the new tomb,Hades, the respecter of none, saw Thee and crouched in fear.The bars broke, the gates were shattered,the graves were opened, the dead arose.Then Adam, thankfully rejoicing, cried out to Thee:Glory to Thy condescension, O Merciful Master."

And when, at the end of Vespers, we place in the center of the Church the image of Christ in the tomb, when this long day comes to its end, we know that we are at the end of the long history of salvation and redemption. The Seventh Day, the day of rest, the blessed Sabbath comes and with it -- the revelation of the Life-giving Tomb.

The Very Rev. Alexander Schmemann




A MEDITATION FOR GOOD FRIDAY
by Fr Romano Guardini


Holy Scripture opens with the words, “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.” And the catechism adds: Out of nothing he created them. This means that ‘before’ (one of those false words necessary for human logic, but of course not to be taken literally) God conceived and willed creation, nothing existed—neither matter nor energy nor images nor motives; not even the mysterious yearning for existence, but actually nothing!

God existed, and that was enough. “Beside” God nothing was, is necessary, for he is the “One and All.” Even all that is “in addition” to God comes from him: matter, energy, form, purpose, order, things, events, plants, animals, humans, angels – everything that is. Man can work with the stuff of reality or even recombine images in the unreal realms of fantasy. But he can never create from nothing, can add no single new thing (real or imagined) to those God has fashioned. For man nothingness is a blank wall. Only God, who can create from it, making things and placing them in reality, has genuine contact with it. For man nothingness is only the severance from things.
Thus God created man, who had no coherence, no life save in his Creator. Then man sinned; he attempted to free himself from this fundamental truth of his existence; attempted to be sufficient unto himself. And he fell away from God – in the terrible, literal sense of the word. He fell from genuine being towards nothingness – and not back to the positive, creative pure nothingness from which God had lifted him, but towards the negative nothingness of sin, destruction, death, senselessness and the abyss. Admittedly, he never quite touches bottom, for then he would cease to exist, and he who has not created himself is incapable of cancelling his existence.
God’s mysterious grace could not leave man in such forlornness; it desired to help him home. It is not for us to discuss how he might have accomplished this. Our task is to hold to the text that accounts how it actually was done: in a manner of such sacred magnanimity and power, that once revealed to us, it is impossible to conceive of  any other: in the manner of love.

God followed man (see the parables of the lost sheep and the missing groat in Luke 15) into the no man’s land which sin had ripped open. God not only glanced down at him and summoned him lovingly to return, he personally entered into that vacuous dark to fetch him, as St. John so powerfully expresses it in his opening Gospel. Thus in the midst of human history stood one who was both human and God. Pure as God; but bowed with responsibility as man.
He drank the dregs of that responsibility – down to the bottom of the chalice. Mere man cannot do this. He is so much smaller than his sin against God, that he can neither contain it nor cope with it. He can commit it, but he is incapable of fully realizing what he has done. He  cannot measure his act; cannot receive it into his life and suffer it through to the end. Though he has committed it, he is incapable of expiating it. It confuses him, troubles him, leaves him desperate but helpless.
God alone can “handle” sin. Only he sees through it, weighs it, judges it with a judgment that condemns the sin but loves the sinner. A man attempting the same would break. This then the love, reestablisher of justice and willer of man’s rescue known as “grace.” Through the Incarnation a being came into existence who though human in form, realized God’s own attitude toward sin. In the heart and spirit and body of a man, God straightened his accounts with sin. That process was contained in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The plunge from God towards the void which man in his revolt had begun (chute in which the creature can only despair or break) Christ undertook in love. Knowingly, voluntarily, he experienced it with all the sensitiveness of his divinely human heart. The greater the victim, the more terrible the blow that fells him. No one ever died as Jesus died, who was life itself. No one was ever punished for sin as he was, the Sinless One. No one ever experienced the plunge down the vacuum of evil as did God’s Son – even to the excruciating agony behind the words: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Jesus was really destroyed. Cut off in the flower of his age; his work stifled just when it should have taken root; his friends scattered, his honor broken. He no longer had anything, was anything: “a worm and not a man.”
In inconceivable pain “he descended into hell,” realm in which evil reigns, and not only as the victorious breaker of its chains. This came later; first he had to touch the nadir of a personally experienced agony such as no man has ever dreamed. There the endlessly Beloved One of the eternal Father brushed the bottom of the pit. He penetrated to the absolute nothingness from which the “re-creation” of those already created (but falling from the source of true life toward that nothingness) was to emerge: the new heaven and new earth.

We will end this post with the hymn Stabat Mater dolorosa. It's sung at the stations of the cross during Lenten services. 

Here's part of the English translation from Latin:
Here he hung, the dying Lord. 
At the Cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful Mother weeping, 
For her soul of joy bereaved,
Bowed with anguish, deeply grieved, 

Felt the sharp and piercing sword.


ON THE DAY
Good Friday papal preacher: In a changing world, the cross remains the same


Fr Raneiro Cantalamessa O.F.M. (Cap)

Vatican City, Apr 14, 2017 / 10:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Even as sinful people in a society filled with violence and increasing secularism, we have hope because Christ's cross perdures, the papal preacher said at the Vatican's Good Friday Service.

“The cross, then, does not ‘stand’ against the world but for the world: to give meaning to all the suffering that has been, that is, and that will be in human history,” Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., said April 14.

He gave the homily during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. Fr. Cantalamessa also gave the homilies at Mass at the chapel of Casa Santa Marta on Fridays throughout Lent.

Today, we are constantly hearing about death and violence, he said. “Why then are we here to recall the death of a man who lived 2,000 years ago?”

“The reason is that this death has changed forever the very face of death and given it a new meaning,” he said.


Fr. Cantalamessa preached: “The cross is the living proclamation that the final victory does not belong to the one who triumphs over others but to the one who triumphs over self; not to the one who causes suffering but to the one who is suffering.”

He explained how the Carthusian monks have adopted a coat of arms that hangs at the entrance to their monastery. It has a globe of the earth with a cross above it, and written across it: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis,” or “The cross stands firm as the world turns.”

He described a painting by Salvador Dali, called “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” It depicts Christ on the cross as if you are looking from above. Beneath him are clouds, and below that, water.

In a way, the water beneath Christ in this image, instead of earth, is a symbol of the lack of firm foundation of values in our current society, he explained. But even though we live in this very “liquid society,” there is still hope, because “the cross of Christ stands.”

“This is what the liturgy for Good Friday has us repeat every year with the words of the poet Venanzio Fortunato: ‘O crux, ave spes unica,’ ‘Hail, O Cross, our only hope.’”

The point of Christ’s Passion, however, is not an analysis of society, he said. “Christ did not come to explain things, but to change human beings.”

In each of us, to varying degrees, is a “heart of darkness,” he said. In the Bible, it is called “a heart of stone.”

“A heart of stone is a heart that is closed to God’s will and to the suffering of brothers and sisters, a heart of someone who accumulates unlimited sums of money and remains indifferent to the desperation of the person who does not have a glass of water to give to his or her own child; it is also the heart of someone who lets himself or herself be completely dominated by impure passion and is ready to kill for that passion or to lead a double life,” he said.

He explained that even as practicing Christians we have these hearts of stone when we live fundamentally for ourselves and not for the Lord.


Quoting God’s words through the prophet Ezekiel, Fr. Cantalamessa said: “I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.”

He went on to explain how in Scripture we are told that at the moment of Christ’s death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

This description, using apocalyptic language and signs, indicates “what should happen in the heart of a person who reads and meditates on the Passion of Christ.”

“The heart of flesh, promised by God through the prophets, is now present in the world: it is the heart of Christ pierced on the cross, the heart we venerate as the “Sacred Heart,’” he said.

We believe that though he was slain, because Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, his heart has also “been raised from the dead; it is alive like the rest of his body.”

And when we receive the Eucharist, we “firmly believe” that the very heart of Christ has come to “beat inside of us” as well, he explained.

“As we are about to gaze upon the cross, let us say from the bottom of our hearts, like the tax collector in the temple, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ and then we too, like he did, will return home ‘justified’.”

GOOD FRIDAY SERMON
by Abbot Paul


Good Friday 2017

            “Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.” With these words of encouragement and hope, the Letter to the Hebrews invites us to look upon Christ Crucified with confidence, asking him for every grace and blessing. In the Old Testament, we read how God comes close to his people, entering into a personal relationship with each one of them. He becomes their friend: how much more with Jesus. Think of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well or of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Through his Incarnation, he has destroyed the barrier between God and Man. “To have seen me is to have seen the Father.”

We see this clearly in St John’s Passion, in which Pontius Pilate plays a particularly important role. He is a tragic figure, finding Jesus innocent and wishing to release him, yet he is scared of the mob and frightened of losing his job. Instead of listening to his conscience, he acquiesces to the demands of the crowd. He knows what is right and does what is wrong. He is a coward and his only excuse is that empty question, “Truth? What is that?” Yet, even he has courage to say, “What I have written, I have written.” With that imperial inscription in three languages, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” ironically he acknowledges the truth about Jesus. In every lie there is an element of truth. There are world leaders today who say they are Christian, yet act in a totally unchristian way. Pilate is alive and well.

In St John, the women who follow Jesus to Golgotha stay close to him and not at a distance as in the other gospels.  His aunt, Mary of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala are mentioned by name, but not his mother or the beloved disciple. “Woman, this is your son. This is your mother.” Here we have a different aspect of the new Israel, the Church, constituted in the new Exodus of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. At the Last Supper, the Twelve were present, but now at Golgotha it is his mother and the beloved disciple. Jesus brings them into a mother-son relationship and thus constitutes a Church, which is a family of disciples and friends. It will be the beloved disciple who discovers the empty tomb and Mary Madgalene, the Apostle of the apostles, who first sees the risen Lord. The Church is not only hierarchic, but a community of believers, who love one other and constitute God’s family.

Finally, when Jesus bows his head and gives up the spirit, we meet another group of followers, who make up the Church of Christ. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea embrace the body of the dead Christ and prepare it meticulously for burial, laying it to rest in a new tomb in a garden. We are reminded of that garden where it all began, the Garden of Eden.

Christ invites us all to come to him with confidence and become his friends. In heaven there is room for each one, Peter and the apostles, his mother and the beloved disciple, the women who followed him from Galilee, Simon of Cyrene and Veronica, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, even Pilate and his soldiers, the scribes and Pharisees, and Judas, such is the loving mercy of God. We must never forget that, on Good Friday, two mothers mourned the death of their sons, Our Lady and the mother of Judas. “Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.” Today we approach with confidence the throne of grace, the Cross of Jesus, to receive mercy from him and find grace in our every need. To Him alone be given honour, glory and thanksgiving, now and for ever. Amen.


HOLY SATURDAY
The Marriage Feast of the Lamb
by Dom Alex Echeandia



POPE BENEDICT'S THEOLOGY OF HOLY SATURDAY 
my source: First Things

Benedict knelt in prayer before the Shroud of Turin, then spoke on the mystery of Holy Saturday, of which he saw the Shroud to be an icon. The meaning of Holy Saturday is perhaps especially dear to Benedict—between having been born and baptized on Holy Saturday of 1927, and having collaborated so closely with Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose theological imagination was certainly captured by the same mystery.

What resulted on that day in Turin in 2010 was a deeply pastoral account of Christ’s death and Resurrection, which explored some of the same central messages that he recently revisited in the last days of his papacy.

In Turin, Benedict observed that “humanity has become particularly sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday,” because the “hiddenness of God” has become so much a part of our contemporary experience of Christ that it functions existentially, almost subconsciously, in our spirituality. During a time when the problem of evil confronts us constantly, Benedict continued, we must all wrestle with Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead!”: “After the two World Wars, the lagers and the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our era has ever increasingly become a Holy Saturday. This day’s darkness challenges all those who question life, and it challenges us believers in particular.”

Insofar as the Shroud symbolizes Christ’s suffering and death, however, it also conveys a message of hope and life. Benedict mused that the image on the Shroud functions like a photographic negative, its contrast of dark and light being essential. So too with the paschal mystery, wherein “the darkest mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous symbol of boundless hope. Holy Saturday is the ‘no man’s land’ between death and Resurrection, but One has entered into this ‘no man’s land.’” And the One who has entered has come to share in our death, in a historic and unrepeatable gesture of “the most radical solidarity.”

Benedict sees this to be the true power of the Shroud and what it represents: that in his descent, Christ takes on our suffering, our sins”“ Passio Christi. Passio hominis.” (The phrase served as a refrain throughout Benedict’s trip to Turin, as it was the theme of the Shroud’s exhibit.)

On Holy Saturday, God incarnate entered “the absolute and extreme solitude of mankind.” Here Benedict pointed out that we have all experienced that terrifying feeling of abandonment, which is why we fear death”similarly to how, “as children, we are afraid of being alone in the dark, and the only thing that can comfort us is the presence of a person who loves us.” And that is precisely what happened on Holy Saturday, he said. Even in the darkest of times, “we can hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out.” If love can penetrate to the very depths of hell, we are never alone or hopeless.

This assurance of God’s constant light and love has been a theme during the end of Benedict’s papacy. On his birthday last year, he confided, “I find myself before the last leg of my life’s journey, and I don’t know what awaits me. I know, however, that the light of God is here, that He is risen, that his light is stronger than every darkness; that the goodness of God is stronger than every evil in this world.” In the same vein, he spoke during his final general audience of God’s constancy in steering the barque of the Church, while expressing his gratitude that God has never left him or us “without his consolation, his light, his love.”

Pope Benedict concluded his meditation in Turin by describing the Shroud as an “icon written in blood . . . . The image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life.” He referred to the especially large stain at the corpse’s side as representing a “spring that murmurs in the silence; and we can hear it, we can listen to it amid the silence of Holy Saturday.” Indeed, when Benedict reflected on Holy Saturday as the day of his baptism, he made a similar statement: that “through God’s silence, still we hear him speak, and through the darkness of his absence, we glimpse his light.”

Ratzinger had seen the Shroud of Turin more than once before this occasion, but he named this particular experience of prayer before it, in May 2010, an especially moving one. The difference? This time, he carried in his heart “the whole Church, or rather, the whole of humanity”—just as he continues to do today in his newfound ministry.

Now is the time to look back on Benedict’s papacy and glean from it as much as we can, as we prayerfully look forward to how the Holy Spirit will work in our Church under a new pontiff. Like Benedict, we do not know what awaits us, but by reflecting on his theology of Holy Saturday, we can find a deeper understanding of what anticipation in the life of the Church is all about. And whatever this new leg of the Church’s journey brings, we can share in Benedict’s certainty that God’s guiding light and saving love will never leave us.

Tania M. Geist is editorial coordinator at the International Qur’anic Studies Association.

Holy Week is memorial of God's infinite mercy, pope says at audience.

By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

Easter Vigil Mass From Rome - 4-7-2012

   
Great and Holy Friday:
The Cross


By Fr. Alexander Schmemann



From the light of Holy Thursday we enter into the darkness of Friday, the day of Christ's Passion, Death and Burial. In the early Church this day was called "Pascha of the Cross," for it is indeed the beginning of that Passover or Passage whose whole meaning will be gradually revealed to us, first, in the wonderful quiet of the Great and Blessed Sabbath, and, then, in the joy of the Resurrection day.



But, first, the Darkness. If only we could realize that on Good Friday darkness is not merely symbolical and commemorative. So often we watch the beautiful and solemn sadness of these services in the spirit of self-righteousness and self-justification. Two thousand years ago bad men killed Christ, but today we -- the good Christian people -- erect sumptuous Tombs in our Churches -- is this not the sign of our goodness? Yet, Good Friday deals not with past alone. It is the day of Sin, the day of Evil, the day on which the Church invites us to realize their awful reality and power in "this world." For Sin and Evil have not disappeared, but, on the contrary, still constitute the basic law of the world and of our life. And we who call ourselves Christians, do we not so often make ours that logic of evil which led the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers and the whole crowd to hate, torture and kill Christ? On what side, with whom would we have been, had we lived in Jerusalem under Pilate? This is the question addressed to us in every word of Holy Friday services. It is, indeed, the day of this world, its real and not symbolical, condemnation and the real and not ritual, judgment on our life... It is the revelation of the true nature of the world which preferred then, and still prefers, darkness to light, evil to good, death to life. Having condemned Christ to death, "this world" has condemned itself to death and inasmuch as we accept its spirit, its sin, its betrayal of God -- we are also condemned... Such is the first and dreadfully realistic meaning of Good Friday -- a condemnation to death...



But this day of Evil, of its ultimate manifestation and triumph, is also the day of Redemption. The death of Christ is revealed to us as the saving death for us and for our salvation.



It is a saving Death because it is the full, perfect and supreme Sacrifice. Christ gives His Death to His Father and He gives His Death to us. To His Father because, as we shall see, there is no other way to destroy death, to save men from it and it is the will of the Father that men be saved from death. To us because in very truth Christ dies instead of us. Death is the natural fruit of sin, an immanent punishment. Man chose to be alienated from God, but having no life in himself and by himself, he dies. Yet there is no sin and, therefore, no death in Christ. He accepts to die only by love for us. He wants to assume and to share our human condition to the end. He accepts the punishment of our nature, as He assumed the whole burden of human predicament. He dies because He has truly identified Himself with us, has indeed taken upon Himself the tragedy of man's life. His death is the ultimate revelation of His compassion and love. And because His dying is love, compassion and cosuffering, in His death the very nature of death is changed. From punishment it becomes the radiant act of love and forgiveness, the end of alienation and solitude. Condemnation is transformed into forgiveness...



And, finally, His death is a saving death because it destroys the very source of death: evil. By accepting it in love, by giving Himself to His murderers and permitting their apparent victory, Christ reveals that, in reality, this victory is the total and decisive defeat of Evil. To be victorious Evil must annihilate the Good, must prove itself to be the ultimate truth about life, discredit the Good and, in one word, show its own superiority. But throughout the whole Passion it is Christ and He alone who triumphs. The Evil can do nothing against Him, for it cannot make Christ accept Evil as truth. Hypocrisy is revealed as Hypocrisy, Murder as Murder, Fear as Fear, and as Christ silently moves towards the Cross and the End, as the human tragedy reaches its climax, His triumph, His victory over the Evil, His glorification become more and more obvious. And at each step this victory is acknowledged, confessed, proclaimed -- by the wife of Pilate, by Joseph, by the crucified thief, by the centurion. And as He dies on the Cross having accepted the ultimate horror of death: absolute solitude (My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me!?), nothing remains but to confess that "truly this was the Son of God!..." And, thus, it is this Death, this Love, this obedience, this fulness of Life that destroy what made Death the universal destiny. "And the graves were opened..." (Matthew 27:52) Already the rays of resurrection appear.



Such is the double mystery of Holy Friday, and its services reveal it and make us participate in it. On the one hand, there is the constant emphasis on the Passion of Christ as the sin of all sins, the crime of all crimes. Throughout Matins during which the twelve Passion readings make us follow step by step the sufferings of Christ, at the Hours (which replace the Divine Liturgy: for the interdiction to celebrate Eucharist on this day means that the sacrament of Christ's Presence does not belong to "this world" of sin and darkness, but is the sacrament of the "world to come") and finally, at Vespers, the service of Christ's burial the hymns and readings are full of solemn accusations of those, who willingly and freely decided to kill Christ, justifying this murder by their religion, their political loyalty, their practical considerations and their professional obedience.



But, on the other hand, the sacrifice of love which prepares the final victory is also present from the very beginning. From the first Gospel reading (John 13:31) which begins with the solemn announcement of Christ: "Now is the Son of Man glorified and in Him God is glorified" to the stichera at the end of Vespers -- there is the increase of light, the slow growth of hope and certitude that "death will trample down death..."


When Thou, the Redeemer of all,hast been laid for all in the new tomb,Hades, the respecter of none, saw Thee and crouched in fear.The bars broke, the gates were shattered,the graves were opened, the dead arose.Then Adam, thankfully rejoicing, cried out to Thee:Glory to Thy condescension, O Merciful Master.
And when, at the end of Vespers, we place in the center of the Church the image of Christ in the tomb, when this long day comes to its end, we know that we are at the end of the long history of salvation and redemption. The Seventh Day, the day of rest, the blessed Sabbath comes and with it -- the revelation of the Life-giving Tomb.

This is taken from the DRE publication Holy Week: A Liturgical Explanation from the Orthodox Church in America.


Holy Cross Orthodox Church
645 Greensboro Rd

High Point, NC 27260


Offertory Hymn on Good Friday: Yes it is silent - Sretensky monastery
(You may recognise the words)

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and in fear and trembling stand, rendering nothing earthly-minded. For the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, comes to be slain, to give Himself as food to the faithful!
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