“All our hope is in the indwelling Christ” Fr Lucius Carey SSJE on the Passion

The Mystery of the Passion

The wonder of our Lord’s sacrifice in the eternal order is of necessity transacted on earth in the order of space and time, and therefore unfolds in so many hours, so many acts and endurances. The secret of the Passion lay in his interior acceptance from the beginning of all that was inflicted upon him from outside. It was the glorious Passion of the perfect Man who needed no redemption, who would bring to God an offering stainless from the first, that was the true and worthy sacrifice, the fulfilment that reaches back through the ages and forward into the ages for the redemption of mankind.

As we look on Jesus in his Passion we have to bear in mind the two orders, the temporal and the eternal. The broken heart, the troubled spirit, are indeed the world’s redemption, the one true sacrifice acceptable to God. That is the mystery as it is wrought out in time, and the successive incidents in Jerusalem, from the entry into the city on Palm Sunday, all lead on to the two-fold mystery of the upper chamber and Calvary; for though separated by hours of time, what takes place is one act, in which the Cross completes the sacrifice already offered to God in the upper chamber. It was in the institution of the most holy Sacrament when he said, This is my body, this is my blood, that Christ made the atoning sacrifice which would be accomplished hours afterwards, as we count time, on Calvary. It is in that voluntary consecration of himself for sacrifice that the first peak of the Passion is reached; from that point all else follows and cannot be otherwise. We are in the presence of a most majestic purpose which pursues its end unfalteringly. There is the mystical offering by the Lord, himself the priest, and there is the actual fulfilment of the sacrifice already offered. Priest and victim both belong to the heavenly order; the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world, though the actual immolation must needs take place in time and space. A wonderful scene is enacted on Calvary, but the true scene is in the heavenly places on the heavenly altar; there, beyond space and time, where there is no sequence of events, the Word of God offers himself eternally to the Father.

It is possible to find a measure of satisfaction for our human compassion in the poignant human appeal of our Lord’s Passion; but there is something greater, more mysterious, in the divine call that bids us enter into the heavenly places. Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God—that is the dominant note of the Passion. Our endeavour, as we contemplate the mysteries of the suffering Christ, must be to perceive each one as an expression of that oblation through eternal Spirit, to enter into the worship of that which, of its nature, is beyond our power to comprehend.

If we see in Christ and his Passion the offering of the one perfect sacrifice, if we feel drawn to the fellowship of that Passion, to unite ourselves with his purposes, then that which he gave totally, we, weak and sin-stained as we are, are yet bound by our vocation to give according to our measure, for it is the very call of God himself. We cannot share in the Passion and still play about with little cheap unworthinesses and half measures, excusing or sparing ourselves. We must be purposive and apply the spirit of the Passion not only to our spiritual life but to all the homely details of every day; otherwise we stand outside the mystery of the Passion and are repudiating the yoke our Lord invites us to bear. Only as we depend on the Christ life within, on the certainty that it is Christ within us, the hope of glory, who is making us, body, soul and spirit, a temple for his indwelling, shall we be able to come with hope and confidence to behold the mystery of redemption, to drink the cup of salvation, to find ourselves accepted in the Beloved, received again by God. All our hope is in the indwelling Christ, and all our care is to secure that he shall possess us wholly, and that always our life shall be hid with Christ in God.

That which we behold on the altar of the Cross is the perfect sacrifice fulfilled here on earth in terms of bitterest suffering— anguish of body and spirit—and once that ideal of sacrifice has claimed our devotion, it must be continually and faithfully adhered to. Our prayer for ourselves might well be that he who leads the way will give us fortitude of purpose. These things were not necessary for him but for us, that on the stage of human history there might be the ratification, by an unswerving will to suffer and to love, of that mystical sacrifice eternally offered and eternally acceptable to God the Father.

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