We are approaching Holy Week and, while all of these days are important for us as Christians to prepare ourselves spiritually for the Paschal Mysteries, Good Friday is one of those days where we see visibly the piety and devotion of our Catholic people.
The pious practice of walking with Christ and meditating on the 14 stations in the last hours of His life has been, and still is, a popular devotion among the saints as well as fervent Catholics. This pious practice, which carries with it a plenary indulgence, should move us to go to Calvary often in the Mass. The Church teaches us that the same Christ, who offered Himself one time in the bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the cross, is present and offers Himself as the unbloody sacrifice in each and every Mass.
My own image of Calvary is this: The site is surrounded by a cyclone fence 2.5 meters high with barbed wire on top. There are Roman soldiers guarding the perimeter so that people will not jump over the fence and steal the body. There is only one gate by which to enter to go up to the cross. The only requisite to enter is to be accompanied by a priest. The rule is simple – no priest, you don’t get in. You would have to stay outside of the fence seeing Jesus from afar. This is hardly participating in His sacrifice. You would just be a spectator and not a participator. It would be like someone going to Sunday Mass, but standing out in the parking lot of the church.
So I enter with my people and one of the guards sitting at the entrance asks me, “Priest, how many in your group?” I respond, “About 200.” He asks another question, “and what are you going up there for?” I say with emotion, “to celebrate the Mass. Today is the Lord’s Day.” Unimpressed, he grunts, “sign here and go in.”
We arrive at the foot of the cross. There is an altar. Jesus is on the cross. We look up at Him and He sees us. He is happy that we are there. No one in my group says, “Let’s take Him down from the cross and heal His wounds.” We know that we can heal His wounds by being faithful to our Baptismal commitments. The world has been saved. We have been saved. We know why He is on the cross – for our sins and for love of us. I begin the liturgy. The high point comes when I pronounce the words of consecration: “This is my body. This is the chalice of my blood.” Without coming down from the cross, Jesus is physically present on the altar. Many people receive Our Lord and reflect, “What a wonderful gift we are receiving.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, we leave Calvary. We have been changed, especially those who have received the Eucharist worthily, because we have participated in the “Perfect sacrifice.” The Catechism of the Church reminds us, “The only perfect sacrifice is that which Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father’s love and for our salvation.” (#2100)
The Mass I celebrated on Calvary was perfect because Christ did it using me as His instrument. Maybe the music wasn’t as good as it should have been, or maybe the homily wasn’t too inspiring, or it was too long or somewhat disjointed, or maybe there were noise, distractions, and worries on the minds of the participants. These are the limitations of human beings, although every minister participating in the Eucharist should do his/her part in the best way possible. We have been strengthened in ways which we don’t understand completely, but now we have been renewed. We leave Calvary ready to continue the fight.
This Good Friday when you finish participating in the Living Way of the Cross, don’t tell Jesus, “I’ll see you on Calvary next year.” It would be better if you were to say, “I will see you on Calvary at the next Mass I will attend. I appreciate what you have done for me.”
Let us go to Calvary and participate in the Mass often.