The Good Friday homily given by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, touches on a key point of ecumenical importance, namely, is the Eucharistic sacrifice a supposed repetition of the death of Christ on the Cross (as some of the Protestant fathers claimed), or is it a sacramental re-presentation of the singular sacrifice offered by Christ in his voluntary Passion and death?
However, is what we are doing itself an image, a representation of a reality of the past, or is it the reality itself? It is both things! “We – said Saint Augustine to the people – know and believe with very certain faith that Christ died only once for us […]. You know perfectly that all that happened only once, and yet the solemnity renews it periodically […]. Historical truth and liturgical solemnity are not opposed to one another, as if the second is fallacious and the first alone corresponds to the truth. In fact, of what history says occurred only once in reality, the solemnity repeatedly renews the celebration in the hearts of the faithful.”
The liturgy “renews” the event: how many discussions have taken place for the past five centuries on the meaning of this word, especially when it is applied to the sacrifice of the cross and to the Mass! Paul VI used a verb that could smooth the way to an ecumenical agreement on such an argument: the verb “to represent,” understood in the strong sense of re-presenting, namely to render what happened again present and operative.
There is an essential difference between the representation of Christ’s death and that, for example, of the death of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. No one celebrates as a living person the anniversary of his own death; Christ does because he is risen. Only he can say, as he does in Revelation: “I died, and behold I am alive ever more” (Revelation 1:18). We must be careful on this day, visiting the so-called sepulchers or taking part in processions of the dead Christ, not to merit the reproach that the Risen One addressed to the pious women on Easter morning: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke24:5).
The affirmation of certain Orthodox authors is bold but true. The anamnesis, namely the liturgical memorial, “renders the event truer than when it happened historically the first time.” In other words, it is more true and real for us who relive it “according to the Spirit,” than it was for those who lived it “according to the flesh,” before the Holy Spirit revealed the full meaning to the Church.
We are not only celebrating an anniversary but a mystery. Again, it is Saint Augustine who explains the difference between the two things. In the celebration “by way of anniversary,” nothing else is required – he says – than to “indicate with a religious solemnity the day of the year in which the recollection of the event itself takes place;” in the celebration by way of mystery (“in sacrament”), “not only is an event commemorated but it is also done in a way in which its meaning is understood and it is received devoutly.”
This changes everything. It is not just a question of attending a representation, but of “accepting” the significance, of passing from spectators to actors. It is up to us therefore to choose what part we want to play in the drama, who we wish to be: Peter, Judas, Pilate, the crowd, the Cyrenean, John, Mary … No one can remain neutral; not take a position, means to take a very precise one: Pilate’s who washes his hands or the crowd “standing by, watching” (Luke 23:35).
If when going home this evening, someone asks us “Where are you coming from? Where have you been?” We must also answer, at least in our heart: “on Calvary!”
Read the entire homily, which is excellent, on the ZENIT site.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.