The Crucifixion

Consider how your Jesus, after three hours of agony on the Cross, consumed at length with anguish, abandons Himself to the weight of His Body, bows His Head, and dies.

Gothic crucifixion, carved in walrus ivory, in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Photographed by Fr. Bryan Jerabek.

Romanesque crucifixion panel on a tabernacle door, carved in walrus ivory, dating from about 1180; in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Photographed by Fr. Bryan Jerabek.

O my dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the Cross on which you did die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death, but your death is my hope. By the merits of your death, give me the grace to die embracing your feet and burning with love for you. Into your hands I commend my spirit. I love you with my whole heart; I repent of having offended you. Never permit me to offend you again. Grant that I may love you always, and then do with me what you will.

– from the twelfth station of the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori

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The Swoon of Our Lady

The Blessed Mother, being helped by the Holy Women after collapsing at the foot of the Cross. Model for a larger sculpture by Antonio Begarelli. Photographed in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, by Fr. Bryan Jerabek.

The Blessed Mother, being helped by the Holy Women after collapsing at the foot of the Cross. Model for a larger sculpture by Antonio Begarelli. Photographed in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, by Fr. Bryan Jerabek.

In late medieval piety a tradition developed which held that when Our Lady encountered her Son during his procession to Calvary, she swooned upon seeing his suffering. A similar tradition is that she collapsed at the foot of the Cross.

Some people (theologians, saints, average folks) have taken issue with this pious tradition – not found in divine revelation – indicating that it was not fitting that the Mother of God should have fainted before the suffering of her Son, to which she had freely consented and in which she participated. Here, for example, is what St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about it:

Mary, at the sight of her Son, on His way to Calvary, did not faint, no, for it was not becoming, as Father Suarez remarks, that this Mother should lose the use of her reason; nor did she die, for God reserved her for greater grief: but though she did not die, her sorrow was enough to have caused her a thousand deaths.

In any case, in places like the Holy Land and Italy there are churches to be found that were dedicated to the “swoon” or “fainting” of Our Lady (in older English, the “spasm”, coming from the Latin spasmus), and it certainly was the subject of art, the above photograph being just one example.

You and I probably would have collapsed if, with open and compassionate hearts, we had encountered our suffering Lord on his way to Calvary; as it is, we can barely handle our own sufferings, which are infinitely tiny in comparison!

Lord, have mercy on us! Blessed Mother, pray for us and stand by us as we bear with our crosses!

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Good Friday

Come, sweet cross – this I desire to say –
my Jesus, let me have it always!
Should my suffering ever prove too great,
you will help me to bear it.

– Aria “Komm, süßes Kreuz” from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”

Today – one of only two days a year – is a day of fast and abstinence. In the face of all that our Savior did and continues to do for us, the Church commands us to do this tiny, bare minimum: to eat only one full meatless meal, with the addition of two smaller (meatless) snacks if needed. (Fuller explanation of the law here.)

Today is a fitting day for us to be silent, as much as possible. Silence includes not only sounds that we emit but sounds that we take in. Do all that you can to have time for prayer and reflection on this important day. Being quiet is not easy for us nowadays: but do it anyways and offer it up as a penance.

I am planning to concelebrate Mass tomorrow evening in Westminster Cathedral, and I will offer it for your special intentions (i.e. it will be a “group intention”). Please feel free to submit them using the form below. To the list of intentions that I receive through this form, I will add the general intention, “And for all the other special intentions of those who read this post on my blog.”

I pray that you have a blessed and prayerful Paschal Triduum!

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Altar of Repose

At the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening, as is indicated by the liturgical rubrics, we accompanied the Blessed Sacrament carried in procession to a special altar of repose.

Here is a photo of that altar here at the church I am visiting during these days:

The Lady Chapel at St. James Spanish Place in London, England - transformed into an altar of repose for Holy Thursday night.

The Lady Chapel at St. James—Spanish Place in London, England – transformed into an altar of repose for Holy Thursday night.

As the procession took place the choir led the singing of the Pange lingua – always a joy to chant. Read more about that venerable hymn, written by St. Thomas Aquinas, here on Wikipedia.

Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was to continue until midnight, with various parishioners and visitors dropping in for some moments of prayer as the evening progressed.

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Washing of the Feet and Holy Orders

Detail from the Washing of the Feet window, representing the Sacrament of Holy Orders, at Pope John Paul II Catholic High School in Huntsville, Alabama.

Detail from the Washing of the Feet window, representing the Sacrament of Holy Orders, at Pope John Paul II Catholic High School in Huntsville, Alabama.


In the thirteenth chapter of St. John’s gospel Jesus washes the feet of his twelve disciples before celebrating the Last Supper. This passage is very familiar to us, since we hear it during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper each Holy Thursday. In many of our parishes it is even re-enacted, as it were, with the foot-washing ritual that is an optional part of that great liturgy.

In modern times it has been fairly customary to focus on the words Christ spoke after he had finished washing the feet of the Twelve: “I have given you an example to follow, so that as I have done for you, you also should do.” Everything that our Lord did and said was for our instruction. His actions in this passage are perfectly consonant with his teachings about love, service, and putting others first. For this reason, often in our parishes we have had twelve members representing the full demographic – men, women, and children – take part in the foot-washing ritual as a sign that all of us are called to do as the Lord Jesus did. Since his call to service is addressed to everyone – not just to priests – the question thus arises: What, specifically, does this gospel scene have to do with the sacrament of Holy Orders?

We begin to find the answer – and the literal meaning of the passage – when we go back a bit farther and consider some of the other words that Christ spoke. Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet!”, to which Jesus responded, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” With this somewhat mysterious reply Our Lord takes us back to the Old Testament priesthood, which he wished to bring to its fulfillment in the priesthood of his New Covenant. Each of the tribes of Israel had been given its own share of land by the Lord, where they could live in security and raise their families in fidelity to him – that is, except for the twelfth tribe: the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. They were not given a portion of land, for “the Lord himself is their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 18:2; see also Numbers 18:20, Psalms 16:5, etc.). In other words, their life and ministry as priests was not to be oriented to the passing things of this world, but to the enduring things of God.

It is also striking to consider that the washing of feet was a prerequisite for priestly service at the altar (see Exodus 30:17-21): “They shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die.” Thus we know from the Lord’s words and deeds of his intent to confer the priestly dignity on the Twelve; he wished to give them himself as their priestly inheritance, and he would make them worthy of the altar by washing their feet. The Old Testament allusions would have been clear to the Twelve, all observant Jews. And the Last Supper narratives from the other gospels confirm what Jesus was doing, for he instructed the Twelve at the first Eucharist, “Do this in memory of me.”

The literal meaning of this scene from St. John’s gospel, therefore, is the ordination of the Twelve as the first priests of Christ’s Church. There are certainly other valid meanings, such as our common call to serve one another, but those interpretations are secondary – though perhaps they find greater resonance at different points in history. In any case, the celebration of this washing ritual on the day when Christ instituted the sacred priesthood, Holy Thursday, indicates that the gospel is to be understood – at least today – primarily in its literal sense. This is why the liturgical rubrics indicate very clearly that the feet of twelve men are to be washed, so that the symbolic action reflects the reality of the all-male priesthood that was willed and instituted by our Lord.

On this day, then, let us pray for all priests, especially those most in need of our prayers. And pray also for those who are preparing to ascend the altar, our seminarians, and that more young men will have the courage to say yes to the Lord who calls them to ministerial service in his Church.

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Chrism Mass

A photo from the Diocese of Birmingham’s Chrism Mass, celebrated on Tuesday of this Holy Week in the Cathedral of St. Paul, Birmingham.


Photo from the Google+ page of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word

Wish I could have been there!

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Happy Birthday to Benedict XVI!

Today is the 87th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.


May God grant him good health and many years!

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In my hometown they put in a new Veterans’ Memorial Park. I bought a brick for the area around it.

Honor - Protect - Remember

Honor – Protect – Remember

My brick might well be the only one in Latin – I didn’t go around and look at every one of them, but I have a hunch:

+ In Memory + O Good Lord Jesus Grant Them Rest

+ In Memory +
O Good Lord Jesus
Grant Them Rest

I have fond memories of marching through the city in Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day parades, when I was in the high school band.

* * *

Prayer Request: I’m heading back over the Atlantic this evening; please say a prayer for safe travel. Thanks!

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Veiled Images for Passiontide

Here is a cell phone snapshot of some of the veiled images in a church in my hometown, where I am visiting right now. The colors aren’t quite right – the veils were definitely purple.

With covers that were made to fit each image. Nicely done.

With covers that were made to fit each image. Nicely done.

Are the images in your parish veiled? With purple or with another color? Have they been veiled since last Sunday (the Fifth Sunday of Lent), for all of Lent, or just since today, Palm Sunday?

A Blessed Holy Week to all. I will be home for another couple of days then traveling elsewhere for the Sacred Triduum, so posting will likely continue to be light.

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Meatless Friday

Very healthy meatless stuffed peppers.


Lovingly made by my brother.

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Air France Lounge

This afternoon (Central European time) I’m in an Air France Lounge in the Charles de Gaulle airport of Paris, on a longish layover during a trip home to see my family. If there’s anything that I’ve learned about flying through Paris it is: 1) get a long layover, so that there is a higher chance that the bags will actually be transferred to the next flight; and 2) use the Air France lounge, which is comfortable and pleasant and quiet and a much better place to be during the long layover, than wandering around in the noisy terminal. Fortunately, I have Gold Status with Delta, so I can get into the lounge for free – this year.

This time I brought the technological relic with me: the five-year-old enormous laptop that weighs a ton!

This time I brought the technological relic with me: the five-year-old enormous laptop that weighs a ton!

Please say a prayer that the second leg of my trip goes as well as the first one did, and for my family as they drive to Boston to pick me up this evening. Thanks!

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A Young Man’s Tomb

This tomb is in the nearby Basilica of the Twelve Apostles, and it is a bit unlike most of the others that you see there. First, because it is more recent – the person died in 1938 (i.e. it is not a tomb from the baroque period or some other bygone time); second, because it is for a young person, whose life was in a certain sense only just beginning.

The young man in question was Tonino Rezza. I don’t know anything about him other than what we can observe here. It seems that he came from a wealthy family, for to memorialize him with a tomb of this type in a major basilica in central Rome, I would guess, would have cost a fair amount. According to the dates on the (Italian) inscription he died on his 15th birthday – June 22, 1938. It doesn’t say anything about the cause of his death. But what it does say is interesting, and inspiring. First, a photo:

Touched up cell phone photo.

Touched up cell phone photo.

Beneath his name, it says that he was a Roman, 15 years old. Then it says:

Superior of Mind – Pure of Heart
On Fire with Holy Ambitions

Is Tonino a saint? Not in the official sense. Is he in heaven? We don’t know. We always pray for the dead!

But it would seem, from his memorial, that he had been on the right track, and perhaps even a bit advanced for his age. May we draw inspiration from this memorial, then – we who have far passed 15 years of age, yet still have a long way to go on the path of sanctity!

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