The Urtext of All Texts

The Urtext of All Texts

Passion Sunday

Last week we meditated upon those words of Our Blessed Saviour by St Luke: this is my Body given for you. In today’s communion verse we find it again, this time in the version St Paul gives in his first epistle to the Corinthians: this is my Body which will be handed over to death for you. By choosing those words from the institution of the Holy Eucharist as the communion verse for Passion Sunday, our holy Mother Church wishes to remind us once again that the Holy Mass brings before us, each time that we attend, the drama of Our Saviour’s passion and death.

At the same time she encourages us to do the same, and offer our lives in sacrifice with Him through the Holy Spirit, who, St Paul tells us in the epistle, is the one through whom Jesus offered Himself. St Thomas, for his part, points out that the fire that consumed the holocaust in the Old Testament is indeed the Holy Spirit burning in the Heart of Christ.

I was recently asked what thoughts animate the priest when he offers Holy Mass, especially at the consecration and offering of the divine victim. For the priest who is really aware of what is going on at the altar, it is enough to recall the words that he hears on the day of his ordination when the bishop tells him to conform his life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross. That’s what it is really about. That’s all it’s about. To be a priest means to offer the sacrifice, but to offer the sacrifice without offering oneself in sacrifice at the same time makes no sense.

The great apostle of the enthronement of the Sacred Heart, Fr Mateo Crawley, wrote: “We are priests above all for our Mass; to live our Mass is to live the life of Christ. The Mass must operate two great marvels: the transubstantiation of bread and wine and figuratively the transubstantiation of the priest, that is to say, his sanctification. To devour Christ and to let himself be devoured by Christ. If a priest is not a saint, either he must become one or be damned by his theology.”

To be true, such an approach to the mystery of salvific sacrifice of self is not reserved to the priest, even though he should live it more than others. All the faithful, who have been baptised into the Lord’s death and who receive His sacred body offered up in sacrifice, should aspire to do the same, for that is the only way to true sanctity.

Another priest expressed it this way: “The Mass is the very centre of a priest’s life, the urtext of all the texts he lives by. He does not write the Mass; the Mass writes him. In the end the priest becomes the text he utters at Mass. His is the body broken, the blood poured out for God’s people. The same is true for all who offer the Mass with the priest. It is their body broken, as well, their blood poured out. The heart of the mystery of the Mass is that each person’s offering is subsumed in the Eucharistic bread and wine become Christ, the perfect offering to God.”

All that, my dear Friends, sets the tone for the rest of our life. Passion tide, the two weeks that now separate us from Easter, are the time par excellence to contemplate that truth. To first of all, contemplate the sufferings of our Lord, that is to say, to spend time reading over the sacred texts that tell us of the most minute details of His passion in the four gospels, or in the proto-gospel of the prophet Isaiah, ch. 53, or in the great psalms of the passion, especially but not exclusively psalms 21, 54 and 68. It is by the prayerful contemplation of these events that we are moved to understand how much Our Lord really does love each one of us and we feel moved in turn to give ourselves, to offer our lives in sacrifice.

What form does such a sacrifice take? Ultimately, we do not know how our life will end. We may be called to witness to Christ in martyrdom. This is a reality that no true Christian should rule out as not concerning him/her personally. Be that as it may, one thing is certain: we are all called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice each day of our lives. St Paul expresses it when he writes to the Romans (12:1): I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service.

The true Christian offers his/her life in sacrifice by means of daily prayer, fidelity to one’s duty of state in family, in work, in fraternal support of others, in denying oneself each day in many small ways so as to be more like Christ. If we do these things consistently, then we will truly be well-prepared for the Holy Feast of Easter.

This week, our meditation on the passion will not be interrupted but rather boosted by the celebration of three giant saints who bore their cross manfully and gave their lives for Christ. Tomorrow, transferred from today, we will honour St Patrick whose entire life, like that of any true and holy bishop, was a continual sacrificial effort to preach the true faith and draw souls away from superstition and idolatry. Souls are precious, they are immortal, and a shepherd of souls must wage daily war with the enemy to wrest them from his influence.

Tuesday we will honour our patron St Joseph who taught our blessed Lord how to pray, how to work, how to suffer in silence. He protected and fostered the humble beginnings of Jesus’ life and even though he died before the passion of the Saviour, he must have foreseen prophetically all that his foster-son would have to endure for our salvation.

Finally on Thursday, we will honour our holy father St Benedict on the day of his passing into eternal life. For St Benedict, it’s all very simple. The monk takes part in the passion of Christ by perseverance in living patiently and fraternally in community until death. That is no small thing, says the Imitation of Christ.

In the end, the passion puts us all before the reality of suffering that is unavoidable. “Who is there that has all things according to his will? Neither I nor you, nor any man on earth. There is no man in the world without some trouble or affliction, be he king or pope. Who then is the best off? Truly he that is able to suffer something for the love of God” (Imitation of Christ, book 1, ch. 22).