Struck by the expression on the faces of Christ and of the Angel holding the chalice to His pierced side, I took this photograph of a fresco at the Carceri in Assisi some years ago.
Friday of the Passion of the Lord
Last night He sat with us at table.
His Face illumined the Upper Room
and there, just above the bread and behind the chalice,
beat His Heart of flesh.
John inclined his head;
he closed his eyes like a child secure on his mother’s breast,
and listened there to the rhythm of the Love
that, mightily and sweetly, orders the sun and stars;
to the rhythm of the Love that, with every beat,
stretches upward and spirals inward to the Father;
to the rhythm of Love that meets
the pulse of every of other beating heart.
Last night, He lifted up His eyes to heaven
and, all shining with the glory of His priesthood,
said: “Father, the hour has come;
glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee” (Jn 17:1).
And to His disciples He said:
Desiderio desideravi . . .
“With desire I have desired
to eat this pasch with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15).
“And taking bread, He gave thanks and broke,
and gave to them, saying:
‘This is my body which is given for you:
do this for a commemoration of me.’
In like manner, the chalice also, after He had supped, saying:
‘This is the chalice, the New Testament in my blood
which shall be shed for you’” (Lk 22:19-20).
In that moment, the Sacrifice was already accomplished.
The wood of the supper table fused with the wood of the Cross.
The Cross became His altar,
and He became the Lamb
fulfilling Abraham’s prophecy on the mountain:
“God will provide himself the lamb for a holocaust, my son” (Gen 22:8).
After that moment, there was no going back.
Before it the entire cosmos held its breath
in fearful anticipation.
After it, the angels themselves sighed,
and began to breathe again their breathless praises.
Had He not said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth;
and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Lk 12:49-50).
And they, paying attention to His Face
“as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 P 1:19),
remembered that He had said,
“Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify thy name.” (Jn 12:27).
“Then a voice came from heaven,
‘I have glorified it,
and I will glorify it again.’
The crowd standing by heard it
and said that it had thundered” (Jn 12:28).
But last night in the Cenacle,
with shadows winding about them like a shroud,
there was no thunder, no voice,
but only the immensity of a silence
that He — and those closest to His Heart —
knew to be the Father’s sorrowful assent.
And the betrayer, quick to do
what could no longer be delayed,
“And it was night” (Jn 13:30).
In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.
This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel’s, not a mother’s.
Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
“Be it done unto me as to your Word!”
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father’s Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child’s suffering
like a mother’s palate.
Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest stopping on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.
“My heart expected reproach and misery;
and I looked for one that would grieve together with me,
and there was none!
I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none” (Ps 68:21-22).
There began the disfiguration of His Face,
the humiliation of Beauty,
the descent deep into abjection.
Blood oozing from His pores
mingled with tears streaming from His eyes,
and blood and tears alike
precious in the Father’s eyes,
soaked the earth beneath Him
filling the underworld and all the just there waiting
with a strange anticipation.
There followed the kiss of betrayal;
the grieving over one loved even in his sin;
the denial by Peter, His chosen rock, here soft as lead;
and that desolate liturgy crafted by iniquity:
a round of rude processions
first to Annas, and then from Annas to Caiaphas,
and then from Caiaphas to Pilate.
Pilate, unwittingly, summons the world
to gaze upon His Face:
“So Jesus came forth bearing the crown of thorns,
and the purple garment.
And he said to them, ‘Behold the man’” (Jn 19:5).
The Seraphim above, hearing this utterance from far below,
turn their eyes of fire to behold the Man.
For a moment
— if moments there be in eternity —
the ceaseless beating of their ruby wings is stilled
and all of heaven’s eyes
meet the gaze of the Son of Man
and rest riveted to His Holy Face.
Hidden in the crowd is the Mother.
Now from her grief-stricken heart there rises over Pilate’s words
that prayer of the psalmist
entrusted to Israel, and to her, the Daughter of Sion,
for this day, and for this hour:
“Behold, O God, our protector;
look upon the Face of your Christ!” (Ps 83:9).
Charged with the terrible timber of that chosen tree,
all the weight of the sin of the ages
presses into His flesh that He, the Lamb, might bear it away:
the crushing cruelty of my sins and yours:
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
Upon Him lies the burden of every betrayal, every refusal,
every indifference, every defilement,
every blasphemy, every hardness of heart.
This is the heaviness that pushes Him three times to the ground,
grinding His Face into the dust,
that dust out of which, in the beginning, He fashioned man,
His masterpiece, His image, His joy.
Having arrived at the place of a skull
“which is called in Hebrew Golgotha” (Jn 19:17),
He stretches out His hands
to receive the nails
that will hold Him on the wood
in the position of one waiting to embrace and to be embraced,
in the gesture of the priest standing before the altar
for the Great Thanksgiving.
His feet are nailed
fixing Him to this one place at the centre of the earth,
that all who approach the Cross
might find Him there,
the One who, immobilized,
can say only, “Come to me.”
“Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:27).
Here the Bridegroom finds His marriage bed,
here Priest and Victim find the altar,
here the King of Glory finds His throne.
Here the Oblation is lifted high;
here the covenant is ratified,
here the Spirit is outpoured
in the Breath of His mouth.
Those who approach His pierced feet,
He raises, by a word, to His pierced side,
repeating from the Cross
what He said last night at table:
“Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).
The Mother assisting at this,
the solemn once-and-for-all Mass of her Son, her Priest,
follows the bloody liturgy
with the absolute adhesion of her heart
to every gesture, every word.
The Mother sees,
the Mother understands
that the Cross is the new language of new liturgy
for a new temple.
Every alphabet devised by men
is subsumed into the Verbum Crucis,
the language of the Cross,
the one language devised by God
to say all that He would say to man
through Christ, His mediating Priest;
the one language
by which man, speaking through the same Eternal Priest,
can say all that he would ever need to say to God.
For this is the Woman given to John,
to every priest of Jesus
to every disciple of Jesus:
that at the school of the Mother of Sorrows,
all might learn the language of the Cross,
the pure liturgy of sacrificial love.
“’Woman, behold thy son!’
After that He said to the disciple:
‘Behold thy mother!’
And from that hour the disciple took her to his own” (Jn 19: 26-27).
The language of the Cross,
transcending the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek
of the inscription affixed to the tree
will be the mother tongue of the Church,
the language of the saints of every age,
the language of the one Holy Sacrifice
offered in every place
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Mal 1:11).
If you would hear the Word of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18),
remain silent before it and adore.
Approach it not with many words,
but with tears,
and with one burning kiss of reparation and of love.
Plant your kiss upon His feet,
press your mouth against that wound
wait in the stillness of the Great Sabbath,
to drink in the brightness of Pascha
from the river of life
that even now gushes from His open Heart.