Saturday, February 21, 2015

Short Lenten Reflection: Passion as Sacrament

We have arrived at Lent and are now in the midst in the great Fast. So if you are at work, you hear your stomach growl, and you peal over your desk then just say a quick prayer and realize that is what is supposed to happen. 

During my late lunch I sometimes step into the cathedral a few blocks away to say an hour of the Office (remember, Vespers before noon!). My eyes traversed the walls and caught glimpse of a few of the latter stations of the Cross: the third fall, the stripping of garments, the crucifixion, the death of the Cross. The Passion is something of a Sacrament unto itself. Yes, the Sacrifice is there "perfect and complete" as the Byzantine pre-Sanctified Liturgy says during Communion, whenever one partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ. A Sacrament is the grace of God, something done by Christ through the Holy Spirit, and more. It is both the thing it symbolizes and a symbol. The waters of Baptism outwardly symbolize the cleansing of sins—recalling the Flood—and the renewal of Creation—water is a symbol itself of Creation—but inwardly it actually does these things and more. Christ told us, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Is not the Passion both a symbol for this and its actual fulfillment?

Simon of Cyrene bore the Cross with Our Lord, not eagerly, but willingly. He had little interest in the Cross and tried to escape it with the same half-hearted effort children use to avoid doing their chores until Roman force persuaded him to cooperate. He wasn't a bad man, he just wasn't interested. In the patristic age writers emphasized Simon's "symbolic and mystical" rather than "accidental" place in pre-signif[ying] the Gentiles' faith, to whom the Cross of Christ was not to be shame but glory" (St. Leo the Great, 8th sermon on the Passion). By modern times Simon had become a minor miscreant who begrudgingly entered the Passion. How many devotions booklets include a station of the Cross that laments Simon's unwillingness rather than his eventual consent?

Simon symbolized the Gentiles who would receive the faith that the Jewish people declined in the eyes of the ancient Church. Today he can still be that. Can he not also be an archetype of ourselves and so many saints we seek to imitate? Other than Padre Pio, I can hardly think of any saints eager to share in the Lord's Passion. Some of them unwillingly came along and others willingly and quietly. Christ invites us, we do not invite ourselves to His act of redemption. Christ gives us a Cross just as from eternity He created the wood that would be used to carve His own device of salvation. The Romans thought they gave Him the Cross in much the same way we think we get Communion or get absolution in Confession. We do not. They are gifts, as is every suffering and difficulty which brings us closer in faith, much like the stomach growling midday at work during the great Fast.

And then there is the Passion itself. Three falls, seemingly the pattern of sin when we try to expiate and reform our ways. First, sin seduces us in temptation. Second, we fall. And thirdly, we repeat and repeat and repeat. One Anchorite said, "It is not our falls that matter, but what way we face when we get back up." Bearing the Cross with Christ, the Christian must persevere through the Fast as Christ did with Simon on the way to Calvary. The Cross is not pleasant. The fast is not pleasant. Yet they are both sweet: dulce lignum, dulce clavos.... 

At the end of it, during Holy Week, we should be physically exhausted and nearest death as we can healthily be, if such a thing is possible. When the fire is hidden and the "earthquake" shakes the darkened church during Tenebrae remember that Christ is indeed buried, God in the form of human frailty. By His aid let us bury our own human frailty, too, that with Him we may rise in a luminous, glorified body made into what it was supposed to be originally by His work. Your goal on the Sunday of the Resurrection is to say that you participated in the Passion and the now the Resurrection, both in symbol and in reality.


  1. Excellent, The Rad Trad.

    Most grateful.

  2. Which type of Office do you pray? Latin or English or something else?

    1. Roman or Monastic I mean? And what year?

    2. I do the Byzantine. I think his traddiness does one of the pre-1911 ones (I forget which).

    3. Lord of Bollocks,

      ever pray the Agpeya? Do you have a link for the Byzantine office?

    4. A friend of mine got the Agpeya not knowing what it was. I've been to a 3-hour Coptic Vespers/Midnight Prayer service once.

      I don't have a link for the entire Byzantine Office, but I own a copy of "Byzantine Daily Worship". Links for some of the individual offices are relatively findable:

  3. Thanks!

    btw, you might like to check this out. I saw this on NLM a little while back.