Good Friday: The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Church and the Sacraments
We will soon commemorate Good Friday. This is the day when the whole world stands still. We will recall the great Sacrifice offered on the second tree on Golgotha's Hill. There, the one St. Paul calls the New Adam (1 Cor.15), in the perfect obedience of love, did for us what we could not do on our own. There, Heaven was wed to earth. There, we were freed from the power of sin and death.
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"But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water" (John 19:33)
There, the penalty for the sins of the whole world were assumed by the sinless Savior. There, we learn the Way of Crucified Love. The mystery of the passion and crucifixion of the Lord has birthed some of the most profound reflections in the Christian Tradition. In Churches throughout the world, during the hours of 12:00 - 3: 00 p.m., devotions such as the stations or way of the cross and reflections on the last seven words of Jesus will draw the faithful more deeply into the meaning of this self-emptying of Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, on the Altar of the Cross.
I will join priests and other Deacons in the starkly beautiful but simple liturgy of the Lord's Passion and the Veneration of the Holy Cross, crying out "Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the Savior of the World" to which the faithful will respond, "Come, Let us Worship"
Of course, worship is the only fitting response in the face of such an act of Love. The older I get the more profound this experience becomes. We walk into a sanctuary stripped of all altar cloths, the tabernacle emptied of the consecrated Eucharist and, upon reaching the altar in silence; we lay prostrate on the floor in an act that is both a sign of surrendered love and an expression of holy fear and awe in the face of the mystery. Each year, as I feel the cold floor through my vestments, I am drawn back to the moment in my ordination to the diaconate in Christ when I lay prostrate. I am compelled to once again give my "Fiat" (yes), my "totus tuus" (totally yours) to the Crucified One who climbed that tree of the cross out of Love for the whole human race.
As I reflect on the mystery of this moment on this Friday, we call Good Friday, I am drawn back to some profound insights from the early fathers of the Church on the mystery we commemorate. They are based on that one line from the passion narrative with which I began "one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water." Origen wrote, "Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty, he sends a spring of living water from the wound, which the spear opened in His Side. From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His Bride."
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The great "golden mouth" Bishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom in his instructions to the early Christians taught,
"The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord's side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own."
"There flowed from his side water and blood." Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, "the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit," and from the holy Eucharist."
"Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim "Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!" As God then took a rib from Adam's side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.""Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food, we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life."
This insight concerning the relationship between the Crucifixion, the Church, and the Sacraments is woven throughout the sacred Christian Tradition. The great Western Bishop, St Augustine wrote, "There it was that the gate of life was opened, from there the sacraments of the Church flow; without these one does not enter true life. "The Fathers of the last great ecumenical council, Vatican II, in their Constitution on the Church, Light to the Nations, explained, "The Church grows visibly through the power of God in the world. The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus."
On the day we contemplate the Passion, we also plumb the mystery and meaning of the Church. We are members of His Body. She was born from the wounded side of the Savior. He betroths her in His great self-emptying on the Altar of the Cross. Through her Sacraments, Jesus, the head of the Body, continues to feed us all with the divine life we need to enter more fully into the new communion, which is ours through this saving Paschal mystery.
As the solemn commemoration of the Lord's Passion continues, we will have an extended time of intercessory prayer. We will join the needs of the whole world to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who offered Himself on that second tree to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, to defeat death and begin a new creation. We will come forward to venerate His feet with our kiss. Then, we will receive Him in the consecrated host from Holy Thursday Mass. Then, silently, we leave to wait by the Tomb and ponder the Mystery of Crucified Love and the fullness of the meaning of the Crucifixion, the voluntary suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
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