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In the Garden

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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 on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Genesis 17: 3-9
Psalm 104: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (R. 8a)
John 8: 51-59

Christ our Priest

On this Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent, the last Thursday before Holy Week, the Roman Missal gives an Entrance Antiphon drawn not from the Psalms, but from the Letter to the Hebrews. “Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, that by means of His death, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). The mediatorship of Christ, our High Priest fills us with hope: “A fuller hope has been brought into our lives, enabling us to come close to God” (Heb 7:19).

Through Christ and in Christ

The Roman Gradual gives an Introit from the Book of the Prophet Daniel: “Every thing that Thou hast done to us, Thou hast done in true judgment, for we have sinned against Thee, and we have not hearkened to Thy commandments, but give glory to Thy name, O Lord, and deal with us according to the multitude of Thy mercies” (Dan 3: 31, 29, 30, 43, 42). Here again, the mediatorship of Christ is evoked, albeit implicitly: it is through Christ that the name of the Father is glorified, and it is in Christ that the Father deals with us according to multitude of His mercies.

The Father Sees Us Through the Wounds of Christ

Covenant means coming together. Christ, our Priest and Head, offering His Precious Blood on our behalf, “enables us to come close to God” (Heb 7:1919), by bringing us with Him into the presence of the Father. “The sanctuary into which Jesus has entered is not one made by human hands, is not some adumbration of the truth; he has entered heaven itself, where he now appears in God’s sight on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). The Father looks at our faces through the Face of His Beloved Son. The Father looks at our hands, defiled by sin, through His pierced Hands. The Father looks into our hearts, impure and divided, through the Heart of Jesus, opened by the soldier’s lance.

The Blood of Christ

“Shall not the blood of Christ, who offered himself, through the Holy Spirit, as a victim unblemished in God’s sight, purify our consciences, and set them free from lifeless observances, to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:14). The Father, seeing us sprinkled with the Precious Blood of the Lamb, accepts us and, through His Son, draws us to Himself. “But now, you are in Christ Jesus; now, through the Blood of Christ, you have been brought close, you who were once, so far away” (Eph 2:13). This is the meaning of the New Covenant: in the Blood Christ God has come out to us; and we, in the Blood of Christ, have gone out to God. No longer can the Father look upon His Son without seeing us, the members of His Mystical Body. No longer can He look at us without seeing the Bride “clothed in readiness for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb” (Ap 19:7), the Church “for whom Christ gave Himself up, that he might sanctify her” (Eph 5:25-26). The Blood of Christ authorizes us to pray with boldness. Lips sanctified by the Blood of Christ can dare to say, “Abba, Father!”

The Two Annunciations

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The Annunciation of the Lord is being celebrated today on the Monday of Passion Week; Friday will be the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows. The juxtaposition of the two feasts -- and of the two mysteries -- is extraordinarily rich. In 2005, when Good Friday fell on March 25th, I reflected with the Poor Clares in Barhamsville, Virginia on the intersection of these same two mysteries. Here is the homily I preached:


“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
'For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’” (Rom 11:33-34).
“None of the rulers of this age understood this;
for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8).

We find ourselves today at the intersection of two mysteries,
or rather, at the heart of the One Mystery,
indivisible, and yet too rich to be taken in all at once:
Incarnation and Redemption,
Annunciation and Crucifixion,
Conception and Death.

The Western tradition, seeking clarity in distinctions
and respectful of chronos, the ordered time of the universe,
separates, fixing her gaze today on the wood of the Cross,
and promising to return in ten days time
“to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph
of the house of David” (Lk 1:26-27).

The Eastern tradition, spiraling into kairos,
the ever-present immediacy of the God who is, who was, and is to come,
integrates, even liturgically,
the mysteries of the conceiving Virgin
and of the crucified Fruit of her womb.

One might argue as convincingly from one perspective as from the other,
but we are here not to debate but to contemplate.
The mute prostration at the beginning of this solemn liturgy,
-- all of humanity flung down before the face of God in the person of the priest --
was an act of utter and unconditional surrender to the Mystery,
not to the Mystery as we see it,
poor myopic creatures, straining to transcend our limited perceptions,
but to the Mystery as it is
in its cruciform “breadth and length and height and depth” (cf. Eph 3:18),
and in “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19).

This is the crucifying and glorious knowledge
of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8)
by which one is “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).
This is the awareness that, like a sword, pierced the heart of the Virgin Mother,
“standing by the cross of Jesus” (Jn 19:25).
Even she watched him in the painful spasms of death,
she remembered his first stirrings in her womb,
and somehow sensed obscurely,
“as in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12),
that he would stir again beneath the shroud.
But for now, she saw the fruit of her womb
become the fruit of the tree

Thirty-three years had passed;
it seemed to her like yesterday.
“Sent by God” (Lk 1:26), that bright, majestic, creature had come to her,
--exquisitely courteous he was, and awful and lovely all at once --
and his greeting still astonished her:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you:
blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:28).
She remembered the shock of it,
and how she had “considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29).
Now his voice came to her again, and how she needed to hear it,
to lean on it, to steady herself against it, to cling to it
even as Abraham, “in hope believing against hope” (Rom 4:18),
had clung to the wild promises made by God to him:
“Fear not, Mary, for you have found grace with God” (Lk 1:30).


To see what she was seeing --
her Child stretched naked on the wood,
his hands and feet pierced,
his whole body bloodied,
his sweet face beneath a cruel crown of thorns --
to see this and yet believe in the word of the Angel
was to feel the two-edged sword’s sharp blade
“piercing to the division of soul and spirit,
of joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12).
Could this be what Simeon meant:
“And your own soul a sword shall pierce” (Lk 2:35)?

The Angel had said more:
“And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb,
and shall bring forth a son;
and you shall call his name Jesus” (Lk 1:31).
This too she remembered, and lifting her eyes, she read “the inscription over him
in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew” (Lk 23:38):
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).
For a moment she thought of her Joseph
she still missed him so -- her friend, her comforter, her rock --
and she remembered what the Angel had said to him as well:
“You shall call his name Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father;
and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.
And of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).
Tell me, O Gabriel, is this bitter abjection his greatness?
Is this cross of execution his throne?
Is this defeat the inauguration of his kingdom?

Just then the thief crucified beside him spoke,
as if in answer to her torment:
“'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
And Jesus said to him: 'Amen I say to you,
this day you shall be with me in paradise’” (Lk 23:42-43).
For an instant, she turned from the face of her Jesus
to the face of the thief,
and she felt herself a mother to him.
“For those whom God foreknew
he also predestined to be conformed to the image of her Son,
in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (cf, Rom 8:29).

With that, her Jesus spoke,
his gentleness like the breeze in the cool of the day,
his authority undiminished by the scourging, the mockery, and the taunts.
Seeing “his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near,
he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold your son!’
Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!’” (Jn 19:25).

This was a new Annunciation, the second one:
the first, thirty-three years ago by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel;
this second one by the mouth of her Son,
lifted up with bloodied arms spread wide in place of shining wings.
Then, as now and forever, “no word shall be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).

“Woman, behold your son!” (Jn 19:25).
To this Mary had no answer
apart from the one she had given the Angel then:
“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
She was to be mother, mother again and again.
Mother to John, to Dismas, to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, and to James,
mother to “the coming generation” and to “a people yet unborn” (Ps 21:30-31).
Mother of the Church.

“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished,
that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: 'I thirst’” (Jn 19:28)
and she knew in herself the torment that is the thirst of God
and tasted in her mouth the bitter vinegar,
and knew too that this new motherhood was given her
in this new annunciation
to quench the thirst of God with the children of her sorrowful heart:
adorers “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23).

And as she recalled how at Nazareth the Holy Spirit had come upon her
and the power of Most High had overshadowed her (cf. Lk 1:35),
he said, “'It is consummated,’ and bowing his head,
he gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30).
She lifted her face to receive the breath of his mouth,
and remembered that the Angel too,
having accomplished that for which he was sent from God left her,
leaving God in her womb.
“And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:38).

Afterwards they took his body down from the cross.
Strange that another Joseph should be there helping.
A strong and tender man.
And she remembered her Joseph, also strong and tender,
lifting that tiny newborn body in his calloused hands
to place it in the manger.
And she wept.

They placed his lifeless body in her arms.
He seemed so tired, so spent, so in need of his Sabbath rest.
Bits of a lullaby she used to sing to him went through her mind.
“Sleep, my Yeshua, sleep.
Sleep my Yeshua, sleep until you wake.”
She remembered something he had said:
“I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3).
And she repeated something he had prayed:
“Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1),

They placed him the tomb.
And the stone was rolled across the entrance,
sealing in her heart with his body.

To John she said:
“Come, son, take me home.
'He has torn, that he may heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
and on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him’ (Hos 6:1-2).”
And John, saying nothing, looked into her eyes,
just as Jesus had earlier in the day,
and like Jesus, he believed her.

Come to Me and drink

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Introit Psalm 55:2

Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for man hath trodden me underfoot:
all the day long he hath afflicted me,
fighting against me.
V. My enemies have trodden on me all the day long:
for they are many that make war against me.

Today's Introit expresses the prayer of a soul locked in spiritual combat with the powers of darkness. Having entered Passiontide, the final phase of the Great Fast, it is inevitable that the Evil One should assault the catechumens, the penitents, the clergy, and all the faithful of the Church, lest they arrive safely in the serene harbour of the Lord's Passion.

It is not unusual in Sacred Scripture to find the Evil One referred to as "man," particularly in the psalms. The Introit describes his wicked tactics: by afflicting a soul all the day long he seeks to cause a deadly weariness, by fighting against a soul without reprieve he seeks to stir up sentiments of despondency.

The soul under attack has but one recourse: to cry out to the Lord for mercy, and to pray ceaselessly with confidence in the victorious love of Christ Jesus.

(As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:36-39)

0820Francisco Ribalta san Bernardo.jpg


Sanctify our fasts, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
and in Thy mercy grant us pardon for all our sins.

The Church prays wisely, boldly, and concisely -- such is the genius of the Roman Rite. A fast sanctified by the Holy Ghost becomes an act of worship, an offering pleasing to God. Awareness of our sins should lead not to a loss of confidence in the Divine Mercy, but to a serene and trusting appeal for the pardon of Him "Who forgiveth all thy iniquities: who healeth all thy diseases. Who redeemeth thy life from destruction: who crowneth thee with mercy and compassion." (Psalm 102:3-4)


Epistle: Jonas 3:1-10

The story of Jonas' mission to the city of Ninive, with its images of fasting, sackcloth, and ashes, recalls the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It is not too late to enter into Lenten repentance, not too late to begin one's Lent with humility and sincerity of heart. The workers of the eleventh hour will not be deprived of their reward at Pascha.

"And God saw their works, that they were turned from their evil way: and the Lord our God had mercy upon His people." (Jonas 3:10).

If one has undertaken works of penitence, these are the sign that the grace of Christ is already present in one's life. Works of penitence do not earn the grace of Christ, they demonstrate its power already at work in the heart. Penance is, therefore, a response to the grace of Christ Jesus and, as such, it glorifies the mercy of the Father and illustrates the secret operations of the Holy Ghost.


Gospel: John 7:32-39

Today's Holy Gospel shows us Our Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem on the last and great day of the festivity of Tabernacles. On this day, according to the Temple ritual, the priest in service would go to the pool of Siloe bearing a vessel of gold. Having drawn water from the pool of Siloe, he would return to the Temple amidst great solemnity, and there, having mixed the water with wine, he would pour it over the corner of the altar of holocausts. This ceremony recalled the water gushing from the rock during the Exodus and, in a prophetic manner, was a sign of the abundance of graces that would spring from the advent of the Messiah.

In the water mixed with wine splashed over the corner of the altar, Jesus sees an image of the blood and water that will flow from His own side opened by the soldier's lance. He cries out, inviting anyone who thirsts to approach His Heart, the wellspring of living water. One who approaches the Sacred Side of Jesus to drink from its inexhaustible stream becomes a living temple indwelt by the Three Divine Persons. The life of the indwelling Trinity is a fountain in the innermost depths of the soul. The water that springs therefrom irrigates the will, causes the fruits of the Holy Ghost to flourish, illumines the intelligence, and pacifies the senses.


All through history, Our Lord has summoned souls to drink from His Sacred Side. Alongside the written commentaries on the Gospels left us by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, there are iconographic commentaries. These are, in every way, as valuable as those bound between the covers of books. Among the various iconographic motifs in the West that illustrate today's Gospel, we find that of the amplexus, or the mystic embrace of the Crucified Jesus. In such paintings, one sees Our Lord detaching His arm from the cross in order to place it around His loved one. He guides the head of the loved one to His Sacred Side until, with lips placed against the open wound, the soul drinks deeply of the living water that refreshes, purifies, and inebriates with love.

Among the saints depicted in this fashion are Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Lutgarde, Saint Gertrude the Great, and Saint Paul of the Cross. What these saints experienced mystically is available to us sacramentally so often as we approach the adorable Mysteries of Our Lord's Body and Blood.

Communion Antiphon

The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory. (Psalm 23:10)

Today's Communion Antiphon, although remarkably brief, is clothed with a rich melodic vesture in the Third Mode. The melody extends the text and, in some way, caresses it, making it easier to assimilate. The text itself hearkens back to the Sanctus of the Mass: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. The Lord of Hosts (Dominus virtutum) of the Communion Antiphon is the Lord God of Heavenly Hosts (Dominus Deus Sabaoth) of the Sanctus. He whose coming is announced in the Benedictus qui venit -- Blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the Lord -- is the very One who comes to each communicant in the Sacrament of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood.

I can only imagine the impression made on communicants when the repetition of this antiphon accompanied the Communion Procession. Him whom you are about to receive, Him whom you have just received, is the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory, and you have become His temple, His tabernacle, His throne.


It is customary in some places to offer the Votive Mass of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ or to keep the Commemoration of the Passion on the Tuesday After Sexagesima.


The Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself unto death,
even the death of the cross;
wherefore God also exalted Him
and hath given Him a name which is above every name.
Ps. The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever:
to generation and generation.
V. Glory be to the Father.


Almighty, everlasting God,
by whose ordinance our Saviour took flesh
and suffered crucifixion,
so that mankind might imitate the example of His humility;
graciously grant,
that with the lesson of His patience before us,
we who solemnly commemorate His Passion
may be found worthy to share in His resurrection.
Through the same.

From the Epistle (Zacharias 12:10-11; 13; 6-7)

In that day there shall be a great lamentation in Jerusalem,
and it shall be said:
What are these wounds in the midst of Thy hands?
And He shall say:
With these was I wounded in the house of them that loved me.

Gradual (Ps 68:21-22)

My heart hath expected reproach and misery:
and I looked for one that would grieve together with Me,
and there was none:
I sought one that would comfort Me and I found none.
V. They gave me gall for my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Tract (Is 53:4-5)

Surely He hath borne our infirmities,
and carried our sorrows.
V. And we have thought of Him as it were a leper,
and as one struck by God and afflicted.
V. But He was wounded for our iniquities,
He was bruised for our sins.
V. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him:
and by His bruises we are healed.


This painting by Guido Reni, dating from 1625, shows the Infant Jesus asleep on the Cross with the Crown of Thorns and the Nails on the ground before Him. He is, moreover, naked, just as He will be naked on Calvary. He sleeps; it signifies the sleep of the New Adam upon the nuptial bed of the Cross, during which the New Eve, the Church, comes forth from His Sacred Side, washed clean in the water and the blood of His Sacred Heart. This is a theme not uncommon in the art of the Catholic Reformation. Was Caryll Houselander influenced by one of these images when she wrote The Passion of the Infant Christ?

Saint Benedict's Teaching

Marianna, a reader of Vultus Christi wrote me the other day, asking me the meaning of Saint Benedict's words in the Prologue of the Holy Rule, "sharing in the sufferings of Christ through patience, so as to share also in his kingdom." (RB Pro: 50)


Patience derives from the Latin patior, meaning to suffer, to undergo, to bear, or to endure. The connotation of Saint Benedict's patientia is a humble acceptance of the hard and painful things that come upon us, motivated by a desire to imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ and to be united to Him in His love of the Father and in His obedience to the Father's will. Saint Benedict is telling us that by accepting the weaknesses, losses, detachments, and other sufferings that come upon us in the course of a day or a lifetime, and by uniting our acceptance of these painful things to the Passion and Death of Christ, we will, at length, come to share in the glory of HIs Kingdom.

With Christ Priest and Victim

Saint Benedict's teaching is consoling to all those who ask if suffering can have any meaning or value. He is, in fact, echoing the teaching of the Apostle Saint Paul who, in Colossians 1:24, writes: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church." Saint Paul is writing here of the sufferings of the whole Christ, Head and Members. Christ continues to suffer in His the members of His Mystical Body. Our sufferings are His and His are ours. Christ the Head of the Mystical Body, and our Eternal High Priest, associates His members, and all the sufferings they endure in union with Him, to His Sacrifice and to His triumph. Every suffering accepted in union with Our Lord's obedient love for the Father becomes, by the grace of Holy Spirit, meritorious and fruitful for the whole Church.

The Morning Offering

The so-called Morning Offering is a simple way of freely choosing to "share in the sufferings of Christ through patience" -- that is, through the painful or costly things that may come upon us in the course of a day -- and of giving to those sufferings a supernatural worth. Thus do we begin to live in communion with Christ, Priest and Victim. This is why I pray, and invite others to pray each day:

The Morning Offering for Priests

Father most holy, *
I offer Thee the prayers, works,
joys, and sufferings of this day *
by placing them in the holy and venerable hands
of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, *
and by saying, as He did upon entering the world, *
"Behold, I come to do Thy will" (Hebrews 10:9). *

For the sake of all His priests, *
[and in particular for Fathers N. and N.,]
I entreat Thy beloved Son to unite my offering
to the Sacrifice of the Cross,
renewed upon the altars of Thy Church *
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Malachy 1:11).

Most merciful Father, *
look upon these men chosen by Thy Son
to show forth His death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26); *
keep them from the Evil One (John 17:15) *
and sanctify them in the truth (John 17:17).

Bind them by a most tender love
to the Virgin Mary, their Mother *
that, by her intercession, *
they may be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35)
in every act of their sacred ministry; *
thus may their priesthood reveal
the Face of Jesus and the merciful love of His Heart, *
for the fruitfulness of His spouse, the Church. *
and the praise of Thy glory. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Seven

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A Book to Own and Meditate

Today's passage from the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion is taken from Union With God, Letters of Spiritual Direction. It is available here from Zaccheus Press.

Sharing in the Passion of Christ

For the friend of Christ, for the member of His Mystical Body, for one baptized into His saving death, and nourished by the adorable Mysteries of His Body and Blood, suffering is a means of union with Jesus, Priest and Victim. In His infinite wisdom, the Father has reserved for each and every member of His Son's Mystical Body a certain portion of His Passion. Our Lord Jesus Christ asks His friends, one by one, if they will allow Him to suffer in them, to complete His Passion in their flesh and in their hearts.

The Holy Spirit

With suffering comes a great anointing. He sends upon one who suffers with Him, and in whom He deigns to suffer, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, so that one may be able to suffer joyfully and in the peace of a complete submission to the designs of His Sacred Heart.

For Priests

Our Lord chooses to have need of our sufferings and asks for them, in some instances, specifically for the renewal of the priesthood in His Church, and for the spiritual regeneration of priests weakened by sin and held in various forms of bondage to evil. To these souls, Our Lord says that, by their humble participation in His Passion many priests will be healed and purified and restored to holiness.

Freely Given

He does not inflict suffering, but He humbly and meekly asks for our "Yes" to it. "Will you," He asks, "consent to this work of mine in you and through you?"


Blessed Dom Marmion, formed by the contemplation of Love Crucified in his daily Way of the Cross, never hesitated to invite souls who sought spiritual counsel from him, to enter into the way of victimhood and to offer themselves to the Father in the hands of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. The sufferings involved are not extraordinary tortures; they are the sufferings of the body, of the heart, and of the soul that are woven into the fabric of every life. They are the sufferings of the husband, wife, mother, child, sick person, and priest. They are the sufferings of betrayal, abandonment, failure humiliation, weakness, helplessness, pain, and uncertainty. And they are, all of them, infinitely precious in the eyes of the Father when united to the Passion of His Beloved Son.

The Seventh Day of the Novena
Thursday, 28 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

For what regards your weaknesses, your failings, the Good God permits them in order to keep you in humility and in the sense of your nothingness. God can always draw good from our miseries, and when you have been unfaithful and have failed in confidence and in abandon to His holy will, if you humble yourself deeply, you will lose nothing, but on the contrary, you will advance in virtue and in the love of God.
If everything happened you just as you could wish, if you were always in robust health, if all your exercises of devotion were performed to your satisfaction, if you had no doubts and uncertainties for the future, etc., with your character you would quickly become full of self-sufficiency and secret pride; and instead of exciting the bounty of the Father of Mercies and of drawing down His compassion on His poor weak creature, you would be an abomination in God's eyes. "Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord. You must therefore set to work. Our Lord loves you He sees into the depths of your soul, even into recesses hidden from yourself, and He knows what you need; leave Him to act, and don't try to make Our Lord follow your way of seeing things, but follow His in all simplicity.
Uncertainty, anguish, disgust are very bitter remedies necessary to the health of your soul. There is only one road that leads to Jesus, namely that of Calvary; and whosoever will not follow Jesus along upon this road must give up the thought of divine union. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
Take courage! I have as much need myself of these considerations as you have, for nature does not like sacrifice, but the reward of sacrifice namely, the love of God, is so great, that we ought to be ready to bear yet more in order to attain it.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Eia, Mater, Fons Amoris

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Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Commemoration of the Sorrowful Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ's Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. The last edition of the Missale Romanum, published in 2002, contains two modifications, discreet touches that will leave in the Missal of Paul VI the unmistakable imprint of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.

The first of these concerns the Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent, the Friday before Palm Sunday. The 2002 edition of the Missal restores the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Virgin Mary formerly celebrated on the Friday of Passion Week, and offers for the Fifth Friday of Lent the following collect:

O God, who during this time
graciously grant to your Church
devoutly to imitate blessed Mary
in contemplation of the Passion of Christ,
grant us, we pray,
through the intercession of the same Virgin,
to cling each day more firmly to your Only-Begotten Son,
and to come at length to the fullness of his grace.

The second touch is in a rubric concerning the chants during the Good Friday adoratio crucis: it suggests that after the traditional chants given in the Missal and the Graduale Romanum the Stabat Mater also be sung in commemoration of the Blessed Virgin’s sorrowful compassion. In this way, a thirteenth century text, presumed to be of Franciscan origin -- it is attributed to Jacopone da Todi --takes it place alongside the ancient antiphon Crucem tuam, the Improperia, and the hymn to the Cross of Venantius Fortunatus.

The Stabat Mater is strong medicine for those who, being of a more abstract or cerebral disposition, would approach the Passion of Christ without getting bloodied, without being set ablaze, without feeling a melting in their breast.

Vexilla Regis

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The Royal Banner forward goes,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.

Behold! The nails with anguish fierce,
His outstretched arms and vitals pierce:
Here our redemption to obtain,
The Mighty Sacrifice is slain.

Here the fell spear his wounded side
With ruthless onset opened wide:
To wash us in that cleansing flood,
Thence mingled Water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song, of old:
Unto the nations, lo! saith he,
Our God hath reignèd from the Tree.

O Tree! In radiant beauty bright!
With regal purple meetly dight!
Thou chosen stem! divinely graced,
Which hath those Holy Limbs embraced!

How blest thine arms, beyond compare,
Which Earth's Eternal Ransom bare!
That Balance where His Body laid,
The spoil of vanquished Hell outweighed.

O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant!

Hail wondrous Altar! Victim hail!
Thy Glorious Passion shall avail!
Where death Life's very Self endured,
Yet life by that same Death secured.

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God!
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver,
O guide and govern now and ever!

The hymn Vexilla Regis was composed by Saint Venantius Fortunatus on the occasion of the solemn reception of a Relic of the True Cross by Queen Saint Radegonde before the consecration of her monastic church at Poitiers. It is, by origin, a processional hymn. The Church sings it at Vespers from the Saturday Within the Fourth Week of Lent until the Wednesday of Holy Week. The translation given here is taken from "The Psalter of Sarum": London 1852. The feast of Saint Radegonde is August 13th; that of Saint Venantius Fortunatus is December 14th.

This devotion is the one that is most closely linked to the Eucharistic Sacrifice; like the Mass, it continues to recall to us the death of Jesus: "Mortem Domini annuntiabitis donec veniat -- You proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26). Abbot Marmion on the Way of the Cross

If you have not yet purchased your copy of Blessed Columba Marmion's classic work, Christ in His Mysteries, visit Zacchaeus Press and do it now! Passiontide begins in less than two weeks, and you will want to read and meditate what are, to my mind, some of the most beautiful pages ever written on the Way of the Cross. In Christ in His Mysteries, Blessed Marmion offers a meditation and prayer for each of the stations of the Way of the Cross.

Dom Marmion's own devotion to the Stations of the Cross goes back to his seminary days at Holy Cross College in Ireland. There, the young Joe Marmion fell under the beneficent influence of the saintly Father John Gowan, a Lazarist. Faithful to Father Gowan's suggestion, Marmion never omitted his daily Way of the Cross.

During the last years of his life, Blessed Marmion made the practice of the Way of the Cross the object of a vow. Even on his deathbed, Dom Marmion endeavoured to make the Stations of the Cross to unite his last sufferings to those that marked the final hours of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning the Way of the Cross, Blessed Marmion wrote:

After the Sacraments and liturgical worship I am convinced there is no practice more fruitful for our souls than the Way of the Cross made with devotion. Its supernatural efficacy is sovereign. The Passion is the "holy of holies" among the mysteries of Jesus, te pre-eminent work of our Supreme High Priest; it is there above all that His virtues shine forth, and when we contemplate Him in His sufferings He gives us according to the measure of our faith, the grace to practise the virtues that He manifested during these holy hours.
At each station Our Divine Saviour presents Himself to us in this triple character: as the Mediator Who saves us by His merits, the perfect Model of sublime virtues, and the efficacious Cause Who can, through His Divine Omnipotence, produce in our souls the virtues of which He gives us the example.

A few months before his death, Blessed Marmion wrote:

When I have worries, when things go wrong with me, when I endure aridity and dryness, it is enough for me to meditate on the Passion of Jesus in making the Way of the Cross in order to feel strengthened; it is like a bath in which my soul is plunged; it never comes away without its vigour and joy being renewed; it acts upon my soul like a sacrament.


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Wednesday Within the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 18: 18-20
Matthew 20: 17-28

Beata Passio

On Sunday last we celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord. Today, three days later, the liturgy sets before us the mystery of His beata Passio, as the Roman Canon calls it, His blessed Passion. The Passion of Our Lord is as blessed as it was bitter; its bitterness contains the source of all blessedness, that is, of all our bliss, of eternal beatitude.

The Prayer of Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah threatened, hated, and rejected by his enemies, is a figure of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The First Reading gives us Jeremiah's prayer in great anguish:

Give heed to me, O Lord,
and listen to my plea . . .
Remember how I stood before Thee to speak good for them,
to turn away Thy wrath from them.

The Prayer of Jesus

Jeremiah's prayer announces the prayer of Jesus in His Passion. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that, "In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear" (Heb 5:7). From the Cross, Jesus interceded for those who hated Him, and for those who nailed Him to the awful Tree: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). Down through the ages, the Holy Spirit has moved the Church to enter into the prayer of Christ: to pray as He prayed.

The Prayer of Mary

So deeply did today's text from Jeremiah penetrate the heart of the Church that it became the Offertory Antiphon of the Mass of September 15th, the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei . . .
Be mindful, O Virgin Mother of God,
when thou standest in the sight of the Lord,
to speak good things for us,
and to turn away His anger from us.

The Church recognizes in the Mother of Sorrows the New Eve, the Woman in whom the whole mystery of the Church is contained and revealed. The prayer of Christ becomes her prayer. Mary, the spotless image of the Church, stands with her Son in ceaseless intercession, "since He always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him" (cf. Heb 7:25). The prayer of Mary passes entirely into the prayer of Jesus, and His prayer passes entirely into hers.

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Good Friday 2005: A Prayer by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

When I chanted the Canticle from the Book of Daniel (3:3, 4, 6, 11-18) at Lauds this morning, it became, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, a prayer for the Church, a supplication for her purification and healing. This happens so often in the Divine Office. In the prayer of the Church, nothing is stale, nothing old, nothing removed from the Passion of Christ prolonged in His members until the end of time.

Blessed art thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and thy name is worthy of praise, and glorious for ever:

For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us,
and all thy works are true, and thy ways right, and all thy judgments true.

For thou hast executed true judgments
in all the things that thou hast brought upon us,
and upon Jerusalem the holy city of our fathers:

for according to truth and judgment,
thou hast brought all these things upon us for our sins.

For we have sinned, and committed iniquity, departing from thee:
and we have trespassed in all things:

And we have not hearkened to thy commandments,
nor have we observed nor done as thou hadst commanded us,
that it might go well with us.

And now we cannot open our mouths:
we are become a shame and reproach to thy servants,
and to them that worship thee.

Deliver us not up for ever, we beseech thee, for thy name's sake,
and abolish not thy covenant.

And take not away thy mercy from us
for the sake of Abraham thy beloved, and Isaac thy servant, and Israel thy holy one:

For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation,
and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins.

Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet,
or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense,
or place of firstfruits before thee, that we may find thy mercy:

nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted.
So let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee:
for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee.

And now we follow thee with all our heart,
and we fear thee, and seek thy face.

O Hostie rayonnante!

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On the feast of Corpus Christi, la Fête-Dieu, 1931, Mother Marie des Douleurs (1902-1983) wrote a meditation in the form of a dialogue with Jesus, the Divine Host, for her daughters. It is evident from the vocabulary she used that a strong call to Eucharistic reparation marked her life at that time: Host, High Priest, Victim, sacrileges, profanations. One detects the influence of Mother Mechtilde de Bar with whose writings she was certainly familiar.

You will remark that Mother Marie des Douleurs relates the agony of Jesus in Gethsemani to the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist that preceded it in the Cenacle. She sees the "Holy Hour" practiced on Thursday evenings as an act of Eucharistic reparation for sins of indifference, for the lack of response to the Gift of His Body and Blood, and for sacrileges and profanations.

Echoing the messages of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial, she hears Our Lord lament the superficiality of so many Christians, even of consecrated souls, It grieves Our Lord that so few priests offer Holy Mass without realizing that, in so doing, they hand themselves over to be immolated for souls with Himself, the Victim. Mother Marie des Douleurs alludes to the role of Saint Veronica, and hears Our Lord ask that a veil of heartfelt compassion be placed upon His Holy Face.

The last line of this brief meditation is extraordinary. The young foundress is compelled to want to place her own heart between the Heart of Jesus and sin. In effect, she prays to absorb, insofar as possible, the coldness, ugliness, indifference, and violence directed toward that Eucharistic Heart that so loves men. The translation is my own.

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High Priest and Victim

O Hostie rayonnante, notre Pontife et notre Victime, nous aurions voulu savoir vous louer, nous aurions voulu vous faire un chemin bien plus triumphal que ce chemin de fleurs. Que faut-il donc et que pouvez vous demander à nous, si petites parmi les creatures?

O radiant Host, our High Priest and our Victim, we would have wanted to know how to praise You, we would have wanted to make You a much more triumphal path than this path of flowers. What do You need, and what can You ask of us, so little among Your creatures?

I Thirst for the Love of Souls

Je demande, à chacune d'entre vous, de se livrer à moi, sans retour, sans restriction, jusqu'à vouloir continellement vous anéantir, parce que j'ai soif de l'amour des âmes et que je veux, lorsque vous serez vraiment miennes, faire de vous, de chacune de vous, des étincelles qui iront dans le monde des âmes propager l'incendie. Ne vous refusez plus à mon désir, j'ai besoin de vous, j'ai besoin de votre amour pour compenser l'indifférence. J'ai besoin de vous souffrances pour ceux qui me haïssent.

I ask that each one amongst you surrender herself to me, without having second thoughts, without restriction, until you arrive at wanting to nullify yourselves continually, because I thirst for the love of souls, and because, when you will be truly mine, I want to make you -- each one of you -- sparks that will go forth into the world of souls to set them all ablaze. Refuse my desire no longer. I need you. I need your love to make up for indifference. I need your sufferings for those who hate me.

Sins Against the Most Holy Eucharist

J'ai besoin de vous, il faut que vous soyez là près de moi pendant l'agonie où je vois distinctement quel est le petit nombre des âmes qui viendront à l'Eucharistie, où je vois chacun des sacrileges, chacune des profanations, et où mon Coeur se brise.

I need you. You must be there, close to me during the agony in which I see distinctly how few souls will come to the Eucharist, in which I see the sacrileges, and each profanation, and in which my Heart breaks.

Priests at the Altar

De quelle tristesse suis-je étreint lorsque je vois qu'au don total que je fais de moi-meme la plupart des hommes , la plupart aussi des âmes consacrées ne répondent que par des actes superficiels. Où sont les âmes eucharistiques? celles qui ne vivent que par l'Hostie, celles qui s'identifient avec mon état de Victime? Il y a si peu de prêtres qui, chaque matin, lorsqu'ils montent à l'autel, pensent qu'ils vont à l'immolation de tout leur être pour les âmes.

What sorrow holds me in its grip when I see that even the greater number of men, the greater number also of consecrated souls respond with nothing more than superficial acts to the total gift I make of myself. Where are the Eucharistic souls? Where are those who will live only by the Host, those who will identify themselves with my victimal state? There are so few priests who, each morning, when they ascend the altar, consider that they are going to be entirely immolated for souls. I ask you to suffer all of that with me; the tender compassion of your hearts will be for mine like the veil of Veronica upon my Face covered with sweat, with dust, and with blood.

Hearts Set Between the Heart of Jesus and Sin

O mon Dieu, vous êtes adorablement bon, vous nous traîtez comme vos épouses. Vous nous donnez ainsi un peu de votre souffrance. Mon Dieu, nous la recevons humblement et avec action de grIaces: c'est la part que nous avons choisie et nous ne savons plus comment nous pourrions supporter l'exil si nous ne pouvions pas, tant que nous vivrons, mettre nos coeurs entre le vôtre et le péché.

O my God, You are adorably good, You treat us as Your spouses. Thus do You give us a little of Your own suffering. My God, we receive it humbly and with thanksgiving; it is the part that we have chosen. We know not how we shall ever bear this exile, so long as we shall live, if we cannot set our hearts between Yours and sin.

Salus, Vita, et Resurrectio Nostra

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September 14
The Exaltation of the Glorious Cross

Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 77:1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Glory in the Cross

“It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is our health, life and Resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free” (Introit). Celebrating today the mystery of the Cross, we fix our gaze not upon an instrument of torture and of shame but, rather, upon the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). We lift our eyes to the royal throne of the King of glory, the sign of the Son of Man that will appear in the heavens at the end of the age (Mt 24:30). To the eyes of faith, the Cross shines like the sun over the eastern horizon.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

In Rome, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is the scene of a solemn festival today. Pilgrims from all over the world will cross the threshold of the church established by Saint Helena; they will kneel before the wood of the True Cross. Great numbers of them will go to their confession. The relics of the True Cross will be carried in procession and placed upon the altar during Holy Mass.

Everywhere in the monastery and basilica of Santa Croce one sees the insignia of the holy and glorious Cross; it is painted, carved, and even woven into the cloth of the vestments. It is the life-giving and glorious Cross of Christ, studded with precious stones, and glimmering with the splendour of the stars. The arms of the Cross are thrown open wide to embrace the very limits of the cosmos. What did we sing at First Vespers? “Hail, O Cross! Brighter than all the stars! To the eyes of men thou art exceedingly lovely!” (Magnificat Antiphon I). The art in the basilica cries out, over and over again, the essential relationship between altar and Cross. The altar is the bathed in the glory of the Cross.

The Visible Sign of God’s Healing Mercy

Today’s liturgy -- in the Divine Office and the Mass -- infuses an awe-inspiring awareness of the Cross as the visible sign of God’s healing mercy, the cause of our indefectible and abiding joy. “The Royal Banners forward go; the Cross shines forth in mystic glow” (Vexilla Regis, Vespers). We sing in today’s introit that the Cross of Christ is the source of health (salus), of life, and of Resurrection. The eyes of the Church are filled with the brightness of the Cross. She looks towards the wood of the Cross and is made radiant by the Resurrection. Look to the Cross, and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed (Ps 33:6)!

The Saving Wood

The wood by which Adam fell (Gn 3:12) is today the wood by which Adam is saved. The wood by which Noah, “his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives” (Gn 6:14) were saved from the flood is today the wood by which joy has flooded the world. The wood by which Moses sweetened the bitter waters of Marah (Ex 15:25) is today the wood by which all the world’s bitterness is made sweet.

Health to Sickly Souls Is Given

The First Reading is a dramatic reminder that all of us, without exception, have suffered the venomous bite of the ancient serpent. We cross the wilderness of this life limping, and burning with a fever for which no earthly remedy can be found. Our new Moses, Christ, intercedes with the Father on our behalf and, in response, we are given the mystery of the Cross. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Cross is the source of our healing; it is the remedy for every affliction, the antidote for every poison, the medicine for every weakness. One of the antiphons at Matins, rhythmically translated, says: “Cross most gracious / from whose aspect / health to sickly souls is given/ with what praises shall I praise thee / who hast brought us life from heaven?

When We Are Stung by Vipers

Like the children of Israel we have to be brought back again and again. When we are strong and successful, when we “wax fat, grow thick, and become sleek” (Dt 32:15), how easily we forget the works of the Lord! When we experience the gift of salutary failure, when we stumble, fall, and lose our way with darkness all about us, when we are stung by vipers and beset with fever and thirst, then do we turn back, led on by severe and tender mercies to the source of all healing and strength.

The Holy Spirit and the Cross

The Cross is where the weakness of the flesh encounters the power of the Holy Spirit. It was from the Cross that the gift of the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the Church in the kiss of the Bridegroom’s mouth and in a mystery of water and of blood. “He bowed his head, says Saint John, and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). And again, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). The breath, the blood, and the water are the abiding signs of the Spirit poured out whenever the Church assembles in faith at the foot of the holy and life-giving Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, at once, an actualization of the mystery of the Cross and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Secure in the Arms of the Cross

Again, the Cross is where every brokenness, injury, and wound encounters the compassion of the Father. We are called not so much to embrace the Cross as to allow ourselves to be embraced by it, for the arms of the Cross are the strong arms of the Eternal Father’s compassion. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in a soul, that soul is compelled to throw herself into the arms of the Cross because there, and there alone, is she held secure in the embrace of the Father’s unfailing compassion. The Cross of the Son shines with the love of the Father; that compassionate love is the remedy for every misery, shadow, weakness, betrayal, and fear.

Jacob’s Mystic Ladder

We celebrate the glorious Cross as a Trinitarian mystery; the healing compassion of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit await us in the Cross of the Son. By the Cross of Christ, as by the mystic ladder beheld by Jacob in a dream (Gen 28:12) the mercy of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit descend even to us. By the same Cross of Christ, we ascend to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jacob dreamed “that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it” (Gen 28:12). This is the mystery of the Cross revealed in figure and foreshadowing; this is the reality of the mysteries we celebrate here and now.

The Place of Christ’s Priesthood

The Cross is the place of Christ’s glorious priesthood with its descending and ascending mediation. Wheresoever and whensoever the liturgy is enacted, Christ the great High Priest stands in our midst, and his glorious Cross is rendered present. Health and joy descend into the world -- and into our hearts -- by the wood of the Cross and, by the wood of the Cross, the ladder that spans the chasm separating time from eternity, and this world from the next, we who are estranged and exiled from the beauty of the divine glory ascend into the splendour of the Kingdom.

The Mass: Presence of the Cross

The Cross is present in every Holy Mass, not as the memory of a hill far away, but as a dynamic reality drawing us together into unity and then, upward, to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy of the Word is always a preaching and a presence of the Word of the Cross, “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The Liturgy of the Eucharist is always a confession and a presence of the mystery of the Cross in the fullness of its Trinitarian dimensions, and in the actualization of its power.

Through the Cross into the Kingdom

If you have heard the Word of God, you have been embraced by the mystery of the Cross. Held fast in its embrace, let us go to the altar. Through the Word of the Cross, the compassion of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of the Son have descended into our midst today; let us then, ascend, by the mystery of the Cross present in this Eucharist, to the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to whom be all glory and praise, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen, Alleluia!


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Answer Me

Tell me, my people, what I have done, that thou shouldst be a-weary of me? Answer me. Was it ill done, to rescue thee from Egypt, set thee free from a slave's prison, send Moses and Aaron and Mary to guide thee on thy way? Canst thou doubt, then, the faithfulness of the Lord's friendship? (Micah 6, 3-5)

Man's Response, Faithless and Cruel

Today's First Reading from the prophet Micah contains the source of the first of the Improperia, the Great Reproaches that are sung during the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. The liturgy places the words of the prophet in the mouth of the suffering Jesus; it contrasts the Divine Compassion manifested in the wonders of the Exodus with the faithless and cruel response of those upon whom God had set His Heart.

The Reproaches

O my people, what have I done to thee?
Or wherein have I aggrieved thee?
Answer me.
Because I led thee out of the land of Egypt:
thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Saviour.

Because I guided thee forth through the desert for forty years,
and thee with manna,
and brought thee into a right good land,
thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Saviour.

What more could I have done for that I have not done?
I, even I, planted thee to be my fairest vineyard;
and thou hast made thyself exceeding bitter to me;
for thou hast slaked my thirst with vinegar,
and pierced with a lance thy Saviour's side.

The underlying theme of the Improperia is the tragedy of God's unrequited love. The Improperia are one of sources of the spirituality of reparation that the Holy Spirit has stirred up in every age.

The Idea of Reparation

"The first great revelation of the Heart of Jesus," writes Alfred O'Rahilly in his Life of Father William Doyle, S.J., "is contained in the seventh chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel. 'Dost thou see this woman?' Christ said to Simon. 'I entered into thy house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet -- but she with tears hath washed My feet and with her hair hath wiped them. My head with oil thou didst not anoint -- but she with ointment hath anointed My feet . . . She hath loved much.' This detailed antithesis, this careful balancing of neglect with service, this sensitive juxtaposition of Simon and Magdalen in the Heart of Christ, contains the essence of the idea of reparation. That is, if Our Lord's life and mission is more than a simple historical event and is still accessible to us who live in these latter days.

But Thou?

Many a Simon nowadays treats Christ with studied slight and scorn, and we -- is the role of Magdalen closed to us? Cannot Christ still address the sinner, 'Thou . . . but she . . .?' Cannot our loving much even now prevail and repair? And to the solitary adorer does there not still from the Tabernacle come the whisper, 'The nine -- where are they?' (Luke 17, 17.)"

The Most Precious Blood

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One cannot enter into Holy Week without contemplating the adorable mystery of the Precious Blood. I am completely smitten by Bernini's little known depiction of the Blood of Christ. The Eternal Father contemplates the outpouring of the Blood of the Son. The Angels are awestruck by what they see. Blood pours out of the hands, and feet, and open side of the Crucified.

The Mother of Jesus, she who is the perfect image of the Church, raises her hands to receive the crimson torrent gushing from the inner sanctuary of His Sacred Heart. Beneath the Cross there is an ocean of Blood: Blood to cleanse the world of every stain of sin, of every crime, of every defilement. If you would know the value of the Precious Blood, ask the Mother of the Lamb.


Priests and the Precious Blood

"My maternal heart yearns to lead all my priest sons into the presence of my Jesus, the Lamb by Whose Blood the world is saved and purified of sin. My priest sons must be the first to experience the healing power of the Blood of the Lamb of God. I ask all my priest sons to bear witness to the Precious Blood of Jesus. They are the ministers of His Blood. His Blood is in their hands to purify and refresh the living and the dead.

Apply It to Your Wounds

I desire that all priests should become aware of the infinite value and power of but a single drop of the Blood of my Son. . . . Adore His Precious Blood in the Sacrament of His Love. His Blood mixed with water flows ceaselessly from His Eucharistic Heart, His Heart pierced by the soldier’s lance to purify and vivify the whole Church, but in the first place, to purify and vivify His priests. When you come into His Eucharistic presence, be aware of His Precious Blood streaming from His Open Heart. Adore His Blood and apply it to your wounds and to the wounds of souls.

Purity Wherever It Flows

The Blood of my Son brings purity and healing and new life wherever it flows. Implore the power of the Precious Blood over yourself and over all priests. Whenever you are asked to intercede for souls, invoke the power of the Precious Blood over them, and present them to the Father covered with the Blood of the Lamb."

"They Have Killed Our Shepherd"

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At the end of Holy Mass today at the Monastery of the Glorious, we sang the antiphons In Paradisum and Chorus Angelorum for the repose of the soul of His Grace, Archbishop Paulos Fraj Rahho.

Adapted from the official Chaldean Community Website:

Mosul, IRAQ – The Chaldean community around the world stands numb and in disbelief at news of the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul.

Outcry from world leaders held no sway as fanatical terrorists proved once more that women, children, medical providers, and now spiritual leaders are not safe from their killing spree. “These are innocent people that want to help bring peace. They kill them, because they are filled with hate. These barbarians have no faith in anything, but their own rise to power,” said Omar Touma, a recent refugee and Chaldean parishioner of the Good Shepherd Chaldean Church in Canada.


My doctoral dissertation — it seems so long ago — focused on the Proper Chants of the Paschal Triduum in the Graduale Romanum. The chants of the Church are, in effect, nothing less than sung theology. Among the chants of the Triduum is the Pange Lingua of Venantius Fortunatus (different from the Pange Lingua composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas); it is sung at the Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, but also sung at the Divine Office beginning with the Fifth Sunday of Lent. I thought I might share with the readers of Vultus Christi, something of what I learned in singing, praying, and pondering this monument of Catholic hymnody.

The Pange Lingua of Passiontide

The hymn Pange lingua gloriosi, like the Holy Week Vespers hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt, is the work of Saint Venantius Fortunatus (530-600). Friend and secretary of the Queen Saint Radegonde (518-587), Fortunatus composed the hymns at her request to celebrate the arrival of a relic of the True Cross at the monastery she had founded at Poitiers. A gift of Emperor Justin II, the relic was solemnly received by Saint Radegonde on November 19, 569.

In the Divine Office

In the Divine Office of the 5th Week of Lent and Holy Week (Passiontide), the Pange lingua is divided into equal sections, the first being sung at Matins (The Office of Readings) and the second at Lauds.

On Good Friday

At the Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, the hymn is sung with the refrain Crux fidelis, which appears for the first time in the seventh century. In the Romano-Germanic Pontifical of the Tenth Century Crux fidelis and Pange lingua are the last chants sung during the adoratio Crucis. In the reformed liturgy they occupy the same place. Like Gloria laus on Palm Sunday and Ubi caritas est vera on Maundy Thursday, Pange lingua has a refrain between each strophe.

Struggle and Triumph

1. Sing, my tongue,
the Savior's glory;
tell His triumph far and wide;
tell aloud the famous story
of His body crucified;
how upon the cross a victim,
vanquishing in death, He died.

In the first strophe Venantius Fortunatus introduces his theme: a combat to the death, a great struggle in which Christ will triumph over death by death. In like manner, the sequence Victimae paschali laudes will trumpet on Easter Day:

Fulget Crucis Mysterium

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Our Lady Saint Mary, Saint John the Beloved Disciple,
and the Wounded Side of Christ


With First Vespers of the Fifth Sunday of Lent we enter into the last phase of preparation for the Pasch of the Lord: Passiontide. The Church places on our lips the great hymn of Christ’s Cross and Passion, and so we sing: fulget Crucis mysterium, “the mystery of the Cross shines out.” The second to the last verse of this age-old hymn is a confession of hope, hope in the power of the Cross:

O Cross, all hail! Sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passiontide:
New grace in loving hearts implant
And pardon to the guilty grant!

The station today is at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The solemnity of this Fifth Sunday of Lent required that the faithful of Rome assemble at the tomb of Saint Peter. The purple veils that, during these last two weeks before Pascha, will hide our sacred images, recall the great veil that in ancient times was stretched across the whole sanctuary, obliging the faithful to go by faith and longing into the inner sanctuary, the invisible one, where Christ is Victim, Altar and Priest.


Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 30
Hebrews 4:14-5:9
John 18:1-19:42

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).


Tuesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 49:1–6
Psalm 34:13, 1–2
John 13:21–33, 36–38

Go and Prepare the Passover for Us

Sunday’s solemn chant of the Passion according to Saint Luke cast the whole of this Great and Holy Week in a Eucharistic light. I was moved to hear Jesus say, not only to a certain man in the city, but to me, and to us, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it” (Lk 22:8). For once the disciples were quick to obey: “And they went, and found it as He had told them; and prepared the Passover” (Lk 22:13). They must have sensed an urgency in their Master’s voice; they must have read on his face something of the desire for this pasch that blazed in his heart: “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer” (Lk 22:15).

The Body and Blood of Christ

Saint Luke’s account of the Passion began with the wondrous account of the institution: “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave to them, saying: ‘This is My Body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. And likewise the chalice after supper, saying, ‘This chalice which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in My Blood’” (Lk 22:19–20). It was impossible to hear these words on Sunday and not sense that they were given us, in some way, as a key to the rest of the week and to the Paschal Triduum.

The Eucharist and the Cross

Today’s Introit was the very one that we will sing on Maundy Thursday on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum: “It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free” (cf. Gal 6:14). We are given it today in a kind of contemplative rehearsal of the mysteries that will unfold. We are to sing it, and to hear it, in a Eucharistic key. We glory in the Eucharist as we glory in the Cross because the Eucharist is the sacramental demonstration of the Cross. Is this not what the Apostle teaches? “For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord, until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). The Eucharist makes present the Cross. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Cross set before the eyes of faith, not as something dim and ineffectual, but as an astonishing inbreaking, here and now, of “the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor 1:24). This is the source of our “Eucharistic amazement.” This is this realization that leaves us, together with the saints of every age, “lost, all lost in wonder.”

O Great Passion

The Eucharist is the awful reality of the Christus passus. The mystery of the suffering Christ is made present to us and for us. For our healing, his wounds are pressed against ours. For our cleansing, his Blood flows impetuous like a torrent. For our life, his breath is given over in death. The Eucharist is the Crucified “lifted up and drawing all men to himself”(cf. Jn 12:32). It is the Eucharist that causes us to cry out, “O great Passion! O deep wounds! O outpouring of Blood! O death suffered in every bitterness, give us life.”


Ah, awful Face of Love, bruised by my hand,
Turn to me, pierce me with Thine eyes of flame,
And give, me deeper knowledge of my sin.
So let me grieve and, when I understand
How great my guilt, my ruin, and my shame,
Open Thy Sacred Heart and let me in!

R.H. Benson

The Embrace of Saint Francis and the Crucified, Murillo, 1668
This is a very significant image for me. When I first saw this painting as a little boy of eleven or twelve years, maybe younger, I was smitten by it. My Dad went out and bought me a beautiful framed reproduction that I treasured. The soul of a child is formed (or deformed) by the images to which he is exposed.

Later in my life I discovered that the theme of the amplexus (embrace) of the Crucified originated in depictions of Saint Bernard. Saint Francis' remarkable affinity to Saint Bernard is demonstrated in that the motif of the amplexus was widely transferred from the Abbot of Clairvaux to the Little Poor Man of Assisi. The recurring motif of the Face of Christ and of His Pierced Heart is linked to the spread of the Cistercian and Franciscan Orders, each with its own iconography of the amplexus.


Yesterday, in his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Benedict XVI returned to what has become a leitmotif in his preaching: the Face of God. The Holy Father's words were, in fact, reminiscent of the message he gave last September on the occasion of his pilgrimage to to the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello.

Alluding to the traditional rites of Palm Sunday during which the subdeacon (or priest) would strike the door of the church with the foot of the processional cross, Pope Benedict explained that by means of the Cross, Christ knocks at the door of God in the name of all mankind, and knocks at door of mankind, and of every human heart, in the name of God.

Seek the Face of God

"Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?" the psalm asks, and it indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and really want to get to the top, to arrive at the true height, must be persons who ask themselves about God. They must be persons who look about themselves in search of God, in search of His Face. My dear young friends, how important this is today: not allowing yourselves to be carried here and there by life; not being satisfied with what everyone thinks, says and does. Be attentive to God, seek God. We must not let the question about God dissolve in our souls. The desire for what is greater. The desire to know Him — his Face.

Ecce Agnus Dei

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For Sidney

Some time ago, a remarkable young man named Sidney wrote me from Brazil to ask for a blessed Agnus Dei. I promised him that I would post something about the Agnus Dei here. It is fitting to do so as we prepare to enter Holy Week and, through the glory of the Paschal rites, the mystery of the immolated Lamb.

An Agnus Dei, so called from the image of the Lamb of God impressed on the face of it, is made of virgin wax, balsam, and chrism, blessed according to the form prescribed by the Roman Ritual.

An old Irish prayerbook (Dublin 1860) gives a prayer to be said daily by those who wear an Agnus Dei. Following the impulse given by this prayer, one who wears an Agnus Dei is compelled to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Ap 14:4) in a spirit of Eucharistic victimhood, that is, of sacrificial love and oblation.

Prayer of One Who Wears an Agnus Dei

O my Lord Jesus Christ,
the true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world;
by Thy mercy which is infinite, pardon my inquities,
and by Thy Sacred Passion, preserve me this day
from all sin and evil.

I carry about me this holy Agnus Dei in Thy honour,
as a preservative against my own weakness,
and as an incentive to the practice of that meekness, humility, and innocence
which Thou hast taught us.

I offer myself up to Thee as an entire oblation,
and in memory of that Sacrifice of Love
which Thou didst offer for me on the Cross,
and in satisfaction for my sins.
Accept this oblation, I beseech Thee, O my God,
and may it be acceptable to Thee
in the odour of sweetness. Amen.

A Paschal Sacramental


This peculiarly Roman sacramental, goes back at least as far as the ninth century. Amalarius and the Pseudo–Alcuin refer to it. The blessing of the Agnus Dei medallions used to take place at the Lateran Basilica on Holy Saturday. The archdeacon vested in a dalmatic would receive from the Pope a silver phial containing Sacred Chrism. He would pour the Sacred Chrism into a cauldron of liquid wax. The Agnus Dei medallions would be made from this blessed wax and distributed on the Sunday In Albis after the singing of the Agnus Dei at the Papal Mass.

The Cistercian Privilege

The oldest extant Agnus Dei medallions date from the pontificates of John XXIII (1316–34) and Gregory IX (1227–41). Later on, the Roman Pontiffs reserved the blessing of the medallions to themselves, and assigned the privilege of preparing them to the Benedictine–Cistercian monks of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

At the Banquet of the Lamb

The sixteenth century rite for the blessing of the Agnus Dei medallions makes use of holy water, chrism, and balsam. It was the custom for the Supreme Pontiff to bless the medallions in the first year of his pontificate during the Octave of Holy Pascha, and to bless them every seven years thereafter. The ceremony consisted of three orations addressed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus would he bless the medallions themselves and the water mixed with chrism and balsam into which they would be plunged. When the medallions were removed from the water the Paschaltide Vespers hymn, Ad Cenam Agni Providi would be sung. The same blessing was repeated as often as necessary according to need, and also on special solemnities or anniversaries. Every element of the confection and blessing of the Agnus Dei contributes to its mystical significance.


Recover the Agnus Dei

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Agnus Dei was one of those treasured sacramentals that fell into disuse. It is, I think, time to restore the solemn blessing of the Agnus Dei and recover the use of so precious a sacramental. The Church stands in need of “friends of the Lamb,” and of Eucharistic victim souls who will follow the Lamb in purity, in humility, in silence, and in the oblation of themselves.


Recently a dear friend here in Rome gave me a booklet by Dr. Philip Boyce, O.C.D., Bishop of Raphoe, Ireland, entitled At Prayer with John Henry Newman. The booklet is available from the International Centre of Newman Friends. The Carmelite bishop calls prayer "the texture of Newman's life." He presents some of Newman's own magnificent prayers. All his life the famous Oxford convert sought to pray in spirit and in truth. When I pray using Cardinal Newman' words, I savour in them the same humility and confidence that I have tasted in the prayers of Saint Aelred, William of St–Thierry, and Saint Claude La Colombière.

I was struck in this prayer by the petition, "soothe me with the beauty of Thy countenance":

O mighty God, strengthen me with Thy strength,
console me with Thy everlasting peace,
soothe me with the beauty of the Thy countenance;
enlighten me with Thy uncreated brightness;
purify me with the fragrance of Thy ineffable holiness.
Bathe me in Thyself, and give me to drink,
as far as mortal man may ask, of the rivers of grace which flow
from the Father and the Son,
the grace of Thy consubstantial, co–eternal Love.

And I find this one very close in spirit to Claude La Colombière's Act of Confidence:

O my God, my whole life has been a course of mercies and blessings shown to one who has been most unworthy of them.
I require no faith, for I have a long experience,
as to Thy providence towards me.
Year after year Thou hast carried me on —
removed dangers from my path —
recovered me, recruited me, refreshed me,
borne with me, directed me, sustained me.
O forsake me not when my strength faileth me.
And Thou never wilt forsake me.
I may securely repose upon Thee.
Sinner as I am, nevertheless, while I am true to Thee,
Thou wilt still and to the end,
be superabundantly true to me.

The booklet's sections on intercessory prayer, on Newman's love for the Roman Breviary, and on his devotion to the Rosary are enlightening and inspiring. In conclusion, Dr. Boyce explains the three kinds of divine presence in which Newman's prayer unfolded: the presence of the indwelling Trinity, the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the presence of Christ in Sacred Scripture.

The Bishop of Raphoe describes Newman's life of prayer as "a persevering effort in the weakness and darkness of our human condition." One recognizes there the experience of the author of Lead, Kindly Light.

Today being the liturgical commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I decided to turn once again to Cardinal Newman for his Litany of the Seven Dolours. Newman was fond of litanies. I am too. They address a persistent need of the heart for a prayer that is rich in images, yet simple and rythmed by repetition. Unlike the excessively didactic and heavy preces given for Lauds and Vespers in the current Liturgia Horarum, litanies in their classic form allow "heart to speak to heart," and foster the actuosa participatio recommended by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. Here then, is John Henry Newman's Litany of the Seven Dolours.

A Litany for Passiontide

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Litany of the Passion
by the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Newman's Litany of the Passion reveals the tenderness and compunction of his Christocentric piety. It also demonstrates that Newman was a humble man, capable of entering into the mainstream of Catholic devotion and of learning from it, even while adapting it somewhat to his own sensibility.

To illustrate Newman's Litany I chose a painting by a French contemporary of his, William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). The position of Jesus attached to the column already suggests the torments of the crucifixion: his arms are extended, his feet lie one upon the other as they will be on the cross. No blood is visible on His sacred body; it appears white and host–like. His face is turned upward, suggesting the mystery of His victimal priesthood. The flesh of Jesus appears luminous — almost transfigured — while, all around Him, are shadows. All the light in the painting seems to emanate from the body of Jesus. I see already the Lumen Christi of the Paschal Vigil. Is this Bouguereau's way of expressing the whole mystery of Redemption?

Passiontide Prayer

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A number of years ago, while visiting the Augustinian Monastery of Malestroit in France, I was introduced to a prayer cherished by the incomparable Mère Yvonne–Aimée de Jésus:

O grande Passion!
O profondes plaies!
O effusion de Sang!
O suprême douleur!
O mort soufferte dans toutes les amertumes!
Donnez–nous la vie.

O great Passion!
O profound Wounds!
O outpouring of blood!
O highest Sorrow!
O Death suffered in every bitterness!
Be to us healing and eternal life.

Those who have prayed the prayer know that it is full of compunction and sweetness. I have discovered the prayer in several languages and with many variants. It has been variously attributed to Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Bernard, Saint Bonaventure, Blessed Angelo of Foligno, and Blessed Julian of Norwich, but I have never been able to confirm its origin.

I ask readers familiar with the prayer to share anything they may know about its authorship. Thank you.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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