Fifth Sorrowful Mystery:|
The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Three hours remain. From the sixth hour to the ninth hour Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the Lord and Savior, Redeemer and Messias, hung in abject humility upon a tree, mocked and derided as the few faithful stood near. After three hours they would all know that this man was the Son of God. Many would not admit it. Pride would not let them. But for those who were sincere, such as the good thief and the centurion; they had to be honest with themselves. So also we must be honest with ourselves as we stand with His Blessed Mother, the beloved disciple, and Mary Magdalene. For this is the moment of truth.
"The vile sentencing of crucifixion was reserved by the Romans as the cruelest of punishment, specifically to teach a lesson to those watching that criminals and insurrectionists would not be tolerated. Vertical poles of flat-honed lumber were posted in particular places where they were highly visible to the rest. The criminal most often was forced to carry their own cross-beam to the place of their crucifixion where their arms were strapped or nailed to the cross-beam and then it was hoisted up to lock in with the vertical stake, then the soldiers would tie the criminal's feet or nail them in place against the lower part of the vertical beam while they fastened tight the horizontal beam, stretching the body. Victims usually died excruciating deaths because of their blood loss and, mostly because of asphyxiation. Again, only Christ could survive such cruel, degrading torture because He cared, because He loved us that much."
"And bearing His Own cross, He went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha. Where they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on each side, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title also, and he put it upon the cross. And the writing was: Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. This title therefore many of the Jews did read: because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews. Pilate answered: What I have written, I have written. The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified Him, took His garments, (and they made four parts, to every soldier a part,) and also His coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said then one to another: Let us not cut it, but let us cast lots for it, whose it shall be; that the scripture might be fulfilled, saying: They have parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture they have cast lots. And the soldiers indeed did these things." (John 19: 17-24).
We have arrived at the summit of Golgatha - the place of the skull, the very place where the Second Adam will atone for the sin of the first Adam, whose skull lies beneath this mount. The Precious Blood of the Messias Jesus Christ will flow down, seeping into the wood of the tree and the rocky soil beneath, dripping into the rocky crags and penetrate deep into the earth in redeeming mankind.
Crucifixion replicates how Jewish tradition would hang the Passover lambs on hooks; so also the Lamb of God is flayed upon the hooks of the nails that penetrate His feet and hands. Because these crude iron stakes are driven into the farthest extremities of His body, an obstruction of circulation is caused, sending His precious corpulets of blood racing through the arteries and filling up His Most Sacred Heart so that the blood flushes through the veins out to stomach and head, causing a sensation of intense pain and discombobulation in the thinking process. Anyone else would have already died of exhaustion or shock by this point in the torture process, but because of His resolve to suffer and die for us as the immolated Lamb. Medically there are so many symptoms and prognosis of what our Lord experienced, but suffice it to say: He suffered cruelly for our sins. Do we really want to cause Him more pain by our persistence in sinning? That would be not only the height of inconsiderateness, but the height of stupidity considering the consequences of our pride. Just look at the good thief Dismas and the bad thief Gestas and you can see we'd be foolish to not emulate Dismas and seek forgiveness in all humility.
"And they came to the place that is called Golgotha, which is the place of Calvary" (Matthew 27: 33).
As I mentioned above, Golgotha means "skull" in Aramaic. The Latin Vulgate translation of this word is Calvariae and from which we get the English word "Calvary." This mount was located outside Jerusalem's walls (John 19:2) and, though we stand by this most probably being the burial of Adam, it probably acquired its name as a site commonly used for executing criminals.
"And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified him there: and the robbers, one on the right hand, and the other on the left" (Luke 23:33).
The vile sentencing of crucifixion was reserved by the Romans as the cruelest of punishment, specifically to teach a lesson to those watching that criminals and insurrectionists would not be tolerated. Vertical poles of flat-honed lumber were posted in particular places where they were highly visible to the rest. The criminal most often was forced to carry their own cross-beam to the place of their crucifixion where their arms were strapped or nailed to the cross-beam and then it was hoisted up to lock in with the vertical stake, then the soldiers would tie the criminal's feet or nail them in place against the lower part of the vertical beam while they fastened tight the horizontal beam, stretching the body. Victims usually died excruciating deaths because of their blood loss and, mostly because of asphyxiation. Again, only Christ could survive such cruel, degrading torture because He cared, because He loved us that much.
"And after they had crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: They divided My garments among them; and upon My vesture they cast lots" (Matthew 27:35).
The division of His garments is an allusion to Psalm 22: 18 and quoted by our Lord before His death in Saint Matthew 27: 46 and Saint John 19: 24. We again have the same reference to His garments in Saint Mark:
"And crucifying him, they divided his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take" (Mark 15:24).
The collection of the spoils was a perk of the executors and here their dividing his clothes fulfills the messianic prophecy of Psalm 22: 18 which St. John quotes in chapter 19: 24. The Psalms are fulfilled with Psalm 2: 18 and Psalm 22: 16 with the mockery by the Jewish mobs evoked in Psalm 22: 6-7. It was the opening line of this Psalm which Jesus recited upon the Cross.
"And Jesus said: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' But they, dividing His garments, cast lots" (Luke 23:34).
Here, as Saint Peter points out in 1 Peter 2: 23, Jesus shows mercy to his executioners despite trembling in pain and agony. Are they sinning in ignorance? Many would say they knew very well what they were doing, but did they, especially the Romans, realize they were putting the Son of God to death? Since they were pagans, it is highly doubtful or they would have converted to Judaism. While the Roman paganism and Jewish rituals coexisted with each other, neither crossed over the line and here also the Romans were merely carrying out their orders from Pontius Pilate as obedient soldiers who derived a sick thrill from torturing man. This also answers why the Romans were so bloodthirsty in the circuses of Maximus and cried out for the blood of Christians in the first three centuries with such glee. Acts 3: 17 by Saint Luke and Saint Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2: 8 verify that those carrying out the deed were acting in ignorance. The real sin was on the leaders. Christ's praying for His enemies was emulated by the first martyr of the Church Saint Stephen as recorded in Acts 7: 60.
"And there was also a superscription written over Him in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (Luke 23:38).
According to Roman practice, signs were placed either above them or at the base of their poles describing their crimes so all would know; again this was a deterrent to prohibit others from committing such crimes. Because Jesus was convicted by the Jews, the placard above Him was in three languages. Pilate, besides washing his hands of his complicity, was trying to 'stick it' to the Jewish leaders by writing what he had written. Even when he was rebuked and coaxed to change it, he stood firm, which shows he had no love for the Sanhedrin but cooperated only to coexist and not make waves. He despised the Jews and their customs as the historian Tertullian and others have verified. One reason he did is because he hated being in exile away from the riches and lush treasures of the Roman Empire in this outpost of Jerusalem. To the Jews it was the holy city; to Pilate it was the pits.
"And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." And Jesus said to him: 'Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:42-43)
This was, of course, the "good thief" Dismas who recognized mystically that Jesus was truly the Messias. There is an interesting article in this month's issue of Catholic Family News by Mark Fellows which gives a fascinating account of who Dismas was, one of the thieves who befriended the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt. He was lenient then, and in typical 'mobster' fashion, he was now calling in his mark, so to speak, by recognizing the God-Man. This penitent thief may earlier have sneered at Christ (Mark 15: 32), but his conversion at the final hour is now manifest by his insight: he realizes his own death and that of Christ's is a beginning, not an end. Christ's reassuring words confirm this to him and to us all. Such a promise is generously out of proportion to Dismas' simple request: A plea, yey, a prayer answered.
"And it was the third hour; and they crucified Him...And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour" (Mark 15: 25; 33)
"Now from the sixth hour, there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour" (Matthew 27: 45).
"And it was almost the sixth hour; and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour" (Luke 23: 44).
Evangelists, historians and theologians put it at around 9 a.m. Friday morning of Holy Week that the whole procedure began in the Roman Praetorium and over the next three hours the trek to Calvary west from the city via the Via Dolorosa. He was nailed to the cross shortly before noon and put in place on Golgatha around noon where He hung for three hours, expiring at 3 p.m. From noon (sixth hour) to three (ninth hour) the skies grew darker and darker, not just on Calvary but all over the world. The time of darkness - tenebrarum. Normally noon to three is the day's brightest hours but they were shrouded by the "power of darkness" (Luke 22: 53). This phenomena is recalled in Amos 8: 8-9 in which the prophet Amos foretold the day of such agony and when God would judge His enemies and the sinners of His people. The land would "tremble"; the sun would "go down at noon"; and there would be "lamentation" like the "mourning of an only son." This was first reminded to us by Saint Cyprian in De bono patientiae for the disturbances of Good Friday signify creation's distress over the death of its Creator. The sun in particular withdrew its rays to look away, lest it be forced to gaze upon the crime of all ages. Nature was, indeed, in an uproar.
When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He saith to His Mother: 'Woman, behold thy son.' After that, He saith to the disciple: 'Behold thy Mother.' And from that hour, the disciple took her as his own" (John 19: 26-27).
Recall the words of Amos above, "mourning of an only son." This is what the Blessed Virgin Mary felt, not only in losing her divine Son, but in mourning for her adopted children - the entire human race. Oh, what sorrow, what a heart that could encompass this and accept God's will that this all be carried out so that these children would have the opportunity of being with her divine Son in Heaven. She understood the heavenly mandate long before man ever conceptualized the impact of her Son's death. The holy Angelic Doctor of the Church Saint Thomas Aquinas writes in his masterful Summa Theologica 3: 30, 1: "She uttered her yes 'in the name of all human nature'." Another Doctor of the Church Saint Irenaeus writes: "In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy world.' But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin . . . having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed (to her), and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. . . . (And so) the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith." He also added, "For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the Patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience."
Here we have, as St. Irenaeus states, two Eves, two sinless virgins from the sides of two Adams. Both were approached by heavenly spirits created by God - the fallen angel lucifer in the form of the serpent, and the obedient angel Gabriel as the Archangel announcing to Mary the good news and awaiting her fiat. Here we have the struggle in two gardens under two trees - Eden and the Tree of life, Olivet/Calvary and the Tree of death which would overcome death and forever be the Tree of everlasting life whose roots were planted in the only Church Christ established: the holy Catholic Church upon the rock (petras) of Peter (cf. Matthew 16: 18-19). Here we have the experience of labor of two births, both painless in process but carrying great responsibilities once completed - Eve from the rib of Adam, Mary conceived immaculately whose virginal womb was implanted by the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity to gestate the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity at the will of the First Person of the Blessed Trinity. In both Eve and Mary two humanities were brought about in two creations, with two sinless Adams "born" directly from God. Both experience two deaths because of one sin.
The passage above is in perfect compliance with Mosaic Law for Christ was responsible to assure someone would care for His Mother. Upon His death, a younger brother, if there was one, would have been assigned to care for Mary. But since Christ gave Mary into the care of His beloved disciple, it proved there were no other sons to whom He could have entrusted her. John represents the faithful of the Church He established, and Mary the Mother of the Church.
"And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: 'Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?' That is, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'" (Matthew 27: 46).
"And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: 'Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani?' Which is, being interpreted: 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'" (Mark 15: 34).
These two accounts are practically verbatim. Christ's cry is the Aramaic translation of the opening of Psalm 22 depicting the plight of a righteous sufferer. Although innocent, He is mocked and abused by the ungodly. When the hour had come for Him to fulfill the Father's plan of love, Jesus allows a glimpse of the boundless depth of His filial prayer as He turns to God in His distress and petitions God for deliverance. Remember, He has two natures in one Person and His human nature was not reduced on the cross; in fact, His human side was in great agony for He was a man like us in all things except sin. Needless to say, He suffered greatly. In reciting the opening line of Psalm 22, He expresses His agony as He experiences the full brunt of rejection. There is no despair here, keep that in mind, but humanly there is desperation. That desperation is not for Him as much as for us who have done this to Him. He wants us to all be with Him in paradise along with Dismas. The essence of Psalm 22 is how the sufferer's humiliation and pain gives way to vindication and victory. These words spoken by our Lord are said as a reassurance and confidence that the Father will turn His misery into victory not only for Him, but for every man ever created if they but follow His blueprint for salvation. Victory will be His on the Cross, manifested in three days hence when He will arise from the grave and we as one can enthusiastically say 'Alleluia'!
"Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: 'I thirst.' Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to His mouth." (John 19: 28-29).
And they gave Him wine to drink, mingled with gall. And when He had tasted, He would not drink...And immediately one of them running, took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar; and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink" (Matthew 27: 34, 48).
"And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: and He took it not" (Mark 15: 23).
This was, in effect, a narcotic, a painkiller and used by Roman soldiers to get through the day when in battle. Often they became addicted to this sour wine and craved the vinegar, despite its bitter taste. Many believe it was given to Christ, not as an act of mocking, but out of compassion to truly sate His thirst for they could compassionate with Him after having watched Him suffer so bravely for so many hours. John's account of hyssop could be symbolic here since the hyssop was the branch tied together to sprinkle blood on the doors for Passover and later for cleansing against leprosy (cf. Leviticus 14: 4) as well as used for the purposes of worship (cf. Numbers 19: 6). Today it is ground down into a popular Arabic spice.
But it is the Passover tie-in that makes the greatest sense for the vinegar was being sprinkled on the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God at the very same time the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple inside the walls of Jerusalem.
"Jesus therefore, when He had taken the vinegar, said: 'It is consummated.' And bowing His head, He gave up the ghost" (John 19: 30).
"And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost" (Matthew 27: 50).
"And Jesus having cried out with a loud voice, gave up the ghost" (Mark 15: 37).
"And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.' And saying this, He gave up the ghost" (Luke 23: 46).
All four evangelists here use the same words "gave up the ghost" which means He expired on the cross. Interesting that both Matthew and Mark say Jesus cried out in a loud voice but do not report what He said. In John we see the words are: "It is consummated" whereas in Luke the final words from our Lord are recorded as "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." These last words replicate Psalm 31: 5 in which Christ makes the prophet's words His Own. The entire psalm goes from a lamentation to praise, expressing both the agony and the confidence of an innocent one who has borne up under the suffering. Because the sufferer trusts in God's goodness, he can anticipate his final deliverance and vindication of his soul. That vindication is expressed by our Lord in that His mission was completed and the above words comprise the seven last words on the cross. The holy Sacrifice is complete and accepted by the Father. Salvation is won. Despite this acceptance, it is what happened next that shows the wrath of the Father for what they did to His Son. Abba releases just vengeance on those who doubted His only-begotten Son and a confirmation of all that He had said was true:
"And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to the bottom: and the earth quaked and the rocks were rent" (Matthew 27: 51)
"And the veil of the temple was rent in two, from the top to the bottom" (Mark 15: 38)
"And the sun was darkened; and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst" (Luke 23: 45)
There was a divider, a veil hung between the Jewish Temple's two holiest chambers: the holy place and the most holy place as we see in Exodus 26: 31-34. It was, as St. Paul reveals in Hebrews 9: 8, a sign that God's infinite holiness could not be approached by sinners. Through the death on the Cross, forgiveness is secured for sinners and access to Heaven is reopened as we see affirmed in Hebrews 10: 19-22 and again in Ephesians 2: 8. Thus God Himself was announcing to the Jews that it was He who tore the veil in two from top to bottom. No longer was the Jewish law in effect, the New Covenant is now the law of man, the law of God. The symbolism of the temple being ripped from top to bottom exposes the Jewish religion as incomplete, no longer necessary for God has removed the barrier between the face of God and His people.
"Now the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, having seen the earthquake and the things that were done, were greatly afraid, saying: Indeed this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27: 54).
"And the centurion who stood over against Him, seeing that crying out in this manner he had given up the ghost, said: Indeed this man was the son of God" (Mark 15: 39).
"Now, the centurion, seeing what was done, glorified God, saying: Indeed this was a just man" (Luke 23: 47).
Here we have the second conversion at the cross; the first being the despicable thief who sought repentance; now the pagan Roman who headed up 100 men and most likely was the chief officer of the brigade of executioners. He realized after launching his spear that truly Jesus was who He said He was. The centurion symbolically
stands for the Gentile nation - alas pagan Rome - who will be converted in time. The centurion has seen the miracle Himself and believes. One week hence another will see a miracle and put his hands in the wounds of his Master and believe. How much stronger should the Apostle Thomas' faith have been than this pagan soldier, a mercenary of Rome. Do we not today hope to hear those unChristian ones finally realize what the centurion realized: Truly, He was the Son of God. Yet, the Jews stubbornly persist in their error and new age paganism grows stronger. Are we not due for nature to rebel? Do we not see the signs? And speaking of signs, as if the Resurrection of the Messias is not enough signs of wonder, Matthew's account in 27: 52 of 'ghosts walking among the living' should remind us that it can and will happen again in the last days for the evangelist writes: "And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose". It must be affirmed that this occurred after Christ arose from the dead and those bodies of the Old Testament saints were not resurrected until after Christ had risen; most likely some freed to return in their embodied spirits after Christ had freed them from the Bosom of Abraham - Limbo.
As our Lord's emaciated, cold body was removed from the cross and placed so tenderly in the arms and lap of the Blessed Mother, we can commiserate with her as she stroked His cheeks and smoothed His hair, her tears mixing with the dried blood on His crusted skin. For most, the magnificent Pieta of Michelangelo will forever be chiseled in our memories. After a time, He is taken from Mary reluctantly and carried before nightfall to the tomb prepared for Him where He is gently placed in the sepulchre and the rock door of the tomb sealed. It will remain sealed until that glorious Easter morn which we will cover next time as we transfer from the sorrowful to the glorious. Let the words of Holy Saturday's Vigil ring out in our hearts and souls and pervade the power of darkness - the tenebrarum: Lumen Christi, Lumen Christi, Lumen Christi.
"Catholics who remain faithful to Tradition, even if they are reduced to but a handful, they are THE TRUE CHURCH" Saint Athanasius, "Apostle of Tradition" AD 373