Friday of the Passion of the Lord
"Behold, my servant shall prosper, says the Lord, he shall be exalted and lifted up" (Is 52:13). The voice of the Father! In the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, it is the Father who speaks. The voice of the Father, carried on the breath of the Spirit, reveals the mystery of the Son. Thus are the words of Jesus fulfilled, "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me" (Jn 6:45).
Isaiah's fourth Song of the Servant is familiar to us. Frequently, it is placed on our lips by the sacred liturgy, especially over the course of these three days of suffering and of glory. In a mysterious language, in words that cut to the heart, Isaiah gives us the Father's sorrowful contemplation of the suffering Servant, his own beloved Son. Hearing the Song of the Servant, we gaze upon the Son through the eyes of the Father, that is to say, we gaze upon the Son in the light of the Holy Spirit. Such a contemplation is supremely transforming. The liturgy schools us in this contemplation of the suffering Christ. We hold ourselves before his image as before a mirror and, with our gaze fixed upon his Face, we begin to experience a transformation of self that is not of our own doing, not the fruit of striving and of effort, but the work of the Holy Spirit. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).
Holy Mother Clare, herself formed and molded by the sacred liturgy, schools us in the same transfiguring contemplation of the disfigured Christ, "the poor crucified One who bore the suffering of the Cross for all of us" (Letter One of Saint Clare). She echoes the prophecy of Isaiah. She repeats what she, having listened and inclined the ear of her heart, heard from the Father, and held in her heart. "Look at Him who was thought contemptible, and this for your sake, . . . Your Spouse, the most despised of men, scorned, smitten, wounded all over his body, and dying amidst the agonies of the Cross. . . . Look at him, keep on gazing upon Him, contemplate Him, yearning to imitate Him" (Letter Two of Saint Clare).
Whosoever hears the voice of the Father, gazes upon the Son. The voice of the Father is carried to the ear of the heart on the breath of the Spirit; similarly, the glory of the Son is perceived only in the light of the Holy Spirit. This, says Saint Paul, is " the secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of the this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:7-8).
The contemplation of Jesus Crucified, receiving its focus and intensity from the liturgy itself, becomes, almost imperceptibly, a mystical participation, a communion, in the prayer of Christ, in the filial and priestly prayer that, from the altar of the Cross, ascends to the Father. The sacrament of Christ's prayer is the psalter. That is why the days and nights of this sacred Triduum are filled with the psalmody of the Church.
The prayer of the Crucified is communicated to us under the species of the psalms, humble human words concealing and revealing the mystery of the Word in conversation with the Father. "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit." This is his prayer in us, his prayer for us; this is our prayer in him, our prayer through him.
The responsorial psalm gives us but a few selected verses of Psalm 30; the rest must be murmured, repeated, savoured in the secret of our lectio divina for it discloses the whole mystery of the Pasch. "Thou hast seen my affliction, thou hast taken heed of my adversities . . . thou has set my feet in a broad place" (Ps 30:7). "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (Heb 5:7).
We are saved and delivered by this costly prayer of Christ, a prayer forged in anguish and suffering, a cry out of the narrow place, the place of darkness and of death. It is by the prayer of Christ that we pass over with him into the place of spacious vastness (Ps 30:7) prepared by God for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9). It is by the prayer of Christ that pass from our narrow selves, from the constricting shroud of death's dark bands into the liberating embrace of the Father, into the wideness of a mercy that cannot be measured, and the radiance of an unending day.
The Passion according to Saint John culminates in Jesus' dying words to the Father -"It is finished" (Jn 19:30)- and in the kiss of the Spirit bestowed upon his Bride, the Church -"And bowing his head, he handed over the Spirit" (Jn 19:30). Christ passes over in a Trinitarian epiphany, in a sudden and mysterious unveiling of the Father and the Holy Spirit. In this, the Crucified is revealed as the immortal Word, the Eternal Son of the Father. In this, his dying breath is shown to be the infusion of life, the
Holy Spirit given as the very respiration of his Body, the Church. Who but Christ can die saying, "It is finished"? Who among us can depart out of this world having accomplished the work that had been given us to do? Christ alone can die, saying, "It is finished," because he alone can say to the Father, "I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (Jn 17:4). Our lives and our deaths are the story of a thousand incompletenesses, of words left unsaid, of tasks left undone. Etymologically, that which is imperfect is that which is not yet finished.
The death of Christ is the remedy for all that in us is, and will remain, fragmented and incomplete, broken and imperfect. The prayer of Christ brings wholeness to what is fragmented. The prayer of Christ completes what is partial. The prayer of Christ repairs what is broken, restores what is disfigured, washes what is impure, perfects all that human weakness leaves undone, and the place of his prayer is the Cross.
This is why, after having listened to the Father's grieving voice in the words of the prophet, after having received into our hearts, by means of the psalm, the very prayer of the Crucified, after having contemplated, as in mirror, the glory of the Trinity revealed in his ignominious death, we are compelled to approach the wood of the Cross. Barefoot and lowly, like Moses before the burning bush on Horeb, we will "creep" to the Tree of Life to plant upon its blood-soaked fibers the kiss of our surrender.
Still, it is not enough that we should merely kiss the "faithful Tree, the tree all beauteous" (Hymn, Crux fidelis). We have also to taste of its incorruptible Fruit. And so, the holy table will be spread. The Presanctified Oblation will be brought out, the terrible mystery of the Cross made present. And we, many though we are, will find ourselves made one, held fast in the prayer of the Crucified, nailed to the wood of the Cross with him, sealed with him in the darkness of the tomb, and yet filled, even now with the gift of the Spirit and the brightness of the Immortal Father's face.
Then, there will be silence. The lifeless body, taken down from the Cross, will be laid in the tomb. The Crucified will descend downward, downward into hell's gaping mouth. The dead will tremble in their dark abode, and his face will be to them as lightening, and his voice like thunder, and his breath like the fragrance of no earthly springtime. And he will hear their groans and trace his name on their heads, and all the dead shall be free and belong to him, and we with them, and they with us, and all in him. Death's long winter shall be past, and flowers shall appear on the earth (Ct 2:11-12) and, out of the silence, the Church shall again find her voice and breathe his Breath to sing with him a new song.
©Dom Marc-Daniel Kirby, O.Cist.