via crucis

I remember seeing Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ for the first time at the Arclight Hollywood on Ash Wednesday of 2004. Father Willy Raymond, CSC, had offered to take the staff of Family Theater Productions after the celebration of Mass. So we all processed into the theater with ashes on our foreheads, to the bewildered stares of some. (You could see them working it out in their minds: oh, those must be the Passion groupies. People dress up like Frodo Baggins before a Lord of the Rings premiere, so this must be what the Christians do before seeing their movie…)

(c) 2003 Icon Distribution

At any rate, the film made such an impression on me that I decided to use it as my Lenten meditation: I went and saw the film every Friday of Lent that year, just as I would ordinarily pray the stations of the cross.

I had already planned to host a stations of the cross hike for young adults in the Verdugo Mountains on Palm Sunday. The day before the hike, I realized that I had no text to share with others as we prayed along the way. However, the images from Gibson’s film were etched clearly in my mind and suggested many points of meditation, so I decided to compose my own via crucis based upon the film.

I supplemented my meditations with some of my favorite quotes from various spiritual writers: Dietrich von Hildebrand, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Ambrose of Milan, (then) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, St. Leo the Great, Karol Wojytla, St. John of the Cross, Pope John Paul II, an ancient homily on Holy Saturday, and a closing prayer from (then venerable, now blessed) John Henry Cardinal Newman.

I’ve made the resulting text available on my website in multiple formats:

PS – Another multimedia stations of the cross — much more brief (around 4 minutes long) — is still available on my site here. I used some music from Schindler’s List for this one, which somehow seemed appropriate. I am reminded of a quote from Hildegard Brem which the Pope includes in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II: “The Jews themselves are a living homily to which the Church must draw attention, since they call to mind the Lord’s suffering.”

fidelity of our mother

mater-dolorosaOn the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15):

A garden dark and darker hearts
bring agony this day;
From Sunday palms to Friday whips
the passions wave astray;
He bears the tree with broken heart
upon the stony way.

With body raised, He hangs in pain
And very few will stay
To watch the life escape Him now
Instead they run away.

But someone stands beneath the Cross
to keep despair at bay
And Christ can smile before He dies:
He hears His mother pray.

Mary, the Bread of Life, and the mystery of Holy Saturday

Today, on Holy Saturday, Lent is over. We spend three days enveloped in the liturgy of the Triduum, and we’re right in the middle of it. It is, as T.S. Eliot once said, “the still point in the turning world” (“Burnt Norton,” II, Four Quartets). At the eye of the hurricane, there is a great silence.

There is a beautiful ancient homily on Holy Saturday — we don’t even know who wrote it but it’s beautiful — in the Office of Readings today. Here is a short excerpt:

Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives of Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve… The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory….

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

(Office of Readings, Holy Saturday)

The mystery of Holy Saturday is a mystery of communion, of restored union: what was separated has now been reunited.

How does this happen? What is this mystery of communion which we are anticipating and which we celebrate tonight?

It is, primarily, the mystery of the Eucharist, the sacrament of communion. It is the most exalted mystery of God’s own heart, and of His love.

We’re on pilgrimage today into the very heart of God. Who does the Church give us to accompany us in this time? Who can really show us the way?

It’s Mary. She alone did not flee… did not panic… and did not despair. She is our guide through Holy Saturday, because she is the steward of the great mystery of the Eucharist.

I want to make a brief examination of her life, as it relates to her Son, who is the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

First we go back to the Annunciation. In this moment when the angel Gabriel appears to her, Mary becomes, in a very real way, Bethlehem. The word Bethlehem literally means “the house of bread”.

She is Bethlehem more truly than the town she visits nine months later: she received the Bread that the “house of bread” would not (Luke 2:7). She becomes the dwelling place of the Bread of Life, and she tends to this Bread for thirty years in a mystery of silence we know  little about.

Like the centurion, she calls out to God at the Annunciation: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word…” (Luke 7:6-7). She gives her assent: “Be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Now did she know what she was saying yes to? In the details? No.

But she was docile. She was receptive to the One who has come to her. You see, she said yes to a Someone, not a something. It wasn’t a yes to a plan, or a schedule, or a series of foreseen events.

The somethings of her yes were constantly being challenged and purified. Think of the Presentation in the Temple, when she was told that her heart too would be pierced by a sword (Luke 2:35). Think also of her discovery of Jesus in the Temple after a long search. Her Son asked her: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

The beauty of Mary is that, when confronted with the unknown and the unexpected, she does not flinch, cower or rant, but she receives it all, and ponders the word in her heart (Luke 2:51). Whatever word is spoken to her — whatever word — she receives confidently as a word of love coming from the very heart of God.

This strong, serene faith is seen at the wedding feast at Cana, when, in response to the news that they have no more wine, she responds by calling her Son into action. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Notice that she doesn’t spell out the plan of action herself, but simply refers them to her Son, trusting in His loving wisdom and power.

Fast forward now three years… to the very end of the life of her Son. As she receives the body of her Son when it is taken, lifeless, from the cross, she receives it lovingly. She kisses Him and gazes out at us as she holds Him. Her eyes are filled with grief, but no bitterness. “This is for you,” her eyes say to us. She is the gracious hostess of the divine meal, expressing a hospitality that has cost her everything.

The Son in her arms is no longer the thriving infant He once was, but a lifeless corpse. This is the annihilation of everything a mother’s heart could want for her child. And yet she is not raging. She’s not bitter. She’s not angry. She’s not clinging desperately to the body of her Son. Instead, she is holding Him with great tenderness and affection.

Why? Because she understands what it takes to make bread… in this case, the Bread of Life.

You see, all along the way of the Cross, her Son, the Bread of Life, was kneaded, pushed, contorted and bruised by the crowds. And now the bread will be covered with a shroud, and placed in the darkness, so that, three days later, it can rise.

So Saturday is a day of waiting. It’s a day of waiting for the Bread to rise, to be baked and to be ready for us. Saturday is Mary’s day, a day to wait with her, in stillness and in hope. And it’s a time to consider her service to the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.

What can this mean for us?

This evening, as you attend the Easter Vigil, as you go to receive the Eucharist after this long fast, think of giving delight to the hostess of this divine meal.

Give joy to her heart by letting her know that her stewardship of this Bread has been accomplished. Give her joy by letting her overhear you say to the Father, as you approach the Bread of Life, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Let her hear you expressing the words of the True Bethlehem: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed” (Luke 7:6-7).

Let the voice of the True Bethlehem rise up across the face of the whole Church today, as all of us, Mary’s spiritual children, raise our voices in a single cry of hope and of love: “Give us this bread always” (John 6:34).

virtual Triduum retreat

Cross_iconEaster Triduum, Holy Triduum, or Paschal Triduum is the period of three days from Holy Thursday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening) to Easter Sunday. It begins with the Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper and ends with evening prayer on Sunday. (source)

If you want to take a virtual retreat over the next few days, I’ve posted all of the audio recordings from the RCIA Hollywood program’s 2008 Triduum retreat:

The Triduum – Dr. Eric Hansen

The Stations of the Cross in Art – Dr. Eric Hansen

Good Friday at 3 PM: Miserere Mei Deus – Fr. Don Woznicki

Suffering – Barbara Nicolosi

Mary, the Bread of Life, and the Mystery of Holy Saturday – Clayton Emmer

The Last Things – Clayton Emmer

Some of the audio is not very high-quality. My apologies. It wasn’t my intention to make listening a penitential experience. I was still learning how to use my new recording equipment, and wasn’t aware of all the strategies for getting a good quality recording from a small file.