Reflections on the Passiontide

During the next two weeks, the poignant drama of Calvary will again be enacted in the sublime worship of the Church. Faithful people will flock to the churches, to the amazement of a skeptical and irreligious world, and they will not be mere witnesses of the greatest tragedy in history. They will be actors in the heartrending drama, and not merely stage extras. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, each of us shares in the painful sufferings and sorrows of body and soul endured by the Lord Jesus Christ from Gethsemane to Golgotha.

The hands and the feet which so often served as instruments of wrongdoing are pierced, and yet fashioned again in the forge of self-accusation. The head, which dared to defy the impulses of grace and to shake itself in derisive sinfulness is crowned with the thorns of remorse. The heart, which scoffed at the overtures of divine charity, is transfixed with the sword of self-abasement and mortification. Passiontide is not only the season for the commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord, but also the compassion of the Christian.

During the period of Lent leading up to Passiontide, we as the faithful imitate Christ in His forty days’ fast by prayer and penance. Up to this point, the fasting and penances have been the preparatory steps in the drama, leading up to the denouement, just as the fast of Christ was a preparation for His obedient fulfillment of the will of His heavenly Father. Now, with greater earnestness and keener sense, the faithful begin to suffer with the Lord Jesus Christ the painful torments of the bitter Passion.

To those who follow the spirit of this world, this may seem a bit overly negative. But Lent is not entirely sad. Passiontide is poignant and sorrowful, but not depressing. You cannot take the pain from the suffering Body of the Crucified Redeemer. It remains all too real. The gall of defiance and derision cannot be taken out of sin. This, too, is real. But the wording of the Exsultet speaks of Adam’s sin as a “happy fault”, as it brought us so great a Redeemer. Such is the ray of hope in the midst of tragedy. Calvary’s dark despair will be dissipated by the bright light of Easter morning. Divine Love will conquer hatred and inordinate self-love.

So while penance and self-discipline may be in some ways against our natural inclinations, they do not inspire sadness and gloom. They rather fill the heart with joy and hope, because they are inspired by grace. By them, each one is made an active member of the Mystical Body of Christ, sharing in the Passion of its Head, in which there is plenteous redemption. We know that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner doing penance than upon ninety-nine just who do not need to do so.

This is the Catholic answer to the world. If there must be a revolution to correct the abuses under which humanity suffers, let there be a spiritual revolution. If there must be reform, let there be personal reform. The forces of this world – the forces of the enemy – would crucify mankind in bloody revolutions, abject serfdom, and the dark dungeons of despair by robbing Christ’s flock of its only hope: our eternal destiny. If the despairing world would hear the voice of Him who died on Mount Calvary, it would achieve redemption from all of these ills.

It is incumbent upon us all to set this example to a godless and post-Christian world. May we bring the world to the Cross by making human compassion cooperate with the Divine Passion. In this way, mankind will have won its divine inheritance. When the shadow on earth will not be the threatening clouds of hatred, war, and secularism, but the shadow of the Cross of the loving Savior, then will mankind truly find the happiness for which it longs.

Fr. Albert P. Marcello, III, J.C.D. (Cand.) is a priest of the diocese of Providence, R.I. He holds an S.T.B. and M.A. in Thomistic Studies from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a J.C.L. from the Catholic University of Louvain, where he is a doctoral candidate in canon law.