The sun has risen upon Jerusalem. But the Priests and Scribes have not waited all this time without venting their rage upon Jesus. Annas, who was the first to receive the divine Captive, has had him taken to his son-in-law Caiphas, the High Priest. Here he is put through a series of insulting questions, which disdaining to answer, he receives a blow from one of the High Priest’s servants. False witnesses had been already prepared : they now come forward, and depose their lies against Him who is the very Truth: — but their testimony is contradictory. Then, Caiphas, seeing that this plan for convicting Jesus of blasphemy is only serving to expose his accomplices, turns to an other. He asks him a question, which will oblige our Lord to make an answer ; and in this answer, he Caiphas, will discover blasphemy, and blasphemy would bring Jesus under the power of the Synagogue. This is the question : I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us, if thou be the Christ the Son of God ? l Our Saviour, in order to teach us that we should show respect to those who are in authority, breaks the silence he has hitherto observed, and answers : Thou hast said it : I am : and hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Hereupon, the impious Pontiff rises, rends his garments, and exclaims : He hath blasphemed ! What further need have we of ‘witnesses ? Behold ! now ye have heard the blasphemy : what think ye ? The whole place resounds with the cry : He is guilty of death !
The Son of God has come down upon the earth, in order to restore man to Life ; and yet, here we have this creature of death daring to summon his Divine Benefactor before a human tribunal, and condemning him to Death ! And Jesus is silent ! and bears with these presumptuous, these ungrateful, blasphemers ! Well may we exclaim, in the words, wherewith the Greek Church frequently interrupts to-day’s reading of the Passion : ” Glory be to thy Patience, Lord ! ”
Scarcely have the terrible words, He is guilty of death, been uttered, than the servants of the High Priest rush upon Jesus. They spit upon him, and blindfolding him, they strike him, saying : Prophesy ! who is it struck thee ? Thus does the Synagogue treat the Messias, who, they say, is to be their glory ! And yet, these outrages, frightful as they are, are but the beginning of what our Redeemer has to go through.
But there is something far more trying than all this to the heart of Jesus, and it is happening at this very time. Peter has made his way as far as the court of the High Priest’s Palace ! He is recognised by the bystanders as a Galilean, and one of Jesus’ Disciples. The Apostle trembles for his life ; — he denies his Master, and affirms, with an oath, that he does not even know him. What a sad example is here of the punishment of presumption ! But, Jesus has mercy on his Apostle. The servants of the High Priest lead him to the place, near where Peter is standing ; he casts upon him a look of reproach and pardon ; Peter immediately goes forth, and weeps bitterly. From this hour forward he can do nothing but lament his sin ; and it is only on Easter Morning, when Jesus shall appear to him after his Resurrection, that he will admit any consolation to his afflicted heart. Let us make him our model, now that we are spending these hours, with our holy Mother the Church, in contemplating the Passion of Jesus. Peter withdraws, because he fears his own weakness ; let us remain to the end, for what have we to fear ? May our Jesus give us one of those looks, which can change the hardest and worst of hearts !
Meanwhile, the day-dawn breaks upon the City, and the Chief Priests make arrangements for taking Jesus before the Roman Governor. They themselves have found him guilty ; they have condemned him as a Blasphemer, and according to the Law of Moses, a Blasphemer must be stoned to death : but they cannot apply the law : Jerusalem is no longer free, or governed by her own laws. The power over life and death may only be exercised by her conquerors, and that in the name of Caesar. How is it, that these Priests and Scribes can go through all this, and never once remember the prophecy of Jacob, — that the Messias would come, when the sceptre should be taken away from Juda P 1 They know off by heart, they are the appointed guardians of those Prophecies, which describe the death to which this Messias is to be put, — and yet, they are the very ones who bring it about ! How is all this ? — They are blind, and it is jealousy that blinds them.
The rumour of Jesus’ having been seized during the night, and that he is on the point of being led before the Roman Governor, rapidly spreads through the City, and reaches Judas’ ear. This wretched man had a passion for money, but there was nothing to make him desire the death of his Divine Master. He knew Jesus’ supernatural power. He perhaps flattered himself that he who could command nature and the elements, would easily escape from the hands of his enemies. But now when he sees that he does not escape, and that he is to be condemned to death, — he runs to the Temple, and gives back the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests. Is it that he is converted, and is about to ask his Master to pardon him ? Alas ! no : despair has possession of him, and he puts an end to his existence. The recollection of all the merciful solicitations made to him, yesterday, by Jesus, both during the Last Supper, and in the Garden, gives him no confidence ; it only serves to increase his despair. Surely, he well knew what a merciful Saviour he had to deal with ! And yet, he despairs, and this at the very time when the Blood, which washes away the sins of the whole world, is about to be shed ! He is lost, because he despaired.
The Chief Priests, taking Jesus with them, present themselves at the Governor’s Palace, demanding audience for a case of importance. Pilate comes forward, and peevishly asks them : What accusation bring you against this man ? — They answered : If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up to thee. It is very evident from these first words, that Pilate has a contempt for these Jewish Priests ; it is not less evident that they are determined to gain their cause. Take him you, says Pilate, and judge him according to your Law. — The Chief Priests answered : It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.
Pilate leaves the Hall, in order to speak with these men. He returns, and commands Jesus to be brought in. The son of God and the representative of the pagan world are face to face. Pilate begins by asking him : Art thou the King of the Jews ? — To this Jesus thus replies : My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But, now, my kingdom is not from hence. — Art thou a King, then ? says Pilate. — Thou sayest, answers Jesus, that I am a King. Having, by these last words, confessed his august dignity, our Lord offers a grace to this Roman ; he tells him, that there is something worthier of man’s ambition than earthly honours. For this, says Jesus, was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the Truth. Every one that is of the Truth, heareth my voice. — What is Truth ? asks Pilate ; but without waiting for the answer, he leaves Jesus, for he is anxious to have done with this case. He returns to the Jews, and says to them : I find no cause in him. — Pilate fancies that this Jesus must be a leader of some Jewish sect, whose teachings give offence to the Chief Priests, but which are not worth his examining into them : yet at the same time, he is convinced that he is a harmless man, and that it would be foolish and unjust to accuse him of disturbing the state.
Scarcely has Pilate expressed his opinion in favour of Jesus, than a long list of accusations is brought up against him by the Chief Priests. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ making no reply, and says to him : Dost thou not hear how great testimonies they allege against thee ? l — These words are kindly meant, but Jesus still remains silent : they, however, excite his enemies to fresh fury, and they cry out : He stirreth Up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, even to this place? This word Galilee suggests a new idea to Pilate. Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, happens to be in Jerusalem at this very time. Jesus is his subject ; he must be sent to him. Thus Pilate will get rid of a troublesome case, and this act of courteous deference will reestablish a good understanding between himself and Herod.
The Saviour is therefore dragged through the streets of Jerusalem, from Pilate’s house to Herod’s palace. His enemies follow him with relentless fury ; but Jesus still observes his noble silence. Herod, the murderer of John the Baptist, insults him, and ordering him to be clothed in a white garment, as a Fool, he sends him back to Pilate. Another plan for ridding himself of this troublesome case, now strikes the Roman Governor. At the feast of the Pasch, he had the power of granting pardon to any one criminal the people may select. They are assembled together at the court-gates. He feels sure, that their choice will fall upon Jesus, for it is but a few days ago that they led him in triumph through the City : besides, he intends to make the alternative one who is an object of execration to the whole people ; he is a murderer, and his name Barabbas. Whom will you that I release to you ? says Pilate : Barabbas, or Jesus, that is called the Christ ? — He has not long to wait for the answer : the crowd exclaim : Not this man, but Barabbas ! — What then, replies Pilate, shall I do with Jesus, that is called the Christ? — Crucify him? — Why, what evil hath he done ? I will chastise him, therefore, and let him go. But they growing irritated at this, cry out so much the louder : Crucify him ! Crucify him ! Pilate’s cowardly subterfuge has failed, and left him in a more difficult position than he was before. His putting the innocent on a level with a murderer was in itself a gross injustice ; and yet, he has not gone far enough for a people that is blind with passion. Neither does his promise to chastise Jesus satisfy them : they want more than his Blood : they insist on his death !
Here let us pause, and offer our Saviour a reparation for the insult he here receives. He is put in competition with a murderer, and the murderer is preferred ! Pilate makes an attempt to save Jesus : but, on what terms ! — he must be put on a footing with a vile wretch, and, even so, be worsted ! Those very lips that, a few days back, sang ” Hosannah to the Son of David,” now clamour for his Crucifixion !
The City Magistrate and Governor pronounces him innocent ; and yet, he condemns him to be scourged, because he fears a disturbance !
Jesus is made over to the soldiers, to be scourged. They rudely strip him of his garments, and tie him to the pillar, which is kept for this kind of torture. Fiercely do they strike him ; the blood flows down his sacred Body. Let us adore this the second Bloodshedding of our Jesus, whereby he expiates for the sins we and the whole world have committed by the flesh. This Scourging is by the hands of Gentiles : the Jews delivered him up to be punished, and the Romans were the executioners : — thus have we all had our share in the awful deicide !
At last, the soldiers are tired ; they loosen their Victim ; — but it is not out of anything like pity. Their cruelty is going to rest, and their rest is derision. Jesus has been called “King of the Jews : ” a King, say they, must have a Crown ! Accordingly they make one for the Son of David ! It is of Thorns. They press it violently upon his head, and this is the third Bloodshedding of our Redeemer. Then, that they may make their scoffing perfect, the soldiers throw a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, and put a reed, for a sceptre, into his hand ; and bending their knee before him, they thus salute him : Hail, King of the Jews ! — This insulting homage is accompanied with blows upon his face ; they spit upon him ; and, from time to time, take the reed from his hand, wherewith to strike the Thorns deeper into his head.
Here, the Christian prostrates himself before his Saviour, and says to him with a heart full of compassion and veneration : ” Yes ! my Jesus ! Thou art King of the Jews ! Thou art the Son of David, and therefore our Messias and our Redeemer ! Israel, that hath so lately proclaimed thee King, now unkings thee ; the Gentiles scoff at thy Royalty, making it a subject for keener insult : — but reign thou must and over both Jews and Gentiles : over the Jews, by thy justice, for they are soon to feel the sceptre of thy revenge ; over the Gentiles, by thy mercy, for thine Apostles are soon to lead them to thy feet. Receive, dearest King ! our homage and submission ! Reign now and for ever over our hearts, yea, over our whole being!”
Thus mangled and bleeding, holding the reed in his hand, and with the scarlet tatters on his shoulders, Jesus is led back to Pilate. It is just the sight that will soften the hearts of the people ; at least, Pilate thinks so ; and taking him with him to a balcony of the palace, he shows him to the crowd below, saying; Behold the Man! Little did Pilate know all that these few words conveyed ! He says not : “Behold Jesus ! ” — nor, “Behold the King of the Jews ! ” he says : Behold the Man ! — Man ! — the Christian understands the full force of the word thus applied to our Redeemer. Adam the first Man, rebelled against God, and, by his sin, deranged the whole work of the Creator : as a punishment for his pride and intemperance, the flesh tyrannised over the spirit ; the very earth was cursed, and thorns were to be its growth. Jesus, the New Man, comes into this world, bearing upon him, not the reality, but the appearance, the likeness, of sin : in him, the work of the Creator regains its primeval order ; but the change was not wrought without violence. To teach us, that the flesh must be brought into subjection to the spirit, Jesus’ Flesh was torn by the scourges : to teach us, that pride must give way to humility, the only Crown that Jesus wears is made of Thorns. Yes, — Behold Man ! — the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, the triumph of humility over pride.
Like the tiger that grows fiercer as he sees blood, so is Israel at the sight of Jesus after his scourging. Crucify him ! Crucify him ! — the cry is still the same. — Take him you, says Pilate, and crucify him ; for I find no cause in him. And yet, he has ordered him to be scourged enough to cause his death ! Here is another device of the base coward ; but it, too, fails. The Jews have their answer ready : they put forward the right granted by the Romans to the nations that are tributary to the Empire. We have, say they, a law, and according to the law he ought to die ; because he made himself the Son of God. Disconcerted by the reply, Pilate takes Jesus aside into the hall, and says to him : Whence art thou ? Jesus is silent ; Pilate was not worthy to hear the answer to his question. This silence irritates him. Speahest thou not to me ? says he. Knoweth thou not, that I have ‘power to crucify thee, and I have power to release thee ? Here Jesus deigns to speak ; and he speaks, in order to teach us that every power of government, even where pagans are in question, comes from God, and not from a pretended social compact : Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin.
This dignified reply produces an impression upon Pilate : he resolves to make another attempt to save Jesus. But the people vociferate a threat which alarms him : If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar’s friend; for whosoever maketh himself a King, speaketh against Caesar. Still, he is determined to try and pacify the crowd. He leaves the hall, sits upon the judgment-seat, orders Jesus to be placed near him, and thus pleads for him : Behold your King ! as though he would say, “What have you or Caesar to fear from such a pitiable object as this ? ‘ : The argument was unavailing, and only provokes the cry : Away with him ! Away with him ! Crucify him ! As though he did not believe them to be in earnest, Pilate says to them : Shall I crucify your King ? This time the Chief Priests give the answer : We have no king but Caesar} When the very Ministers of God can talk thus, religion is at an end. No king but Caesar ! — then, the sceptre is taken from Juda, and Jerusalem is cast off, and the Messias is come !
Pilate, seeing that nothing can quell the tumult, and that his honour as Governor is at stake, decides on making Jesus over to his enemies. Though against his own inclination, he passes the Sentence, which is to cause him such remorse of conscience that he will afterwards seek relief in suicide. He takes a tablet, and with a style, writes the Inscription which is to be fastened to the Cross. The people demand that two thieves should be crucified at the same time, — it would be an additional insult to Jesus : this, too, he grants, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaias : And with the wicked was he reputed. Having thus defiled his soul with the most heinous of crimes, Pilate washes his hands before the people, and says to them : I am innocent of the blood of this just man ; look ye to it ! They answer him with, this terrible self-imprecation : His blood be upon us and upon our children! The mark of Parricide here fastens on this ungrateful and sacrilegious people ; Cain-like, they shall wander fugitives on the earth. Eighteen hundred years have passed since then ; slavery, misery, and contempt, have been their portion ; but the mark is still upon them. Let us Gentiles, — upon whom this Blood of Jesus has fallen as the dew of heaven’s mercy, — let us return fervent thanks to the goodness of our heavenly Father, who hath so loved the world, as to give it his Only Begotten Son. Let us give thanks to the Son, who, seeing that our iniquities could not be blotted out save by his Blood, shed it, on this day, even to the very last drop.
Here commences ” The Way of the Cross ;” the House of Pilate, where our Jesus receives the sentence of Death, is the First Station. Our Redeemer is consigned, by the Governor’s order, into the hands of the Jews. The Soldiers seize him, and drag him from the Court. They strip him of the scarlet cloak and bid him clothe himself with his own garments as before the Scourging. The Cross is ready and they put it on his wounded shoulders. The place where the new Isaac loads himself with the wood of his sacrifice, is the Second Station. To Calvary ! — this is the word of command, and it is obeyed : soldiers, executioners, priests, scribes, people, — these form the procession. Jesus moves slowly on ; but after a few paces, exhausted by the loss of Blood and by his Sufferings, he falls under the weight of his Cross. It is the first fall, and marks the Third Station.
He falls, not so much by the weight of his Cross, as by that of our sins ! The Soldiers roughly lay their hands on him, and force him up again. Scarcely has he resumed his steps, than he is met by his afflicted Mother. The Valiant Woman, whose love is stronger than death, was not to be absent at such an hour as this. She must see her Son, follow him, keep close to him, even to his last breath. No tongue could tell the poignancy of her grief. The anxiety she has endured during the last few days has exhausted her strength. All the sufferings of Jesus have been made known to her by a divine revelation ; she has shared each one of them with him. But, now, she cannot endure to be absent, and makes her way through the crowd. The Sacrifice is nigh its consummation ; no human power could keep such a Mother from her Jesus. The faithful Magdalene is by her side, bathed in tears ; John, Mary, (the mother of James the Less) and Salome, (the mother of John,) are also with her : they weep for their Divine Master, she for her Son. Jesus sees her, but cannot comfort her, for all this is but the beginning of what he is to endure. Oh ! what an additional suffering was this for his loving Heart, — to see his Mother agonizing with sorrow ! The executioners observe the Mother of their Victim, but it would be too much mercy in them to allow her to speak to him ; she may follow, if she please, with the crowd ; it is more than she could have expected, to have been allowed this Meeting, which we venerate as the Fourth Station of the Way of the Cross.
But from this to the last there is a long distance, for there is a law, that criminals are to be executed outside the City Walls. The Jews are afraid of Jesus’ expiring before reaching the place of Sacrifice. Just at this time, they behold a man coming from the country ; his name is Simon of Syrene ; they order him to help Jesus to carry his Cross. It is out of a motive of cruelty to our Lord, but it gives Simon the honour of sharing with him the fatigue of bearing the instrument of the world’s salvation. The spot where this happens is the Fifth Station.
A little farther on, an incident occurs which strikes the executioners themselves with astonishment. A woman makes her way through the crowd, and setting the soldiers at defiance, comes close up to Jesus. She holds her veil in her hands, and with it respectfully wipes the Face of our Lord, for it is covered with blood, sweat, and spittle. She loves Jesus, and cares not what may happen to her, so she can offer him this slight comfort. Her love receives its reward : — she finds her Veil miraculously impressed with the likeness of Jesus’ Face. This courageous act of Veronica marks the Sixth Station of the Way of the Cross.
Jesus grows weaker at each step : — he falls a second time : it is the Seventh Station. Again do the soldiers violently raise him up, and push him along the road. It is easy to follow in his footsteps, for a streak of Blood shows where he has passed. A group of women is following close behind the soldiers; they heed not the insults heaped upon them ; their compassion makes them brave. But the last brutal treatment shown to Jesus is more than they can bear in silence ; they utter a cry of pitiful lamentation.
Our Saviour is pleased with these women, who, in spite of the weakness of their sex, are showing more courage than all the men of Jerusalem put together. He affectionately turns towards them, and tells them what a terrible chastisement is to follow the crime they are now witnessing. The chief Priests and Scribes recognise the dignity of the Prophet that had so often spoken to them : they listen with indignation, and, at this the Eighth Station of the Great “Way, they hear these words : Daughters of Jerusalem ! weep not over me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold the days shall come, wherein they will say : Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains : Fall upon us! And to the hills: Cover us ! ”
At last, they reach the foot of the hill. Calvary is steep ; but is the place of Jesus’ Sacrifice. He begins the ascent, but falls a third time : the hallowed spot is counted as the Ninth Station. A third time the soldiers force Jesus to rise and continue his painful journey to the summit of the hill, which is to serve as the Altar for the holocaust that is to surpass all others in holiness and power. The executioners seize the Cross and lay it upon the ground, preparatory to their nailing the Divine Victim to it. According to a custom, practised both by the Romans and the Jews, a cup containing wine and myrrh is offered to Jesus. This drink, which had the bitterness of gall, was given as a narcotic, in order to deaden, in some degree, the feeling of the criminal, and lessen his pain. Jesus raises to his lips the cup, which was proffered him rather from custom than from any idea of kindness ; but he drinks not its contents, for he wishes to feel the full intensity of the sufferings he accepts for our sakes. Then the executioners, having violently stripped him of his garments, which had fastened to his wounds, lead him to the Cross. The place where he was thus stripped of his garments, and where the cup of bitter drink was presented to him, is venerated as the Tenth Station of the Way of the Cross. The first nine, from Pilate’s hall to the foot of Calvary, are still to be seen in the streets of Jerusalem ; but the Tenth and the remaining four are in the interior of the Church of Holy Sepulchre, whose spacious walls inclose the spot where the last mysteries of the Passion were accomplished.
But we must here interrupt our history : we have already anticipated the hours of this great Friday, and we shall have to return, later on, to the hill of Calvary. It is time to assist at the service of our holy Mother the Church, in which she celebrates the Death of her Divine Spouse. We must not wait for the usual summons of the Bells ; they are silent ; we must listen to the call of our faith and devotion. Let us, then, repair to the House of God.
The VENERATION OF THE CROSS
The ” Prayers” are ended. The charity and zeal of the Church have embraced the whole universe of men, invoking upon them the merciful effusion of that precious Blood, which is now flowing from the Wounds of her Crucified Lord. She turns next to her faithful Children. Filled with holy indignation at the humiliations heaped upon her Jesus, she invites us to an act of solemn reparation : it is to consist in our venerating that Cross, which our Divine Lord has borne to the summit of Calvary, and to which he is to be fastened with nails. The Cross is a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles; but to us Christians, it is the trophy of Jesus’ victory, and the instrument of the world’s Redemption. It is worthy of our deepest veneration, because of the honour conferred upon it by the Son of God : — he consecrated it by his own Blood, he worked our salvation by its means. No time could be more appropriate than this for the honouring it with the humble tribute of our veneration.
The holy ceremony of venerating the Cross on Good Friday was first instituted at Jerusalem, in the 4th century. Owing to the pious zeal of the Empress St. Helen, the True Cross had then recently been discovered, to the immense joy of the whole Church. The Faithful, as might be expected, were desirous to see the precious Relic, and, accordingly, it was exposed every Good Friday. This brought a very great number of pilgrims to Jerusalem ; and yet how few, comparatively, could hope to have the happiness of such a visit, or witness the magnificent ceremony ? An imitation of what was done, on this day, at Jerusalem, was a natural result of these pious desires. It was about the 7th century, that the practice of publicly venerating the Cross on Good Friday was introduced into other Churches. True, it was but an image of the True Cross that these other Churches could show to the people ; but as the respect that is paid to the True Cross refers to Christ himself, the Faithful could offer him a like homage of adoration, even though not having present before their eyes the sacred Wood which had been consecrated by the Blood of Jesus. Such was the origin of the imposing ceremony, at which holy Church now invites us to assist.
The Celebrant takes off the Chasuble, which is the badge of the Priesthood ; it is in order that the Reparation, which he is to be the first to offer to our outraged Jesus, may be made with all possible humility. He then stands on the step near the Epistle side of the Altar, and turns his face towards the people. The Deacon takes down the Cross from the Altar, and gives it to the Celebrant, who then unveils the upper part as far as the arms. He raises it a little, and sings these words : Ecce lignum Crucis ; Behold the wood of the Cross : Then he continues, joined by the Deacon and Subdeacon : on which hung the salvation in quo salus mundi pepen dit. The people then kneel down, and venerate the Cross, while the Choir sings these words : Come, let us adore. Venite, adoremus.
This first exposition, which is made at the side of the Altar, and in a low tone of voice, represents the first preaching of the Cross, that, namely, which the Apostles made, when, for fear of the Jews, they dared not to speak of the great Mystery except to the few faithful Disciples of Jesus. For the same reason, the Priest but slightly elevates the Cross. The homage here paid to it is intended as a reparation for the insults and injuries offered to our Redeemer in the house of Caiphas.
The Priest then comes to the front of the step, and is thus nearer to the people. He unveils the right arm of the Cross, and holds up the holy Sign of our Redemption higher than the first time. He then sings, and on a higher note : Behold the wood of the Ecce lignum Crucis ; Cross ; Then he continues, joined by the Deacon and Subdeacon : on which hung the salvation in quo salus mundi pepen of the world. The people then fall upon their knees, and continue in that posture, whilst the Choir sings : Come, let us adore. Venite adoremus.
This second elevation of the holy Cross signifies the Apostles’ extending their preaching the mystery of our Redemption to the Jews, after the descent of the Holy Ghost ; by which preaching they made many thousand converts, and planted the Church in the very midst of the Synagogue. It is intended as a reparation to our Saviour, for the treatment he received in the Court of Pilate.
The Priest then advances to the middle of the Altar, and, with his face still turned towards the people, he removes the veil entirely from the Cross. He elevates it more than he did the two preceding times, and triumphantly sings on a still higher note : Ecce lignum Crucis ; Behold the wood of the Cross ; The Deacon and Subdeacon here unite their voices with his : in quo salus mundi pepen- on which hung the salvation dit. of the world. The people fall down upon their knees, and the Choir sings : Venite adoremus. Come, let us adore.
This third and unreserved manifestation represents the mystery of the Cross being preached to the whole earth, when the Apostles, after being rejected by the majority of the Jewish people, turned towards the Gentiles, and preached Jesus Crucified, even far beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. It is intended as a Reparation to our Lord for the outrages offered to him on Calvary.
There is also another teaching embodied in this ceremony of holy Church. By this gradual unveiling of the Cross, she would express to us the contrast of the Jewish and the Christian view. The one finds nothing in Christ Crucified but shame and ignominy : the other discovers in him the power and the wisdom of God. Honour, then, and veneration to his Cross. The veil is removed by Faith. Unveiled let it be upon our Altar, for He that died upon it is soon to triumph by a glorious Resurrection ! Yea, let every Crucifix in our Church be unveiled, and every Altar beam once more with the vision of the glorious Standard !
But the Church is not satisfied with showing her Children the Cross that has saved them ; she would have them approach, and kiss it. The Priest leads the way. He has already taken off his Chasuble ; he now takes off his shoes also, and then advances towards the place where he has put the Crucifix. He makes three genuflections at intervals, and finally kisses the Cross. The Deacon and Sub-deacon follow him, then the clergy, and lastly the people.
The chants which are used during this ceremony are exceedingly fine. First of all, there are the Improperia, that is, the Reproaches made by our Saviour to the Jews. Each of the first three stanzas of this plaintive Hymn is followed by the Trisagion, or Prayer to the Thrice Holy God, who, as Man, suffers death for us. Oh ! let us fervently proclaim him to be The Holy, The Immortal ! This form of prayer was used at Constantinople, so far back as the fifth Century. The Roman Church adopted it, retaining even the original Greek words, to which, however, she adds a Latin translation. The rest of this beautiful chant contains the comparison made by our Lord, between the favours he has bestowed upon the Jewish people, and the injuries he has received from them in return.
Holy Church will soon be calling us once more to join with her in the holy Offices : meanwhile, let us, as it behoves us, keep our hearts and thoughts upon our Redeemer, for these are the very Hours when he wrought our Salvation. Our morning’s meditation brought us to Calvary, where we were considering how the executioners stripped Jesus of his clothes, preparatory to their nailing him to the Cross. Let us reverently assist at the consummation of the Sacrifice, which he offers, for us, to the Justice of his Eternal Father.
The executioners led Jesus to the spot where the Cross is lying on the ground : it is the Eleventh Station. Like a lamb destined for a holocaust, he lays himself on the wood that is to serve as the Altar. They violently stretch his hands and feet to the places marked for them, and fasten them with nails to the wood. The Blood gushes forth from these four life-giving founts, wherein our souls are to find their purification. This is the fourth Bloodshedding. Mary hears the strokes of the hammer, and every blow wounds her heart. Magdalene’s grief is intensified by her incapability of helping her tortured Master. Jesus is heard to speak : it is his first Word on Calvary : Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do ! O infinite goodness of our Creator ! He has come into this world, which is the work of his hands, and men nail him to a Cross : and on that Cross he prays for them, and in his prayer he seems to excuse them !
The Victim is fastened to the wood, whereon he is to die. But the Cross is not to be left, as it is, lying on the ground. Isaias has foretold that the Root of Jesse is to be raised up as a Standard of all nations. Yes, our Crucified God must be raised up, and, by that elevation, purify the polluted atmosphere of this world, infested as it is by the spirits of wickedness. He is the Mediator between God and men ; he is our High Priest ; our Intercessor ; — he is lifted up between earth and heaven, making reconciliation between them. Not far from the spot where the Cross now lies on the ground, they have made a hole in the rock, wherein to fix it, so that all may have a sight of Him that hangs upon it. It is the Twelfth Station. It needs a great effort to raise and plant the Tree of the world’s Redemption. The soldiers lift it up, and then, with impatient vehemence, let it fall into the hole. The shock tears the four wounds. Oh ! see him now exposed naked before the multitude, this good Jesus who is come to clothe the nakedness that sin has caused in us ! — The soldiers have done their work, and now they claim his Garments.
They tear them into four lots, and each takes a share : but a strange feeling induces them to respect his Tunic, which was without a seam, and, as we are told by a pious tradition, was woven by the hand of his Blessed Mother. Let us not cut it, say they, but let us cast lots for it, whose it shall be. It is a symbol of the unity of the Church, which is never to be broken under any pretext whatsoever. Above our Redeemer’s head there are written these words, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin : Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews. The people read this Inscription, and say it to each other ; without wishing it, they are once more proclaiming the Royalty of the Son of David. The enemies of Jesus are quick enough to perceive this : they hasten to Pilate, and beseech him to have the Title changed. The only answer he deigns to make them is : What I have written, I have written. The Holy Fathers have noticed a circumstance of the Crucifixion, which expresses, how this King of the Jews is, indeed, rejected by his chosen people, but tha.t he will reign all the more gloriously over the Nations of the earth, whom the Father has given to him for his inheritance. The circumstance we allude to is this : the soldiers, when fixing the Cross in the rock, have so placed it, that Jesus has his back to Jerusalem, and is stretching out his arms towards the countries of the west. The Sun of Truth is setting on the deicide City, and rising upon the new Jerusalem, that proud Rome, which feels that she is destined to be ” The Eternal City,” yet knows not that she is to be so by the Cross. The Tree of our Salvation, as it falls into the hole prepared for it, strikes against a tomb : — and the Tomb is that of our First Parent. The blood of the Redeemer flows down the Cross, and falls upon a skull : it is the skull of Adam, whose sin has called for this great expiation. In his mercy, the Son of God wills that the instrument, wherewith he has gained pardon for the guilty world, should rest amidst the very bones of him that first caused its guilt. Thus is Satan confounded : the creation is not, as he has hitherto thought, turned by his own artifice, to the shame of its Creator. The hill, on which is raised the Standard of our Salvation, is called Calvary, which signifies a skull. Here, according to the tradition of the Jews, was buried our First Parent, the first Sinner. Among the Holy Fathers of the early Ages, who have handed down this interesting tradition to us, we may cite St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome. Origen, too, who had such opportunities of knowing the Jewish traditions, mentions this among the number. At a very early period, Christian Art introduced the custom of placing a human skull at the feet of Jesus’ image on the Cross : it was done to commemorate the great fact, to which we have been alluding.
But let us look up and see this Jesus of ours, whose life is so soon to end upon this instrument of torture. Here we behold him exposed to the view of the Jewish people, as the Serpent was, of old, lifted up, by Moses, in the desert. His enemies pass before him, making insulting gestures, and saying : Wah ! thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it, — save thine own self! If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. The Chief Priests and the Ancients continue the blasphemy, but adding their own emphasis to it : He saved others ; himself he cannot save ! If he be King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him now deliver him, if he will have him ; for he said : I am the Son of God. The two thieves, who were crucified with him, insulted him in like manner.
Never had God conferred on his creatures a blessing comparable to this : and yet, never did man so boldly insult his God ! Let us Christians, who adore Him whom the Jews blaspheme, offer him, at this moment, the Reparation he so infinitely deserves. These impious men cite his own words, and turn them against him : — let its reverently remind our Jesus of an expression he once deigned to use, which should fill us with hope : And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself? Sweet Jesus the time is come : thou art lifted up from the earth : fulfil thy promise, — draw us to thyself ! Alas ! this earth has such hold upon us, we are chained fast to it by so many ties ; self-love fetters us ; and when we attempt to fly towards thee, our flight is checked. Oh ! break our chains, and draw us to thyself, that we may at length reach thee, and thou be consoled by the conquest of our souls !
It is the Sixth hour, or, as we call it, mid-day. The sun immediately withdraws his light, and darkness covers the face of the earth. The stars appear in the heavens, and a gloomy silence pervades throughout the world. It is said, that the celebrated Denys the Areopagite of Athens, who was afterwards a disciple of St. Paul, exclaimed, on witnessing this awful eclipse : ” Either the God of nature is suffering, or the world is coming to an end.” Phlegon, a pagan author, who wrote a century after, tells us, that this sudden darkness spread consternation throughout the Roman Empire, and that the Astronomers owned it baffled all their calculations.
So terrible an indication of the wrath of heaven produced, a panic of fear among the spectators on Calvary. Blasphemers are struck dumb, and the blasphemies of them, that were just now insulting our Redeemer, cease. All is silent as death. The Thief, whose cross was at the right of Jesus’, feels himself touched with repentance and hope. Turning to his companion, he upbraids him for what he had been saying : Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation ? And we, indeed, justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds : but this Man hath done no evil. Jesus defended by a Thief, at the very time that he is being insulted by them who boast that they know every iota of (rod’s Law, and are sitting in the Chair of Moses ! Nothing could give us a clearer idea of the blindness, to which the Synagogue has voluntarily brought itself. This poor criminal, whose name is Dimas, represents the Gentile world, which now is steeped in ignorance and crime, yet is soon to be cleansed from all its abominations by confessing Jesus Crucified to be the Son of God. Turning his head towards our Saviour’s Cross, he thus prays to him : Lord ! remember me, when thou shalt come into thy kingdom I He believes Jesus to be King ; and the Chief Priests and Ancients were, but a moment ago, making jests with this King! Dimas sees the divine calmness and dignity of the innocent Victim : it is evidence enough ; he gives him his faith, and begs a remembrance from him when the day of his glory comes. Grace has made him a true Christian : and who can doubt, but that the grace was asked and obtained for him by Mary, the Mother of Mercy, who is now uniting herself in sacrifice together with her Jesus ? Jesus is pleased to find in this poor criminal the faith he had vainly sought for from Israel : he thus grants his humble prayer: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise? It is the second of Jesus’ Words on the Cross. The happy penitent is filled with joy, and awaits in patient silence the blissful moment when death shall set him free.
Meanwhile, Mary draws near to the Cross, whereon hangs her Son. She recognises him, in spite of all the darkness ; her love was her light. The eclipse has dispersed the crowd ; all is silent ; and the soldiers can find no reason for keeping the afflicted Mother from approaching her Son. Jesus looks with tenderest affection upon Mary ; the sight of her sorrow is a new grief to his sacred Heart. He is dying, and his Mother cannot console or embrace him. Magdalene, too, is there, distracted with grief. Those feet, which, a few days before, she had anointed with her most precious perfumes, are now pierced through with nails, and the Blood is clotting round the wounds. They are near enough to the ground for her to reach and bathe them with her tears ; but her tears cannot stay the pain. She is come to see the Death of Him that forgave her all her sins. John, the Beloved Disciple, the only Apostle that has followed Jesus to Calvary, is overwhelmed with sorrow. He thinks of the favour bestowed upon him last night, when he rested his head on the Breast of this dear Master, — and the remembrance intensifies his grief. He grieves for the Son, he grieves for the Mother. He little knows the reward he is soon to receive for this his love ! Mary of Cleophas has followed the Holy Mother up to the foot of the Cross. At some distance off, there stands a group of women, who loved Jesus, and had ministered unto him during his life.
The silence is again broken : Jesus speaks his third Word, and it is to his Mother : but he does not call her by that dear name, for it would redouble her pain : Woman ! he says, behold thy son ! Then looking upon John, he says to him Son ! behold thy Mother ! What an exchange was here for Mary ! but, oh ! what a blessing it brought upon John, and through him to all mankind ! — -the Mother of God was made our Mother ! This was the subject of our meditation on the Friday of Passion Week : let us, to-day, gratefully receive this last Testament of our Jesus, who, having by his Incarnation made us the adopted Children of his Heavenly Father, now, in his dying moments, makes us Children of his own Blessed Mother.
It is close upon the Ninth hour, — the third hour after mid-day, — and it is the one fixed by the eternal decree of God for the Death of Jesus. The feeling of abandonment, which had caused our Redeemer to suffer an Agony in the garden, now returns. He has taken upon himself the sins of mankind : the whole weight of God’s justice now presses on his soul. The bitter Chalice of God’s anger, which he is drinking to the very dregs, extorts from his lips this plaintive cry : My God ! My God ! Why hast thou forsaken me ? l It is the fourth Word. He does not say My Father ! He speaks as though he were but a poor Sinner, trembling before the judgment-seat of God. A burning thirst elicits from him the fifth Word : I thirst. Whereupon, one of the soldiers presents to his dying lips a sponge full of vinegar ; and this is all the refreshment he receives from that earth, on which he daily pours a heavenly dew, and to which he has given ever-flowing fountains and rivers.
The moment is at length come, when Jesus is to yield up his Soul to his Father. He has fulfilled every single prophecy that had been foretold of him, even that of his receiving vinegar when parched with thirst. He therefore speaks this his sixth Word : It is consummated. He has, then, but to die ; his Death is to put the finishing stroke to our Redemption, as the Prophet assures us. But he must die as God. This man, worn out by suffering, exhausted by his three hours’ agony, whose few words were scarce audible to them that stood round his Cross, — now utters a loud cry, which is heard at a great distance off, and fills the Centurion, who commands the guard, with fear and astonishment : — Father ! into thy hands I commend my spirit ! This is his seventh and last Word ; after which he bows down his head, and dies.
At this awful moment, the sun re-appears in the heavens, and darkness ceases : but the earth is shaken by an earthquake, and the rocks are split. The space between the Cross of Jesus and that of the bad Thief is violently rent asunder, and the opening is shown to this day. The Jewish Priests, who are in the Temple, are terrified at seeing the veil, which hides the Holy of Holies, torn from top to bottom : the time for figures and types is over, the great realities are come. Many holy personages arise from their graves, and return to life. But it is in hell itself that the Death of Jesus is most felt. Satan now sees who He is, against whom he has excited all this persecution. He sees, that the Blood which he has caused to be shed, has saved mankind and opened the gates of heaven. This Jesus, whom he dared to tempt in the desert, he now recognises as the Son of God, whose precious Blood has purchased for men a Redemption that was refused to the rebel Angels !
Jesus ! Son of the Eternal Father ! we adore thee now lying dead on the wood of thy Sacrifice. Thy bitter Death has given us Life. Like those Jews who saw thee expire, and returned to Jerusalem striking their breasts, — we, also, confess that it is our sins have caused thy Death. Thou hast loved us, as none but a God could love. Henceforth, we must be thine, and serve thee, as creatures redeemed at the infinite price of thy Blood. Thou art our God ; we are thy people. Accept, we beseech thee, our most loving thanks for this final proof of thy goodness towards us. Thy holy Church now silently invites us to celebrate thy praise. We leave Calvary for a time ; but will soon return thither, to assist at thy holy Burial. Mary, thy Mother, remains immoveable at the foot of thy Cross. Magdalene clings to thy feet. John and the holy women stand around thee. Once more, dearest Jesus ! we adore thy sacred Body, thy precious Blood, and thy holy Cross, that have brought us Salvation.
Let us return to Calvary, and there close this mournful day. We left Mary there, with Magdalene and other holy women, and the Beloved Disciple John. An hour has scarcely elapsed since Jesus died, when a troop of soldiers, led on by a Centurion, come up the hill, breaking the silence with their tramp and voices. They are sent by Pilate. The Chief Priests lost no time in returning to the Governor’s house : and he, at their request, has sent these men to break the legs of the three Crucified, detach them from their crosses, and bury them before night. The Jews count the days of their week from sunset ; so that the great Sabbath-Day is close upon them. The soldiers come to the Crosses ; they begin with the two thieves, and put an end to their sufferings and life by breaking their legs. Dimas dies in saintly dispositions, for the promise made to him by Jesus is his consolation : his companion dies blaspheming. The soldiers now advance towards Jesus : — Mary’s heart sinks within her : — what fresh outrage are these men about to offer to the lifeless and bleeding body of her Son ? On inspection, they find that he is dead ; but, that no doubt may be left, and no blame for neglect of orders fall upon them, one of the company raises up his spear and thrusts it into the right Side of the divine Victim, even to the Heart ; and when he draws his spear out, there gushes forth a stream of Water and Blood. This is the fifth Bloodshedding, and the fifth Wound inflicted on our Jesus upon the Cross. The Church honours this mystery on the Feast of the Sacred Heart ; let us reserve our reflections till then. The soul of the Holy Mother is pierced by this cruel spear ; and they that are with her redouble their sobs and tears. How is this terrible day to end ? Who shall take the Body of her Jesus from his Cross ? Who will enable her to give it a last embrace ? The soldiers return to the City, and with them Longinus, — he that pierced Jesus’ Side, but is already feeling within himself the workings of that faith, for which he is one day to lay down his life as a Martyr. But lo ! two other men are seen coming towards the Cross : they are not enemies, they are faithful Disciples of Jesus : one is the wealthy counsellor Joseph of Arimathea ; the other is Nicodemus, a ruler among the Jews. Mary gratefully welcomes their arrival : they are come to take the body of Jesus from the Cross, and give it an honourable burial. They have the requisite authorisation, for Pilate has given permission to Joseph to take the Body of Jesus.
They lose no time in doing so, for the sun is near to setting, and then begins the Sabbath. Within a few yards from where stands the Cross, at the foot of the hillock which forms the summit of Calvary, there is a garden, and in this garden a sepulchre cut into the rock. No one has yet been buried in this tomb. It is to be Jesus’ Sepulchre. Hither Joseph and Nicodemus carry the sacred Body : they lay it upon a slab of stone, near to the Sepulchre. It is here that Mary receives into her arms the Body of her Jesus : she kisses each wound, and bathes it with her tears. John, Magdalene, and all that are present, compassionate the holy Mother. She resigns it into the hands of the two Disciples, for they have but a few moments left. Upon this slab, which even to this day, is called the Stone of the Anointing, and designates the Thirteenth Station of the way of the Cross, Joseph unfolds a piece of linen, and Nicodemus, whose servants have brought a hundred pound weight of myrrh and aloes, makes every arrangement for the embalming. They reverently wash the Body, for it was covered with Blood ; they remove the Crown of Thorns from the Head ; and, after embalming it with their perfumes, they wrap it in the Winding-Sheet. Mary gives a last embrace to the remains of her Jesus, who is now hidden under these swathing-bands of the Tomb.
Joseph and Nicodemus take the Body into their arms, and enter the Sepulchre. It is the Fourteenth Station of the Way of the Cross. It consists of two open cells ; it is into the one on the right hand that they enter, and there in a cavity cut into the side of the rock, they lay the Body of Jesus. They then retire; and, with the assistance of their servants, they close up the entrance of the Sepulchre with a large square stone, which Pilate, at the request of the Jews, orders to he fastened with his own seal, and guarded by a patrol of soldiers.
The sun is just setting ; the great Sabbath, with its severe legal prescriptions, is just about to begin. Magdalene and the other women carefully notice the place where Jesus’ Body has been laid, and return with all speed to Jerusalem, that they may have time to purchase and prepare a quantity of materials for a more careful embalming of the Body early on the Sunday morning, that is, immediately after the Sabbath is over. The holy Mother takes a farewell-look at the Tomb wherein lies her Jesus, and then follows the rest into the City. John, her adopted son, keeps close to her. He is the guardian of Her, who, without ceasing to be Mother of God, has been made, also, Mother of men. But oh ! how much this second Maternity cost her ! She was standing at the Foot of the Cross, seeing her Jesus die, when she received us as her children. Let us imitate St. John, and keep our Blessed Mother company during these trying hours which she has to pass before her Son is risen from the grave.
How, most merciful Redeemer ! shall we leave thy Holy Sepulchre, without offering thee the tribute of our adoration and repentance ? Death, which is the consequence of sin, has extended its dominion over thee, for thou didst submit thyself to the sentence pronounced against thee, and wouldst become like to us even to the humiliation of the tomb. It was thy love for us, that led to all this ! What return can we make thee ? The holy Angels stand around thy Body, thus lying in its rocky grave. They are lost in amazement at thy having loved, to such an excess as this, thy poor ungrateful creature, — man. Thou hadst made them, as well as us, out of nothing, and they loved thee with all the intensity of their mighty spirits ; but the sight of thy Tomb reveals to them a fresh abyss of thine infinite goodness : — thou hast suffered death, not for their fallen fellow- angels, but for us men, who are so inferior to the Angels ! — Oh ! what a bond of love between us and thee must result from this Sacrifice of thy Life for us ! Thou hast died, Jesus, for us ! — we must, henceforth, live for thee. We promise it upon this Tomb, which, alas ! is the handiwork of our sins. We, too, wish to die to sin, and live to grace. For the time to come, we will follow thy precepts and thine examples ; we will avoid sin which has made us accomplices in thy Passion and Death. We will courageously bear, in union with thine own, the crosses of this life : they are indeed light compared with thine, but our weakness makes them heavy. And our death, too, — when the moment comes for us to undergo that sentence which even thou didst submit to, — we will accept it with resignation. Terrible as that last hour is to nature, our faith tells us, that thy Death has merited for it graces rich enough to make it sweet. Thy Death, dearest Jesus ! has made our death become but a passing into life : and as, now, we leave thy holy Sepulchre with the certain hope of speedily seeing thee glorious in thy Resurrection ; so, when our body descends into the tomb, our soul shall confidently mount up to thee, and there blissfully await the day of the Resurrection of the flesh made pure by the humiliation of the grave.