Holy Pascha is a mere two weeks away – we’ve now entered Passiontide. The Liturgy continues its lenten “stripping”: just as we lost the joyous Gloria and Alleluia at the beginning of Septuagesima, now the Psalm prayed at the foot of the altar is gone as well. Suddenly, all images are veiled, even the cross (as a liturgical curiosity, the Bragan rite prescribes that all images and sanctuary be veiled throughout the whole of Lent – with certain exceptions – as was the original custom)! It is as if the Liturgy wishes to tell us “the Passion is coming; forget now the glories of the Church, look not on the wonders of her saints. No, this is Lent. You, the exules filii Evae, have been cast out of Eden. The Bridegroom must undergo His Passion before the gates of Eden can be openned to you again. Look at this temple where you worship, where all is hidden – it is as Eden – you cannot see its wonders, its majesty. All is focusing your attention on the Passion. Once the Bridegroom consumates His love, then you will see Eden again in all its splendour, then your temples will once again we filled with light and beauty and joyous song.” It is only the second year that I am attending Holy Mass with veiled images during Passiontide, and it does make quite an impact on me. No ammount of having previously read about it can actually give you the experience except for experiencing the thing itself (just as no ammount of reading about a solemn Mass or a vetus ordo Baptism could impress on me as much as actually participating in them). Words cannot describe enough how much I love the Prefaces (especially when they are sung), those condensed doxological “introductions” at the beginning of the Canon. Passiontide gives us this wonderful gem [Preface of the Holy Cross]:
It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should in all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God. Who didst set the salvation of mankind upon the tree of the Cross, so that whence came death, thence also life might rise again, and that he who overcame by the tree might also be overcome on the tree; through Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise Thy majesty, the dominations adore, the powers are in awe, the virtues of highest heaven and the blessed seraphim unite in blissful exultation. With them we praise Thee; grant that our voices too may blend, saying in adoring praise:
If there was one verse that stuck with me from today’s Gospel, it was this – “And you do not know Him, but I know Him“. While there is much to be said about not (fully) knowing God while still in this life, struggling within the Church, this verse brought to my mind memories of where I was spiritually a little over 9 years ago. While the Lord was leading me back to His Mystical Body, little did I know that I was on that path (even less did I know that I had my own passion to undergo before the “final” reconciliation with the Church). I thought I knew God – or better – I thought I knew god (or even that he did not exist). What confusion within, what a mix of ideas, what turmoil; like a boat buffeted by waves in a storm, I was without direction seeking here and there a safe harbour, denying that a harbour existed, doubting that it might exist… I did not know that the Church was a sacrament of Christ, that it was His sacramental presence in this world, nor that He and the Father were one. No, I hated the Church. Perhaps hate is too strong a word – I despised it. And yet, after I returned I discovered that I had never really despised the Church at all; rather I despised my idea of the Church, the caricature of it which I believed to be an accurate representation. How could I ever hate that which I had ever hoped for, which promised even more than I could ever hope for?
And yet this is quite common. I am constantly encountering people who tell me they hate the Church, hate what it represents, and so on and so forth, and yet when it comes down to it, what they hate is a spectre. What they hate simply does not exist. How one comes about such caricatures all depends on one’s personal experience I suppose, but to learn what the Church really is, to want to know Her and love Her as mother, one has to be willing to walk down the via cruxis; one has to respond to the grace for it. Sin keeps us from seeing it as it really is – sin veils our eyes.
This penultimate verse of the Vexilla Regis is my prayer for everyone I know this Passiontide, especially those who have recanted their faith:
Hail Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
Now, in the mournful Passion time;
grant to the just increase of grace,
and every sinner’s crimes efface.