Crucem Sanctam subiit
A military chant from the Knights Templars (the real ones) in honor of the Resurrection and Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
He bore the holy cross
who shattered hell
He was girded with power
He rose on the third day. Alleluia!
Sermon for the Easter Vigil
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
O King of Israel:
Hosanna in the Highest! (Antiphon, Palm Sunday, cf. Mt 21:9;).
Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying: This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me (Mt 15:7).
The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same. Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy. In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.
Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy. Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed. Of course, the patristic analogy is fine. It is the agenda with which I have a problem. Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst. It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.
Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.” “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.
Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level. Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).
The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology. Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.
Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic. The Angelic Doctor made distinctions. The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions. His eros is never the impure kind: “The lumen Christi takes care of that. Just think sublimely, mystically. Spiritual marriage is never impure.” In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.
But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962. The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated. The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise. The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain. Why should the liturgy not be painful? We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.
The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama. The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live. He is not a monk. He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist. He just wants to go to Mass. He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook. He is just trying to make it through the week. He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.
True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will. The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and incalcitrant will. There is a big difference. Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given. Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed. But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator. Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.
Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road. It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery. Our passion play is reality. “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths. It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point. It is a harsh reality we need to face:
I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).
Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7). Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open. Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician. The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo. We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.
A new commandment I give to unto you:
That you love one another,
As I have loved you,
Saith the Lord. (Antiphon, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Last Supper, cf. Jn 13:34).
Where charity and love are, there is God (Antiphon, Ibid.).
The small band of apostles in the upper room was not a narrow sect united by an ideology or by a personality. Our Lord was neither. The Word of Truth that lived and breathed was the Incarnate Son of God.
He comes among us a one who serves: and He serves lepers. He bends down and washes our filthy feet. He kisses our sores.
He did it more truly in His passion in the Garden and on the Cross, but during the Last Supper He did it ceremonially as an example to His priests, and by way of them to the rest of us.
The ceremony is symbolic. There are much worse things than dirty feet. There is not one among us that is not a moral leper. If we think otherwise we will not leave the Sacred Triduum justified (cf. Lk 18:14).
We do not need to wait for others to get it. Those who go to the Novus Ordo Mass should not be presumed to be ignorant and backwards. This is such a huge presumption that reveals a profound ignorance of the reality of human perfection and defect. It is a calculation that is facile, narrow and conveniently isolated in spiritual fantasy. We have not gotten it yet if we are convinced the real problem is someone or something else.
We too easily write off those we do not understand, or who, in one way or another, do not measure up to our ideal, and yet this is one of the faults Our Lord most often corrected. He at with sinners and gave the Pharisees a hard time. There are silent sufferers who have been making daily communions since before the Second Vatican Council, and they are presumed to be backwards by the liturgical know-it-alls because they don’t understand and do not want a Latin Mass? One can be too pastoral it is true. But one can also be too academic.
Truth is objective. The Sacred Triduum and the liturgy in general enshrine real history—objective revelation and dogma. We need to fight for the truth, to be sure. Many are rightly wearied of the fatherless Church. The problem is that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb that was slain. The objective truth is that our militancy must be Christ-like, even if the Church is a mess.
The ideal of the Christian Knight is the One seated on the White Horse, who is called Faithful and True, whose eyes are flames of fire, who wields a double-edged sword from his mouth and rules the nations with an iron rod (Apoc 19:11-15). Historical chivalry is a poor substitute for the paradox that is the redemptive Incarnation. The ideal was one thing, the reality another. Literary chivalry was never entirely Christian. It was laced with the same erotic Gnosticism that is repackaged today under the title of Theology of the Body (not a criticism of the soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II, but rather of some of his self-proclaimed disciples). Military chivalry had the function, and still does, of making a bad situation less bad. The military vocation is a fine and noble calling, but try making a profession out of killing people, and then see how many of those who wield the sword remain knights in shining armor. This is not to denigrate the honorable service of our heroes, only to note that military honor is not an easy matter, especially when the ideal is Christ Himself.
This is why in the end, St. Francis, who had sought after nobility with such avidity, rejected status and power. He got off his horse and gave away his armor to a poor knight. And then he got off his horse again to kiss a leper. Christ the Knight is Christ the Leper: Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted (Isaias 53:4).
How many of us have experienced the paradox of a real Christ in our life, who loves in truth and speaks the truth in love? There is no magic wand for bringing all souls into the embrace of Holy Mother Church. The only problem with the Church is its members. And so, we lepers must remember that He says to us: as I have done to you, so you do also (Jn 13:15). There is no missal or grimoire that will make that happen. Sacramental life is a far more ascetical reality.
Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world (Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross).
O my people, what have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me. (Reproaches, Ibid.).
Public Scandal is a horrible thing. A sacrilegious communion piled on top has the makings of hell on earth. Advocacy for child murder and the re-crucifixion of Jesus in a sacrilegious communion is the “matter and form” of a potent curse. It has been pronounced over our country countless times. Piled onto to this is the even worse scandal and plague of the abuse of children by priests. St Christina the Astonishing is reported to have attended Holy Mass many times a day, and upon perceiving a priest in the state of sin approaching the altar, would levitate from the choir loft to the sanctuary and beat him back into the sacristy.
Good Friday is both a curse and a blessing. The Pharisees made a religious procession of their denial of Christ and consummated it with human sacrifice—indeed with deicide. It was a pagan execution orchestrated by Satan and given religious significance by the guardians of the law. He was made a curse for us (for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree) that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal 3:13-14).
How many of those who reviled the Lord on Good Friday had made themselves Satan’s puppets, his acolytes in the unholy rites of hell. But the foundations of the netherworld itself were rent asunder by the inversion of sin, crafted by our Savior. The curse became a blessing. The sign of death became the sacrament of life—the exorcism of the world, the regeneration of souls.
In Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter, the main character, Scobie, slowly but surely spirals into moral depravity, all the while experiencing remorse without true repentance. He eventually finds himself approaching the altar rail for Holy Communion in the state of sin because he is not prepared to deal with the deception in which he finds himself. Not having the heart to look up he sees only the skirt of the priest’s cassock “like the skirt of the medieval warhorse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet: the charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from ambush . . .” But God does not intervene and Scobie receives the Eucharist sacrilegiously. He prays that his damnation will, through his offering, be the salvation of others.
In the light of this power, the great and small, the sinner and saint process down the aisle to eat and drink unto life or condemnation. We put our trust in the power, but we also sometimes presume on it, as though Christ will turn our indifferent Communions into grace. It is absurd to offer up our damnation. How awful it is that we can be so eager to deceive ourselves.
Our Lord at the altar does not discriminate. He remains silent under the form of bread and wine. We bring upon ourselves a blessing or a curse. He is the “hound of heaven” or the “warhorse bearing down.”
Public sacrilege is a curse upon the Church for which those responsible, and those responsible for allowing it to continue, will render an account. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh (Mt 18:7).
But the dirty little secret is that the Church does not need pro-abortion politicians or pedophile priests to profane the house of God. The Lord has long suffered betrayal from his friends. St. Margaret Mary asked him why thorns surrounded His Sacred Heart. He replied: “My enemies put a crown of thorns around My head, and my friends have put a crown of thorns around My Heart.”
Reparation for sins committed against the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is particularly necessary for the outrage of sacrilegious Communions. On Good Friday the liturgical order is reduced to a state of desolation: a bare altar, and empty tabernacle, adoration of the Cross, communion without a consecration. We are desolate without Jesus.
The priest prostrates and begs forgiveness for his sins and those of the people. We own Good Friday. We own the desolation. It is what our sins deserve.
“For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” We cry for mercy. The Precious Blood pleads on our behalf.
It is never a public scandal to refrain from Holy Communion. What is a scandal is cueing up for Holy Communion and neglecting the Sacrament of Penance. The door of mercy is always open. The Good Shepherd welcomes back the lost sheep.
The state of a person’s soul is between him or her and God. If someone refrains from receiving Holy Communion, cast your eyes down and keep your mouth shut—even if it is your own child. You don’t know what is going on and you don’t need to know. Let the Holy Spirit do his job and never allow yourself to facilitate a sacrilegious communion.
Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,
The Alpha and Omega,
All times are His,
And all the ages.
To Him be glory and dominion,
Through all ages of eternity.
Amen (Easter Vigil, Blessing of the Paschal Candle).
May the Virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font,
And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration (Easter Vigil, Blessing of Baptismal Water).
The incorruptible flesh of Christ cannot be bound by death. The Virgin born escapes the tomb without breaking the seal. The Fathers of the Church speak of the incorruptible Virginity of Mary as unprecedented miracle of Divinity of Christ. The incorruption of the Resurrection is the unprecedented miracle of the Redemption: Incorruption is not the expected outcome of Good Friday, and it is for this reason that we experience a kind of bliss at Easter.
Some object to referring to the “incorruption” of virginity as though it implied that marriage and motherhood were something dirty. But that is to miss the point entirely. A woman is not corrupted by marriage, but her virginity is. And the virginal state is a value unto itself, both before marriage and especially when it is consecrated to God for life. Its joy is the inverse of what the world expects, or what the human mind may calculate.
Both motherhood and virginity are values, different and mutually exclusive values. Only in one case were both values realized, namely, in the person of the Blessed Virgin, but this includes the Church as well. Mary as archetype of the Church, and the Church, of which Mary is the preeminent member, are both Virgin and Mother. Neither Mary, nor the Church is impregnated. They conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a miraculous power that shakes the foundations of the earth and changes history forever.
The Virgin Born who is also the First Born of the Dead breaks the incomprehensible blackness of sin, pride and calculation, “bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night” (Easter Praeconium). Carried aloft, His truth brings about a conformation of our lives to His death, so that His life might overcome our death. This is power is beyond the will or manipulation of man. It is the cause of our joy.
Baptism is a virginal mystery, precisely because it belongs to the order of the Incarnation and Resurrection, precisely because, like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, it accomplishes a miracle of the first order. It makes a child of wrath a child of God. There can be nothing more fundamental to the origin of our relationship to God than our divine filiation. Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration. The fundamental metaphor is rebirth, not marriage, because this birth is not a function of marriage but of virginity.
Drawing a comparison between the Easter Vigil and pagan fertility rites is to prefer magic to sacrament. They are not the same. The unfortunate association of paganism with this Feast by means of “Pascha” having been englished “Easter,” only underscores the struggle between light and darkness, just as the Feast of All Saints becomes associated with the Druidic witchcraft and struggles, so to speak, to maintain its identity.
Magic is based on the presumed relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, between the larger world of cosmos and spirit and the little world of man. Sacred Marriage in the pagan tradition is power because by it man wills to align the psychic energy of ecstasy with the world spirits to produce some effect in the world or the soul.
Sex is not a sacrament, even if a non-consummated marriage can be, in certain cases, dissolved. It does not produce a sacramental effect. Sacraments are not based on an alignment of our psychic experience with God, but on the alignment of matter and form with intent to do with the Church intends in celebrating the sacraments. It is the will of God and His power, His infinite power that effects sacramental grace. It is a covenant, not a biological process or a psychic experience that accomplishes the sacramental transformation, because in Christ we are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13). The efficacy of the sacraments would not be expected except that God has willed it so.
Christian marriage is not natural marriage. Grace builds on nature, but it also transcends it. There is no return to the Garden. Grace is supernature, not preternature. There is and will be no earthly paradise during our time of trial. Chastity is supernatural, an unexpected turn from the natural course of a fallen world.
During the Wedding Feast of the Lamb we find the Bridegroom on His White Horse, with fiery eyes and the sword of His word. The matrimonial ritual is a resistance to opposition, the casting down of the beast and the false prophet and the slaying of the enemies by the sword of him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceedeth out of his mouth (Apoc 19: 7-9, 11-15, 19-21). It is not exactly parallel to earthly experiences. Our experience points up and its meaning is informed by the mysteries we celebrate. But natural ecstatic experience elevated by knowledge, what Renaissance philosophers called “natural magic,” is not an experience of grace.
The power of Easter is entirely unexpected, not the function of a predetermined process. It is a turn of the tide, a “eucatastrophe,” as Tolkien has written:
it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief (On Fairy Stories).
The joy of Easter is tied precisely to its character of being unexpected. No one expects a virgin to become a mother. No one expects a crucified man to rise from the dead. No one expects one who deserves hell to be reborn into innocence. No one expects the fallen to be chaste.
The signs of the Knight of the White Horse and the Woman in Travail and Clothed with the Sun are the signs of the “high tide and the turn.” The passion of the Church is a night “thrice over us,” and sometimes the thunderclouds of vicissitude are like an “iron cope,” that shuts out the light of heaven. But Christ is yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega.
He is the Light of the World, in a world that needs an illumination. At the Vigil the new fire and the light of the Paschal Candle will cause a visual illumination that corresponds to an enlightened regard for the meaning of Our Lord’s suffering and death.
We must choose death to see God. St. Bonaventure says: “My soul chooseth hanging, and my bones, death. He who loves this death can see God, for it is absolutely true that Man shall not see me and live.” We must pass through the Passion of the Church. We rightly say in liturgical language: “Say the black. Do the red.” But Catholic life cannot be reduced to rubricism or magic formulas. We must wait in patience for the “high tide and the turn,” the “wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto.”
Lumen Christi. Deo Gratias.
In my last post I promised more on the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail and their relation to an Easter catechesis and the tradition of chivalry. There is much there to reflect on, much to be researched and assimilated, so it will take at bit more time.
Meanwhile, however, I thought I would point out that in the Office of Readings this week we have been reading from the the Jerusalem Catechesis, or otherwise known as the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386). The Catechesis consists in twenty-three lectures, the first eighteen of which were delivered to the candidates for baptism during Lent and the last five to the newly baptized during Easter, and is an excellent example of the mystogogia. In fact, at the end of the prologue for Lectures St. Cyril makes sure his readers understand that his instructions are only for those whose Baptism is imminent, and is to be seen neither by the other catechumens nor heathens.
St. Cyril admonishes the candidates for Baptism to shun all “secret hypocrisy,” in order to be fit for the Lord’s true service. He compares the penetration of our souls by the judgment of God to a military review of recruits by one who levies for war. He bestows his seal only upon those in whom He discerns a good conscience, in view of which the devils tremble and the holy angels recognize. St. Cyril says: ”You are receiving not a perishable but a spiritual shield. Henceforth you are planted in the invisible Paradise . . . it is God’s to grant grace, but yours to receive and guard it. Despise not the grace because it is freely given, but receive and treasure it devoutly” (Lecture 1, 3-4). This is even before Baptism, hence prior to the mystagogia, but the saint is already admonishing the new recruits to be prepared for war and especially to to protect the paradise of their own souls.
During the mystogogia proper, when St. Cyril discusses the doctrine of the Eucharist:
Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, yet let faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to you (Lecture 22, 6).
But he goes beyond the content of the doctrine and emphasizes to the newly baptized that the Eucharist has been prepared for those who have been anointed by the Lord, and thus they have been sealed against the afflictions of the evil spirits. The Lord has set a “mystical and spiritual Table,” in opposition to table of corruption set against us by the enemy. Our hearts have been strengthened, he say,s and the “face of our souls” made to shine.
And your cup intoxicates me, as very strong. You see that cup here spoken of, which Jesus took in His hands, and gave thanks, and said, This is My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Lecture 22, 6-7, 9).
This is the Holy Grail that we seek. At the beginning of the mystogogia proper, St. Cyril speaks of the relation between the catechesis prior to baptism and that that is about to take place:
And these things were done in the outer chamber. But if God will, when in the succeeding lectures on the Mysteries we have entered into the Holy of Holies , we shall there know the symbolic meaning of the things which are there performed. Now to God the Father, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be glory, and power, and majesty, forever and ever. Amen (Lecture 19, 11).
We are not only searching, but we have already arrived. We are in an in-between time, indeed.
The Easter octave is about to come to a close with the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. At that Mass we will pray:
O Lord our God, may we be healed now and forever by these sacred rites which You instituted to protect us in our new life of grace.
We have entered into the Holy of Holies, and that sanctuary is the Heart of Christ, whose mercy and grace is poured out as blood and water from His side. We are healed and protected in Him, and in the Heart of His Holy Mother. The true knighthood of Christ is the protection of these mysteries, first of all within our own Hearts. That ultimately is the meaning of the crusade for the Holy Sepulcher and the Quest for the Holy Grail. More on this next time.
In my post for Holy Thursday, I mentioned the mystogia, the Easter catechesis in the early Church that was given to the newly baptized in order to deepen their understanding of the faith, especially regarding those central mysteries celebrated in the liturgical events of the Paschal Triduum. In this post, I am offering my own little Easter mystogia in relation to the values of Marian Chivalry. At the center of this paschal enlightenment are the two principle Christian relics that became the focus of chivalrous ideals, the Holy Grail and the Holy Sepulcher.
The mystogia was particularly necessary because of a custom practiced from the earliest times of the Church called the disciplina arcani, “the discipline of the secret,” whereby the most profound mysteries of the faith were kept hidden from heathens and from even the catechumens preparing for baptism. The special—but not only—object of this discipline was the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament.
Hence, one of the minor orders of the Church—in fact, the lowest—in preparation for diaconate and the priesthood was Ostiarius or “Porter.” In the Roman rite, the Porter was the gatekeeper who locked and unlocked the church, and who made sure that no unbaptized person was present for the “Mass for the Faithful,” or what is referred to in the Novus Ordo as the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Catechumens were permitted to be present for the “Mass of the Catechumens” (Liturgy of the Word), but then were escorted out of the Church by the Porter at the beginning of the offertory. The catechumens’ first experience of “The Mystery of Faith,” celebrated at the altar, was immediately after their baptism, when they were escorted into the Church in their white garments. The first time the newly baptized received the Eucharist, they had just moments before become aware of the full truth of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.
St. Basil compared the discipline of the secret to the way in which Moses, by God’s command, reserved certain parts of the tabernacle by putting in place “sacred barriers.” He wrote that “the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.” And “Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar” (On the Holy Spirit, 27).
Imagine the joy of the newly baptized who were privileged to know the sacred mysteries and their exultation at being able to participate in so awesome a mystery while being introduced more fully by the post-baptismal catechesis into the truths of our faith. Think also of how fearful the mysterious must have seemed, in terms of inspiring awe, reverence and gratitude. What a tremendous grace was contained in the revelation of the mysteries and how beautifully was both the superabundance of God’s grace communicated while the dignity of the mysteries preserved and augmented.
As more and more it became necessary to defend the faith against heretics, apologetical tracts of the Fathers protected less and less of the secret, until the discipline was entirely abandoned. One might also understand that in the face of Gnosticism and many other Christian heresies that secret keeping could lend itself to the privileging of a few to the detriment of the universality of the Church. After all, the lure of secret keeping has been to form exclusive societies in which the initiated can pride themselves on being enlightened and being in control of the unenlightened.
Even so, we may regret, at least theoretically, the complete loss of the discipline of the secret, especially today when the introduction of the mundane and even the profane into the precincts of our sanctuaries have stripped the faithful of a sense of the sacred and mysterious. The tragic consequence of this has been the systematic cultivation of irreverence.
But the discipline of the secret is built into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during Easter. Our Lord celebrated the first Mass in the upper room into which he ensconced the apostles for the preservation of the mysteries of Holy Thursday. Into that enclosed space they would return, as a huddled and fearful band, after the events of Good Friday, and into that enclosed and locked space Our Lord would reenter in order to reveal to them that which he did not reveal to all. As St. Peter said of himself and his companions, the Lord manifested Himself not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him, after he arose again from the dead (Acts 10:41).
Our Lord also initially hid Himself from His inner circle, as He did to St. Mary Magdalen at the Holy Sepulcher, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to Peter and his companions at the Lake of Galilee. Certainly this deprivation of their ability to recognize Him was symbolic of their own lack of faith and of the power of the Resurrection to break down that barrier against faith. They knew him in the breaking of bread (Lk 24:35). But may we not also reflect that the revelation of what was hidden underscores the mysterious content of the faith and the mystical or dark way in which the activity of God touches our soul?
St. Bonaventure says that we must enter the tomb with Jesus—into another enclosed space—and there we must die and experience the suspension of our senses. He is not necessarily referring to ecstasy, but what belongs more fundamentally to the mystical life, namely, a new way of thinking that is not dependent on what we see, but on what the Lord tells us. Of course, first of all that means what the Church teaches, but it also must mean the manner in which we assimilate it through our own efforts to surrender in faith in the silence of prayer.
The Easter proclamation is the so-called kerygma, that kernal of truth at the heart of evangelization, and it must be broadcast to the four corners of the globe. That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops (Mt 10:27). That proclamation is this: “The night will be as clear as day: it will become my light, my joy” (Easter Praeconium). But each person it touches by way of the hidden workings of God: So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the earth, and should sleep, and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring, and grow up whilst he knoweth not (MK 4:26-27).
In inner revelation of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail, has nothing to do with esoteric knowledge entrusted to a secret society or any other species of Gnostic, though these heretics have gotten lost along the way of a real quest for a real treasure. Indeed, all along, it was quite literally under their noses: For lo, the kingdom of God is within (Lk 17:21).
Today we sell our secrets for a bowl of porridge and repackage old and used rags and peddle them as lost and hidden treasures. Just call the most meager and pathetic truism a secret, such as the power of positive thinking, and then absolutize it with false promises and you can make millions of dollars on the same old stale snake oil. Or take a real secret, such as the secret of our personhood, that leads us to veil our sexual values, and call it prudery and the snake oil business is booming once again.
Modesty, reverence and the guarding of the heart, are perhaps the most precious jewels to be cultivated by the truly honorable and courteous heart. It is for these values that true prowess is willing to suffer and die. The enclosed spaces of the Tomb and Chalice, like the Womb and Heart of Our Lady, are the places where Thy Mystery of Faith is celebrated and where the revelation takes place.
I will have more to say about the Holy Sepulcher and Holy Grail in my next Easter post.
The following reflection was written on Holy Thursday, but concerns the whole Easter Triduum and Easter Itself.
This evening we have begun the Sacred Paschal Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the institution of the Sacraments of Holy Orders and of the Eucharist. From here we will pass to the historical enactment of Our Lord’s great sacrfice and then on to His glorious victory over death. This will be my one Easter reflection for this blog and I will not return here until after the Easter Peace has concluded.
In actuality, the different moments of the Easter Triduum are most properly conflated under the title of Easter, since each of them is rightly qualified by the word paschal. Easter is our pasch, our passover, by which we pass from death to life in the crucified and victorious Savior. For Christ our pasch is sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7). In fact, it is almost a truism to say that the death of the Lord makes no sense without the resurrection and vice-versa. But it is also true to say that from the Lord’s own institution, we were never called to consider either His death or resurrection apart from the Eucharist.
It was for these moments, or for this hour that He came (Jn 12:27). Everything, aside from the sin of his betrayers and murderers (among whom we are included), was executed according to his will and predetermined plan. His saving deeds have become the culminating moments of salvation history, but we do not merely remember them as belonging to the past, nor do we simply comprehend them in view of the transformation we all anticipate. As Cardinal Ratzinger has written, our liturgical participation belongs to a kind of middle moment, a “between-time” in which the institutional past is brought into the liturgical present and beyond by our carrying out the command he gave to His apostles at the last supper: This do for the commemoration of me (1 Cor. 11:24). The middle moment consists in the fact that our commemoration (a remembrance that is more than a memory) of the Lord’s saving mysteries looks forward to and effects our own transformation in grace, which is to be perfected in our own resurrection for which we are being prepared now by His Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The three moments of the Triduum then—Eucharist, Passion and Death, Resurrection—are ordered to one another in such a way, that it is only in this liturgical life that Christ’s design for our salvation is fully realized. That the Paschal Triduum is the zenith of liturgical life only serves to underscore this truth.
The Council of Trent taught that the Mass is “a true sacrifice and proper sacrifice,” and not a “bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross,” but rather “a propitiatory sacrifice” (Session 22, cc. 1, 3). The difference between the sacrifice as it is offered on Holy Thursday and on Good Friday is the mode. On Holy Thursday at the Last Supper, Christ is immolated mystically in an “unbloody” manner, and on Good Friday, he is immolated historically and physically in a “bloody” manner upon the Cross. Our Lord institutes the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as well as the Sacrament of Holy Orders the night before He died, because His explicit intention was to make all of us real and immediate participants in this One Sacrifice. Cardinal Ratzinger writes that in this way Our Lord made the semel (once for all) of His sacrifice semper (always) of liturgical life.
The difference between the first Mass celebrated by Our Lord Himself on the night before He died and those that take place after His resurrection through the ministry of His priests is the state of His humanity in respect to its glorification. On the night before He died, Our Lord’s Body in the consecrated host was not yet crucified and glorified, whereas after, and until the end of time, our Victim on the altar is not only the Savior on the Cross, but also the Victor who has come forth from the tomb and sits at the right hand of His Father, glorified in heaven.
The Church teaches that the Eucharist is The Mystery of Faith. This notion comes from the institutional narrative itself into which these words are inserted, specifically from the consecration of the chalice:
HIC EST ENIM CALIX SANGUINIS MEI, NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI:
QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS EFFUNDETUR IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM.
THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT:
THE MYSTERY OF FAITH:
WHICH IS BEING SHED FOR YOU AND FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
This is the text as it is taken from the ancient liturgical usage. I will refrain from comment on the change introduced into the new liturgy, especially in the English translation, as it does not pertain to my purpose here.
The words The Mystery of Faith have been introduced by the liturgical tradition into the scriptural texts as an appositive attached to the reference concerning chalice of the blood of the new and eternal covenant. There are a number of theories as to why the words were inserted without strict adherence to the biblical text and without explantion, and as to what exactly they were intended to mean. One of the great liturgists of the modern age, Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., has written that no certain answer can be ascertained on either score. However, the magisterium has commented on the text, and has told us that it refers to the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist itself. Thus the narrative might be punctuated as follows: This is the chalice of My Blood of the new and eternal covenant—The Mystery of Faith—which is being shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
All this being said, for the sake of my little Easter reflection, and without intending to do anything more than to offer a meditation, I would like to explore more deeply the meaning of this unexplained insertion of mysterium fidei into the biblical narrative.
We know that the one sacrifice of Christ is made present in the Mass, that Jesus suffering and victorious is both the Priest and Victim. We know that we are present at Calvary and that the heavens have opened so that not only is the past made present, but that we are entering into the hour of Christ’s glorification, so that we are also present at the heavenly liturgy, singing with the Seraphim: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. We know that the double consecration during the canon of the Mass symbolizes the separation of Christ’s Blood from His Body in such a way that the one Sacrifice is made present once again:
For by the “transubstantiation” of bread into the body of Christ and of wine into His blood, His body and blood are both really present: now the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the actual separation of His body and blood. Thus the commemorative representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is repeated in every sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood (Mediator Dei, 70).
But it is only at the moment at the consecration of the chalice that the liturgical tradition has left us with this deliberate insertion of the words, The Mystery of Faith, and without explanation either in the liturgical texts themselves nor any of the written and oral tradition of the Church from the early times in which this liturgical formulary came to be. Our Lord has already been made present on the altar by means of the consecration of the Host, but in the consecration of the Chalice the symbolism of the separation of His Blood from His Body has been made perfect. Perhaps the inexplicable insertion of these words can be construed as providentially indicating the mysticism of the Sacrifice and the Sacrament, the fact that past, present and future have, in a sense, coalesced and we are somehow participants in each moment, facing the East from whence the Orient on High has come and toward which we are processing, led by our High Priest and King, Jesus Christ.
The priest, in a sense, pauses or interrupts the institutional narrative, in a rubrical sense of awe, and comments on the stupendous reality before us. We have achieved the Holy Grail. We have arrived at the throne of God. How terrible is this place? this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17). Mysterium fidei!
The Eternal Word has undergone a transformation much like the one by which He became Incarnate. Every Mass is a little Christmas. But also the Lamb has been sacrificed and we are once again at the foot of the Cross. The bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ, and we, by some awesome privilege, are now called to enter the mystery and consume the sacrifice so that we might also be transformed into that which we consume. We are no longer fixed in our place in history but are incorporated into the hour of Christ, and thus all time has a different significance and a greater power.
No wonder the Chalice of the Last Supper has become both the object of veneration and the inspiration for myths. It is a mystical object because it contains a secret—not the gnosis of the heretics or the ancient, arcane and occult mysteries of the Freemasons, but the secret of our own transformation in grace.
In the most Christian version of the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail, Quest del Saint Graal, probably written by a Cistercian monk at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Holy Chalice is symbol of grace, or such at least is the interpretation of Etienne Gilson. Medievalist Pauline Matarasso, on the other hand, asserts that the Grail of the Quest doubly manifests the mystery of the Eucharist in the Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
However the myth is to be interpreted, the historical Grail is a vessel in which a mystery is contained, a secret, and in the first case that mystery is the Blood of Christ that has been shed for us. But it is also our participation in the mystery as well. The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16). The period immediately after the Easter Triduum in which the newly baptized are still reeling from their full initiation into the Sacred Mysteries is called the mystagogia, in which they are called to more deeply penetrate and assimilate the mysteries they have newly experienced. There is a need for this precisely because the Eucharist and our participation in it is the fundamental and universal mysticism of the Church. Only those who can learn silence, adoration and most of all, who can enter in to the gift of salvific suffering are able to enter into the mystery of the Holy Grail.
If it is true then, in some sense that The Mystery of Faith is the Eucharist and our participation in the Sacred Mysteries, and if it is also true that the Chalice of Benediction, the Holy Grail, over which myserium fidei is spoken, is the mystery of grace and redemption, then might we not look to the most sublime vessel of grace in order to penetrate the mystery and enter into the secret? Indeed, the mystics who have experienced the events of the Triduum in an extraordinary way, albeit in a way that in no sense constitutes part of the deposit of faith, place a special emphasis on the Eucharistic communion of Our Lady at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. She is often said to have been communicated by angels, as for example, Ven. Mother Maria of Agreda writes that St. Gabriel was sent to Her from the cenacle to give Her Holy Communion immediately after Our Lord Himself had consumed the sacred species. In fact, the venerable mother says that the Sacred Host remained unconsumed in the body of the Blessed Virgin until the first Mass of St. Peter after the Resurrection.
There is a remarkable passage of the great English Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins from his retreat notes apropos of this extraordinary grace of the Blessed Virgin. In his notes he comments on the passage of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius concerning the apparition of Our Lord to His Blessed Mother at the resurrection. There we read the following:
‘In corpore et anima’—On the pregnant principle expressed in the Mysteries and in this very one we cannot doubt at the Last Supper Christ invisibly but sacramentally communicated the Blessed Mother (as many estatics and others have been communicated) by the hands of angels or otherwise. After this she would have fasted till the Resurrection and the Sacred Host have lain in her breast unconsumed. In her then as well as on the cross Christ died and was at once buried, her body his temple becoming his sepulcher. At his rising the soul entered the body in her as in the sepulcher and, issuing from her breast, the two presences passed into one. And at the same time the windingsheet left empty fell upon itself in the sepulcher and the empty accidents were consumed in the Blessed Virgin.
“Warm laid grave of a womb life grey;/ Manger, maiden’s knee” is how Hopkins refers to the trajectory of Christ’s Body and Blood existence from birth to death (“The Wreck of the Deutchland,” st. 7, ll. 3, 4). And in the context of his contention concerning Mary’s Holy Thursday communion, we should more clearly see the enclosed space of Our Lady’s Virginal womb, where the Eternal Word is enfleshed, as the foreshadowing of the sealed tomb and another manifestation of that inviolate Garden of Paradise which is Her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart.
Elsewhere in his retreat notes, Hopkins suggests that the defense of this mystery or secret is, in fact, the great cosmic battle in which all souls are perpetually engaged. As he reflects on chapter 12 of the Apocalypse where St. Michael attacks the fallen angels he writes: “. . . It was a sort of crusade undertaken in defense of the woman in whom the sacrificial victim had lain and from whom he had risen, a sort of Holy Sepulchre and a heavenly Jerusalem. . .”
I certainly would not blame anyone who says that all this is just pious poetry from a Marian enthusiast. Yet poetry says something true, even if not literally or historically, though many aspects of sacred history are also poetic. St. Anthony Mary Claret was well known to carry the Blessed Sacrament continually in his body as in a tabernacle. And it is a patristic teaching that the miracle of the Virgin Birth (“womb life grey”) is exactly parallel to the escape of Our Lord from the sealed tomb (“warm laid grave”).
Indeed, the New Garden of Paradise is the Heart of Mary and it is like the enclosed space of the Cenacle where the first Mass was celebrated. It is like Garden of the Agony of Jesus where He resigned Himself to the Chalice of Suffering. And it is like the Garden of the Passion and Resurrection, where the New Tree of Life grows and bears fruit. Her virginal womb is truly the Virgin Earth from which grows forth the Tree of Life, and, one way or another, it is the exemplar for the enclosed space in which the Victim and Victor is laid and from which He rises. It is the true Grail of the Blood of Christ where we enter into The Mystery of Faith. St. Louis de Montfort writes that devotion to Mary is the secret that the Holy Spirit unseals for us (The Secret of Mary, 20). We are invited to enter this Enclosed Garden and Fountain Sealed, if we are willing to be humble in the face of the mysterium fidei.
The Easter mystery is all about sacrificial love, Christ’s, first of all, then ours in the Heart of the Immaculate Coredemptrix, the one in whom the mysteries we celebrate are fully realized. The Great Sacrifice makes Jesus present as our food, and in Him, in our participation in that Sacrifice through Holy Communion, we are incorporated into the mystery, mysticism and transformation in preparation for our own resurrection. This is what we celebrate as we witness the Bride of Christ decked out in all Her liturgical glory. This is the real secret of liturgical reform and its only real object.
May the Peace of Easter be yours.