And yet we have spent the afternoon covering crucifixes, statues, images and relics. Lent may be over, but Passiontide began this evening with first vespers.
This evening let us ponder two of its verses. Its first:
Vexilla regis prodeunt,
fulget crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo
[The Royal Banner forward goes,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.]
These days are marked by the Cross! Indeed, the origin of the hymn itself and its liturgical use for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th) leave us in no doubt: these days of Passiontide are lived under the shadow of the Cross—albeit under the shadow of the veiled cross, that we shall look upon again only on Good Friday in its sombre yet glorious finality.
Sombre: because there is no disguising the brutality and excruciating suffering for which it stands. And in these most concentrated days, when not even the Cross itself is exposed to our gaze, let our prayer include the supplication that not only that we may be able fruitfully to carry the crosses laid upon us, but that those who suffer far more than we, particularly our persecuted brothers and sisters and those who bear the burden of grave illness, may in their need, be given the necessary grace to persevere in faith and hope.
And yet glorious: because whilst in these days we linger somewhat in the shadow of the Cross, and rightly, we nevertheless know its finality. We know the truth taught in the very person of He whom others sought to annihilate by nailing Him to a cross, that the darkest shadows of the Cross are cast by the light of Easter morn. And we know that we also may share in that light, in that invincible joy, if but we persevere through these shadows. So our prayer in these days ought also to beg for the grace of perseverance in both ourselves and others, most especially in those for whom terrible suffering casts the shadows of doubt.
The second verse I wish to ponder but a little is the one for which we kneel:
O Crux ave, spes unica,
Hoc passionis tempore
Auge piis justitiam,
Reisque dona veniam.
[O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant.]
Rather than ending the rigours of Lent, Passiontide implores “new grace:” it calls us to an intensification of our Lenten austerities. It may be that our Ash Wednesday resolutions are long past and somewhat forgotten. Many things – some just, some unjust – may have distracted us from them. In hoc passionis tempore, it is time to focus anew on our one hope: the Cross. The Sacred Liturgy of these days beckons us to walk in the way of the Cross more intensely, more purely than heretofore in Lent.
The via crucis is one of pain and suffering. It is expiatory. As the Vexilla Regis teaches us so beautifully, by the mystery of the Cross we are saved. It is the path to Salvation. For the grace to persevere along this path ourselves, and for this grace in others, let us pray more earnestly in these ‘covered’ days of Passiontide. +