Commemoration of the Passion of Christ
The Circumstances of Our Saviour’s Passion
INTRODUCTION. The scene of today’s Gospel was at the feast of Tabernacles, in the autumn of the year before our Lord’s death. The Jews, aroused to violence over the rebuking words of Jesus, sought to kill Him by stoning, but since other circumstances and another time had been eternally decreed for His passion and death. He easily escaped their hands, as before at Nazareth He had eluded the fury of His own townsmen. Since this Gospel, however, shows us how great and how long continued was the hatred of the Jews for our Lord, it is appropriately read on this Sunday when we begin the solemn commemoration of His passion.
II. What He suffered: I. Christ’s sufferings were so great that the mere anticipation of them caused a sweat of blood 2. Our Lord suffered torture in every part of His body. 3. All ranks and conditions of men contributed to His sufferings. 4. His agony was increased by the nature of His sufferings and by the perfection of His body. 5. His mental sufferings were extreme.
III. Why He suffered: (1) Christ suffered to deliver us from sin, from the tyranny of Satan, and from the debt of punishment; (2) to reconcile us to God and to reopen for us the gates of heaven; (3) to make for us a satisfaction full and complete and most acceptable to God; (4) to leave us by His passion an illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue.
CONCLUSION, 1. From the bitter passion and death of the God-man we should learn the enormity of sin. 2. As Christ freely suffered for us, so we should patiently bear our crosses for Him: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. xvi. 24).
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I
Article IV of the Creed
The Passion of Christ. The dignity of Him Who suffers.
When the faithful have once attained the knowledge of these things, the pastor will next proceed to explain those particulars of the passion and death of Christ which may enable them if not to comprehend, at least to contemplate, the infinitude of so stupendous a mystery. And first we are to consider who it is that suffers. To declare, or even to conceive in thought, His dignity, is not given to man. Of Him St. John says, that He is “the Word ” which ” was with God”;(l) and the apostle describes Him in sublime terms, saying that this is He whom God “hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.”(2) In a word, Jesus Christ, the man-God, suffers! The Creator suffers for the creature, the Master for the servant. He suffers by whom the elements, the heavens, men and angels were created, of whom, by whom, and in whom, “are all things.”‘
It cannot therefore, be a matter of surprise that while He agonized under such an accumulation of torments the whole frame of the universe was convulsed, and, as the Scriptures inform us, ” the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent,” and ” the sun was darkened,” and “there was darkness over all the earth.”(4) If, then, even mute and inanimate nature sympathized with the sufferings of her dying Lord, let the faithful conceive, if they can, with what torrents of tears they, the ” living stones ” of the edifice,(5) should manifest their sorrow.
Reasons why He suffered; first reason, His love for us
The reasons why the Saviour suffered are also to be explained, that thus the greatness and intensity of the divine love towards us may the more fully appear. Should it then be asked why the Son of God underwent the torments of His most bitter passion, we shall find the principal causes in the hereditary contagion of primeval guilt; in the vices and crimes which have been perpetrated from the beginning of the world to the present day; and in those which shall be perpetrated to the consummation of time. In His death and passion the Son of God contemplated the atonement of all the sins of all ages, with a view to efface them forever, by offering for them to his Eternal Father a superabundant satisfaction; and thus the principal cause of His passion will be found in His love of us.
Second Reason, to atone for Original and Actual Sin
Besides, to increase the dignity of this mystery, Christ not only suffered for sinners, but the very authors and ministers of all the torments He endured were sinners. Of this the apostles reminds us in these words addressed to the Hebrews: “Think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds.”(6) In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ our Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity, as far as depends on them, crucify to themselves again the Son of God, and make a mockery of Him.(7) This our guilt takes a deeper die of enormity when contrasted with that of the Jews, who, according to the testimony of the Apostle, “if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory”;(8) while we, on the contrary, professing to know Him, yet denying Him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on Him.(9)
Christ delivered over to death by the Father and Himself
But that Christ the Lord was also delivered over to death by the Father and by Himself, we learn from these words of Isaias: “For the wickedness of my people have I struck him.”(10) And a little before, when, filled with the Spirit of God, he sees the Lord covered with stripes and wounds, the same prophet says: “All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all.”(11) But of the Saviour it is written: “if he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a long-lived seed.”(12) This the Apostle expresses in language still stronger when, on the other hand, he wishes to show us how confidently we should trust in the boundless mercy and goodness of God. “He that spared not even his own Son,” says the Apostle, “but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things?”(13)
The bitterness of Christ’s Passion
The next subject of the pastor’s instruction is the bitterness of the Redeemer’s passion. If, however, we bear in mind that “his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground,(14) and this, at the sole anticipation of the torments and agony which He was about to endure, we must at once perceive that His sorrows admitted of no increase; for if–and this sweat of blood proclaims it–the very idea of the impending evils was so overwhelming, what are we to suppose their actual endurance to have been?
That our Lord suffered the most excruciating- torments of mind and body is but too well ascertained. In the first place, there was no part of His body that did not experience the most agonizing torture; His hands and feet were fastened with nails to the cross; His head was pierced with thorns and smitten with a reed; His face was befouled with spittle and buffeted with blows; His whole body was covered with stripes; men of all ranks and conditions were also gathered together ” against the Lord, and against his Christ.”(15) Jews and Gentiles were the advisers, the authors, the ministers of His passion; Judas betrayed Him;(16) Peter denied Him;(17) all the rest deserted Him;(18) and while He hangs from the instrument of His execution, are we not at a loss which to deplore, His agony or His ignominy, or both?
Surely no death more shameful, none more cruel, could have been devised than. that which was the ordinary punishment of guilty and atrocious malefactors only, a death the tediousness of which aggravated the protraction of its exquisite pain and excruciating torture? His agony was increased by the very constitution and frame of His body. Formed by the power of the Holy Ghost, it was more perfect and better organized than the bodies of other men can be, and was therefore endowed with a superior susceptibility of pain, and a keener sense of the torments which it endured. And as to His interior anguish of mind, that too was no doubt extreme; for those among the saints who had to endure torments and tortures were not without consolation from above, which enabled them not only to bear their violence patiently, but in many instances, to feel, in the very midst of them, filled with interior joy. ” I . . . rejoice,” says the Apostle, ” in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church”;(19) and in another place, ” I am filled with comfort: I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.”(20) Christ our Lord tempered with an admixture of sweetness the bitter chalice of His passion, but permitted His human nature to feel as acutely every species of torment as if He were only man, and not also God.
The Blessings of which the Passion is the plenteous source
The blessings and advantages which flow to the human race from the passion of Christ alone remain to be explained. In the first place, then, the passion of our Lord was our deliverance from sin; for, as St. John says, He ” hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”(21) You ” he hath quickened together with him “; says the Apostle, ” forgiving you all offences: blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross.”(22)
He has rescued us from the tyranny of the devil, for our Lord Himself says: “Now is the judgment of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.”(23)
He discharged the punishment due to our sins; and as no sacrifice more grateful and acceptable could have been offered to God, He reconciled us to the Father,(24) appeased His wrath, and propitiated His justice.
Finally, by atoning for our sins He opened to us heaven, which was closed by the common sin of mankind, for we have, according to these words of the Apostle, ” therefore, brethren, a confidence in the entering into the holies by the blood of Christ.”(25)
Type and figure of the Redemption
Nor are we without a type and figure of this mystery in the Old Law. Those who were prohibited to return into their native country before the death of the high priest,(26) typified that no one, however just may have been his life, could gain admission into the celestial country until the supreme and eternal High Priest, Christ Jesus, had died, and by dying opened heaven to those who, purified by the sacraments, and gifted with faith, hope, and charity, become partakers of His passion.
Christ purchased our Redemption
The pastor will teach that all these inestimable and divine blessings flow to us from the passion of Christ; first, because the satisfaction which Jesus Christ has in an admirable manner made to His Eternal Father for our sins is full and complete, and the price which He paid for our ransom not only equals but far exceeds the debts contracted by us. Again, the sacrifice was most acceptable to God, for when offered by his Son on the altar of the cross, it entirely appeased His wrath and indignation. This the Apostle teaches when he says: “Christ . . . hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.”(27) Of the redemption which He purchased the prince of the Apostles says: ” You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undented.”(28)
In His Passion He has left us an Example of Every Virtue
Besides these inestimable blessings, we have also received another of the highest importance. In the passion alone we have the most illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue. Patience, and humility, and exalted charity, and meekness, and obedience, and unshaken firmness of soul, not only in sufferings for justice’ sake, but also in meeting death, are so conspicuous in the suffering Saviour, that we may truly say that on the day of His passion alone He offered, in His own person, a living exemplification of all the moral precepts inculcated during the entire time of His public ministry. This exposition of the saving passion of Christ the Lord we have given briefly. Would to God that these mysteries were always present to our minds, and that we learned to suffer, to die, and to be buried with Christ; that, cleansed from the stains of sin, and rising with Him to newness of life, we may at length, through His grace and mercy, be found worthy to be made partakers of the glory of His celestial kingdom!