Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Passion Sunday—9 March AD 2008

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[Mass Text - Latin]
[Mass Text - English]
[Lenten Observance]

    Please note that Friday is the Commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  The Church has us recall her sorrows just before Holy Week, so that we can recall her role as Co-redemptrix with our Lord, Mediatrix of all grace.  Please make the effort to attend the Stations of the Cross and the Mass of our Lady

    Today, Passion Sunday, we begin the final two weeks of Lent, a season in itself which the Church calls “Passiontide.”  That word may be problematic for some of us, because in our culture the word “passion” has come to mean a sort of outburst of emotion—for us, a passionate person is one who is very outspoken and emotional.  In its original meaning, though, it means almost the opposite: a giving over of one’s self to the control of another, exercising a sort of indifference about one’s fate.  It is in this sense that we speak of the “Passion of the Christ”—for Jesus, who is God the Son of the Almighty gave Himself over—allowing Himself to be captured and put to death at the behest of the Sanhedrin, the ruling authorities of the Temple.  As Saint John said:  “Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only the nation, but that He might gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad.”[1]

    Last week read part of Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in which he wrote about the new covenant of “freedom wherewith Christ has made us free”[2]  The natural moral law remains in full force—“thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and so forth—but the taboos of the law about what to eat and what one may touch, and the sacrifices of calves and lambs and goats no longer sanctify.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law,” he says.[3]  Sanctification is in the hearing and the believing and the keeping of the word of Christ.

    In today’s reading, addressed by Saint Paul to the Jews of Palestine who had become Christians, he describes for us how the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross replaced the myriad sacrifices of the Old Covenant.  This Epistle to the Hebrews is another one of those things that would be good for you to read once in a while, like that sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel that I mentioned to you last week.

    Under the Law of Moses, the Jewish people were required to offer a number of animal sacrifices to God at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Some sacrifices were offered as a holocaust, in which the animal was completely destroyed by fire.  Others were burned only partially, the remainder to be eaten by the priests and their families.  Others might be eaten by the one making the offering—the sacrificial lamb of the Passover being a prime example.  On the days of this great festival, one can imagine a virtual river of blood running from the altar.  It may seem repugnant to us, but on occasion the blood and the ashes of the burnt animals were sprinkled on the people as a ritual cleansing from their sins (much like we use holy water).

    All of this has been brought to a halt by the High Priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, who offers His own flesh and blood in the perfect Sacrifice of the Cross.  This is the flesh and blood that I mentioned briefly and asked you to read about last week:

I am the living bread which came down from heaven ... the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world ... Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.[4]

    If you read what Saint John wrote, you know that this was a very difficult thing for many in the crowd:  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  “This is a hard saying.”  Saint John records that from that time “many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.”  It is very important to note that Jesus did not try to call them back.  He did not back down from the reality of what He had said.  He was not going to give us some mere symbol of His body and blood.  A year later, at the Last Supper, He did not speak of symbolism or representation, but rather, of reality:  “This is My body ... this is My blood of the new covenant which shall be shed for many in remission of sins.”[5]  The humanity and divinity of Christ, crucified on the Cross, are identical to what we receive when His priests do what He did, as He ordered at the Supper on the night before He died—only the appearances of bread and wine remain; the substance having become entirely the promised body and blood.

    It is through the Passion of Christ, renewed at Holy Mass, that we have this “living bread which came down from heaven.”  Elsewhere in the epistle to the Hebrews, Paul says “We have an altar whereof they have no power to eat who serve the temple.”[6]  Each and every time Holy Mass is offered, Christ continues to offer Himself to the Father through the instrumentality of His priests.  But particularly during the next few weeks, the drama of our Lord’s Passion and death will be re-lived in detail in the liturgy of the Church.

    It has been my custom not to preach on Palm Sunday; which will fall next week.  We will read about our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His Last Supper, His Crucifixion and His death.  What I ask is that you pay particular attention to the connection between the Supper and the Cross.  “Take and eat, this is My body which shall be given up for you,” He said, and within a few hours it was given up to those who sought His life.  “This is My blood of the new covenant which shall be shed for many in remission of sins,” He said, and in a few more hours it was shed as He was nailed to the Cross and as His side was pierced with a lance.

    We are dealing here with reality—the reality of Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice and the Bread that we must eat if we are to have eternal life.  I ask you to spend as much time as you can in re-living these events with us during the coming weeks.


[1]   John xi: 47-54.

[2]   Galatians iv: 22-31.

[3]   Galatians iii: 13.

[4]   John vi: 51-54.

[5]   Matthew xxvi: 26-28.

[6]   Cf. Hebrews xiii: 10-12.


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