THE MYSTERY OF THE PASSION
HAVING last Sunday seen what manner of preparation they must make, what manner of persons they ought to be, who would take a share in the great Sacrifice of the Church, now let us in thought assist at it, as in a few short hours, GOD helping us, we shall indeed.
And, as with our dear LORD, the great High Priest, so let us suppose the earthly Priest made ready for the new Oblation he is about to offer. Let him have assumed the amice, the type of that helmet in which our LORD, as a Man of war, went forth to fight with the old dragon; that crown wherein, as a King, He reigned from the Tree; that mitre wherewith, as a good High Priest, He went to make oblation for the sins of the world. Let him have put on the alb, even as the LORD was arrayed with the white robe, the mute symbol of His innocence. Let him have been girt, as the LORD was, with the girdle of purity; let him have taken the maniple, type, on the one hand, of those cords which bound the Hands that were afterwards to break the fetters of our damnation: on the other, that he himself has, and wishes for, no higher glory than being the servant of the Crucified. But, if he serves well here, he shall reign gloriously there; therefore he would also assume the stole, type of the glistening raiment of the eternal marriage-feast. And then, lastly, even as the LORD bare the Cross along the Via Dolorosa, the Priest must array himself in the chasuble before he goes to the Altar.
And so now at last the drama opens (for a drama it is from beginning to end), JESUS CHRIST, as S. Paul says, evidently set forth crucified before us. The Priest kneels before the Altar; the Great High Priest, the Altar of His Passion now full before Him, is kneeling in Gethsemane. The visible chalice is before the eyes of the one, yet partly concealed; that invisible chalice is in the mind of the Incarnate WORD, as He says, O My FATHER, if this chalice may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.
And as for Him, so for us, the Sacrifice begins with prayer. The Collect is, in our mouths, what the supplication of Gethsemane was in His. I say, in our mouths, my Sisters; but I cannot say so truly, unless you make it your own by the Amen. Many a time have I been intending to speak to you about the failure of almost all of you here; that, instead of taking it on your lips with all your heart and soul, you either do not say it at all, or almost inaudibly. As one of the mediaeval preachers, speaking on this very subject, says: "This is not the way to imitate the saints; if I, in that Collect, am setting forth the prayer of the LORD, do not you, by your silence, symbolise the sleep of the three apostles."
And then, as they tell us, because we cannot ask GOD for things acceptable in His sight, and because ye know not what ye should pray for as ye ought,--therefore the lections of the Epistle and Gospel that follow the Collect. And since faith cometh by hearing, the Creed rightly takes that place. It was a very fine mediaeval custom, that as soon as the priest had intoned, I believe in one GOD, all the knights who might be present drew their swords, in order to signify their readiness, if need were, to die for the faith.
And thus far is the prelude to the Sacrifice; and now we begin to enter more deeply into the mystery and inmost shrine of the Passion. The Priest removes the veil, and exposes the chalice; even as in His more immediate entrance on His sufferings, the SON of GOD was despoiled of His raiment, and poured forth His most precious Blood under the scourge. And, as you see the Priest move backwards and forwards to the credence, to the Altar, to the credence again, to the Altar once more,--what is that but the hurrying backwards and forwards of the spotless LAMB to Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pontius Pilate, to Herod, to Pontius Pilate again, to the Praetorium, to the Judgment Scat? And this, I think, you are bound to remember,--you who have so much hurry, and so little time for especial prayer, in your going out to cottage nursing. You are hurried; was not He? You have every possible earthly hindrance; if we look at His human nature, so also had not He?
And now, then, how are we to provide the Lamb for the burnt-offering?
With this prayer the Priest lays the obligations on the Altar:--this or the like; for there is many a different version of the same text: there is many a different melody of the same harmony.
"Accept, Holy FATHER, Almighty and Eternal GOD, this unspotted Sacrifice, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, the Living and True GOD, for my innumerable sins, offences, and negligences; and for all here present: and also for all faithful Christians, both living and departed that both to me and to them it may avail unto everlasting life."
In that, or in the like words, he prays. But what, my Sisters, is the unspotted Sacrifice? Certainly, in the first place, the Bread, under whatever form it may appear. And did you never think of this, in looking over some wide landscape towards the middle of July, the fields white already unto harvest? that part of what was now ripening, as of the earth, earthy, might, in process of time, undergo that glorious transmutation: and become the Corn of the mighty, the LORD from heaven?--reaped perhaps, thrashed perhaps, stored perhaps, ground and baked perhaps, by hands that little knew to what it would be changed: how glorious a thing is that same reaping,--that same gathering in! That is one meaning. But are not yourselves another? As S. Ignatius said: "I am GOD'S wheat; and I cannot be fit for the Master's board till I shall have been ground by the teeth of lions."
"Here we offer and present unto Thee, O LORD, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice." If all who so draw near, Sisters how much the most! Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee. So, in that offertory, each of you should say for yourselves: Silver and gold have I none: you who have taken the vow of poverty can have none; but therefore are your gifts less acceptable?
Of such tortures I can hardly bear to speak. But, my Sisters, realise to yourselves what the Roman world was in S. Agatha's time. Christianity had just so far prevailed that it was then beginning to be believed that the associations of Christian virgins and widows, which we now call Sisterhoods, were, at all events, folly beyond all folly, madness beyond all madness (that of course), but religious, like the vestal virgins, not immoral, as they said at first. I never, I think, spoke to you on that subject before. The vestal virgins had, for their occupation, to keep in the fire, the perpetual fire of the goddess Vesta; they were bound by a vow of chastity: and if, which they say only happened once, that vow was broken, the perjured woman was buried alive. But what further? They were to be beautiful, what we should now call taking ladies of the highest rank. And if any accident that destroyed their beauty happened to them, they were pensioned off. Only with this exception; and there you see how there was a remainder of truth even in the worst superstition--that old age was no hindrance. S. Agatha, then, of one of the highest families of Sicily, young, very lovely, was brought before the praetor, and professed herself, in her own language, the virgin of CHRIST. Numidius Varro inquired of his assessors what that meant; they explained to him that as the vestal virgins were dedicated to the immortal and ever blessed gods, so this girl was in like manner dedicated to the Crucified Malefactor of Judaea. Most of you, I daresay, have read the details of her martyrdom; but, unless you catch the point of it, you do not see the aim of the persecutor. First trying the scourge, and the rack, and the prison, and having tried them in vain, then he resolved to remove her from her rank among the vestal virgins, as he thought, by maiming her and disfiguring her: and therefore it was, from a double refinement of cruelty, that he invented a till then unheard-of torture, and commanded that her breasts should be cut off.
And yet, she said, I shall not be less, but more beautiful in the eyes of my Heavenly Bridegroom.
The bread, yet bread, is on the Altar: and the Priest, not, as yet, daring to lift up his eyes to Heaven, has said that prayer, fixing them on the ground.
Now, then, we draw nearer in love, and therefore in boldness. Now he pours the wine into the chalice, and adds the water. Why? In the first place, because our dear LORD did so Himself. The Jews, always in their ordinary banquets, mixed a little water with their wine: first, therefore, naturally, as a custom, and then by tradition, as a law, they did so in the Passover. And the Church, therefore, received it from the Synagogue. And it is remarkable (though, through the negligence of that sad last century, the custom has very much been disused in England), yet, up to then, it was always usual, often commanded, always allowed to have been intended. The Scotch Church has never dropped it: and the mystical meaning is twofold.
First, the Consubstantial Union of our dear LORD'S Divinity with His Humanity; and next, the union of the people with Him.
Ah! my Sisters! what is the power of His Love! Look at this. Take a bowl of foul water, pour into it a spoonful of pure water: does it become clean: perceptibly cleaner? Take a bowl of pure water, infuse into it a little foul water; what then? The whole is defiled. Or, take, if you will, the case of a man who is suffering from pain in every member of his body. Relieve one finger from that pain. Has he any the more ease? On the other hand, if a man is in perfect rest and ease, then let one finger be in agony--does not the whole body suffer? Read that for yourselves in the 2nd chapter of Haggai; the same teaching.
And yet one drop of our LORD'S blood, and the accumulated guilt of the whole world is washed away. And it is not one drop. He is now Bone of our bone, and Flesh of our flesh; and therefore the Priest, while he mixes the wine and water at the credence, may well pray:
"O GOD, who hast wonderfully created the dignity of Human Nature, and yet more wonderfully redeemed it, grant that, by the mystery of this water and wine, we may merit to become partakers of His Divinity, who vouchsafed to be made Partaker of our humanity: JESUS CHRIST our LORD, Who, with Thee and the HOLY GHOST, liveth and reigneth, ever one GOD, world without end. Amen."
And now, therefore, as I once said before, the oblation of the chalice stands on grounds quite different from that of the paten. Now the Priest, knowing that the Great High Priest and the people have been joined together in One Nature, may venture to lift up his eyes to heaven, while he says, "We offer to Thee, O LORD, the chalice of Salvation: beseeching Thy mercy that it may ascend before Thy Divine Majesty as a sacrifice of a sweet savour for our salvation, and that of the whole world." And with respect to this, S. Bonaventura, speaking to a religious house, tells us something further.
We are offering that which is to be turned into the Blood of our LORD. What is the Blood, but the whole Passion, but the whole life-long suffering also, of Him, the spotless Victim? So, following after Him, they, the Martyrs first, then the Confessors, and the Virgins, have made an oblation of themselves also. Water, indeed, compared with that Wine; but still such as the true Vine vouchsafes to accept.
There we must end for to-night, having taken the next great step, having left nothing further than this, to see how, actually and really, the Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
IT falls out not ill, that the stage of the Liturgy at which we left off last time is so knit together with this day's remembrances. "Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church" first, "militant here on earth"; and that is the whole rule; then, resting from their labours. You know, my Sisters, that the early Church prayed, even as the Eastern Church to this day does, for the greatest of departed Saints: nay, even for the Mother of GOD herself. Far enough they from any idea of a place of penal suffering: in all those lovely prayers about the green pastures of the Saints, the still waters of the heavenly river, the tabernacles of shade and refreshment, the portal of the celestial temple, the antepast of the marriage feast; and who shall tell, who shall venture even to guess, how near they are with us in the truest, the veriest, the realest communion of Saints? Depend on it, there is a depth of meaning, beyond aught that we shall ever fathom in this world, in that saying of the LORD'S, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, till that day when I drink it new with you in my FATHER'S Kingdom. Whether that refers to the fellowship, the blessed fellowship, we now have with Him in the chalice, or to some even yet more glorious mystery, which we must wait till the Resurrection shall explain, we shall not know in this world. Oh, my Sisters, GOD give us some day to learn in that!