Our Savior, Jesus Christ, died on the 25th of March, the 5233rd year after the creation and sin of Adam. He died the same day and at the same hour, 3 p.m., that Adam committed the Original Sin. Three oíclock in the afternoon was also the hour of the daily sacrifice in the Temple, and of the Paschal sacrifice which had been offered earlier that week. Moreover, Jesus died at the same place where Adam sinned and was later buried with his wife, Eve. Golgotha was also the place which God directed Abraham to take Isaac and offer Him in sacrifice. (Genesis 22). God stayed the hand of Abraham, but He did not stay His Own. Despite the fervent entreaties of Jesus in the Garden the night before, the Father required His Incarnate Son to drink the chalice of punishment and suffering to the very dregs. He required that the Savior suffer beyond all limits in order to demonstrate His excessive love of His wayward children. Every year, we return to Calvary with our Mother Mary, to stand at the foot of the cross, and adore God in His infinite love, the Father Who gives His beloved Son up to the most painful death, the Son Who through the ordeal surrenders Himself completely to the torture, allowing no agony nor anguish to escape Him.
In the crucifixion, we see not only the Lordís ignominious death, but we contemplate all the holy events with the eyes of Faith, because it is immeasurably more than the cruel execution of an innocent man. We see the supreme sacrifice of atonement in which Jesus is both Priest and Victim, Despite the fact that many individuals play parts in this divinely wrought drama, the essential Protagonists (if we may speak thus) are the Three Persons of the most blessed Trinity, the Father Who commands His incarnate Son to suffer and die as a sacrificial Victim, the Son Who, out of infinite love of the Father and mankind, willingly obeys--and the Holy Ghost, Who empowers the Son with such grace that the Oblation is perfect in all respects, and sufficiently glorious to atone for all the sins of all men. One other person figures essentially in this most holy scenario, and that is the Lordís Mother, the Virgin Queen. The divine Father requires that she give Her Son up in sacrifice for menís salvation. In so doing with unquestioning subservience, she becomes their Mother, the Second Eve, the Queen and patroness of all those who will be redeemed by His blood.
We should think of the seven words from the cross as the prayers of the Eternal and High Priest offering the First Mass.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34)
Throughout His ordeal on the cross, the Lord Jesus remains meek and prayerful, in contrast to us who grow more irritable and acerbic the more we are put to the least inconvenience. Nothing that Jesus did or suffered was false or for display only. This was the Son of God suffering and praying in all sincerity for the members of the fallen race, to which He had wedded His divinity. He had become one with it in order to belong to it, to claim it, to shoulder its guilt, to take full responsibility for its rebellious past and more rebellious future.
Throughout His whole life, the Son of God carried on an uninterrupted colloquy with His Father. Now and then He prays audibly, so that we may know of this union and communion. Jesus does not offer idle or artificial prayers. There poignancy is in their sincerity and truthfulness, and in the solicitude He has for His human brothers. Though most of them are unworthy of it, and most of them are unaffected by it, this does not deter Him, as He is their Father and Savior.
When He says "forgive them," He is indicating that what they are doing is sinful. Objectively, it is the greatest sin men might be able to commit. The sin was one of totally unwarranted and unjustifiable murder of a totally innocent man. More, it was the public execution on the part of the Jews and Romans of the Son of God, the Savior and deliverer of the world. It was in addition the killing of One Whose whole known life was conspicuous for its charity and beneficence. Neither His friends nor His enemies could find any fault in Him. Nor could they deny that He devoted Himself to instructing and befriending the Jews. Like His miracles, which could not be overlooked, everything He said and did was benign and kindly, so that He was recognized by all the people as "great in word and in work."
When He asks His Father to forgive them, He is asking, first, that He give them grace to know their sin and to repent of it. No sin can be forgiven, no matter how great or slight, unless there is regret of it. Second, He is asking the Father to forgive them without regard to the unspeakableness of the offense.
"For" points to the excuse that Christ finds for them. It is the only reason He can give the Father in begging for the forgiveness of their sin: "They know not what they do."
"They" is all who have part in the sin: Judas, the Jews, (that is, the Jewish leaders mainly), but the Jews as a people also, who sinfully adhere to their leaders, even in this terrible crime (as Catholics now adhere to their bishops in Christís contemporary crucifixion); and Pilate, who buckled under the mere threat of political pressure, where there really was none at all; and the merciless executioners, who entertained themselves in inflicting ever fresh cruelties upon their unresisting Victim. The Lord Jesus begs for mercy upon them all, because He is the God of mercy and all men's Redeemer. He is here to win their salvation at all costs
"For they know not what they do." This is a most important theological point. Exactly contrary to what is generally taught, Christ teaches that his murderers are sinning even though they are ignorant--because they are ignorant--of the gravity of their crime. There is no possibility that they are completely ignorant, because the wickedness is plain: the Jewish leaders know that Jesus is not a criminal, but a Prophet and wonderworker; Pilate knows He is no seditionist; the soldiers know that their conduct is vicious; throughout they find humor in their barbarities.
What none know fully is the monstrousness of the offense, the offense as Jesus, Who is God, recognizes it. He sees it as deicide, the killing of the Only Begotten of the Father. The greatest guilt belongs to the Jewish leaders, particularly Annas and Caiaphas, who could more easily recognize Christ as the Messias and the Son of God in all the things He said and did than anyone. They were sufficiently schooled in the prophecies and all other pertinent matters, they had access to all the facts and to the scholarship of the scribes and priests; and they were appointed by God to receive and honor the Messias in the name of the whole nation. But they were part of a long tradition of opposition to God and His chosen servants. Despite all, the Lord Jesus prays for them, because He is their Priest and Savior, Whose primary role is to propitiate the Father and deliver men from the fires of Hell.
Christ prayed for them, for their forgiveness, even though they were fully guilty. They were punished eternally for the crime in terms of its objective wickedness, not their cultivated ignorance, whatever its degree. So every man will be punished not for the sins of which he is aware, but for all his sins, as was Christ, the Lamb of God.
"I thirst" (John 19:38).
It would be futile to attempt to describe the torment which His thirst for water gave the blessed Redeemer on the cross. His thirst was in direct proportion to the loss of blood and bodily fluids He had sustained. Those who are more knowledgeable about such things than I say that thirst took precedence over all His other sufferings, terrible as they were, and, would have driven a lesser being mad. Mother Church identifies our Saviorís thirst with His infinite love and desire to save all men. "I thirst" on the lips of Christ is "I am Love Itself" on the lips of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As one writer put it: "God thirsts to be thirsted for."
We should always refer to these words when the thought comes of the uncounted numbers who are apparently lost. Out of the sublimest love, God does all in His power to save every person, and, regardless of appearances, whatever their numbers, those only are lost who choose it; it can never be thought that they are condemned heedlessly or willingly. Furthermore, whatever it seems fit for Providence to arrange for us in this life, illness, poverty, unhappiness, the contempt of others, it is for our spiritual good, if only we have the good sense to make the best of it.
3. "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
We put aside immediately the notion that the miraculous conversion of the Good Thief suggests the dispensability of the Sacrament of Baptism. The New Dispensation established by Christ began on Pentecost Sunday, which would be fifty-three days after Good Friday. Everything prior to that must be reckoned as being under the Old Law. Pentecost marks the day when all that Christ established became operative and binding. As of that day, and not before, the Law established by Him of the necessity of entering the Church for salvation took effect.
The conversion of St. Dismas is one of the miracles of grace which occurred by the power of Christ and His holy Cross. Whereas the conversion of most individuals is slow and intermittent, apparently, due to a great flood of grace, Dismas was wonderfully illumined, so that he achieved total faith in Christ and perfect sorrow for his sins. Not only were his sins forgiven, but all the punishment due to his sins was remitted, and spiritual perfection was given to him. Some of the Fathers speak of him as having become one of the greatest of saints. In this way did Christ demonstrate the power which would always flow from His cross and the Holy Mass. In this incident, we should see how it is possible for God to save those whom the world judges to be lost. At the Judgment, no doubt it will be discovered that there were many who, at the last minute, turned completely and rushed into the divine embrace.
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me..." (Matthew 27: 46; Mark 15: 34)
Psalm 21 is the most prophetic of the Psalms with respect to the Passion of Christ. Our Lord prays the Psalm as expressing the exceeding depths of His desolation. The Evangelists quote from the Psalm to show how it was fulfilled in the crucifixion. What Christ means by the recitation of these words was that the true God allowed the human soul of Christ to experience the closest thing possible to estrangement and rejection. Remember that it was God who inspired David to compose the Psalm in his own unhappy straits, which was an intense but a merely human crisis. The Psalm was prophetic of what Christ would suffer in the darkest moments of his crucifixion, and He prayed the Psalm in order to fulfill its prophecy, as well as to implore the Father for His succor and pardon--not pardon for Himself--but pardon for all other men, for whom He offered Himself. Their sins and guilt He had accepted as His own, so that, had they been His, He would have deserved complete abandonment by the all-righteous God.
All this was done in order that the sacrifice of the divine Victim be perfect to the ultimate degree. Jesus cried out not to give vent to His agony, but to teach the men of every generation the lengths He went to for their salvation. "What ought I to do, that I have not already done for thee?" Although this terrible suffering is known throughout the world--for who has never seen a crucifix?--how many
remain unmoved and unaffected by it. On our religion teaches all men that the Creator and Ruler of the universe became a Man and voluntarily poured out His blood in the ignominious death of crucifixion. This doctrine by itself commands their attention as nothing else can.
"Woman, behold thy son...Behold thy mother" (John 19:26, 27).
By virtue of the divine Maternity, Mary enjoyed (and enjoys) an intimacy with God which was beyond all expression or comprehension. As the Mother of the God Man, her life and soul were perfectly united in love and communion with His. On the cross, as part of His total examination, Jesus dispossessed Himself of His greatest treasure, His beloved Mother.
It is said that the Father granted Maryís earnest prayer that she suffer in her body and soul all that Her Son endured in His sacred passion. With an identical abnegation and abasement, Mary experienced His physical and spiritual torments. She felt all the reviling and mockery more keenly than if they were directed toward her. The keenest pain of all came when Jesus gave her into the care of St. John. At this point, the sword prophesied by Simeon pierced the Hearts of both Jesus and Mary.
Holy Church interprets this fifth word from the cross to mean Christ gave His Mother to us that she may care for us as she cared for Him. She cared for and prayed for and supported Him in all His work and sorrows and persecutions. She is given total sovereignty in the Church, so that she reigns with Him and participates in all that concerns the salvation of souls. With Him, she rules and guides and protects the Church. The Lord teaches us hereby to be completely dependent on Mary in her queenly power in the Kingdom of God.
"It is consummated" (John 19:30).
With these words, the High Priest proclaims that the great work foreordained and commanded by the Father has been fully and perfectly realized. All that had been decreed and prophesied had been scrupulously fulfilled, and the sin of Adam has been fully remedied. The atonement is complete, God has been vindicated, grace has been make bountiful, pardon has been granted, and God has been wonderfully glorified in the obedience and abnegation of His Son.
"Father, into Thy hands, I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46).
These words come from Psalm 31. Having fulfilled His commission, Jesus prepares to do what He said He alone could do: "I have power to lay [My life] down: and I have power to take it up again" (John 10:18). The Evangelists note carefully that having said these words, Jesus concluded His own life. "And bowing His head, He gave up the ghost" (John 19:30). Jesus did not die for want to power to live, but He yielded up His spirit at the appointed hour. At the foot of the cross, with Mary and John and the other women, we remain in wordless adoration. The pathos is overwhelming, the event unassimilable, and we are unworthy to be here, but our Mother tells us to stay where we are. The Evangelists tell us that in protest, nature asserts itself with high winds, earthquakes, and darkness over the whole earth. The Mass of the God-Man is ended.
I thank again everyone who has shown such kind concern for me. I know well I am not worthy of it. I am grateful also for the letters and cards that I receive in every mail; and also for contributions of money which are most helpful. At the beginning of this the greatest week of the year, I send my blessing and best wishes.
Yours in Christ,