Throughout this Lenten season, we have been called to go deeper into prayer. Many times this takes the form of devotion such as Stations of the Cross, but just as much the Rosary, particularly the Sorrowful Mysteries. And now we come to Good Friday when we commemorate the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are many ways to meditate on the Passion from theology, Scripture, and the Church Fathers. There are many that we’re used to, but on this Good Friday, I wanted to offer a set of meditations based off of a reflection by Father Thomas Housington in his Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy Volume 1: Lent and Holy Week for Ash Wednesday using the reading from 2nd Corinthians. So grab your Rosary (and some tissues) and let us journey with our Savior along His sorrowful Passion.
Meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
Jesus Christ upon the Cross was the One and Perfect Sacrifice which alone expiated the sin of Adam and of the human race and restored us to our relationship with God the Father. On the Cross, the Word made flesh, God the Son, was the high priest, offering Himself as the sacrifice for sin. And yet, at the same time, Jesus on the Cross WAS sin. This comes directly from the Apostle Saint Paul. In fact, we are told this every year at Ash Wednesday in the second reading. The reading states:
So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2nd Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2)
Read verse 21 again, “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin”. THAT is powerful and Father Thomas Housington reflects on this in view of Christ’s threefold humility. 1, His Incarnation. God the Son, the Eternal Word, the Beloved only-Begotten of the Father left His throne in Heaven and took on the flesh of man, the creature. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” to take away the sin that enslaved us. 2. His humility on Calvary. Christ humbled Himself by taking our place. He sacrificed His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity and died in place of our own eternal death we deserved by sin. 3. Being made sin. And that is profound. Father Housington relates that, usually when we meditate on the Passion, we see the Cross as “containing’ our sins so that the physical weight of Jesus’ heavy cross symbolizes the weight of all mankind’s sins. Or we might imagine each lash from the Scourging at the Pillar as representing an individual sin”. But, Father says, we need to go deeper into these mysteries. Because when we only think of “the effects of sin” upon Jesus, we forget the fact that Jesus Himself was made sin. Father Housington says, “Jesus, Who from before time began was God, stands not only in the place of sinners, but in the place of sin. This is where He offers sacrifice as a new and everlasting priest. His stance between merciful grace and man’s sins brings together both in Himself, where the former destroys the latter, for us and for our salvation”. And this is how we will meditate upon these Mysteries, by realizing in the Man of Sorrows sin itself and the punishment the God-Man endured, so that in His death, sin and death itself may die.
First Sorrowful Mystery – The Agony in the Garden
The Passion of our Lord begins in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our Lord enters the Garden, takes Peter, James, and John with Him forward a little more, and then goes ahead of them to pray. Our Lord says in Saint Matthew 26:38 to the three, “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me”. Our Lord is sorrowful because He knows what He is about to endure for us. As the sacrificial Lamb, He is about to take on our punishment and sin and become that sin offering. His soul is sorrowful to death because that is what sin does to us. Mortal sin separates us from our relationship with God and we become spiritually dead. This is what happened in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they died spiritually and, because of their disobedience, physical death came into the world. Christ, the new Adam, enters the Garden of Gethsemane in the same way Adam left the Garden of Eden, but for different reasons. One left in shame in sin, one enters in obedience, the sinless One, Who becomes sin for the sake of the sons of Adam. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen said, “As Adam lost the heritage of union with God in a garden, so now Our Blessed Lord ushered in its restoration in a garden. Eden and Gethsemane were the two gardens around which revolved the fate of humanity. In Eden, Adam sinned; in Gethsemane, Christ took humanity’s sin upon Himself”. In asking Peter, James, and John to watch with Him, Jesus calls us to keep watch for the sin in our life. When He comes back and finds them asleep, He says, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41). This happens three times. Jesus tells us to always stay awake because when we get lazy and fall asleep is when we allow sin to enter into our lives. Jesus knows that we struggle to stay awake. In the Garden He knew and saw every bit of what was going to happen to Him. He sweat drops of blood and even asked the Father, if it was possible, to take this chalice from Him, yet submitting to the Father’s will in saying, “…Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). How often do we ask our Lord this in our own trials? We ask the chalice of our sufferings, our sins, to be taken away from us because our flesh is weak, though our spirit is willing. 1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” What sin do we have that causes us to weep and beg for it and its temptations to be taken away? Whatever sin you just thought of, that sin was placed upon Christ as He prayed in the Garden. Yet He rose and went, for you, submitting to the will of the Father, that His will and not ours be done.
Second Sorrowful Mystery – The Scourging at the Pillar
After being arrested, tried by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was brought before Pilate who tried Him. The Scripture on this Mystery is the shortest of all the mysteries, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Film portrayals of this Mystery often make it out to be more gruesome than the Crucifixion itself. But we must remember that is the Cross that brings about our redemption, this Mystery does have its importance. To be masters of our flesh instead of slaves to it, we must have discipline. We tend to seek pleasure and avoid suffering, yet Jesus took on suffering, for our sake. Saint Paul says in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance”. Jesus denied Himself comfort and pleasure to free us from our own slavery to pleasure and the flesh. The Author of freedom became a slave to grant freedom to those enslaved. As Christ suffers and is punished, so is our sin punished. The battle against sin is a daily fight, one that we cannot bear alone, but it is one that we must continue to fight. As we weep at our Lord’s scourging, let us remember that with Christ to strengthen us, we must be the scourge of our own addictions, our own sins. Christ, the sinless God-Man, suffers the punishment of sin. We must never forget the pain and torment which sin causes us and which we deserve because of it. Nor can we forget the pain which Jesus suffered as He took the sin of the world upon Him to the Cross. St. Paul says in Romans 8:31, “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” In the scourging at the pillar, the deeds of the body, the flesh, were being put to death. In submitting to the scourging, Christ conquered the lusts of the flesh so that, “by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5) of those sins of the flesh that hold us back and keep us down, depressed, and leave us feeling worthless. Let us submit, like Christ, to the trial, but with His power, scourge the temptations that hold us down, so we may journey forth with Christ Who suffered this scourging so that we may overcome in His Name Who gives us strength.
Third Sorrowful Mystery – The Crowning With Thorns
In the third Mystery, the royal kingship of Christ is mocked. The soldiers beat Him with a rod, put a cloak on Him, mockingly worshiped Him, and placed on His head a crown of thorns. While we are angry at the soldiers for their blatant blasphemy, and justly so, we must continue to remember the deeper mystery behind the mystery of the Suffering Servant. The Gospel of Saint Matthew 27:28-29 tells us, “And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’”. Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is ridiculed and mocked for being just that. Because Jesus is no ordinary earthly king, as our Lord tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” in John 18:36. Just as the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, neither is His kingship, because Jesus is King of all that was, is, and ever will be. And yet, He endures this humiliation with a divine humility. Because, while Jesus is being humiliated and mocked, so is sin. Christ, having taken on our sins, shows the humiliation that sin causes. Sin tries to be the king and ruler of our life. But it is a false king. Sin makes us its subjects when we submit ourselves to its lies and evils. In the crowning of thorns, the words of Jesus in John 12:31 are realized when He says, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Jesus is crowned, not with gold, but with thorns. Mocked by the false king of sin, the judgment of sin is pronounced and the rule of Satan is ended by the true King of kings. We become the subjects of Christ when we reject sin and submit ourselves to truth and life. The crown of thorns was given to our Lord to mock His kingship, but it also represents the crown of sin. Sin is never good and in the end will only cause pain. Sin corrupts the mind, filling it with things that are not of God. The pain of the crown of thorns is that pain of sin on our mind, darkening and clouding our reason. Yet, in bearing this crown of thorns, Jesus rejects sin and its pride, and humbly submits to the punishment of the soldiers, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, “As patience leads to peace, and study to science, so are humiliations the path that leads to humility”. In His divine humility, Jesus conquers the pride of Satan. And so we, like Christ, must be humble to combat the false king that is sin. Sin mocks the kingship of Christ by trying to dominate and control our lives. In the end, all sin does is humiliate us. Christ was humiliated because sin is humiliating. To those who belong to the world, and Satan, sin is normal and good, but to those who belong to God through Christ, sin is foolishness. In His crowning with thorns, Christ destroyed the reign of sin over the world that had reigned since the sin of Adam. We must look at sin as the trap and mockery that it is, and humble ourselves under the gentle reign of the King of Heaven and earth, Christ Crucified.
Fourth Sorrowful Mystery – The Carrying of the Cross
Our Lord stands condemned before Pilate and the people, scourged, beaten, and crowned with thorns, and now He picks up His own Cross to bear to the hill of Calvary. Ironically, even before Christ bore His own Cross that would become the altar of salvation, Jesus tells us in Saint Matthew 16:24, ““If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me”. Even before He goes to the Cross Christ prepares us for the cross that we must carry. And to carry the cross is a struggle and it is a struggle due to sin. Christ, Who was made sin, carried the Cross all the way to Calvary and He struggled. He struggled because when we are in sin, we can’t bare the Cross and live a life of grace. Christ falls three times under the weight of the Cross, showing that, when we commit mortal sin, we fall to the ground and back into the dust from which we came, This is a result of the curse of Adam in Genesis 3 when God declares, “In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life.Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken…”. This happens when we have given in to temptations and dropped our own cross. In His journey to Calvary, Jesus is experiencing the effects of the sin of Adam, just as we all do. But there is hope: Jesus got back up! And so must we. Yes, we fall, but we must always get back up. Satan wants us to stay down and to just leave our cross and give in completely to our temptations that asail us most. Because when we stay down, we become just like him, who received his own curse in Genesis 3 when God said, “On your belly you shall crawl, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life”. Satan wants to bring us down to his level to dominate us. But Jesus, in becoming sin, is made subject to that exact same treatment, yet He rises from that dust unconquered and as the Conqueror of sin. Through His carrying of the Cross, Jesus gives us grace, through Him, to carry our cross as He did. Because Jesus did not carry His Cross alone, but had help from Simon of Cyrene. At that moment, Saint Simon was being Christ to Christ. We must remember that, even when we in our frailty and sinfulness fall under the weight of our cross as Christ did under His, that Christ does not abandon us to the dust, but encourages us to get back up and continues to carry our cross with us as Saint Simon of Cyrene did for our Lord. Pope Saint John Paul II said, “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.” We all have our cross to bear in life, just like Jesus did. But sin cannot bear the weight of the cross, which is the weight of eternal love. Christ carries all of our crosses with His own as He walks to Calvary. And just as He persevered to the end, so must we in this life because, like Mother Angelica said, “Every cross you have is going to go into eternity with us and give you a greater vision of God”. We may struggle, and we may fall into sin, but we don’t go it alone.
Fifth Sorrowful Mystery – The Crucifixion
Our Lord has climbed the hill of Calvary, the Cross on His beaten and bloodied back. The Lamb has been led to the slaughter. His clothes are ripped off of Him and He is placed upon the Cross, His hands and feet driven through by nails pierce Him to the sacred Tree. He is bruised for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Then He is raised on high for all to see, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and killed by men for men. Saint Peter says in his first Epistle 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”. Christ, God and Man, suffered on the Cross so that we, who were slaves to sin, might become free to live in grace by the sacrifice of the One Who became sin for us. Think of what our Savior endured for us that we might repent of the very sins that crucified Him. Everything from His agony in Gethsemane to the Via Crucis led to this. And He gives us an example along the way, each suffering destroying sin and granting virtue and grace. On the Cross, our sins, every single sin we have committed and will commit is crucified. Our sins crucified the Son of God. We crucified Jesus. You crucified Jesus. I crucified Jesus. As He offered Himself as the victim, having the entirety of the sin of all mankind placed upon Him, Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus, though sinless, felt the pain we do when we are separated from God by our sin. Christ willed to suffer that pain because by submitting Himself to it, He destroyed sin and death. But, is that the only reason He cried allowed these words, or did He have another reason? Those who heard Him would have known how that Psalm goes. It is a Psalm that prophecy’s His own crucifixion, but also His resurrection. At the end of the Psalm, it states, “All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage. And I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you.The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.” We who walk this way with Christ, who accompany Him and live our life as He lived His, in selfless service to others, we who have fallen will rise, because Christ has risen. Sin does not win the day, but the One Who became sin to destroy sin, does win the day. On the Cross, God died in our place. God, Who, in the Garden of Eden, we turned our backs on dies so that we might return to Him. O wonderful and unspeakable love! Love divine that no mortal can comprehend! Because the Cross is not defeat, the Cross is victory! Sin is defeated, but grace is won. Death is destroyed, but eternal life is restored. Saint Augustine said, “He died, but He vanquished death; in Himself he put an end to what we feared; He took it upon Himself and He vanquished it, as a mighty hunter He captured and slew the lion”. Look upon Your Savior, His arms outstretched, in love, as He waits for you to return His love that He offers fully and freely for you. Because from the death of the God-Man comes eternal life, from the crucifixion of sin comes the victory of redemption, and from apparent defeat comes the Resurrection. Because by His Passion, by His being made sin, we now “become the righteousness of God in him”.