Today if you shall hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.
Holy Church begins Her night Office of this Sunday with these impressive words of the royal prophet. Formerly, the faithful considered it their duty to assist at the night Office, at least on Sundays and Feasts; they would have grieved to lose the grand teachings given by the Liturgy. Sadly such fervor has long since died out; the assiduity at the Offices of the Church, which was the joy of our Catholic forefathers, has now become a thing of the past; the clergy have long ceased to celebrate publicly Offices at which no one assisted.
This is our reason for drawing attention to certain beauties of the Divine Office, which would otherwise by totally ignored. Thus, what can be more impressive than this solemn Invitatory of today's Matins, which the Church takes from one of the psalms, and which She repeats on every feria between this and Maundy Thursday? She says: Today if you shall hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts! The sweet voice of your suffering Jesus now speaks to you, poor sinners! Be not your own enemy by indifference and hardness of heart. The Son of God is about to give you the last and greatest proof of the love that brought Him down from Heaven; His death is nigh at hand: men are preparing the wood for the immolation of the new Isaac. Enter into yourselves and let not your hearts, after being touched with grace, return to their former obduracy; for nothing could be more dangerous. The great anniversaries we are to celebrate have a renovating power for those souls that faithfully correspond with the grace which is offered them; but they increase insensibility in those who let them pass without working their conversion. Today, therefore, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts!
During the preceding four weeks, we have noticed how the malice of Jesus' enemies has been gradually increasing. His very presence irritates them; and it is evident that any little circumstance will suffice to bring the deep and long-nurtured hatred to a head. The kind and gentle manners of Jesus are drawing to Him all hearts that are simple and upright; at the same time, the humble life He leads, and the stern purity of His doctrines, are perpetual sources of vexation and anger, both to the proud Jew that looks forward to the Messias being a mighty conqueror, and to the Pharisee, who corrupts the Law of God, that he may make it the instrument of his own base passions. Still, Jesus goes on working miracles; His discourses are more than ever energetic; His prophecies foretell the fall of Jerusalem, and such a destruction of its famous temple, that not a stone is to be left on a stone. The doctors of the Law should, at least, reflect upon what they hear; they should examine these wonderful works, which render such strong testimony in favor of the Son of David; and they should consult those divine prophecies which, up to the present time, have been so literally fulfilled in His person. Alas, they themselves are about to carry them out to the very last iota. There is not a single outrage or suffering foretold by David and Isaias, as having to be put upon the Messias, which these blind men are not scheming to verify.
In them, therefore, was fulfilled that terrible saying: 'He that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come' (Matt. 12: 32). The Synagogue is nigh to a curse. Obstinate in her error, she refuses to see or to hear; she has deliberately perverted her judgment: she has extinguished within herself the light of the Holy Ghost; she will go deeper and deeper into evil, and at length fall into the abyss. This same lamentable conduct is but too often witnessed nowadays in those sinners, who, by habitual resistance to the light, end by finding their only happiness in sin.
Neither should it surprise us that we find in people of our own generation a resemblance to the murderers of our Jesus: the history of His Passion will reveal to us many sad secrets of the human heart and its perverse inclinations; for what happened in Jerusalem, happens also in every sinner's heart. His heart, according to the saying of St. Paul, is a Calvary, where Jesus is crucified. There is the same ingratitude, the same blindness, the same wild madness, with this difference: that the sinner who is enlightened by faith, knows Him Whom he crucifies; whereas the Jews, as the same Apostle tell us, knew not the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2: 8). Whilst, therefore, we listen to the history of the Passion in the Gospel, let us turn the indignation which we feel for the Jews against ourselves and our own sins; let us weep over the sufferings of our Victim, for our sins caused Him to suffer and die.
Everything around us urges us to mourn. The images of the Saints, the very Crucifix on our altar, are veiled from our sight. The Church is oppressed with grief. During the first four weeks of Lent, She compassionated Her Jesus fasting in the desert; His coming sufferings and crucifixion and death are what now fill Her with anguish. We read in today's Gospel, that the Jews threaten to stone the Son of God as a blasphemer: but His hour is not yet come. He is obliged to flee and hide Himself, that He may evade the anger of men—what a mystery! Is it weakness? Is it that He fears death? No; we shall soon see Him going out to meet His enemies: but at present He hides Himself from them, because all that had been prophesied regarding Him has not been fulfilled. Besides, His death is not to be by stoning: He is to die upon a cross, the tree of malediction, which, from that time forward, is to be the tree of life. Let us humble ourselves, as we see the Creator of Heaven and earth thus obliged to hide Himself from men, who are bent on His destruction! Let us go back in thought to the sad day of the first sin, when Adam and Eve hid themselves because a guilty conscience told them they were naked. Jesus has come to assure us of our being pardoned, and lo! He hides Himself, not because He is naked—He that is to the Saints the garb of holiness and immortality—but because He made Himself weak, that He might make us strong. Our first parents sought to hide themselves from the sight of God; Jesus hides Himself from the eyes of men. But it will not be thus forever. The day will come when sinners, from whose anger He now flees, will pray to the mountains to fall on them and shield them from His gaze; but their prayer will not be granted, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven, with much power and majesty (Matt. 24: 30).
This Sunday, therefore, is called Passion Sunday, because the Church begins, on this day, to make the sufferings of our Redeemer Her chief thought. It is called also, Judica, from the first word of the Introit of the Mass; and again Neomania, that is, the Sunday of the new (or the Easter) moon, because it always falls after the new moon which regulates the Feast of Easter. In the Greek Church this Sunday goes under the simple name of the 5th Sunday of the holy fasts.
At Rome the Station for the Mass is in the Basilica of St. Peter. The importance of this Sunday, which never gives way to any feast, no matter what its solemnity may be, required that the place for the assembly of the faithful should be in one of the chief sanctuaries of the Holy City.
The Introit is taken from the first verses of Psalm 42 (which, as in Requiem Masses, is omitted from the prayers at the foot of the altar). The Messias appeals to God’s tribunal, and protests against the sentence about to be pronounced against Him by men. He likewise expresses His confidence in His Father's help, Who, after His sufferings and death, will lead Him in triumph into the holy mount:
Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy; deliver me from the unjust and deceitful: for Thou art my God and my strength. Send forth Thy light and Thy truth; for they have conducted me, and brought me to Thy holy mount, and into Thy tabernacles. Judge me...
The Gloria Patri is not said during Passiontide and Holy Week (unless a Saint's Feast be kept), but the Introit is repeated immediately after the Psalm (again, as in Requiem Masses).
In the Collect, the Church prays that there may be produced in Her children that total reformation, which the holy Season of Lent is intended to produce. This reformation is such, that it will not only subject the body to the spirit, but preserve also the spirit itself from those delusions and passions, to which it has been, hitherto, more or less a slave:
Mercifully look down on Thy people, we beseech Thee O almighty God, that by Thy bounty and protection, they may be governed and guarded both in body and soul. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ...
The Epistle is taken from St. Paul to the Hebrews (Ch. 9):
Brethren: When Christ appeared as High Priest of the good things to come, He entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands (that is, not of this creation), nor again by virtue of the blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of His own Blood, into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the Blood of Christ, Who through the Holy Ghost offered Himself unblemished unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And this is why He is Mediator of a new covenant, that whereas a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the former covenant, they who have been called may receive the eternal inheritance according to the promise, in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
It is by blood alone that man is to be redeemed. He has offended God. This God cannot be appeased by anything short of the extermination of His rebellious creature, who, by shedding his blood, will give an earnest of his repentance and his entire submission to the Creator, against Whom he dared to rebel. Otherwise the justice of God must be satisfied by the sinner's suffering eternal punishment. This truth was understood by all the people of the ancient world, and all confessed it by shedding the blood of victims, as in the sacrifices of Abel at the very commencement of the world, in the hecatombs of Greece, in the countless immolations whereby Solomon dedicated the temple. And yet God thus speaks to His people: "Hear, O My people… I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, and thy burnt-offerings are always in My sight. I will not take calves out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy flocks. I need them not: for all the beasts of the woods are Mine… for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 49: 7-13). Thus God commands the blood of victims to be offered to Him, and at the same time declares that neither it nor they are precious in His sight. Is this a contradiction? No: God would hereby have man understand that it is only by blood that he can be redeemed, but that the blood of brute animals cannot effect this redemption. Can the blood of man himself bring him his own redemption, and appease God's justice? No, not even man’s blood, for it is defiled; and even were it undefiled, it is powerless to compensate for the outrages done to God by sin. For this there was needed the Blood of a God; such was the Precious Blood of Jesus, and He has come that He may shed It for our redemption.
In Him is fulfilled the most sacred of the figures of the Old Law. Once a year, the high-priest entered into the Holy of Holies, there to make intercession for the people. He went within the veil, even to the Ark of the Covenant; but he was not allowed to enjoy this great privilege, unless he entered the holy place carrying in his hands the blood of a newly-offered victim. The Son of God, the true High-Priest, is now about to enter Heaven, and we are to follow Him thither; but unto this, He must have an offering of blood, and that Blood can be none other than His own. We are going to assist at this His compliance with the divine ordinance. Let us open our hearts, that his Precious Blood may, as the Apostle says in today's Epistle, cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
The Gospel is from the 8th Chapter of St. John:
At that time, Jesus said to the crowds of the Jews: "Which of you can convict Me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear is that you are not of God." The Jews therefore in answer said to Him, "Are we not right in saying that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" Jesus answered, "I have not a devil, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. Yet, I do not seek My own glory; there is One Who seeks and Who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keep My word, he will never see death." The Jews therefore said, "Now we know that Thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets, and Thou sayest, 'If anyone keep My word he will never taste death.' Art Thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom dost Thou make Thyself?" Jesus answered: "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father Who glorifies Me, of Whom you say that He is your God. And you do not know Him, but I know Him. And if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be like you, a liar. But I know Him, and I keep His word. Abraham your father rejoiced that he was to see My day. He saw it and was glad." The Jews therefore said to Him, "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am." They therefore took up stones to cast at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out from the temple.
The fury of the Jews is evidently at its height, and Jesus is obliged to hide Himself from them. But He is to fall into their hands before many days are over; then they will triumph and put Him to death. They triumph, and Jesus is their Victim: but how different is to be His lot from theirs! In obedience to the decrees of His heavenly Father, and out of love for men, He will deliver Himself into the hands of His enemies, and they will put Him to death; but He will rise victorious from the tomb, He will ascend into Heaven, He will be enthroned on the right hand of His Father. His enemies, on the contrary, after having vented all their rage, will live on without remorse, until the terrible day comes for their chastisement. That day is not far off, for observe the severity wherewith Our Lord speaks to them: You hear not the words of God, because you are not of God. Yet there was a time when they were of God, for the Lord gives His grace to all men; but they have rendered this grace useless; they are now in darkness, and the light they have rejected will not return.
You say that My Father is your God, and you have not known Him; but I know Him. Their obstinacy in refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias has led these men to ignore that very God, Whom they boast of honoring; for if they knew the Father, they would not reject His Son. Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets are all a dead letter to them; these sacred Books are soon to pass into the hands of the Gentiles, who will both read and understand them. If, continues Jesus, I should say that I do not know Him, I should be like to you, a liar. This strong language is that of the angry Judge Who is to come down, at the last day, to destroy sinners. Jerusalem has not known the time of her visitation: she dares to say to Him: Thou hast a devil! She says to the eternal Word, Who proves Himself to be God by the most astonishing miracles, that Abraham and the prophets are greater than He! Strange blindness, that comes from pride and hardness of heart! The feast of the Pasch is at hand; these men are going to eat, and with much parade of religion, the flesh of the figurative lamb; they know full well that this lamb is a symbol, or a figure, which is to have its fulfillment. The true Lamb is to be sacrificed by their hands, and they will not know Him. He will shed His Blood for them, and it will not save them. How this reminds us of those sinners, for who this Easter promises to be as fruitless as those of past years! Let us redouble our prayers for them, and beseech Our Lord to soften their hearts, lest trampling the Blood of Jesus under their feet, It will cry for vengeance against them before the throne of the heavenly Father.
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