The Path to Resurrection
Ash Wednesday. Fr Leon Pereira invites us to imitate Our Lady as Lent begins.
Every Friday evening as Sabbath begins in Jerusalem, many Jews walk a particular route through the Old City, to a vantage point overlooking the enormous Temple platform to the east, mourning the loss of what used to be there. The Temple, the locus of God’s presence with His people, is gone, and that loss and grief mark much of Jewish life and worship to this day.
Jesus promised to raise the Temple in three days, the true and eternal Temple, which is His body. For us – as Vatican II reminds us – God is present when Christians, two or more, gather to worship; He is present to us in the sacraments, in the Word of God proclaimed among us, and above all in the Eucharist. Yet even for us who are and have the true Temple that can never be destroyed, it is important that the liturgy take us through the saving mysteries of Jesus’s passion and death in order to come to His Resurrection.
Lent, which begins today, is the path to Christ our Pasch, to Resurrection.
That path must necessarily go through loss. As the sacred three days (Triduum) begins on Maundy Thursday, after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the tabernacle is emptied and stripped, the doors left carelessly open, and the perpetual light of the sanctuary lamp extinguished. The liturgy re-enacts for us Christ being taken away. In Brideshead Revisited, Cordelia tries to explain this loss:
They’ve closed the chapel at Brideshead… the priest came in… and took out the altar stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday… and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room.
Without the Blessed Sacrament, every church would be just an oddly decorated room, testifying cruelly to a Real Absence, the absence of that One Thing that gives both that building and us meaning and purpose.
Good Friday is Christ taken from us. It is when the Master seems to be asleep in the stern, while we are buffeted by winds and swamped by waves (Mark 4:38). It is when the steward thinks the Master is delayed, and sets about beating his fellow servants (Luke 12:45). The Catechism (§675-7) reminds us that ‘before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers… persecution [and] a religious deception’, the pseudo-messianism of the Antichrist. Before her own Resurrection, the Church must first climb her Calvary.
The Church is Christ’s Bride; she is a she. Only a woman can image Holy Mother Church, and Mary does this pre-eminently. That is why even though the Church needs Peter (that is, she has a Petrine dimension), ultimately the Church is more like Mary (she has a Marian dimension). In other words, discipleship is more fundamental to the Christian than ministry.
This much is obvious in the first Triduum. Judas has betrayed the Lord with a kiss, and sold Him for a ‘princely sum’. Peter has called down curses upon himself and declared three times ‘I do not know the Man’, fleeing to avoid the Lord’s searching gaze (Luke 22:61). The apostles have abandoned the Lord when they ought to have been faithful, and keep silent when they should speak for their crucified Lord. Only Mary keeps faith, and with her the women disciples and an apostle who is little more than a boy. Only Mary believes in the Resurrection, pondering it in her heart, when her soul is pierced by a sword even as her dead Son’s heart is stabbed with a lance.
This Lent let us draw near to Mary, to pray, fast, and give alms with and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Church is fundamentally Marian, so we ought to be too, as we journey to Resurrection for the whole Church. With Mary let us be true disciples, faithful till Christ the Bridegroom comes again.
Image: Stations of the Cross from a church in West Virginia, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP