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Michel de Verteuil
The Year of Luke
No Text available from Fr Michel
What shall I say?
Theme: The Lord’s Passion and Death
Liturgical Text: ‘Father, take this chalice from me.’ ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit.’ (Gospel) ‘Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friend.’
1. We listen to the passion and sufferings of Jesus, and we look upon the visual reminder of this, the cross, which we venerate. Jesus took all that on board for you and me, and for all humanity down the ages.
2. We may think of some of our own crosses:
– due to sin .,.
– due to our human condition: flu, unemployment, bereavement, handicaps, etc.
– due to being a follower of Christ: a nurse loosing her job because she refused to take part in an abortion, Helder Camara’s fight for justice in South America, etc.
– self-inflicted: voluntary penance, fasting, etc.
3. Christ takes all this on himself because of his love for each one of us, no matter who we are, and he in us continues his passion today.
4. Jesus did not abolish suffering and the cross, but he showed that it was a cloud which passes, and no longer has absolute power over us.
A. Death brings loveliness to life and whatever is truly alive must die. Only plastic flowers never die!
B. In 1932 I came to the conclusion that the Last Supper dramatised and illustrated free giving. Even the body is given as food, as a mother gives it. Further, the whole story of the crucifixion seemed to illustrate free ‘forgiving’ on the understanding that hate and evil have no independent existence but are merely the frustration-forms of love itself, distorted as protest, reproach and that kind of aggression which is Originally intended to compel attention. The last prayer, ‘forgive them for they know not what they do seems to imply that forgiveness is not a condescension to an unworthy object, but a recognition (on somewhat Socratic lines) that evil is merely error, not to be met by retributive error. The whole of this story illustrates non-retaliation – even non-resistance to the very utmost limit. (Unknown source)
C. There was a very striking scene in the film about St Vincent de Paul. At that time the life of an unwed mother was impossible. Children born out of wedlock were abandoned in the street. Some were picked up but most died of cold or hunger, or both. The saint had organised a circle of rich charitable ladies whose aim was to help the poor and the sick. The film shows the saint arriving at a meeting of this circle carrying a child. He tells the ladies that he has picked it up in the street and asks which one of those ladies wants to care for it. But all turn away in disgust: ‘The fruit of sin!’ Then the saint says: ‘But this little child will die! Do you know that such and such a number of these children die every year in Paris alone?’ One lady retorts: ‘But that is quite natural. It is the punishment of sin!’ Then the saint gets very angry. I do not know whether he bangs on the table but at any rate he shouts: ‘No! If God wants someone to die for sin – he sends his Son.’
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Luke
1 There is a starkness in this liturgy that captures the basic paradox at the heart of the gospel. We are a victorious people because Christ has conquered. On the one hand we rejoice and venerate the Cross as his victory standard still standing among us as the memorial of the victory over evil, sin, and death. Today we rejoice in Christ the Victor. But, on the other hand, we recall also the horror of how the sinless One was slain. We are victorious through his suffering. He is the powerful One who has battered in the gates of the bastion of the ancient enemy, but did it not with a show of divine force, but with the powerlessness that saw him handed over to Pilate’s troops. Within this liturgy the central point is the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate about kingship (18:33-19:15) which throws up the questions what sort of king do we serve – and the notion that we are free from serving rulers of some sort, external or internal, is an illusion hiding a slavery – and who is that king. The ‘style’ of Christ’s kingship comes out in the central exchange in 18:36-7. Before this paradox the liturgy’s starkness is our response to a victory won by Jesus’ powerlessness.
2. However, there is a fundamental problem of interpretation in todays liturgy. We, despite continuing to call it ‘Good Friday,’ view this day and its liturgy as one of suffering and gloom (as if it really were Bad Friday); thus we emphasise the awful death of Christ, the pain, and the Cross as the instrument of torture and execution. This is then picked up in hymns that emphasise the suffering and the darkness of the day. We see it in Bach’s O sacred head ill-used
or the truly awful Were you there when they crucified my Lord. The reflection on the tortuous death of Christ becomes mawkish sentimentality •. This is a theme that first arose in the late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth centuries, was cast in concrete by the disputes of the sixteenth century, and perpetuated by goulish altar-pieces and the pre-1955) practice of the Good Friday ceremonies being carried out in darkened churches on the Catholic side, and by hymnS like Bach’s on the Protestant side. On ther other hand the liturgy itself was immune from this trend and preserved a much earlier theology – indeed today’s liturgy preserves some of the most ancient bits of the Latin rite, even bits of Greek – where this day was seen as a celebration of the lonely victory of Christ over the whole power of the enemy. So we have to decide at the out-set if the homily will try to tune into the theology of the liturgy (which comes with the whole authority of the tradition) or the more recent strata of popular imagination developed for the most part in the light of the Black Death, and the Reformation’s emphasis on the wretchedness of humanity without grace.
3. The homily should point out that the consistent theme of our prayer today is that of Christ’s victory: by dying he has destroyed our death. The scene of the Cross is that of the Noble Tree, it is the symbol of our victory through the Christ over the dismal battlefield of human misery. It is the symbol of the Lord lifted up, ‘and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up’ (In 3:14), , and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (In 12:32). The liturgy is one of victory, and its starkness points out that it was won by the suffering of the Holy One. This theme is found in each of the readings, and then in the passion. It is continued in the prayers of intercession: now our High Priest has gained access to the throne of God and so we can bring our needs for ourselves and all humanity to him. The theme reaches it climax in the adoration of the elevated Cross: this is not a reflection on the horror of the Cross, but a glorying in the Cross as the sign of the conquest of sin and death. It is unveiled as a victory standard. We see this in the hymns that the Missal itself proposes to accompany the this adoration. First, the ancient· Reproaches: ··’ we venerate the Cross … through it you brought joy to the world’; and then the most perfect expression of the earlier theology of the Cross, the Pange lingua of Venantius Fotunatus (c. 530-609) Its opening words capture this vision of today’s liturgy: ‘Sing, my tongue , the glorious battle, I sing the last, the dread affray; I o’er the Cross, the victor’s trophy, I sound the high triumphal lay; I how, the pains of death enduring, I earth’s redeemer won the day.’ (ET: J.M. Neale).
4. Pointing out this theme of victory removes dissonance from today’s ceremony between what we read and do in the rite and the interpretation we lay upon it. However, pointing to Christ’s victory, and the Cross as a sign of the Good News of his triumph, can be set at zero if, first, in addition to the great sign of victory, a multitude of little crucifixes are used for the adoration. The Missal directs that there be only one (rubric 19, p. 174). If someone ‘for convenience’ uses more, what is achieved: is it convenient if ‘in getting it done’ the whole symbolism of doing it is lost? We gather to celebrate the one victory, it is through one Cross we are delivered: many crucifixes turn it into an individualistic sorrow for what has happened, rather than an act of homage and love for the Victor who has delivered us all.