The Passion of the Lord

Diego Velazquez, The Crucifixion (1632)

Diego Velazquez, The Crucifixion (1632).

The liturgy of the past two days has been intense, emotional, overwhelming — more moving than any Christian service I’ve ever been a part of. I have been in some truly ecstatic, sensational services in my day — experiences routinely described by the people around me as “powerful” and “awesome” — but even then, it always felt somehow empty to me. When the ecstasy passed, the power faded and there was no change. All along this path, I’ve been saying that one of my main reasons for being drawn in this direction is a desire to get away from that empty emotionalism of my youth, to base my faith on something more than that. So it’s ironic that even not looking for it or expecting it, I’ve discovered a deeper and fuller and truer wellspring of emotion and faith and devotion than I ever could have imagined.

Because Christ is really there. In His Body and Blood, He is there. One can speak of a “move of the Holy Spirit” all one wants, and raise one’s arms and dance in the aisles and weep for joy — and I do not disparage those experiences or doubt that those people are genuinely moved — but when Christ is really there in the elements; when our entire liturgy is based on the Word of God; when what we do and what we celebrate is more than a symbol, but spirit and life — then the move of the Holy Spirit becomes tangible, visible, sensible. We partake of Christ and share in His divinity; we join in Holy Communion with God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and all the saints. There is substance in that, more than ethereality and ephemerality.

And I haven’t even come to the table yet. I know that tomorrow will be even fuller.

I want to share the experiences of the past two days, but I know that I can capture only fleeting glimpses. I fear overscrutiny and oversharing will demean them. This is my moment with Christ; not the end of my journey but the beginning. Last night, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper: praying and worshipping, I had the overpowering sense, more than ever before, that Jesus was really there at the table breaking Bread. The humility and service of seeing Father Joe, who in so many ways has become Christ to me, kneel down and wash the feet of the men of the church. The cantors’ stirring and unexpected (for I am new to this) rendition of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus — which has long been a favorite piece of mine, but I had never before realized its true import and meaning in its proper context — it hit me like a flood. The crushing moment of Christ’s betrayal, hitting me in the gut, as the Host processed around the Stations of the Cross to rest in repose, knowing all the times that I have betrayed Him, too. The altar stripped bare; the Tabernacle flung rudely open and empty. Tarrying an hour with Him, realizing more fully than ever the weight of what He did for me.

Tonight, the Passion of the Lord: the austerity and emptiness of the altar; the sight of the ministers lying prostrate. The Adoration of the Cross: kneeling to kiss that instrument of torture and execution, knowing that Christ’s death and sacrifice is my life; adoring that terrible and blessed device, like swallowing a bitter pill or drinking the cup of pain, as Christ did for me. Seeing the Cross lifted even to the lips of young children, who even in their youth owe everything to Christ and to the Cross, and who too have crosses to bear. The distribution of Communion: knowing that when it was gone, there would be no more, as Christ gave His very broken Body and poured out His very last drop of Blood for us.

Tonight, He lies in the tomb for us. Sunday, his glorious Resurrection — and our rebirth into His new life. And I will come to the Lord’s Table, and to His Holy Church.

3 thoughts on “The Passion of the Lord

  1. It’s great to see such passion about what the Lord Jesus suffered for humanity. You said you are new to this, did you just start attending church recently?

    Also, you are a very good writer, nicely done.

    • No, I’ve been in church all my life; but I’m (fairly) new to Catholic liturgy and the music associated with it. Ave verum corpus is a hymn in celebration of the Eucharist. I’ve loved Mozart and his setting (who is one of many composers who have set the medieval chant to music, but his is the most famous) for years, but I never really paid attention to the words or understood what it was extolling, until the other night, when just our two cantors and our organist — all of whom I know well and love — brought it before us at the most intimate moment of Communion.

      In English:

      Hail, true Body, born
      of the Virgin Mary,
      who having truly suffered, was sacrificed
      on the cross for mankind,
      whose pierced side
      flowed with water and blood:
      May it be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
      in the trial of death.
      Oh sweet Jesus, Oh pious Jesus, Oh Jesus, son of Mary,
      have mercy on me. Amen.

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