(Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Praefcke)
In the novel Brideshead Revisited, the religious Cordelia is telling agnostic Charles about the day they closed the chapel at Brideshead Castle: “The priest came in … and took out the altar stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday. I suppose none of this makes any sense to you, Charles, poor agnostic. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room.”
As we enter into the sacred triduum, into the contemplation of the ardour and resurrection of the Lord, we’re invited to enter into these salvific occasions that represent the very floor from which our religion springs, occasions that we consider are ongoing in the life of the church. If there is no such thing as a establishment of the Eucharist, no dying upon the cross, no empty tomb, then there is no such thing as a Catholic religion. Without this religion, our non secular and ethical lives would, like the chapel at Brideshead, turn out to be mere oddly embellished rooms.
What retains us from the wonderment at the occasions of these three days that so clearly characterised the early followers of Jesus? What prevents us from the depth of conversion they’d?
In our time, I do not consider that something about Holy Thursday constitutes a big hurdle to religion. The concept that the Lord Jesus needed to share a communal meal together with his associates earlier than the trauma that was to come is totally comprehensible. All of us in this age, as in all ages, have skilled the brutal emotional toll of betrayal that Jesus skilled that night time at the arms of first Jesus and later Peter.
Pope Francis washes the foot of an inmate throughout the Holy Thursday Mass in 2015 at Rebibbia jail in Rome. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano by way of Reuters)
We Catholics understand how essential the establishment of the Eucharist and the priesthood are to our religion, and the way the two are linked. Perhaps most significantly, the Mandatum ceremony reminds us in this second gilded age, when materials wealth is confused with ethical price and we’re taught — and taught younger — to envy these with lots, that to observe Jesus means to take off our cloak and kneel earlier than our fellows and wash their toes, to turn out to be a servant.
Surely, the central purpose the folks in the pews love Pope Francis so deeply is that his disdain for the materials trappings of his workplace and the evident pleasure he takes from being with the poor and the marginalized put us in thoughts of Jesus washing the toes of his disciples. I believe, too, that each one the ridiculous complaints coming from some disgruntled fats cats at the Papal Foundation are rooted in this high quality of our Holy Father that the relaxation of us so admire. Both in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now in Rome, he takes pleasure amongst the poor, not the wealthy, and the wealthy are accustomed to being feted and stroked and complimented.
Eastertide can also be a factor I feel trendy women and men have little problem understanding. There could also be misunderstanding round the edges of the central indisputable fact that the Lord is risen to new life. People might imagine that, like Lazarus, he takes up once more his outdated life, when the truth is it’s as a brand new creation that Jesus emerges from the tomb.
Or they could consider in a false dualism between spirit and physique that reduces the Resurrection to a non secular actuality, denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus or no less than restoring it to a metaphor, regardless that we do not expertise our our bodies as metaphors. But the central concept that this good man was divine and in some way broke the chains of dying, and that by clinging to him, we too would possibly expertise everlasting life — this is not the stumbling block to our religion.
No, it’s Good Friday that poses the downside. What is it about Good Friday that does not resonate in our tradition? I feel the downside is that we overlook that Jesus had it coming. We speak about how he was the spotless, immaculate sufferer, and so he was. We are moved by the story of Dismas, the good thief, and we sing a phenomenal Taizé chant to his phrases to the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We look to blame others for this dying, most famously the Jews however generally the Romans, or no less than Pilate.
No. Jesus bought what he deserved. He challenged the ethical buildings and Temple worship of his day, and he paid the worth. And the Temple was the middle of Jewish life in a method no Catholic church, not even St. Peter’s at the Vatican, is.
Look at how our nation reacted when the temple of our civilization — the World Trade Centers — had been felled. We introduced warfare to two nations. Should we be shocked that Caiaphas and the different clergymen demanded the life of the one who breezily spoke about destroying the Temple?
Jesus had violated the Sabbath repeatedly, self-righteously claiming he was restoring the proper relationship between God and humanity — I nearly wrote that he had relativized God’s regulation to humanity — and the actual non secular leaders of his day insisted he had no authority to achieve this, that he had, the truth is, profaned the faith they shared.
On the cross, he was uncovered as the blasphemer, the charlatan that he was. No surprise the apostles fled. All their hopes had been crushed beneath the weight of that cross.
On Sunday, we are going to sing with the common church, throughout the continents and throughout the centuries, the nice Alleluia as we confess that God’s verdict, revealed in the empty tomb, was completely different from man’s verdict. But, in this triduum, let us not rush on to the end of the story. Let’s keep in mind the day Christ died, the hours he hung upon the cross, and, like the apostles, see in that cross an invite to despair.
Holiness, true holiness, does not consist in proper residing or ethical probity. It is the capacity to resist despair when the satan tempts us to consider God did not conquer sin and dying on that first Good Friday. Let us, like the first apostles, sit with that despair in order that we are able to, like them, expertise the Resurrection as the actually earth- and cosmos-shattering occasion that it was, one thing so nice, it saves a wretch like me.
[Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.]
Editor’s notice: Don’t miss out on Michael Sean Winters’ newest: Sign up to obtain free newsletters, and we’ll notify you when he publishes new Distinctly Catholic columns.