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.