As I sit in front of my computer listening to Thomas Tallis’s soothing Lamentation and think of what I can do in a different way this year to prepare myself spiritually for Lent and Holy Week, I try to meditate upon the great love that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ showed to each and every one of us as He died on the cross for our sins, I mean, for my sins.
Grunewald’s famous Crucifixion, forming part of the Isenheim altarpiece, is another inspiring piece of art that helps my meditations during Lent.
The liturgical cycle of the year can become quite boring if one is not careful enough to make it his or her own; it will become repetitive if one forgets that this is not merely a ‘repetition’ but rather ‘a going back in time’ to stand next to the Cross and experience the Passion of Him who gave everything to become one with the sinner whom He saved with his body and blood.
Struggling against a materialistic word with hedonistic tendencies, preparing for Lent in an appropriate way is something I find hard and challenging.
Then there is that ‘other issue’ which is at the back of my mind. Not so much ‘at the back of my mind’ as I would like it to be. During the last decade or so, I have found myself struggling to live in the best of ways the spirituality of Good Friday.
This special day should be the crowning of Lent. It should be the day on which the soul, yearning for Christ, embraces him in his mystery of total suffering and oblation. It should be a day of sobriety.
Of late, however, I have been finding south European traditions not so helpful in this spiritual task that we should all be working through. Christ died the most terrible death of all. The first Good Friday must have been a day of sadness for the apostles and disciples but also a day on which they stopped to reflect deeply on their selves and on their notion of sequela Christi.
Simon Peter, after having denied the Lord Jesus Christ for three times, must have asked himself: what kind of disciple am I?
Or rather, what type of apostle am I? Where did my fidelity to the Lord go? Has it just melted entirely away?
Questions like these should be for us Christians, questions of existential dimensions. They need time and space to be answered if they can be answered at all. They need silence, they need solitude and they need sobriety at its best.
Instead, what do we do? We process in our streets with statues and costumes. The medieval Christian was in need of statues; he was in need of costumes, he was in need of living art. In that way, illiterate people could meditate upon the mystery of the Cross and the life of the early disciples.
The medieval Christian was in need of statues; he was in need of costumes, he was in need of living art. In that way, illiterate people could meditate upon the mystery of the Cross
Today, people know how to read and write. Mystery plays – reminiscent of the Middle Ages – may still be attractive to some or perhaps even to many. However, we should be asking: do they still help us to meditate upon the Passion of the Lord?
Above all: do they help to create an environment of sobriety so that together with the psalmist, perhaps King David himself: “Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea at te Deus” (As a hart longs for the flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee O God).
Lent is the ideal time for us to compare ourselves and our yearning souls to the hart that longs for ‘the flowing streams’. As we thirst for Christ, we should look upon his face on the Cross and earn the peace that we need to live our lives in harmony with that of the Lord himself.
Going through the pages of the Old Testament by admiring fine costumes and draperies as they appear exhibited before us in the many pageant-processions that we organised may not be the right way to commemorate the death of Our Lord.
Lent is not necessarily the ideal time to walk ‘the way of salvation’ as we look upon Abraham and the patriarchs and David and the prophets. Since the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross as at the centre of the Mystery of the Cross, it might be next to ideal to simply look upon his face and stay quiet as our soul searches for some time of peace to reflect on the Passion of the Lord, that Passion which inspired English mystic and martyr Sir Thomas More to write his Dialogue of Comfort in the Tower of London as he awaited death.
Christ is at the centre on Good Friday. He even replaces the Eucharist. Why then put ourselves at the centre as we rehearse around in glorious attire or costly costumes? If we look ‘upon Him whom they have pierced’, our only energy and time should be dedicated to Him; it should not avail of other thoughts.
Movement is the one thing I do not see compatible with the meditation of the Cross. Mary and John ‘stood’ at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19: 25). In his Stabat Mater, Jacopone di Todi also uses the word ‘stabat’ to emphasise a sense of total control and sobriety.
No pageants took place at the foot of the Cross; there was only suffering; if the ‘Sadness of Christ’ inspired Thomas More to write his ‘dialogue’, so it should be with us.
If only we understood that Good Friday is all about him, and not about us – and if it is about us, it is as much as we are able to unite ourselves and our own anguish with his. Depression, anxiety, mortification and even frustration are all there at the foot of the Cross; this is the only moment in time when depression and desolation are allowed to reign supreme so that we who experience these feelings should not despair but have hope and hope eternal.
If we had the courage to move our Good Friday processions to Palm Sunday, known also as Passion Sunday, we would be able to protect the sobriety and solemnity of Good Friday for posterity. We would be able to share ‘in the sufferings of Christ’ in a more spiritual manner.
We would be able to meditate the Passion of the Lord rather than let ourselves be taken away by the pomp and pageantry that characterises our present processions. We would be able to comprehend some of that love that has been shown to us by God when he ‘did not forsake his only Son but gave him to us all’ that we may be saved.
It is only on these terms that, as authentic Christians, we can celebrate the early afternoon Liturgy of the Cross in the most solemn of manners and take with us home that sober spirit that allows us to see the Cross as it really is: the madness of God’s love towards man, a madness that has never stopped to bestow life wherever it has been allowed to flourish.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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