Today, we begin, as does the holy Gospel, to number the days which precede the Death, the Sacrifice, of the Lamb of God. St. John, in the 12th Chapter of his Gospel, tells us that this is the Sixth day before the Pasch.
Jesus is in Bethania, where a feast is being given in his honour. Lazarus, he whom Jesus has restored to life, was present at this repast, which was given in the house of Simon the Leper. Martha is busy looking after the various arrangements; her sister, Mary Magdalene, has a heavenly presentiment that the death and burial of her beloved Master are soon to be, and she has poured upon him a precious perfume. The Holy Gospel, which ever observes such a mysterious reserve with regard to the Mother of Jesus, does not tell us that Mary was at Bethania on this occasion, but there can be no doubt of her being present. The Apostles were also there, and partook of the repast. Whilst the friends of our Savior were thus grouped around him, in this village, which was about two thousand paces from Jerusalem, the aspect of the faithless City becomes more and more threatening: and yet, though his Disciples are not aware of it, Jesus is to enter the City tomorrow, and in a most public manner. The heart of Mary is a prey to sadness; Magdalene is absorbed in grief; everything announces that the fatal day is near.
The Church has reserved for Monday next the Gospel which relates the history of this Saturday. The reason is, that formerly, and up to the 12th century, there was no Station held on this day in Rome: it was left free, in order that the Pope might rest before the great fatigues of Holy Week, whose long and solemn services were to begin on the morrow. But, although he did not preside over the assembly of the Faithful, he, on this day, had to observe two usages, which had been handed down by tradition, and which had almost become of liturgical importance in the Church at Rome.
During the whole year, the Pope used, every Sunday, to send a portion of the sacred species, consecrated by him, to each of the priests of the presbyterial titles, or parochial churches, of the city. But it was today that this distribution was made for the whole of Holy Week, perhaps on account of tomorrow’s long service. We know from the ancient liturgical books of Rome, that it was in the Lateran Consistory that today’s sacred distribution was made, and it is probable (as the Blessed Cardinal Tommasi and Benedict the XIV tell us) that the Bishops of the suburbicarian churches were of the number of those who received it. We have several instances proving that, formerly, bishops occasionally sent to one another the blessed Sacrament, as a sign of the union that existed between them. With regard to the priests of the city parochial churches, to whom a Particle was sent by the Pope, they put a portion of it in the chalice before receiving the precious Blood.
The other custom, peculiar to this day, consisted in giving alms to all the poor. The Pope presided at this distribution, which was no doubt made ample enough to last the whole of the coming Week, when on account of the long ceremonies, it would scarcely be possible to attend to individual cases of poverty. The liturgists of the middle-ages allude to the beautiful appropriateness of the Roman Pontiffs distributing alms with his own hand, to the poor, on this day, the same on which Mary Magdalene embalmed, with her perfumes, the feet of Jesus.
Since the 12th century, a Station has been assigned to this Saturday; it takes place in the Church of Saint John before the Latin Gate. This ancient basilica is built near the spot where the Beloved Disciple was, by Domitian’s order, plunged into the cauldron of boiling oil.
May the people consecrated to thy service, we beseech thee, O Lord, improve in the affections of piety; that instructed by these holy mysteries, they may be so much the more enriched with thy heavenly gifts, as they become more acceptable to thy divine majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lesson from the Prophet Jeremias 18:18-23
In those days, the wicked Jews said to one another: Come, and let us invent devices against the Just: for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us strike him with the tongue, and let us give no heed to all his words. Give heed to me, O Lord, and hear the voice of my adversaries. Shall evil be rendered for good, because they have digged a pit for my soul? Remember that I have stood in thy sight, to speak good for them, and to turn away thy indignation from them. Therefore deliver up their children to famine, and bring them into the hands of the sword; let their wives be bereaved of children, and widows; and let the husbands be slain by death; let their young men be stabbed with the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard out of their houses; for thou shalt bring the robber upon them suddenly, because they have digged a pit to take me, and have hid snares for my feet. But thou, O Lord, knowest all their counsel against me unto death; forgive not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from thy sight; let them be overthrown before thy eyes, in the time of thy wrath do thou destroy them, O Lord our God.
It makes us tremble to read these awful anathemas, which Jeremias, the figure of Christ, speaks against his enemies, the Jews. This prophecy, which was literally fulfilled at the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Assyrians, received a more terrible fulfillment at the second visitation of God’s anger upon this city of malediction. This time, it was not because the Jews had persecuted a Prophet; it was because they had rejected and crucified the very Son of God. It was to their long-expected Messias that they had rendered evil for good. It was not a Saint, like Jeremias, that had spoken good for them to the Lord, and besought Him to turn away His indignation from them; the Man-God Himself had, without ceasing, made intercession for them, and treated them with the tenderest mercy. But all was in vain; this ungrateful people seemed to hate their divine Benefactor in proportion to His love of them; and at length, in the transport of their fury, they cried out: “His blood he upon us and upon our children!” (Matthew 27:25) What a frightful chastisement they entailed on themselves by this imprecation! God heard and remembered it. Alas! the sinner, who knows Jesus and the worth of His Blood, yet who again sheds this precious Blood, — does He not expose himself to the severity of that same Justice, which fell so heavily on the Jews? Let us tremble and pray: let us implore the divine mercy in favour of those many obstinately blind and hardened sinners, who are hastening to destruction. Oh! that by the fervour of our supplications addressed to the merciful Heart of our common Redeemer, we could obtain a reversion of their sentence, and secure them pardon!
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to John 12:10-36
At that time: the chief priests thought to kill Lazarus also, because many of the Jews by reason of him went away, and believed in Jesus. And on the next day a great multitude, that was come to the festival day, when they had heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried: Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel! And Jesus found a young ass, and sat upon it, as it is written: Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, thy King cometh sitting; on an ass’s colt. These things his disciples did not know at first; but when Jesus was glorified, they then remembered that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things to him.
The multitude therefore gave testimony, which was with him, when he called Lazarus out of the grave, and raised him from the dead. For which reason also the people came to meet him, because they heard he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves: Do you see that we prevail nothing? behold, the whole world is gone after him. Now there were certain Gentiles among them that came up to adore on the festival day. These therefore came to Philip, who was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying: Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh, and telleth Andrew. Again Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
But Jesus answered them, saying: The hour is come that the Son of man shall be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaining alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life, shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal. If any man minister to me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my minister be. If any man minister to me, him will my Father honor. Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause I came unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. A voice therefore came from heaven: I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The multitude therefore that stood and heard, said that it thundered. Others said: An Angel spoke to him.
Jesus answered, and said: This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. 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. (Now this he said, signifying what death he should die.) The multitude answered him: We have heard out of the law, that Christ abideth for ever; and now sayest thou: The Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man? Jesus therefore said to them: Yet a little while, the light is among you. Walk whilst you have the light, that the darkness overtake you not; and he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. Whilst you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light. These things Jesus spoke, and he went away and hid himself from them.
The enemies of Jesus have come to that pitch of hatred, which robs a man of his senses. Lazarus, who has been restored from death to life, is here standing before them; and instead of his resuscitation convincing them of Jesus’ being the Messias, it sets them thinking how best to make away with this irresistible witness. senseless men! that Jesus who raised him to life when dead, can again bring him to life if you murder him. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which we are solemnly to commemorate tomorrow, adds to their jealousy and hatred. Behold, say they, we prevail nothing: the whole world goes after Him. Alas! this ovation is to be soon followed by one of those reverses to which a populace is so subject. Meanwhile, however, we have certain Gentiles who desire to see Jesus. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy: The kingdom of God shall be taken from. you, and shall he given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. (Matthew 21:43) Then shall the Son of man be glorified; then shall all nations, by their humble homage to the Crucified, protest against the sinful blindness of the Jews. But, before this comes to pass, it is requisite, that the Divine Wheat be cast into the ground, and die. Then, the glorious harvest; and the beautiful seed, shall yield a hundredfold.
And yet, Jesus feels, in his human nature, a momentary fear at the thought of this death He is to undergo. It is not the agony in the Garden; it is a trouble of soul. Let us listen to His words: Father! save me from this hour. It is our God who foresees all that He is about to suffer for our sakes, and it fills Him with fear: He asks to be freed from it, though His will has decreed and accepted it. He immediately adds: But, for this cause I came unto this hour: Father I glorify Thy name. His soul is now calm; He once more accepts the hard conditions of our salvation. After this, his words bespeak a triumph; by virtue of the sacrifice about to be offered, Satan shall be dethroned: The prince of this world shall be cast out. But the defeat of Satan is not the only fruit of our Savior’s immolation: man, earthly and depraved creature as He is, is to be raised from this earth to heaven. The Son of God is to be the heavenly loadstone, attracting man to Himself: And I, if I he lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself. He forgets His sufferings, and the terrible death which just now troubled Him; He thinks but of the defeat of our implacable enemy, and of our being saved and glorified by His Cross. These few words reveal the whole Heart of our Redeemer: if we attentively weigh them, they will suffice to inflame us with devotion as we celebrate the ineffable mysteries of Holy Week.
Bow down your heads to God.
May thy right hand, O Lord, we beseech thee, protect thy people making supplication to thee, and purifying them from their sins, make them wise, that they may make such use of the comforts of this present life, as to arrive at that which is eternal. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us sue for mercy from the Savior of our souls, in these words of supplication used in the Gothic Liturgy of Spain.
(Feria VI. Dominicæ V.)
℣. Have mercy upon, and spare, thy people, O most merciful Lord!
℟. For we have sinned against thee.
℣. Look down, from the throne of thy Cross, upon us miserable creatures, who are fettered by the chains of our passions. Deliver us, O thou our Redeemer, from the punishments we deserve.
℟. For we have sinned against thee.
℣. O thou that wast scourged, ignominiously crucified, and insulted by them that persecuted thee! grant us repentance for our sins.
℟. For we have sinned against thee.
℣ If thou, the just Judge, that wast judged unjustly, and, though innocent, made to suffer the tortures of the Cross! save us from our merited punishments, for thou art our Redeemer.
℟. For we have sinned against thee.
℣. O thou, that heretofore wast silent before the judge! raise up thy voice in pleading for us to thy Father, that we may be happy with thee, our King and Lord.
℟. For we have sinned against thee.
The following sequence, in praise of Mary, is most appropriate for this Saturday of Passion Week. It sweetly blends together the homages we owe to the Cross of Jesus and to the Dolours of Mary. We have taken it from the Horæ of the 16th century.
We, that by the fruit of the forbidden tree, lost our life, now seek the tree of life.
He alone hath found this tree, who sees the branch whereon is fixed the fruit.
Our faith tells us, that the fruit, that gives us life, hangs on Mary’s breast.
And on the cross, between two thieves, though, here, he is pierced with five wounds.
The Virgin-Mother, and the saving Cross, — yea, both are mystic trees;
The cross, humble as the hyssop; Mary, noble as the cedar, — both are trees of life.
Placed between the two, I know not to which to turn.
O sweet perplexity! O sweet comparison!
Here, my Jesus lies, fondled in his Mother’s arms, a weeping little Babe;
There, with his arms stretched out, calling all to his embrace.
Here, ’tis a burden sweet to a Mother’s love;
There, ’tis Love itself, too ardent to be hid.
Here, leaning on his Mother’s heart, he is fed at her breast;
There, fastened to the tree, he feeds us from his wounds.
The Cross supplies us with the food of its refreshing Fruit;
The Mother forestalls the Cross, feeding the very Fruit, feeding him for us.
This, then, is my decision: we cannot have the one without the other.
He that chooses the Cross, must have the Mother; for when he comes to the Cross, he will find the Mother standing at the foot.
He that chooses the Mother, meets the Cross as well, for it was whilst standing at the Cross, that the Mother’s heart was pierced.
O Jesus! crucified Son of a crucified Mother! look upon us from thy Cross.
O living fruit! O fruit of the tree of life! refresh us with thyself, give us the enjoyment of thine own dear self. Amen.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)