The Memoria Passionis


(From a Passionist Oblate day at our monastery given by Sr. Catherine Marie, August 9, 2008)

O SACRUM CONVIVIUM, in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius; mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.

O SACRED BANQUET, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory given to us.

“Above all else, I rejoice in the Lord that you often find yourself plunged and immersed in the Sacred Passion of Jesus and in the great furnace of His Eucharistic Presence....”  (St. Paul of the Cross)


God’s Agape Love Revealed in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus

(We continue to draw our reflections from Pope John Paul II's Ecclesia de Eucharistia as well as the excellent book, Wellspring of Worship, by Fr. Jean Corbon, O.P., a major contributor to the Catholic Catechism.  If the Eucharist is the making present of the death and resurrection of Jesus, then it is important especially for Passionists to have an ever deeper understanding of it.)

Last month we reflected on God’s outpouring, self-giving, Agape love -- that endless stream of Divine life and mercy ever springing forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb -- and how this River of Life is present to us in the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments.

Today, we reflect on how God’s Agape love is revealed in the death and resurrection  of Jesus, and how this love is made present to us in the Holy Eucharist in order to transform our hearts and lives.

St. Paul of the Cross had an infused understanding of the Passion and death of Jesus as the work of God’s infinitely powerful love for us. To proclaim the Word of the Cross, to help people enter the mystery of the Wisdom of the Cross in their lives and to live in union with the One who died on the Cross --- this was the great motivating energy of his life and work.

He wrote: “The Passion of Jesus is the greatest and most stupendous work of divine love.”  This event is meant to become more and more real to us and transformative for us as it was for Paul.

Since the Holy Eucharist makes the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus intimately present to us, we will want to cultivate more and more our devotion to this incredible gift. We will want to take an active part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and become completely “Eucharistic” by our willingness to take up the cross of our daily life and to reach out in works of mercy to the “crucifieds” of our time.

“This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there.  Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits.”  (Pope John Paul II:  Ecclesia de Eucharistia #11)

A) The Cross - “He emptied himself....”  (Phil 2:5-11)

The Kenosis (Self-emptying) of the Son of God that began at the Annunciation is completed in the cross. Jesus emptied Himself totally, accepting our human condition without reservation, including our death. “He loved them to the end” (John 13:1) – that is, to the extreme of which the love of a God-Man is capable.

Jesus is the only man not caught off guard by death, like a mere victim. He does not undergo death as something unavoidable. He does not try to escape it or struggle against it as we do. He goes to death with sovereign freedom. He wills it with His whole love for the Father and for us. “No one takes my life from Me; I lay it down of my own free will.”  (John 10:18)

His death was freely accepted.  It was a free sacrifice of love. The Church in Eucharistic Prayer II puts it this way: “Before He was given up in death, a death He freely accepted....”

“The gift of His love and obedience to the point of giving His life is in the first place a gift to His Father. Certainly, it is a gift given for our sake... yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father....”  (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #13)

The Incarnate Word freely offers Himself in sacrifice. When Jesus is arrested, He refuses to resist. When He is scourged, condemned, crucified, He forgives. He returns no violence because He does not will the death of the sinner. His non-violence is not weakness.  It is the transforming power of love.

His enemies want to destroy Him, but they end up raising (exalting) on high the true Tree of Life whose leaves have the power to heal them!  (Rev 22:2 and John 3:14)

"It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us...for if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of his Son, it is all the more certain that we who have been reconciled will be saved by his life.”  (Romans 5:8, 10)

At the moment when His kenosis is complete, the non-violence of His love is Almighty. He dies in order to give life to those who crucified Him. In His death, divine life gushes forth for us.

Jesus pouring Himself out on the Cross is the revelation of God’s Agape love for us– “the most stupendous work of God’s love.”  (St. Paul of the Cross)  We need to gaze long and lovingly at His face in these awesome mysteries of divine love, and enter within His Heart.  Love is repaid by love alone.

"They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced through.” (Zec 12:10, John 19:37 and Rev 1:7)

St. Paul of the Cross would have us make this mystery our own through love:

“Love is a unifying virtue which takes upon itself the torments of its beloved Lord.  It is a fire reaching through to the inmost soul. It transforms the lover into the one loved. More deeply, love intermingles with grief and grief with love, and a certain blending of love and grief occurs. They become so united that we can no longer distinguish love from grief nor grief from love.”  (St. Paul of the Cross)

And as we gaze prayerfully at Jesus in this stupendous mystery of love we see that even in the darkness of Calvary, the outpouring, agape love of the Blessed Trinity is shining forth in the Humanity of the Son of God. In the act of dying, Jesus gives Himself wholly to His Father; He hands over His Breath, His Spirit for us.

Jesus dies in an act of the utmost love, and this obedient, self-emptying of the God-Man’s love redeems the world! It is this act of love in the Heart of Christ Crucified that we are to make more and more our own.

With Mary our Mother, we pray for the infusion of the Holy Spirit that we might know, truly know by loving experience Our Lord in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.  (cf Phil 3: 10)

At the moment of His death, the veil of the sanctuary is rent from top to bottom. The true “Holy of Holies” is thus revealed and we are invited in.

The divine energy of the River of Life, the Wellspring of Love, is now pouring forth from the Body of the Beloved Son, the slain Lamb and we are allowed to drink.

This is the most important event in human history. It is the beginning of the new creation.

The death and resurrection of Jesus are not two events. They are two phases of a single event and mystery. We call this the Paschal Mystery. And “The Church was born of the Paschal Mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist...stands at the center of the Church’s life.”  (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #2)

“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist....  The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life. For the most Holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ Himself, our passover and living Bread. Through His own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, He offers life to men.”   (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #1)

B) The Resurrection - Christ Becomes a Life-giving Spirit (I Cor 15:45b, 2 Cor 3:17)

By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened paradise for us.

At the moment of the Resurrection, the Father fills the dead Body of His Beloved Son with His own Breath. The Body that rises living from the tomb is no longer a body that experiences human thirst. It is now and forever the Body of the Wellspring of Life.

Pope John Paul speaks of the Paschal Mystery as being the “wellspring” of the Church. He continues: The Paschal Triduum “is gathered up, foreshadowed and concentrated forever in the gift of the Eucharist. In this gift, Jesus Christ entrusted to His Church the perennial making present of the Paschal Mystery. With it, He brought about a mysterious oneness in time between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries. This thought should lead us to profound amazement and gratitude. In the Paschal event and the Eucharist which makes it present throughout the centuries, there is a truly enormous capacity which embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption. This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist.”  (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #5)

Easter is the day of the new creation delivered from death. Jesus risen from the dead is the “Beginning” of the New Covenant struck by the Resurrection.

The consent of the Son to His eternal birth from the Father completely permeates the Body of His sacred Humanity. Jesus rises from the tomb as a “life-giving Spirit.”(1 Cor 15: 45b, 2 Cor 3:17)

Let us not imagine this event as being a thing of the past! It did occur once and for all in history. But the resurrection of Jesus is not in the past, for if it were, this would mean Jesus did not conquer death.

The historical circumstances of His death are of the past, but the death of Jesus was by its very nature the death of our death. Once time is delivered from death, it no longer passes.

In #1085 of the Catholic Catechism we read:

“ In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present. During his earthly life Jesus announced his Paschal mystery by his teaching and anticipated it by his actions. When his Hour comes, he lives out the unique event of history which does not pass away: Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father ‘once for all.’   His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. the Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is - all that he did and suffered for all men - participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all.   The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.”

And from Pope John Paul II:

“The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration... which makes Christ’s one definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic mystery cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross, or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary.”  (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #12)

Again, the Catholic Catechism tells us:

#1104 Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present.  The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated.  It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present.

The event that is the cross and resurrection of Jesus does not pass away. [The sacrifice of Christ] “does not remain confined to the past, since all that Christ is, and all that He did and suffered for all men, participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times.”  (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #11)

This “hour” of Jesus is not in the past. It simply is, it abides, it lives on throughout our time and sustains it.  It transcends time and space.

We recall once again what Pope John Paul said:

“This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the  ages have lived.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #11)

Since that moment [the event of the Paschal Mystery of Christ], the communion of the Blessed Trinity has unceasingly been spreading throughout our world, flooding our time with its fullness, and taking the form of liturgy.

The Church, in Eucharistic Prayer III, calls the Eucharist “a holy and living sacrifice.” What we are offering to the Father is “the Victim whose death has reconciled us” to God.

Here in the Mass, as well as in our private Eucharistic adoration  and in all our prayers, works, relationships and sufferings, we Passionists are meant to become more and more "devoted to the Passion of Jesus,” to this greatest and most overwhelming work of God’s love, as St. Paul of the Cross put it.

We read in the Catholic Catechism’s section on prayer:

#2655 In the sacramental liturgy of the Church, the mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays. The spiritual writers sometimes compare the heart to an altar. Prayer internalizes and assimilates the liturgy during and after its celebration. Even when it is lived out "in secret," prayer is always prayer of the Church; it is a communion with the Holy Trinity.

In #50 of Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II expressed the hope that the whole Church would become “a profoundly Eucharistic Church  in which the presence of the mystery of Christ in the broken bread is as it were immersed in the ineffable unity of the three divine Persons making the Church herself an icon of the Trinity.”  (Pope John Paul is referring to Rublev’s famous depiction of the Trinity, with the Eucharist at the heart.)

In #1109 of the Catholic Catechism we find these beautiful words:

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit"  have to remain with us always and bear fruit beyond the Eucharistic celebration.  The Church therefore asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to make the lives of the faithful a living sacrifice to God by their spiritual transformation into the image of Christ, by concern for the Church's unity, and by taking part in her mission through the witness and service of charity.

May this truly be the precious fruit the death and resurrection of Jesus bears in our hearts and lives!