In His Face Thou seest all our faces

Extreme Humility

Respice, quaesumus Domine, super hanc familiam tuam, pro qua Dominus noster Iesus Christus non dubitavit manibus tradi nocentium et Crucis subire tormentum. Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.

Look down, O Lord, we beseech Thee, upon this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ did not refuse to be delivered into the hands of wicked men, and to endure the torment of the cross; who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

Held in the Father’s Gaze
Most collects begin by addressing God the Father, and then recall one or more of the mirabilia — the wondrous deeds — He has wrought, either in salvation history, or in the lives of His saints. The collect by which the Church concludes all the Hours during the Sacred Paschal Triduum departs from this usual form. It begins, rather, with a cry from the heart, a plea addressed to the Father, asking him to look upon us attentively, to fix His gaze upon us. The collect uses respice, a verb that, according to Lewis and Short, can mean “to look at with solicitude, to have a care for, or to consider”. The Church, during these most solemn days, has but one desire: she prays to be held in the Father’s gaze. She begs the Father to look upon her steadily, lovingly, tenderly, and not to lose sight of her.

The Face of the Son
Rightly, the liturgy of the Church, and popular devotions in its wake, have focused on the Christocentric character of the Sacred Paschal Triduum. In a sense, the Church, and every soul attuned to her prayer, has eyes only for Jesus. It is a question of seeking His Face, disfigured in the bitter afflictions of His Passion, and of entering into all the sentiments of His Heart, desolate, grieved, and forsaken. All of this is right and, yet, there is something more: there is the hidden presence of the Father in the Passion of the Son. Even as she contemplates the adorable Face of the Son in His sufferings, the Church yearns to meet the gaze of the Father.

The Second Adam
The first Adam, overwhelmed by awareness of his sin, sought to hide from the Father’s gaze. “Adam and his wife hid themselves in the garden, among the trees. And the Lord God called to Adam; Where art thou? he asked. I heard thy voice, Adam said, in the garden, and I was afraid, because of my nakedness, so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:8–10). The second Adam, stripped naked and lifted high on the tree of the Cross, seeks the Father’s gaze and, in the Hour of His Sacrifice, cries out to the Father in the supreme act of confidence: “It was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in the midst: and Jesus said, crying with a loud voice, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit; and yielded up his spirit as he said it.” (Luke 23:44–46).

An Infinite Pity
It may well be the particular grace of this Sacred Paschal Triduum that we should meet the gaze of the Father and, by an act of hope in total darkness, discover that, amidst all the sufferings that He wills or permits, and in spite of every claim that He is weak, or absent, or remote, or indifferent, or full of wrath, His gaze is fixed upon us with an infinite pity. There are three sufferings that seem to have wounded our age more than others: the weak father who disappoints; the absent father who causes suffering while remaining invisible; and the wrathful father who strikes out at the family given him to cherish. When the Church prays, Respice, quaesumus, Domine, super hanc familiam tuam, she is, in effect, saying:

Father, turn Thy gaze upon us,
for Thou art strong, not weak;
Thou, Father, art present and attentive,
not remote and indifferent;
Thou, Father, art tender and compassionate,
not vengeful and full of wrath.

In our weakness we have not leaned upon thy strength;
in our wanderings, we have lost sight of Thy countenance;
in our guilt, we have nearly despaired of ever seeing mercy in Thine eyes.

All of this Thy beloved Son has changed for us
by raising His eyes to heaven
and by meeting Thy gaze with a gaze of filial love
in the obscurity of Calvary,
and in the desolation of His death upon the Cross.
In His Face Thou seest all our faces;
in His eyes Thou readest the secrets of all our hearts.

Respice, Pater, super hanc familiam tuam.
Father, look.
Father, keep us beneath Thy gaze.
Father, behold the Face of Thy Son
and in His eyes,
see Thou the soul of every man
who seeketh Thee in his night.