Lectionary Readings: Is 52:13-53:12 / Ps 31 / Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 / Jn 18:1-19:42
The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion begins not with an Entrance Hymn, but rather with the celebrant prostrating on the ground and the congregation kneeling in silence. This is the only time within the Liturgical year where a liturgical function begins with this dramatic silence. We silence our hearts as we reflect on ourselves, our relationship towards God and to our brothers and sisters.
Prostration – this action is seen a couple times in Catholic liturgy. This gesture is done at the litany of saints during ordinations and profession of vows or virginal consecrations. To lie flat on the ground is to surrender oneself totally to God. In prostrating, we recognize that we are nothing without God. It is also a sign of repentance. Many bishops have adopted this gesture in Liturgies of Reparation. In recognizing that we are sinners, we recognize that sometimes our egos take the best of us. Yet, we are called to put all of that aside and come close to the ground. That is what humility means – it comes from the Latin word, “humus” the ground.
Every year, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion makes evident Jesus’ sacrifice, and “laying down” for humanity. It seems that the Gospel of John, who’s Passion we read from every year on Good Friday, makes clear that Jesus is one willing to come not as King to rule the earth, but rather as “saving victim”, one who lays down their life for the good of others, as evident when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd” (cf. John 10:11-18)
Ultimately, Jesus not only says this. He is the shepherd that leads everyone of us on the path of salvation to the Father. Yet, in shepherding us, as we heard in the Passion today, Jesus gives his whole life to us. Jesus did not need to sacrifice for us. However, due to the first sins of man, the debt had to be paid and we would have to have paid the price through eternal damnation. However, as John said in the ever popular chapter 3 verse 16, “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Just as Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, so too should the minister who prostrates himself at the start of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion be willing to lay down his life for the glory of God and the Church. That the ordained minister have vowed to due on the day of his priestly ordination and so through the act of prostration on Good Friday be reminded so.
Yet that call to prostration is not left to ordained and religious alone. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13) While we can go back in history and cite so many people who lived and died out of selfless love, in these modern times, I am reminded of the example of Kendrick Castillo, a grade 12 student who confronted a school shooter so that his classmates can flee. He unfortunately died, just weeks from his graduation, but his life saved the life of a group of classmates. Going into present times, we see healthcare workers, doctors and nurses, who even in fear, bravely walk into the hospitals to save the lives of others, risking their own lives and wellbeing, and along with that, working long hours. Not to mention, working in the healthcare sector is not only worrisome on the job, but also after-work hours, living in fear if one might have contracted the contagious disease and potentially passing it on to others without knowing. My thoughts and prayers are with those selflessly giving up of themselves in that capacity during this time. Along with that, I think of priests who still minister at the hospitals during this time. Not only will they be doing a literal prostration at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion that they celebrate, but they will be “prostrating” as they faithfully live out their priestly vocation.
Jesus laid down his life through one of the most inhumane forms of death – death on a cross. However, in a few moments, we will lift up the cross with the figure of the crucified man. For the people of the time of Jesus, the cross was seen as the scariest and humiliating instrument of torture. Yet, the early Christians held the cross up high, including Paul who says, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
The cross that was once seen as a form of execution, humiliation, pain, suffering and torturous, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has become a sign of life, salvation, resurrection and self-sacrifice.
When we gaze upon the cross during the veneration of the Cross, let us not only be reminded of what happened at Calvary nearly 2000 years ago. Rather, let it be a reminder of our call to lay down our lives for others like Jesus within our own vocation(s). Let us embrace the cross in a spirit of humility and joy, knowing that it was through Christ’s humility that we have been redeemed.