Friday, March 25, 2016

Holy Week: Good Friday and The Annunciation Postponed

Because today is Good Friday, the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, which is usually celebrated on March 25, has been moved this year to the Monday after the Easter Octave/Divine Mercy Sunday: April 4. Nevertheless, what was announced by the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary--with her cooperation/fiat--was the Incarnation. The Incarnation is essential to what happened on Good Friday, as Blessed John Henry Newman explains in his Parochial and Plain Sermon, "The Incarnate Son, a Sufferer and Sacrifice":

Here then, as you see, we are at once introduced into a very mysterious subject, though one which concerns us most nearly. There was a virtue in His death, which there could be in no other, for He was God. We, indeed, could not have told beforehand what would follow from so high an event as God becoming incarnate and dying on the Cross; but that something extraordinary and high would issue from it, we might have been quite sure, though nothing had been told us. He would not have so humbled Himself for nought; He could not so humble Himself (if I may use the expression) without momentous consequences.

It would be well if we opened our minds to what is meant by the doctrine of the Son of God dying on the Cross for us. I do not say we shall ever be able to solve the mystery of it, but we may understand in what the Mystery consists; and that is what many men are deficient in. They have no clear views what the truth of the matter is; if they had, it would make them more serious than they are. Let it be understood, then, that the Almighty Son of God, who had been in the bosom of the Father from everlasting, became man; became man as truly as He was always God. He was God from God, as the Creed says; that is, as being the Son of the Father, He had all those infinite perfections from the Father which the Father had. He was of one substance with the Father, and was God, because the Father was God. He was truly God, but He became as truly man. He became man, yet so as not to cease in any respect being what He was before. He added a new nature to Himself, yet so intimately, that it was as if He had actually left His former self, which He did not. "The Word became flesh:" even this would seem mystery and marvel enough, but even this was not all; not only was He "made man," but, as the Creed goes on to state, He "was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried."

Now here, I say, is a fresh mystery in the history of His humiliation, and the thought of it will cast a new and solemn light on the chapters we shall read during the week. I have said that, after His incarnation, man's nature was as much and as truly Christ's as His Divine attributes; St. Paul even speaks of God "purchasing us with His own blood," and of the "Lord of glory" being "killed," expressions which, more than any other, show how absolutely and simply He had put on Him the nature of man. As the soul acts through the body as its instrument,—in a more perfect way, but as intimately, did the Eternal Word of God act through the manhood which He had taken. When He spoke, it was literally God speaking; when He suffered, it was God suffering. Not that the Divine Nature itself could suffer, any more than our soul can see or hear; but, as the soul sees and hears through the organs of the body, so God the Son suffered in that human nature which He had taken to Himself and made His own. And in that nature He did truly suffer; as truly as He framed the worlds through His Almighty power, so through His human nature did He suffer; for when He came on earth, His manhood became as truly and personally His, as His Almighty power had been from everlasting. . . .

This is why He "humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." "Christ hath redeemed us," says the Apostle elsewhere, "from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us." Again, he says that Christ has "made peace by the blood of His cross." He has "reconciled" us "in the body of His flesh through death, to present us holy and unblameable, and unreproveable in His sight." Or, as St. John says, the saints "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." And no one speaks more explicitly on this great mystery than the prophet Isaiah, many hundred years before it was accomplished. "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." [Gal. iii. 13. Col. i. 20-22. Rev. vii. 14. Isa. liii. 4-6.]

We believe, then, that when Christ suffered on the cross, our nature suffered in Him. Human nature, fallen and corrupt, was under the wrath of God, and it was impossible that it should be restored to His favour till it had expiated its sin by suffering. Why this was necessary, we know not; but we are told expressly, that we are "all by nature children of wrath," that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified," and that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God." The Son of God then took our nature on Him, that in Him it might do and suffer what in itself was impossible to it. What it could not effect of itself, it could effect in Him. He carried it about Him through a life of penance. He carried it forward to agony and death. In Him our sinful nature died and rose again. When it died in Him on the cross, that death was its new creation. In Him it satisfied its old and heavy debt; for the presence of His Divinity gave it transcendent merit. His presence had kept it pure from sin from the first. His Hand had carefully selected the choicest specimen of our nature from the Virgin's substance; and, separating from it all defilement, His personal indwelling hallowed it and gave it power. And thus, when it had been offered up upon the Cross, and was made perfect by suffering, it became the first-fruits of a new man; it became a Divine leaven of holiness for the new birth and spiritual life of as many as should receive it. And thus, as the Apostle says, "If one died for all, then did all die;" "our old man is crucified in Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed;" and "together" with Christ "when we were dead in sins, hath He quickened us, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Thus "we are members of His body, from His flesh, and from His bones: for whosoever eateth His flesh and drinketh His blood, hath eternal life," for His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed; and "he that eateth His flesh and drinketh His blood dwelleth in Him, and He in him." [2 Cor. v. 14. Rom. vi. 6. Eph. ii. 5, 6; v. 30. John vi. 54.]

No wonder then that artists and mystics have so often meditated upon the presence of Mary, the Mother of God--not just of Jesus, not just of His human nature--the Mother of the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, on the Way of the Cross (the Stabat Mater), at the foot of the Cross, and at the Descent from the Cross, as in this detail from Pietro Lorenzetti's frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy. She conceived and gave birth to, after all, a Person, not just a nature. At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple at the Presentation was fulfilled: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

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