CALVARY AND THE MASS
A Missal Companion
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.
THERE are certain things in life which are too beautiful to be
forgotten, such as the love of a mother. Hence we treasure her
picture. The love of soldiers who sacrificed themselves for their
country is likewise too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we revere
their memory on Memorial Day. But the greatest blessing which ever
came to this earth was the visitation of the Son of God in the
form and habit of man. His life, above all lives, is too beautiful
to be forgotten, hence we treasure the divinity of His in
Sacred Scripture, and the charity of His in our daily
actions. Unfortunately this is all some souls remember, namely His
Words and His Deeds; important as these are, they are not the
greatest characteristic of the Divine Saviour.
The most sublime act in the history of Christ was His .
Death is always important for it seals a destiny. Any dying man is
a scene. Any dying scene is a sacred place. That is why the great
literature of the past which has touched on the emotions
surrounding death has never passed out of date. But of all deaths
in the record of man, none was more important than the Death of
Christ. Everyone else who was ever born into the world, came into
it to ; our Lord came into it to Death was a
stumbling block to the life of Socrates, but it was the crown to
the life of Christ. He Himself told us that He came "to give his
life a redemption for many"; that no one could take away His Life;
but He would lay it down of Himself.
If then Death was the supreme moment for which Christ lived, it
was therefore the He wished to have remembered. He did
not ask that men should write down His Words into a Scripture; He
did not ask that His kindness to the poor should be recorded in
history; but He did ask that men remember His Death. And in order
that its memory might not be any haphazard narrative on the part
of men, He Himself instituted the precise way it should be
The memorial was instituted the night before He died, at what has
since been called "The Last Supper." Taking bread into His Hands,
He said: "This is my body, which shall be delivered for you,"
i.e., delivered unto death. Then over the chalice of wine, He
said, "This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed
for many unto remission of sins." Thus in an unbloody symbol of
the parting of the Blood from the Body, by the separate
consecration of Bread and Wine, did Christ pledge Himself to death
in the sight of God and men, and represent His death which was to
come the next afternoon at three. He was offering Himself as a
Victim to be immolated, and that men might never forget that
"greater love than this no man hash, that a man lay down his life
for his friends," He gave the divine command to the Church: "Do
this for a commemoration of me."
The following day that which He had prefigured and foreshadowed,
He realized in its completeness, as He was crucified between two
thieves and His Blood drained from His Body for the redemption of
The Church which Christ founded has not only preserved the Word He
spoke, and the wonders He wrought; it has also taken Him seriously
when He said: "Do this for a commemoration of me." And that action
whereby we re-enact His Death on the Cross the Sacrifice of
the Mass, in which we do as a memorial what He did at the Last
Supper as the prefiguration of His Passion.
Hence the Mass is to us the crowning act of Christian worship. A
pulpit in which the words of our Lord are repeated does not unite
us to Him; a choir in which sweet sentiments are sung brings us no
closer to His Cross than to His garments. A temple without an
altar of sacrifice is non-existent among primitive peoples, and is
meaningless among Christians. And so in the Catholic Church the
, and not the pulpit or the choir or the organ, is the
center of worship, for there is re-enacted the memorial of His
Passion. Its value does not depend on him who says it, or on him
who hears it; it depends on Him who is the One High Priest and
Victim, Jesus Christ our Lord. With Him we are united, in spite of
our nothingness; in a certain sense, we lose our individuality for
the time being; we unite our intellect and our will, our heart and
our soul, our body and our blood, so intimately with Christ, that
the Heavenly Father sees not so much us with our imperfection, but
rather sees us , the Beloved Son in whom He is well
pleased. The Mass is for that reason the greatest event in the
history of mankind; the only Holy Act which keeps the wrath of God
from a sinful world, because it holds the Cross between heaven and
earth, thus renewing that decisive moment when our sad and tragic
humanity journeyed suddenly forth to the fullness of supernatural
What is important at this point is that we take the proper mental
attitude toward the Mass, and remember this important fact, that
the Sacrifice of the Cross is not something which happened
nineteen hundred years ago. It is still happening. It is not
something past like the signing of the Declaration of
Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the curtain has not
yet rung down. Let it not be believed that it happened a long time
ago, and therefore no more concerns us than anything else in the
past. That is
why, when our Blessed Lord ascended the heights of Calvary, He was
fittingly stripped of His garments: He would save the world
without the trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to
time, for they localized Him, and fixed Him as a dweller in
Galilee. Now that He was shorn of them and utterly dispossessed of
earthly things, He belonged not to Galilee, not to a Roman
province, but to the world. He became the universal poor man of
the world, belonging to no one people, but to all men.
To express further the universality of the Redemption, the cross
was erected at the crossroads of civilization, at a central point
between the three great cultures of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens,
in whose names He was crucified. The cross was thus placarded
before the eyes of men, to arrest the careless, to appeal to the
thoughtless, to arouse the worldly. It was the one inescapable
fact that the cultures and civilizations of His day could not
resist. It is also the one inescapable fact of our day which we
The figures at the Cross were symbols of all who crucify. We were
there in our representatives. What we are doing now to the
Mystical Christ, they were doing in our names to the historical
Christ. If we are envious of the good, we were there in the
Scribes and Pharisees. If we are fearful of losing some temporal
advantage by embracing Divine Truth and Love, we were there in
Pilate. If we trust in material forces and seek to conquer through
the world instead of through the spirit, we were there in Herod.
And so the story goes on for the typical sins of the world. They
all blind us to the fact that He is God. There was therefore a
kind of inevitability about the Crucifixion. Men who were free to
sin were also free to crucify.
As long as there is sin in the world the Crucifixion is a reality.
As the poet has put it:
"I saw the son of man go by,
Crowned with a crown of thorns.
'Was it not finished Lord,' said I,
'And all the anguish borne?'
"He turned on me His awful eyes;
'Hast Thou not understood?
So every soul is a Calvary
And every sin a rood.'"
We were there then during that Crucifixion. The drama was already
as far as the vision of Christ was concerned, but it had not yet
been unfolded to all men and all places and all times. If a motion
picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it would know
the drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the theater
would not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the screen.
In like manner, our Lord on the Cross saw His eternal mind, the
whole drama of history, the story of each individual soul, and how
later on it would react to His Crucifixion; but though He saw all,
we could not know how we would react to the Cross until we were
unrolled upon the screen of time. We were not conscious of being
present there on Calvary that day, but He was conscious of our
presence. Today we know the role we played in the theater of
Calvary, by the way we live and act now in the theater of the
That is why Calvary is actual; why the Cross is the ; why
in a certain sense the scars are still open; why Pain still stands
deified, and why blood like falling stars is still dropping upon
our souls. There is no escaping the Cross not even by denying it
as the Pharisees did; not even by selling Christ as Judas did; not
even by crucifying Him as the executioners did. We all see it,
either to embrace it in salvation, or to fly from it into misery.
But how is it made visible? Where shall we find Calvary
perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed, re-enacted, re-
presented, as we have seen, in the Mass. Calvary is one with the
Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is the
same Priest and Victim. The Seven Last Words are like the seven
parts of the Mass. And just as there are seven notes in music
admitting an infinite variety of harmonies and combinations, so
too on the Cross there are seven divine notes, which the dying
Christ rang down the centuries, all of which combine to form the
beautiful harmony of the world's redemption.
Each word is a part of the Mass. The First Word, "Forgive," is the
Confiteor; the Second Word, "This Day in Paradise," is the
Offertory; the Third Word, "Behold Thy Mother," is the Sanctus;
the Fourth Word, "Why hast Thou abandoned Me," is the
Consecration; the Fifth Word, "I thirst," is the Communion; the
Sixth Word, "It is finished," is the Ite, Missa Est; the Seventh
Word, "Father, into Thy Hands," is the Last Gospel.
Picture then the High Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of heaven
for the altar of Calvary. He has already put on the vestment of
our human nature, the maniple of our suffering, the stole of
priesthood, the chasuble of the Cross. Calvary is his cathedral;
the rock of Calvary is the altar stone; the sun turning to red is
the sanctuary lamp; Mary and John are the living side altars; the
Host is His Body; the wine is His Blood. He is upright as Priest,
yet He is prostrate as Victim. His Mass is about to begin.
THE MASS begins with the Confiteor. The Confiteor is a prayer in
which we confess our sins and ask the Blessed Mother and the
saints to intercede to God for our forgiveness, for only the clean
of heart can see God. Our Blessed Lord too begins His Mass with
the Confiteor. But His Confiteor differs from ours in this: He has
no sins to confess. He is God and therefore is sinless. "Which of
you shall convince me of sin?" His Confiteor then cannot be a
prayer for the forgiveness of sins; but it can be a prayer
for the forgiveness of our sins.
Others would have screamed, cursed, wrestled, as the nails pierced
their hands and feet. But no vindictiveness finds place in the
Saviour's breast; no appeal comes from His lips for vengeance on
His murderers; He breathes no prayer for strength to bear His
pain. Incarnate Love forgets injury, forgets pain, and in that
moment of concentrated agony reveals something of the height, the
depth, and the breadth of the wonderful love of God, as He says
His Confiteor: "Father, forgive them, for they know nor what they
He did not say "Forgive Me," but "Forgive them." The moment of
death was certainly the one most likely to produce confession of
sin, for conscience in the last solemn hours does assert its
authority; and yet not a single sigh of penitence escaped His
lips. He was associated with sinners, but never associated with
sin. In death as well as life, He was unconscious of a single
unfulfilled duty to His heavenly Father. And why? Because a
sinless Man is not just a man; He is more than mere man. He is
sinless, because He is God-and there is the difference. We draw
our prayers from the depths of our consciousness of sin: He drew
His silence from His own intrinsic sinlessness. That one word
"Forgive" proves Him to be the Son of God.
Notice the grounds on which He asked His heavenly Father to
forgive us-"Because they know not what they do." When anyone
injures us, or blames us wrongly, we say: "They should have known
better." But when we sin against God, He finds an excuse for
forgiveness our ignorance.
There is no redemption for the fallen angels. The blood drops that
fell from the cross on Good Friday in that Mass of Christ did not
touch the spirits of the fallen angels. Why? Because they knew
what they were doing? They saw all the consequences of their acts,
just as clearly as we see that two and two make four, or that a
thing cannot exist and not exist at the same time. Truths of this
kind when understood cannot be taken back; they are irrevocable
and eternal. Hence when they decided to rebel against Almighty
God, there was no taking back the decision. They what they
But with us it is different. We do not see the consequences of our
acts as clearly as the angels; we are weaker, we are ignorant. But
if we did know that every sin of pride wove a crown of thorns for
the head of Christ; if we knew that every contradiction of His
divine command made for Him the sign of contradiction, the Cross;
if we knew that every grasping avaricious act nailed His hands,
and every journey into the byways of sin dug His feet; if we knew
how good God is and still went on sinning, we would never be
saved. It is only our ignorance of the infinite love of the Sacred
Heart that brings us within the hearing of His Confiteor from the
Cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
These words, let it be deeply graven on our souls, do not
constitute an for continued sin, but a for
contrition and penance. Forgiveness is not a denial of sin. Our
Lord does not the horrible fact of sin, and that is where
the modern world is wrong. It explains sin away: it ascribes it to
a fall in the evolutionary process, to a survival of ancient
taboos; it identifies it with psychological verbiage.
In a word, the modern world sin. Our Lord reminds us that
it is the most terrible of all realities. Otherwise why does it
give Sinlessness a cross? Why does it shed innocent blood? Why
does it have such awful associations: blindness, compromise,
cowardice, hatred, and cruelty? Why does it now lift itself out of
the realm of the impersonal and assert itself as personal by
nailing Innocence to a gibbet? An abstraction cannot do that. But
sinful man can.
Hence He, who loved men unto death, allowed sin to wreak its
vengeance upon Him, in order that they might forever understand
its horror as the crucifixion of Him who loved them most.
There is no denial of sin here and yet, with all its horror, the
Victim forgives. In that one and the same event, there is the sign
of sin's utter depravity and the seal of divine forgiveness. From
that point on, no man can look upon a crucifix and say that sin is
not serious, nor can he ever say that it cannot be forgiven. By
the way He suffered, He revealed the reality of sin; by the way He
bore it, He shows His mercy toward the sinner.
It is the Victim who has suffered that forgives: and in that
combination of a Victim so humanly beautiful, so divinely loving,
so wholly innocent, does one find a Great Crime and a Greater
Forgiveness. Under the shelter of the Blood of Christ the worst
sinners may take their stand; for there is a power in that Blood
to turn back the tides of vengeance which threaten to drown the
The world will give you sin explained away, but only on Calvary do
you experience the divine contradiction of sin forgiven. On the
Cross supreme self-giving and divine love transforms sin's worst
act in the noblest deed and sweetest prayer the world has ever
seen or heard, the Confiteor of Christ: "Father, forgive them, for
they know not what they do."
That word "Forgive," which rang out from the Cross that day when
sin rose to its full strength and then fell defeated by Love, did
not die with its echo. Not long before that same merciful Saviour
had taken means to prolong forgiveness through space and time,
even to the consummation of the world. Gathering the nucleus of
His Church round about Him, He said to His Apostles: "Whose sins
you shall forgive, they are forgiven."
Somewhere in the world today then, the successors of the Apostles
have the power to forgive. It is not for us to ask: But how can
man forgive sins?-for man cannot forgive sins. But God can forgive
sins through man, for is not that the way God forgave His
executioners on the cross, namely through the instrumentality of
His human nature?
Why then is it not reasonable to expect Him still to forgive sins
through other human natures to whom He gave that power? And where
find those human natures?
You know the story of the box which was long ignored and even
ridiculed as worthless; and one day it was opened and found to
contain the great heart of a giant. In every Catholic Church that
box exists. We call it the confessional box. It is ignored and
ridiculed by many, but in it is to be found the Sacred Heart of
the forgiving Christ forgiving sinners through the uplifted hand
of His priest as He once forgave through His own uplifted hands on
the Cross. There is only one forgiveness-the Forgiveness of God.
There is only one "Forgive"-the "Forgive" of an eternal Divine Act
in which we come in contact at various moments of time.
As the air is always filled with symphony and speech, but we do
not hear it unless we tune it in on our radios, so neither do
souls feel the joy of that eternal and divine "Forgive" unless
they are attuned to it in time; and the confessional box is the
place where we tune in to that cry from the Cross.
Would to God that our modern mind instead of denying the guilt,
would look to the Cross, admit its guilt, and seek forgiveness;
would that those who have uneasy consciences that worry them in
the light, and haunt them in the darkness, would seek relief, not
on the plane of medicine but on the plane of Divine Justice; would
that they who tell the dark secrets of their minds, would do so
not for the sake of sublimation, but for the sake of purgation;
would that those poor mortals who shed tears in silence would find
an absolving hand to wipe them away.
Must it be forever true that the greatest tragedy of life is not
what happens to souls, but rather what souls miss. And what
greater tragedy is there than to miss the peace of sin forgiven?
The Confiteor is at the foot of the altar our cry of unworthiness:
the Confiteor from the Cross is our hope of pardon and absolution.
The wounds of the Saviour were terrible, but the worst wound of
all would be to be unmindful that we caused it all. The Confiteor
can save us from that, for it is an admission that there is
something to be forgiven-and more than we shall ever know.
There is a story told of a nun who was one day dusting a small
image of our Blessed Lord in the chapel. In the course of her
duty, she let it slip to the floor. She picked it up undamaged,
she kissed it, and put it back again in its place, saying, "If you
had never fallen, you never would have received that." I wonder if
our Blessed Lord does not feel the same way about us, for if we
had never sinned, we never could call Him "Saviour."
THIS is now the offertory of the Mass, for our Lord is offering
Himself to His heavenly Father. But in order to remind us that He
is not offered alone, but in union with us, He unites with His
offertory the soul of the thief at the right. To make His ignominy
more complete, in a master stroke of malice, they crucified Him
between two thieves. He walked among sinners during His life, so
now they let Him hang between them at death. But He changed the
picture, and made the two thieves the symbols of the sheep and the
goats, which will stand at His right and left hand when He comes
in the clouds of heaven, with His then triumphant cross, to judge
both the living and the dead.
Both thieves at first reviled and blasphemed, but one of them,
whom tradition calls Dismas, turned his head to read the meekness
and dignity on the face of the crucified Saviour. As a piece of
coal thrown into the fire is transformed into a bright and glowing
thing, so the black soul of this thief thrown into the fires of
the Crucifixion glowed with love for the Sacred Heart.
While the thief on the left was saying: "If thou be Christ, save
thyself and us," the repentant thief rebuked him saying: "Neither
cost thou 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." That same thief then emitted a
plea, not for a place in the seats of the mighty, but only not to
be forgotten: "Remember me, when thou shalt come into thy
Such sorrow and faith must not go unrewarded. At a moment when the
power of Rome could not make Him speak, when His friends thought
all was lost and His enemies believed all was won, our Lord broke
the silence. He who was the accused, became the Judge: He who was
the crucified, became the Divine Assessor of souls, as to the
penitent thief He trumpeted the words: "This day thou shalt be
with me in paradise." This day-when you said your first prayer and
your last; this day-thou shalt be with me-and where I am, there is
With these words our Lord who was offering Himself to His heavenly
Father as the great Host, now unites with Him on the paten of the
cross the first small host ever offered in the Mass the host of
the repentant thief, a brand plucked from the burning, a sheaf
torn from the earthly reapers; the wheat ground in the mill of the
crucifixion and made bread for the Eucharist.
Our Lord does not suffer alone on the Cross; He suffers with us.
That is why He united the sacrifice of the thief with His own. It
is this St. Paul means when he says that we should fill up those
things that are wanting to the sufferings of Christ. This does not
mean our Lord on the cross did not suffer all He could. It means
rather that the physical, historical Christ suffered all He could
in His own human nature, but that the Mystical Christ, which is
Christ and us, has not suffered to our fullness. All the other
good thieves in the history of the world have not yet admitted
their wrong and pleaded for remembrances. Our Lord is now in
heaven. He therefore can suffer no more in His human nature but He
can suffer more in our human natures.
So He reaches out to other human natures, to yours and mine, and
asks us to do as the thief did, namely, to incorporate ourselves
to Him on the Cross, that sharing in His Crucifixion we might also
share in His Resurrection, and that made partakers of His Cross we
might also be made partakers of His glory in heaven.
As our Blessed Lord on that day chose the thief as the small host
of sacrifice, He chooses us today as the other small hosts united
with Him on the paten of the altar. Go back in your mind's eye to
a Mass, to any Mass which was celebrated in the first centuries of
the Church, before civilization became completely financial and
economic. If we went to the Holy Sacrifice in the early Church, we
would have brought to the altar each morning some bread and some
wine. The priest would have used one piece of that unleavened
bread and some of that wine for the sacrifice of the Mass. The
rest would have been put aside, blessed, and distributed to the
poor. Today we do not bring bread and wine. We bring its
equivalent; we bring that which buys bread and wine. Hence the
Why do we bring bread and wine or its equivalent to the Mass? We
bring bread and wine because these two things, of all things in
nature, most represent the substance of life. Wheat is as the very
marrow of the ground, and the grapes its very blood, both of which
give us the body and blood of life. In bringing those two things,
which give us life, nourish us, the Sacrifice of the Mass.
We are therefore present at each and every Mass under the
appearance of bread and wine, which stand as symbols of our body
and blood. We are not passive spectators as we might be watching a
spectacle in a theater, but we are co-offering our Mass with
Christ. If any picture adequately describes our role in this drama
it is this: There is a great cross before us on which is stretched
the great Host, Christ. Round about the hill of Calvary are our
small crosses on which we, the small hosts, are to be offered.
When our Lord goes to His Cross we go to our little crosses, and
offer ourselves in union with Him, as a clean oblation to the
At that moment we literally fulfill to the smallest detail the
Take up your cross daily and follow Me. In doing so, He is not
asking us to do anything He has not already done Himself. Nor is
it any excuse to say: "I am a poor unworthy host." So was the
Note that there were two attitudes in the soul of that thief, both
of which made him acceptable to our Lord. The first was the
recognition of the fact that He deserved what He was suffering,
but that the sinless Christ did not deserve His Cross; in other
words, he was . The second was in Him whom men
rejected, but whom the thief recognized as the very King of Kings.
Upon what conditions do we become small hosts in the Mass? How
does our sacrifice become one with Christ's and as acceptable as
the thief's? Only by reproducing in our souls the two attitudes in
the soul of the thief:
First of all we must be penitent with the thief and say: "I
deserve punishment for my sins. I stand in need of sacrifice."
Some of us do not know how wicked or how ungrateful to God we are.
If we did, we would not so complain about the shocks and pains of
life. Our consciences are like darkened rooms from which light has
been long excluded. We draw the curtain, and lo! everywhere what
we thought was cleanliness, we now find dust.
Some consciences have been so filmed over with excuses that they
pray with the Pharisee: "I thank Thee, O God, that I am not as the
rest of men." Others blaspheme the God of heaven for their pain
and sins but repent not. The World War, for example, was meant to
be a purgation of evil; it was meant to teach us that we cannot
get along without God, but the world refused to learn the lesson.
Like the thief on the left, it refuses to be penitent: it refuses
to see any relation of justice between sin and sacrifice, between
rebellion and a cross.
But the more penitent we are, the less anxious we are to escape
our cross. The more we see ourselves as we are, the more we say
with the good thief: "I deserved this cross." He did not want to
be excused; he did not want to have his sin explained away; he did
not want to be let off; he did not ask to be taken down. He wanted
only to be forgiven. He was willing even to be a small host on his
own little cross-but that was because he was penitent. Nor is
there given to us any other way to become little hosts with Christ
in the Mass than by breaking our hearts with sorrow; for unless we
admit we are wounded how can we feel the need of healing? Unless
we are sorry for our part in the Crucifixion, how could we ever
ask to be forgiven its sin?
The second condition of becoming a host in the offertory of the
Mass is The thief looked above the head of our Blessed
Lord and saw a sign which read: "KING." Queer king that! For a
crown: thorns. For royal purple: His own blood. For a throne: a
cross. For courtiers: executioners. For a coronation: a
crucifixion. And yet beneath all that dross the thief saw the
gold; amidst all those blasphemies he prayed.
His faith was so strong he was content to remain on his cross. The
thief on the left asked to be taken down, but not the thief on the
right. Why? Because he knew there were greater evils than
crucifixions, and another life beyond the cross. He had faith in
the Man on the central cross who could have turned thorns into
garlands and nails into rosebuds if He willed; but he had faith in
a Kingdom beyond the cross, knowing that the sufferings of this
world are not worthy to be compared with the joys that are to
come. With the Psalmist his soul cried: "Though I should walk in
the midst of the shadow of death I will fear no evils, for thou
art with me."
Such faith was like that of the three youths in the fiery furnace
who were commanded by the king, Nebuchadnezzar, to adore the
golden statue. Their answer was: "For behold our God, whom we
worship, is able to save us from the furnace of burning fire, and
to deliver us out of thy hands, O king. But if He will not, be it
known to thee, O king, that we will not worship thy gods, nor
adore the golden statue which thou hast set up." Note that they
did not ask God to deliver them from the fiery furnace, though
they knew God could do it, "for He is able to save us from the
furnace of burning fire." They left themselves wholly in God's
hands, and like Job they trusted Him.
So likewise with the good thief: He knew our Lord could deliver
Him. But , for our
Lord did not come down Himself even though the mob challenged Him.
The thief would be a small host, if need be, unto the very end of
the Mass. This did not mean the thief did not love life: He loved
life as much as we love it. He wanted life, and a long life, and
he found it, for what life is longer than Life Eternal. To each
and every one of us in like manner it is given to discover that
Eternal Life. But there is no other way to enter it than by
penance and by faith which unite us to that Great Host-the Priest
and Victim Christ. Thus do we become spiritual thieves, and steal
heaven once again.
FIVE days ago our Blessed Lord made a triumphal entry into the
city of Jerusalem: Triumphant cries rang about His ears; palms
dropped beneath His feet, as the air resounded with hosannas to
the Son of David and praises to the Holy One of Israel. To those
who would have silenced the demonstration in His honor, our Lord
reminds them that if their voices were silent, even the very
stones would have cried out. That was the birthday of Gothic
They did not know the real reason why they were calling Him
; they did not even understand why He accepted the tribute
of their praise. They thought that they were proclaiming Him a
kind of earthly king. But He accepted their demonstration because
He was going to be the King of a spiritual empire. He accepted
their tributes, their hosannas, their paens of praise because He
was going to His cross as a Victim. And every victim must be holy-
Five days later came the of
the Mass of Calvary. But at that of His Mass, He does
not say "holy" -He speaks the holy ones; He does not whisper
"Sanctus"-He addresses Himself saints, to His sweet Mother
Mary, and His beloved disciple, John.
Striking words they are: "Woman, behold thy son . . . behold thy
mother." He was speaking now to saints. He had no need of saintly
intercession, for He was the Holy One of God. But we have need of
holiness, for every victim of the Mass must be holy, undefiled,
and unpolluted. But how can we be holy participants in the
Sacrifice of the Mass? He gave the answer: namely, by putting
ourselves under the protection of His Blessed Mother. He addresses
the Church and all its members in the person of John, and says to
each of us: "Behold thy mother." That is why He addressed her not
as "Mother" but as "Woman." She had a universal mission, to be not
only His Mother, but to be the Mother of all Christians. She had
been His Mother; now she was to be the Mother of His Mystical
Body, the Church. And we were to be her children.
There is a tremendous mystery hidden in that one word "Woman." It
was really the last lesson in detachment which Jesus had been
teaching her these many years, and the first lesson of the new
attachment. Our Lord had been gradually "alienating," as it were,
His affections from His Mother, not in the sense that she was to
love Him less, or that He was to love her less, but only in the
sense that she was to love us . She was to be detached from
motherhood in the flesh, only to be more attached to that greater
motherhood in the spirit. Hence the word "Woman." She was to make
us , for as Mary had raised the Holy One of God, so
only she could raise us as holy ones for God, worthy to say
, in the Mass of that prolonged
The story of the preparation for her role as Mother of the
Mystical Body of Christ is unfolded in three scenes in the life of
her divine Son, each one suggesting the lesson which Calvary
itself was to reveal: namely, that she was called to be not only
the Mother of God, but also the Mother of men: not only the Mother
of holiness, but the Mother of those who ask to be holy.
The first scene took place in the Temple where Mary and Joseph
found Jesus after a three-day search. The Blessed Mother reminds
Him that their hearts were broken with sorrow during the long
search, and He answers: "Did you not know that I must be about my
Father's business?" Here He was equivalently saying: "I have
another business, Mother, than the business of the carpenter shop.
My Father has sent Me into this world on the supreme business of
Redemption, to make all men adopted sons of My heavenly Father in
the greater kingdom of the brotherhood of Christ, Thy Son." How
far the full vision of those words dawned upon Mary, we know not;
whether she then understood that the Fatherhood of God meant that
she was to be the Mother of men, we know not. But certainly,
eighteen years later, in the second scene, the marriage feast of
Cana, she came to a fuller understanding of that mission.
What a consoling thought it is to think that our Blessed Lord, who
talked penance, who preached mortification, who insisted upon
taking up the cross daily and following Him, should have begun His
public life by assisting at a wedding festival! What a beautiful
understanding of our hearts!
When in the course of the banquet the wine was exhausted, Mary,
always interested in others, was the first to notice and the first
to seek relief from the embarrassment. She simply said to our
Blessed Lord, "They have no wine." And our Blessed Lord said to
her, "Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet
come." "Woman, what is that to me?" He did not call her "Mother,"
but "Woman"-the same title she was to receive three years later.
He was equivalently saying to her: "You are asking Me to do
something which belongs to Me as the Son of God. You are asking Me
to work a miracle which only God can work; you are asking Me to
exercise My divinity which has relationship to all mankind, namely
as its Redeemer. But once that divinity operates for the salvation
of the world, you become not only My Mother, but the Mother of
redeemed humanity. Your physical motherhood passes into the wider
world of spiritual motherhood, and for that reason I call you:
'Woman.'" And in order to prove that her intercession is powerful
in that role of universal motherhood, He ordered the pots filled
with water, and in the language of Crashaw the first miracle was
worked: "the conscious waters saw their God and blushed."
The third scene happens within two years. One day as our Lord was
preaching someone interrupted His discourse to say, "Thy mother .
. . stands without, seeking thee." Our Blessed Lord said, "Who is
my mother?" and stretching forth His hands toward His disciples He
said: "Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do
the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and my
sister, and mother." The meaning was unmistakable. There is such a
thing as spiritual maternity; there are bonds other than those of
the flesh; there are ties other than the ties of blood, namely
spiritual ties which band together those of the Kingdom where
reign the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Christ.
These three scenes have their climax at the Cross where Mary is
called "Woman." It was the second Annunciation. The angel said to
her in the first: "Hail, Mary." Her Son speaks to her in the
second: "Woman." This did not mean she ceased to be His Mother;
she is always the Mother of God; but her Motherhood enlarged and
expanded; it became spiritual, it became universal, for at that
moment she became Our Lord created the bond where it
did not exist by nature as only He could do.
And how did she become the Mother of men? By becoming not only the
mother, but also the spouse of Christ. He was the new Adam, she is
the new Eve. And as Adam and Eve brought forth their natural
progeny, which we are, so Christ and His Mother brought forth at
the cross their spiritual progeny, which we are: children of Mary,
or members of the Mystical Body of Christ. She brought forth her
First-born at Bethlehem. Note that St. Luke calls our Lord the
-not that our Blessed Mother was to have other
children , but only because she was to
have other children . That moment when
our Blessed Lord said to her, "Woman," she became in a certain
sense the spouse of Christ and she brought forth in sorrow her
first-born in the spirit, and his name was John. Who the second-
born was we know not. It might have been Peter. It might have been
Andrew. But we at any rate are the millionth-and-millionth-born of
that woman at the foot of the Cross. It was a poor exchange
indeed, receiving the son of Zebedee in place of the Son of God.
But surely our gain was greater, for while she acquired but
undutiful and often rebellious children, we obtained the most
loving Mother in the world -the Mother of Jesus.
We are children of Mary-literally, She is our Mother,
not by title of fiction, not by title of courtesy; she is our
Mother because she endured at that particular moment the pains of
childbirth for all of us. And why did our Lord give her to us as
Mother? Because He knew . He
came to us through her purity, and only through her purity can we
go back to her. There is no apart from Mary. Every
victim that mounts that altar under the species of bread and wine,
must have said the Confiteor, and become a holy victim-but there
is no holiness without Mary.
Note that when that word was spoken to our Blessed Mother, there
was another woman there who was prostrate. Have you ever remarked
that practically every traditional representation of the
Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of
the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed
Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that
she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to
be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother.
If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene
did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an
outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the
heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of
tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional
break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our
purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
Because our Lord willed her to us as our Mother, He left her on
this earth after He ascended into heaven, in order that she might
mother the infant Church. The infant Church had need of a mother,
just as the infant Christ. She had to remain on earth until her
family had grown. That is why we find her on Pentecost abiding in
prayer with the Apostles, awaiting the descent of the Holy Ghost.
She was mothering the Mystical Body of Christ.
Now she is crowned in heaven as Queen of Angels and Saints,
turning heaven into another marriage feast of Cana when she
intercedes with her divine Saviour in behalf of us, her other
children, brothers of Christ and sons of the heavenly Father.
Virgin Mother! What a beautiful conjunction of virginity and
motherhood, one supplying the defect of the other. Virginity alone
lacks something: there is an incompleteness about it; something
unfulfilled; a faculty unused. Motherhood alone loses something:
there is a surrender, an unflowering, a plucking of a blossom. Oh!
for a in which there would be a virginity that
never lacked anything, and a motherhood that never lost anything!
We have both in Mary, the Virgin Mother: Virgin by the
overshadowing of the Holy Spirit in Bethlehem and Pentecost;
Mother by the millions of her progeny from Jesus unto you and me.
There is no question here of confusing our Lady and our Lord; we
venerate our Mother, we worship our Lord. We ask of Jesus those
things which only God can give: mercy, grace, forgiveness. We ask
that Mary should intercede for us with Him, and especially at the
hour of our death. Because of her nearness to Jesus which her
vocation involves, we know our Lord listens especially to her
appeal. To no other saint can we speak as a child to its mother:
no other virgin, or martyr, or mother, or confessor has ever
suffered as much for us as she has; no one has ever established
better claim to our love and patronage than she.
As the Mediatrix of all graces, all favors come to us from Jesus
through her, as Jesus himself came to us through her. We wish to
be holy, but we know there is no holiness without her, for she was
the gift of Jesus to us at the of His Cross. No woman
can ever forget the child of her womb; then certainly Mary can
never forget us. That is why we feel way down deep in our hearts
that every time she sees another innocent child at the First
Communion rail, or another penitent sinner making his way to the
Cross, or another broken heart pleading that the water of a wasted
life be changed into the wine of God's love, that she hears once
again that word: "Woman, behold thy son."
THE Fourth Word is the Consecration of the Mass of Calvary. The
first three Words were spoken to men, but the last four Words were
spoken to God. We are now in the final stage of the Passion. In
the fourth Word, in all the universe, there is but God and
Himself. This is the hour of darkness. Suddenly out-of its
blackness, the silence is broken by a cry-so terrible, so
unforgettable, that even those who did not understand the dialect
remembered the strange tones: "" They
recorded it so, a rough rendering of the Hebrew, because they
could never get the sound of those tones out of their ears all the
days of their life.
The darkness which was covering the earth at that moment was only
the external symbol of the dark night of the soul within. Well
indeed might the sun hide its face, at the terrible crime of
deicide. A real reason why the earth was made was to have a cross
erected upon it. And now that the cross was erected, creation felt
the pain and went into darkness.
But why the cry of darkness? Why the cry of abandonment: "My God,
my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It was the cry of atonement
for sin. Sin is the abandonment of God by man; it is the creature
forsaking the Creator, as a flower might abandon the sunlight
which gave its strength and beauty. Sin is a separation, a
divorce- the original divorce from unity with God, whence all
other divorces are derived.
Since He came on earth to redeem men from sin, it was therefore
fitting that He that abandonment, that separation, that
divorce. He felt it first internally, in His soul, as the base of
a mountain, if conscious, might feel abandoned by the sun when a
cloud drifted about it, even though its great heights were radiant
with light. There was no sin in His soul, but since He willed to
feel the effect of sin, an awful sense of isolation and loneliness
crept over Him-the loneliness of being without God.
Surrendering the divine consolation which might have been His, He
sank into an awful human aloneness, to atone for the solitariness
of a soul that has lost God by sin; for the loneliness of the
atheist who says there is no God, for the isolation of the man who
gives up his faith for things, and for the broken-heartedness of
all sinners who are homesick without God. He even went so far as
to redeem all those who will not trust, who in sorrow and misery
curse and abandon God, crying out: "Why this death? Why should I
lose my property? Why should I suffer?" He atoned for all these
things by asking a "Why" of God.
But in order better to reveal the intensity of that feeling of
abandonment, He revealed it by an external sign. Because man had
separated himself from God, He, in atonement, permitted His Blood
to be separated from His Body. Sin had entered into the blood of
man; and as if the sins of the world were upon Him, He drained the
chalice of His Body of His sacred Blood. We can almost hear Him
say: "Father, this is My Body; this is My Blood. They are being
separated from one another as humanity has been separated from
Thee. This is the consecration of My Cross."
What happened there on the Cross that day is happening now in the
Mass, with this difference: On the Cross the Saviour was alone; in
the Mass He is with us. Our Lord is now in heaven at the right
hand of the Father, making intercession for us. He therefore can
never suffer again in His human nature. How then can the Mass be
the re-enactment of Calvary? How can Christ renew the Cross? He
cannot suffer again which is in heaven
enjoying beatitude, but He can suffer again in He cannot renew Calvary in His , but He
can renew it in His - the Church. The Sacrifice of
the Cross can be re-enacted provided we give Him our body and our
blood, and give it to Him so completely that as His own, He can
offer Himself anew to His heavenly Father for the redemption of
His Mystical Body, the Church.
So the Christ goes out into the world gathering up other human
natures who are willing to be Christs. In order that our
sacrifices, our sorrows, our Golgothas, our crucifixions, may not
be isolated, disjointed, and unconnected, the Church collects
them, harvests them, unifies them, coalesces them, masses them,
and this massing of all our sacrifices of our individual human
natures is united with the Great Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross
in the Mass.
When we assist at the Mass we are not just individuals of the
earth or solitary units, but living parts of a great spiritual
order in which the Infinite penetrates and enfolds the finite, the
Eternal breaks into the temporal, and the Spiritual clothes itself
in the garments of materiality. Nothing more solemn exists on the
face of God's earth than the awe-inspiring moment of Consecration;
for the Mass is not a prayer, nor a hymn, nor something said-it is
a Divine Act with which we come in contact at a given moment of
An imperfect illustration may be drawn from the radio. The air is
filled with symphonies and speech. We do not put the words or
music there; but, if we choose, we may establish contact with them
by tuning in our radio. And so with the Mass. It is a singular,
unique Divine Act with which we come in contact each time it is
represented and re-enacted in the Mass.
When the die of a medal or coin is struck, the medal is the
material, visible representation of a spiritual idea existing in
the mind of the artist. Countless reproductions may be made from
that original as each new piece of metal is brought in contact
with it, and impressed by it. Despite the multiplicity of coins
made, the pattern is always the same. In like manner in the Mass,
the Pattern-Christ's sacrifice on Calvary-is renewed on our altars
as each human being is brought in contact with it at the moment of
consecration; but the sacrifice is one and the same despite the
multiplicity of Masses. The Mass then is the communication of the
Sacrifice of Calvary to us under the species of bread and wine.
We are on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, for
both are the sustenance of life; therefore in giving that which
gives us life we are symbolically giving ourselves. Furthermore,
wheat must suffer to become bread; grapes must pass through the
wine-press to become wine. Hence both are representative of
Christians who are called to suffer with Christ, that they may
also reign with Him.
As the consecration of the Mass draws near our Lord is
equivalently saying to us: "You, Mary; you, John; you, Peter; and
you, Andrew-you, all of you-give Me your body; give Me your blood.
Give Me your whole self! I can suffer no more. I have passed
through My cross, I have filled up the sufferings of My physical
body, but I have not filled up the sufferings wanting to My
Mystical Body, in which you are. The Mass is the moment when each
one of you may literally fulfill My injunction: 'Take up your
cross and follow Me.'"
On the cross our Blessed Lord was looking forward to you, hoping
that one day you would be giving yourself to Him at the moment of
consecration. Today, in the Mass, that hope our Blessed Lord
entertained for you is fulfilled. When you assist at the Mass He
expects you now actually to give Him yourself.
Then as the moment of consecration arrives, the priest in
obedience to the words of our Lord, "Do this for a commemoration
of me," takes bread in his hands and says "This is my body"; and
then over the chalice of wine says, "This is the chalice of my
blood of the new and eternal testament." He does not consecrate
the bread and wine together, but separately. The separate
consecration of the bread and wine is a symbolic representation of
the separation of body and blood, and since the Crucifixion
entailed that very mystery, Calvary is thus renewed on our altar.
But Christ, as has been said, is not alone on our altar; we are
with Him. Hence the words of consecration have a double sense; the
primary signification of the words is: "This is the Body of
Christ; this is the Blood of Christ;" but the secondary
signification is "This is my body; this is my blood."
Such is the purpose of life! To redeem ourselves in union with
Christ; to apply His merits to our souls by being like Him in all
things, even to His death on the Cross. He passed through His
consecration on the Cross that we might now pass through ours in
the Mass. There is nothing more tragic in all the world than
Think of how much suffering there is in hospitals, among the poor,
and the bereaved. Think also of how much of that suffering goes to
waste! How many of those lonesome, suffering, abandoned, crucified
souls are saying with our Lord at the moment of consecration,
"This is my body. Take it"? And yet that is what we all should be
saying at that second:
I GIVE MYSELF TO GOD. HERE IS MY BODY. TAKE IT. HERE IS MY BLOOD.
TAKE IT. HERE IS MY SOUL, MY WILL, MY ENERGY, MY STRENGTH, MY
PROPERTY, MY WEALTH-ALL THAT I HAVE. IT IS YOURS. TAKE IT!
CONSECRATE IT! OFFER IT! OFFER IT WITH THYSELF TO THE HEAVENLY
FATHER IN ORDER THAT HE, LOOKING DOWN ON THIS GREAT SACRIFICE, MAY
SEE ONLY THEE, HIS BELOVED SON, IN WHOM HE IS WELL PLEASED.
TRANSMUTE THE POOR BREAD OF MY LIFE INTO THY DIVINE LIFE; THRILL
THE WINE OF MY WASTED LIFE INTO THY DIVINE SPIRIT; UNITE MY BROKEN
HEART WITH THY HEART; CHANGE MY CROSS INTO A CRUCIFIX. LET NOT MY
ABANDONMENT AND MY SORROW AND MY BEREAVEMENT GO TO WASTE. GATHER
UP THE FRAGMENTS, AND AS THE DROP OF WATER IS ABSORBED BY THE WINE
AT THE OFFERTORY OF THE MASS, LET MY LIFE BE ABSORBED IN THINK;
LET MY LITTLE CROSS BE ENTWINED WITH THY GREAT CROSS SO THAT I MAY
PURCHASE THE JOYS OF EVERLASTING HAPPINESS IN UNION WITH THEE.
"CONSECRATE THESE TRIALS OF MY LIFE WHICH WOULD GO UNREWARDED
UNLESS UNITED WITH THEE; TRAN SUBSTANTIATE ME SO THAT LIKE BREAD
WHICH IS NOW THY BODY, AND WINE WHICH IS NOW THY BLOOD, I TOO
MAY BE WHOLLY THINK. I CARE NOT IF THE SPECIES REMAIN, OR THAT,
LIKE THE BREAD AND THE WINE I SEEM TO ALL EARTHLY EYES THE SAME
AS BEFORE. MY STATION IN LIFE, MY ROUTINE DUTIES, MY WORK, MY
FAMILY-ALL THESE ARE BUT THE SPECIES OF MY LIFE WHICH MAY REMAIN
UNCHANGED; BUT THE OF MY LIFE, MY SOUL, MY MIND, MY
WILL, MY HEART-TRANSUBSTANTIATE THEM, TRANSFORM THEM WHOLLY INTO
THY SERVICE, SO THAT THROUGH ME ALL MAY KNOW HOW SWEET IS THE LOVE
OF CHRIST. AMEN.
"I thirst."-John 19:28.
OUR Blessed Lord reaches the communion of His Mass when out from
the depths of the Sacred Heart there wells the cry: "I thirst."
This was certainly not a thirst for water, for the earth is His
and the fullness thereof; it was not a thirst for any of the
refreshing droughts of earth, for He calmed the seas with doors
when they burst forth in their fury. When they offered Him a
drink, He took it not. It was another kind of thirst which
tortured Him. He was thirsty for the souls and hearts of men.
The cry was a cry for communion-the last in a long series of
shepherding calls in the quest of God for men. The very fact that
it was expressed in the most poignant of all human sufferings,
namely, thirst, was the measure of its depth and intensity. Men
may for God, but God for men. He thirsted for
man in Creation as He called him to fellowship with divinity in
the garden of Paradise; He thirsted for man in Revelation, as He
tried to win back man's erring heart by telling the secrets of His
love; He thirsted for man in the Incarnation when He became like
the one He loved, and was found in the form and habit of man.
Now He was thirsting for man in Redemption, for greater love than
this no man hash, that he lay down his life for his friends. It
was the final appeal for communion before the curtain rang down on
the Great Drama of His earthly life. All the myriad loves of
parents for children, of spouse for spouse, if compacted into one
great love, would have been the smallest fraction of God's love
for man in that cry of thirst. It signified at once, not only how
much He thirsted for the little ones, for hungry hearts and empty
souls, but also how intense was His desire to satisfy our deepest
Really, there should be nothing mysterious in our thirst for God,
for does not the hart pant after the fountain, and the sunflower
turn to the sun, and the rivers run into the sea? But that He
should love us, considering our own unworthiness, and how little
our love is worth-! And yet such is the
meaning of God's thirst for communion with us.
He had already expressed it in the parable of the Lost Sheep, when
He said He was not satisfied with the ninety-nine; only the lost
sheep could give Him perfect joy. Now the truth was expressed
again from the Cross: Nothing could adequately satisfy His thirst
but the heart of every man, woman, and child, who were made for
Him, and therefore could never be happy until they found their
rest in Him.
The basis of this plea for communion is Love, for Love by its very
nature tends to unity. Love of citizens one for another begets the
unity of the state. Love of man and woman begets the unity of two
in one flesh. The love of God for man therefore calls for a unity
based upon the Incarnation, namely, the unity of all men in the
Body and Blood of Christ.
In order, therefore, that God might seal His love for us, He gave
us to Himself in Holy Communion, so that as He and His human
nature taken from the womb of the Blessed Mother were one in the
unity of His Person, so He and we taken from the womb of humanity
might be one in the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ. Hence,
we use the word "receive" when speaking of communion with our Lord
in the Eucharist, for literally we do "receive" Divine Life, just
as really and truly as a babe receives the life of its mother.
All life is sustained by communion with a higher life. If the
plants could speak they would say to the moisture and sunlight,
"Unless you enter into communion with me, become possessed of my
higher laws and powers, you shall not have life in you."
If the animals could speak, they would say to the plants: "Unless
you enter into communion with me, you shall not have my higher
life in you." We say to all lower creation: "Unless you enter into
communion with me, you shall not share in my human life."
Why then should not our Lord say to us: "Unless you enter into
communion with Me, you shall not have life in you"? The lower is
transformed into the higher, plants into animals, animals into
man, and man, in a more exalted way, becomes "divinized," if I may
use that expression, through and through by the life of Christ.
Communion then is first of all the receiving of Divine Life, a
life to which we are no more entitled than marble is entitled to
blooming. It is a pure gift of an all-merciful God who so loved us
that He willed to be united with us, not in the bonds of flesh,
but in the ineffable bonds of the Spirit where love knows no
satiety, but only rapture and joy.
And oh, how quickly we should have forgotten Him could we not,
like Bethlehem and Nazareth, receive Him into our souls! Neither
gifts nor portraits take the place of the beloved one. And our
Lord knew it well. We needed Him, and so He gave us Himself.
But there is another aspect of Communion of which we but rarely
think. Communion implies not only Divine Life, it
means also God human life. All love is reciprocal. There
is no one-sided love, for love by its nature demands mutuality.
God thirsts for us, but that means that man must also thirst for
God. But do we ever think of Christ receiving Communion from us?
Every time we go to the Communion rail we say we "receive"
Communion, and that is all many of us do, just "receive
There is another aspect of Communion than receiving Divine Life,
of which St. John speaks. St. Paul gives us the complementary
truth in his Epistle to the Corinthians. Communion is not only an
incorporation to the of Christ; it is also an incorporation
to His . "As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink
the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until He come."
Natural life has two sides: the anabolic and the katabolic. The
supernatural also has two sides: the building up of the Christ-
pattern and the tearing down of the old Adam. Communion therefore
implies not only a "receiving" but also a "giving." There can be
no ascent to a higher life without death to a lower one. Does not
an Easter Sunday presuppose a Good Friday? Does not all love imply
mutual self-giving which ends in self-recovery? This being so,
should not the Communion rail be a place of exchange, instead of a
place of exclusive receiving? Is all the to pass from
Christ to us and nothing to go back in return? Are we to drain the
chalice and contribute nothing to its filling? Are we to receive
the bread without giving wheat to be ground, to receive the wine
and give no grapes to be crushed? If all we did during our lives
was to go to Communion to receive Divine Life, to take it away,
and leave nothing behind, we would be parasites on the Mystical
Body of Christ.
The Pauline injunction bids us fill up in our body the sufferings
wanting to the Passion of Christ. We must therefore bring a spirit
of sacrifice to the Eucharistic table; we must bring the
mortification of our lower self, the crosses patiently borne, the
crucifixion of our egotisms, the death of our concupiscence, and
even the very difficulty of our coming to Communion. Then does
Communion become what it was always intended to be, namely, a
commerce between Christ and the soul, in which we give His Death
shown forth in our lives, and He gives His Life shown forth in our
adopted sonship? We give Him our time; He gives us His eternity.
We give Him our humanity; He gives us His divinity. We give Him
our nothingness; He gives us His all.
Do we really understand the nature of love? Have we not sometimes,
in great moments of affection for a little child, said in language
which might vary from this, but which expresses the idea, "I love
that child so much, I should just like to possess it within
myself?" Why? Because all love craves for unity. In the natural
order, God has given great pleasures to the unity of the flesh.
But those are nothing compared to the pleasure of the unity of the
spirit, when divinity passes out to humanity, and humanity to
divinity-when our will goes to Him, and He comes to us, so that we
cease to be men and begin to be children of God.
If there has ever been a moment in your life when a fine, noble
affection made you feel as if you had been lifted into the third
or the seventh heaven; if there has ever been a time in your life
when a noble love of a fine human heart cast you into an ecstasy;
if there has ever been a time when you have really loved a human
heart-then, I ask you, think of what it must be to be united with
the great Heart of Love! If the human heart in all of its fine,
noble, Christian riches can so thrill, can so exalt, can make us
so ecstatic, then what must be the great heart of Christ? Oh, if
the spark is so bright, what must be the flame!
Do we fully realize how much Communion is bound up with Sacrifice,
both on the part of our Lord and on the part of us, His poor weak
creatures? The Mass makes the two inseparable: there is no
Communion without a Consecration. There is no receiving the bread
and wine we offer, until they have been transubstantiated into the
Body and Blood of Christ. Communion is the consequence of the
Calvary; namely, we live by what we slay. All nature witnesses
this truth; our bodies live by the slaying of the beasts of the
fields and the plants of the gardens. We draw life from their
crucifixion. We slay them not to destroy, but to fulfill; we
immolate them for the sake of communion.
And now by a beautiful paradox of Divine Love, God makes His Cross
the very means of our salvation. We have slain Him; we nailed Him
there; we crucified Him; but Love in His eternal Heart willed not
to be defeated. He willed to give us the very life we slew; to
give us the very Food we destroyed; to nourish us with the very
Bread we buried, and the very Blood we poured forth. He made our
very crime a ; He turned a Crucifixion into a
Redemption; a Consecration into a Communion; a death into life
And it is just that which makes man all the more mysterious! Why
man should be loved is no mystery, but why he does not love in
return is the great mystery. Why should our Lord be the Great
Unloved; why should Love not be loved? Why then, whenever He says:
"I thirst," do we give Him vinegar and gall?
THE ITE, MISSA EST
OUR Blessed Saviour now comes to the of His Mass,
as He utters the cry of triumph: "It is finished."
The work of salvation is finished, but when did it begin? It began
back in the agelessness of eternity, when God willed to make man.
Ever since the beginning of the world there was a Divine
"Impatience" to restore man to the arms of God.
The Word was impatient in heaven to be the "Lamb slain from the
beginning of the world." He was impatient in prophetic types and
symbols, as His dying face was reflected in a hundred mirrors
stretching through all Old Testament history. He was impatient to
be the real Isaac carrying the wood of His sacrifice in obedience
to the commands of His heavenly Abraham. He was impatient to
fulfill the mystic symbol of the Lamb of the Jewish Pasch, who was
slain without a single bone of its body being broken. He was
impatient to be the new Abel, slain by his jealous brethren of the
race of Cain, that His Blood might cry to Heaven for forgiveness.
He was impatient in His mother's womb, as He saluted His precursor
John. He was impatient in the Circumcision, as He anticipated His
blood-shedding and received the name of "Saviour." He was
impatient at the age of twelve, as He reminded His Mother that He
had to be about His Father's business. He was impatient in His
public life, as He said He had a baptism wherewith He was to be
baptized and He was "straightened until it be accomplished." He
was impatient in the Garden, as He turned His back to the
consoling twelve legions of angels to crimson olive roots with His
redemptive Blood. He was impatient at His Last Supper as He
anticipated the separation of His Body and Blood under the
appearance of bread and wine. And then, impatience closed as the
hour of darkness drew near at the end of that Last Supper-He sang.
It was the only time He ever sang, the moment He went to His
It was a trivial matter for the world if the stars burned
brightly, or the mountains stood as symbols of perplexity, or the
hills made their tribute to valleys which gave them birth. What
was important was that every single word predicted of Him should
be true. Heaven and earth would not pass away until every jot and
tittle had been fulfilled. There was only a little iota remaining,
one tiny little jot; it was a word of David's about every
prediction being fulfilled. Now that all else was fulfilled, He
fulfilled that iota; He, the true David, quoted the prophetic
David: "It is finished."
is finished? The Redemption of man is finished. Love had
completed its mission, for Love had done all that it could.
There are two things Love can do. Love by its very nature tends to
an Incarnation, and every Incarnation tends to a Crucifixion. Does
not all true love tend toward an Incarnation? In the order of
human love, does not the affection of husband for wife create from
their mutual loves the incarnation of their confluent love in the
form of a child? Once they have begotten their child, do not they
make sacrifices for it, even to the point of death? And thus their
love tends to a crucifixion.
But this is just a reflection of the divine order, where the love
of God for man was so deep and intense that it ended in an
Incarnation, which found God in the form and habit of man, whom He
loved. But our Lord's love for man did not stop with the
Incarnation. Unlike everyone else who was ever born, our Lord came
into this world to redeem it. Death was the supreme goal He was
seeking. Death interrupted the careers of great men, but it was no
interruption to our Lord; it was His crowning glory; it was the
unique goal He was seeking.
His Incarnation thus tended to the Crucifixion, for "greater love
than this no man hash, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Now that Love had run its course in the Redemption of man, Divine
Love could say: "I have done all for my vineyard that I can do."
Love can do no more than die. It is finished: "Ite, missa est."
work is finished. But is ours? When He said, "it is
finished," He did not mean that the opportunities of His life had
ended; He meant that His work was done so perfectly that nothing
could be added to it to make it more perfect-but with us, how
seldom that is true. Too many of us our lives, but few of us
see them A sinful life may end, but a sinful life is
never a finished life.
If our lives just "end," our friends will ask: "How much did he
leave?" But if our life is "finished" our friends will ask: "How
much did he take with him?" A finished life is not measured by
years but by deeds; not by the time spent in the vineyard, but by
the work done. In a short time a man may fulfill many years; even
those who come at the eleventh hour may finish their lives; even
those who come to God like the thief at the last breath, may
finish their lives in the Kingdom of God. Not for them the sad
word of regret: "Too late, O ancient Beauty, have I loved Thee."
Our Lord finished His work, but we have not finished ours. He
pointed the way we must follow. He laid down the Cross at the
finish, but we must take it up. He finished Redemption in His
physical Body, but we have not finished it in His Mystical Body.
He has finished salvation, we have not yet applied it to our
souls. He has finished the Temple, but we must live in it. He has
finished the model Cross, we must fashion ours to its pattern. He
has finished sowing the seed, we must reap the harvest. He has
finished filling the chalice, but we have not finished drinking
its refreshing draughts.
He has planted the wheat field; we must gather it into our barns.
He has finished the Sacrifice of Calvary; we must finish the Mass.
The Crucifixion was not meant to be an inspirational drama, but a
pattern act on which to model our lives. We are not meant to sit
and watch the Cross as something done and ended like the life of
The Mass makes this possible, for at the renewal of Calvary on our
altars we are not on-lookers but sharers in Redemption, and there
it is that we "finish" our work. He has told us: "And I, if I be
lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself." He
finished His work when He was lifted up on the Cross; we finish
ours when we permit Him to draw us unto Himself in the Mass.
The Mass is that which makes the cross visible to every eye; it
placards the Cross at all the crossroads of civilization; it
brings Calvary so close that even tired feet can make the journey
to its sweet embrace; every hand may now reach out to touch its
Sacred Burden, and every ear may hear its sweet appeal, for the
Mass and the Cross are the same. In both there is the same
offering of a perfectly surrendered will of the beloved Son, the
same Body broken, the same Blood flowed forth, the same Divine
Forgiveness. All that has been said and done and acted during Holy
Mass is to be taken away with us, lived, practiced, and woven into
all the circumstances and conditions of our daily lives. His
sacrifice is made our sacrifice by making it the oblation of
ourselves in union with Him; His life given for us becomes our
life given for Him. Thus do we return from Mass as those who have
made their choice, turned their backs upon the world, and become
for the generation in which we live other Christs living potent
witnesses to the Love that died that we might live with Love.
This world of ours is full of half-completed Gothic cathedrals, of
half-finished lives and half-crucified souls. Some carry the Cross
to Calvary and then abandon it; others are nailed to it and detach
themselves before the elevation; others are crucified, but in
answer to the challenge of the world "Come down," they come down
after one hour. . . two hours. . . after two hours and fifty-nine
minutes. Real Christians are they who persevere unto the end. Our
Lord stayed until He had finished.
The priest must likewise stay at the altar until the Mass is
finished. He may not come down. So we must stay with the Cross
until our lives are finished. Christ on the Cross is the pattern
and model of a finished life. Our human nature is the raw
material; our will is the chisel; God's grace is the energy and
Touching the chisel to our unfinished nature we first cut off huge
chunks of selfishness, then by more delicate chiselings we dig
away smaller bits of egotism until finally only a brush of the
hand is needed to bring out the completed masterpiece a finished
man made to the image and likeness of the pattern on the Cross. We
are at the altar under the symbol of bread and wine; we have
offered ourselves to our Lord; He has consecrated us.
We must therefore not take ourselves back, but remain there unto
the end, praying unceasingly, that when the lease of our life has
ended and we look back upon a life lived in intimacy with the
Cross, the echo of the Sixth Word may ring out on our lips: "It is
And as the sweet accents of that reach beyond the
corridors of Time and pierce the "hid battlements of eternity,"
the angel choirs and the white-robed army of the Church Triumphant
will answer back: ""
THE LAST GOSPEL
IT is a beautiful paradox that the Last Gospel of the Mass takes
us back to the beginning, for it opens with the words "In the
beginning." And such is life: the last of this life is the
beginning of the next. Fittingly indeed, then, that the Last Word
of our Lord was His Last Gospel: "Father, into thy hands I commend
my spirit." Like the Last Gospel of the Mass, it too takes Him
back to the beginning, for He now goes back to the Father whence
He came. He has completed His work. He began His Mass with the
word: "Father." And He ends it with the same word.
"Everything perfect," the Greeks would say, "travels in circles."
Just as the great planets only after a long period of time
complete their orbits, and then go back again to their starting
point, as if to salute Him who sent them on their way, so the Word
Incarnate, who came down to say His Mass, now completes His
earthly career and goes back again to His heavenly Father who sent
Him on the journey of the world's redemption. The Prodigal Son is
about to return to His Father's House, for is He not the Prodigal
Son? Thirty-three years ago He left the Father's House and the
blessedness of heaven, and came down to this earth of ours, which
is a foreign country-for every country is foreign which is away
from the Father's House.
For thirty-three years He had been spending His substance. He
spent the substance of His Truth in the infallibility of His
Church; He spent the substance of His Power in the authority He
gave to His apostles and their successors. He spent the substance
of His Life in the Redemption and the Sacraments. Now every drop
of it is gone, He looks longingly back again to the Father's
House, and with a loud cry throws His Spirit into His Father's
arms, not in the attitude of one who is taking a plunge into the
darkness, but as one who knows where He is going-to a homecoming
with His Father.
In that Last Word and Last Gospel which took Him back to the
Beginning of all beginnings, namely, His Father, is revealed the
history and rhythm of life. The end of all things must in some way
get back to their beginning. As the Son goes back to the Father;
as Nicodemus must be born again; as the body returns to the dust-
so the soul of man which came from God must one day go back to
Death is not the end of all. The cold clod falling upon the grave
does not mark to the history of a man. The way he has
lived in this life determines how he shall live in the next. If he
has sought God during life, death will be like the opening of a
cage, enabling him to use his wings to fly to the arms of the
divine Beloved. If he has fled from God during life, death will be
the beginning of an eternal flight away from Life and Truth and
Love-and that is hell.
Before the throne of God, whence we came on our earthly novitiate,
we must one day go back to render an account of our stewardship.
There will not be a human creature who, when the last sheaf is
garnered, will not be found either to have accepted or rejected
the divine gift of Redemption, and in accepting or rejecting it to
have signed the warrant of his eternal destiny.
As the sales on a cash register are recorded for the end of our
business day, so our thoughts, words, and deeds are recorded for
the final Judgment. If we but live in the shadow of the Cross,
death will not be an ending but a beginning of eternal life.
Instead of a parting, it will be a meeting; instead of a going
away, it will be an arriving; instead of being an end, it will be
a Last Gospel-a return to the beginning. As a voice whispers, "You
must leave the earth," the Father's voice will say, "My child,
come unto Me."
We have been sent into this world as children of God, to assist at
the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are to take our stand at the
foot of the Cross and, like those who stood under it the first
day, we will be asked to declare our loyalties. God has given us
the wheat and the grapes of life, and as the men who, in the
Gospel, were given talents, we will have to show return on that
God has given us our lives as wheat and grapes. It is our duty to
consecrate them and bring them back to God as bread and wine -
transubstantiated, divinized, and spiritualized. There must be
harvest in our hands after the springtime of the earthly
That is why Calvary is erected in the midst of us, and we are on
its sacred hill. We were not made to be mere on-lookers, shaking
our dice like the executioners of old, but rather to be
participants in the mystery of the Cross.
If there is any way to picture Judgment in terms of the Mass, it
is to picture it in the way the Father greeted His Son, namely, by
looking at His hands. They bore the marks of labor, the callouses
of redemption, and the scars of salvation. So too when our earthly
pilgrimage is over, and we go back to the beginning, God will look
at both of our hands. If our hands in life touched the hands of
His divine Son they will bear the same livid marks of nails; if
our feet in life have trod over the same road that leads to
eternal glory through the detour of a rocky and thorny Calvary,
they too shall bear the same bruises; if our hearts beat in unison
with His, then they too shall show the riven side which the wicked
lance of jealous earth did pierce.
Blessed indeed are they who carry in their Cross-marked hands the
bread and wine of consecrated lives signed with the sign and
sealed with the seal of redemptive Love. But woe unto them who
come from Calvary with hands unscarred and white.
God grant that when life is over, and the earth is vanishing like
a dream of one awakening, when eternity is flooding our souls with
its splendors, we may with humble and triumphant faith re-echo the
Last Word of Christ: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
And so the Mass of Christ ends. The was His prayer to
the Father for the forgiveness of our sins; the was
the presentation on the paten of the Cross of small hosts of the
thief and ourselves; the was His commending ourselves to
Mary, the Queen of Saints; the was the separation
of His Blood from His Body, and the seeming separation of divinity
and humanity; the was His thirst for the souls of men;
the was the finishing of the work of salvation;
the was the return to the Father whence He came.
And now that the Mass is over, and He has commended His Spirit to
the Father, He prepares to give back His Body to His Blessed
Mother at the foot of the Cross. Thus once again will the end be
the beginning, for at the beginning of His earthly life He was
nestled on her lap in Bethlehem, and now, on Calvary, He will take
His place there once again.
Earth had been cruel to Him; His feet wandered after lost sheep
and we dug them with steel; His hands stretched out the Bread of
everlasting life and we fastened them with nails; His lips spoke
the Truth and we sealed them with dust. He came to give us Life
and we took away His. But that was our fatal mistake. We really
did not take it away. We only tried to take it away. He laid it
down of Himself. Nowhere do the Evangelists say that He died. They
say, "He gave up the ghost." It was a willing, self-determined
relinquishment of life.
It was not death which approached Him, it was He who approached
death. That is why, as the end draws near, the Saviour commands
the portal of death to open unto Him in the presence of the
Father. The chalice is gradually being drained of its rich red
wine of salvation. The rocks of earth open their hungry mouths to
drink as if more thirsty for the draughts of salvation than the
parched hearts of man; the earth itself shook in horror because
men had erected God's Cross upon its breast. Magdalene, the
penitent, as usual clings to His feet, and there she will be again
Easter morn; John, the priest, with a face like a cast moulded out
of love, listens to the beating of the Heart whose secrets He
learned and loved and mastered; Mary thinks how different Calvary
is from Bethlehem.
Thirty-three years ago Mary looked down at His sacred face; now He
looks down at her. In Bethlehem heaven looked up into the face of
earth; now the roles are reversed. Earth looks up into the face of
heaven- but a heaven marred by the scars of earth. He loved her
above all the creatures of earth, for she was His Mother and the
Mother of us all. He saw her first on coming to earth; He shall
see her last on leaving it. Their eyes meet, all aglow with life,
speaking a language all their own. There is a rupture of a heart
through a rapture of love, then a bowed head, a broken heart. Back
to the hands of God He gives, pure and sinless, His spirit, in
loud and ringing voice that trumpets eternal victory. And Mary
stands alone a Childless Mother. Jesus is dead!
Mary looks up into His eyes which are so clear even in the face of
death: "High Priest of Heaven and earth, Thy Mass is finished!
Leave the altar of the Cross and repair into Thy Sacristy. As High
Priest Thou didst come forth from the sacristy of Heaven,
panoplied in the vestments of humanity and bearing Thy Body as
Bread and Thy Blood as Wine.
Now the Sacrifice has been consummated. The Consecration bell has
rung. Thou didst offer Thy Spirit to Thy Father; Thy Body and Thy
Blood to man. There remains now nothing but the drained chalice.
Enter into Thy Sacristy. Take off the garments of mortality and
put on the white robes of immortality. Show Thy hands, and feet,
and side to Thy heavenly Father and say: "With these was I wounded
in the house of those that love me."
"Enter, High Priest, into Thy heavenly Sacristy, and as Thy
earthly ambassadors hold aloft the Bread and Wine do Thou show
Thyself to the Father in loving intercession for us even unto the
consummation of the world. Earth has been cruel to Thee; but Thou
wilt be kind to earth. Earth lifted Thee on the Cross, but now
Thou shalt lift earth unto the Cross. Open the door of the
heavenly Sacristy, O High Priest! Behold it is now we who stand at
the door and knock!
"And Mary, what shall we say to Thee? Mary, Thou art the Sacristan
of the High Priest! Thou wert a Sacristan in Bethlehem when He did
come to Thee as wheat and grapes in the crib of Bethlehem. Thou
wert His Sacristan at the Cross, where He became the Living Bread
and Wine through the Crucifixion. Thou art His Sacristan now, as
He comes from the altar of the Cross wearing only the drained
chalice of His sacred Body.
"As that chalice is laid in your lap it may seem that Bethlehem
has come back again, for He is once more yours. But it only seems
-for in Bethlehem He was the chalice whose gold was to be tried by
fire; but now at Calvary He is the chalice whose gold has passed
through the fires of Golgotha and Calvary. In Bethlehem He was
white as He came from the Father, now He is red as He came from
us. But thou art still His Sacristan! And as the Immaculate Mother
of all hosts who go to the altar, do thou, O Virgin Mary, send us
there pure, and keep us pure, even unto the day when we enter into
the heavenly Sacristy of the Kingdom of Heaven, where thou wilt be
our eternal Sacristan and He our eternal Priest."
And you, friends of the Crucified, your High Priest has left the
Cross, but He has left us the Altar. On the Cross He was alone; in
the Mass He is with us. On the Cross He suffered in His physical
Body; on the altar He suffers in the Mystical Body which we are.
On the Cross He was the unique Host; in the Mass we are the small
hosts, and He the large host receiving his Calvary through us. On
the Cross He was the wine; in the Mass, we are the drop of water
united with the wine and consecrated with Him. In that sense He is
still on the Cross, still saying the Confiteor with us, still
forgiving us, still commending us to Mary, still thirsting for us,
still drawing us unto the Father, for as long as sin remains on
earth, still will the Cross remain.
"Whenever there is silence around me
By day or by night
I am startled by a cry.
It came down from the Cross.
The first time I heard it
I went out and searched-
And found a man in the throes of Crucifixion.
And I said: 'I will take you down,'
And I tried to take the nails out of His Feet,
But He said: 'Let them be
For I cannot be taken down
Until every man, every woman, and every child
Come together to take me down.'
And I said: 'But I cannot bear your cry.
What can I do?'
And He said: 'Go about the world-
Tell every one that you meet
There is a Man on the Cross.'"
1 "Death is put before us in a symbol, by means of that
sacramental parting of the Blood from the Body; but death at the
same time already pledged to God for all its worth, as well as all
its awful reality, by the expressive language of the Sacred
Symbol. The price of our sins shall be paid down on Calvary; but
here the liability is incurred by our Redeemer, and subscribed in
His very Blood"-Maurice de la Taille, S.J.- , p. 115 "There were not two distinct and complete
sacrifices offered by Christ, one in the Cenacle, the other on
Calvary. There was a sacrifice at the Last Supper, but it was the
sacrifice of Redemption; and there was a sacrifice on the Cross,
but it was the selfsame sacrifice continued and completed. The
Supper and the Cross made up one complete sacrifice."-Maurice de
la Taille, S.J., , p. 232.
2 "He offered the Victim to be immolated; we offer it as immolated
of old. We offer the eternal Victim of the Cross, once made and
forever enduring.... The Mass is a sacrifice because it is our
oblation of the Victim once immolated, even as the Supper was the
oblation of the Victim to be immolated." ibid. p. 239-240. The
Mass is not only a commemoration, it is a living representation of
the sacrifice of the cross. "In this Divine Sacrifice which takes
place at the Mass is contained and immolated, in an unbloody
manner, the same Christ that was offered once for all in blood
upon the Cross . . . It is one and the same Victim, one and the
same High Priest, who made the offering through the ministry of
His priests today, after having offered Himself upon the cross
yesterday; only the manner of the oblation is different" (Council
of Trent. Sess. 22).
P.J. Kenedy & Sons