The Christian Heritage Centre

Blog Media

The Cross of Good Hope

7th April, 2023

The Cross of Good Hope

At the start of the Easter Triduum, the folly of the Cross stands as testament to the power of God

Christ’s Crucifixion brings us to the brink of the central tenet of our faith. It is the final test of the claims made by the person of Jesus. At the cross, there are only two options left: either death swallows up Jesus or death is finally defeated. Of the mocking crowds with their high priests and Jesus’ few, faithful followers, only one or the other group can be vindicated. All the expectations, controversies, passion and hopes that surfaced as a result of the teachings and miracles of Jesus are concentrated in this moment of truth. Vengeance, sorrow, hope, disillusion, belief, unbelief, all meet at the Cross, each waiting to be justified or dispersed.

However, what takes place on the Cross and beyond is not immediately accessible to those who stood at its foot some two thousand years ago, as indeed it remains a profound mystery for every Christian since. It is an event that moves beyond human word and comprehension. “Every word is silenced before this… the Father’s hour, when the eternal triune plan is executed,” says von Balthasar.

It is precisely the Word, the only necessary Word, that speaks in the action that begins on the Cross.  The Cross will verify, through the glory of the Resurrection, the fullest revelation of God in His incarnate Word; and in doing so, it will stand as the final word of God’s love for humanity, in the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The Crucifixion, by Andrea Mantegna

Yet in this action, the Word nailed to the Cross utters seven, spoken words, as recorded across the four Gospels. Spoken by the Son, these words draw in all time and embrace it within the history of faith. On the one hand, they recall and fulfil the Father’s Word as revealed in the Old Testament, words spoken in earlier centuries, but overlooked and forgotten. On the other, they promise the new life in the Spirit that the Church will offer mankind for the duration of this world, and the future glory of eternal life.

Thus, to use Benedict XVI’s language, the word of God and event become deeply interwoven at the Cross. In the eternal nature of the Word, human events are joined to a greater and timeless mystery. As Christ hangs on the Cross, the Christian sees the culmination of the history of faith, the master plan enacted by the Holy Trinity in and through the vagaries of human history. The Christian sees on the Cross the Logos that gave creation itself its very logic, that overlooked the fall of our first parents, that was promised in ever-increasing relief over millennia of covenants and prophecies.

More than this, in the Son of Man lifted up on the Cross, the Christian sees the gateway to the end of all history, as intended by God: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The Cross unlocks the Divine promise that will close all earthly history and bring the history of faith to fulfilment in the new Jerusalem. Through whatever events Providence allows this world to come to its end, our personal stories will continue through the veil of that apocalypse and into the Light that will reveal their true significance. Through the Cross, shines that Light.

By Stefan Kaminski, Director

Blog Media

The Necessity of Good Friday

2nd April 2021

The Necessity of Good Friday

Stefan Kaminski

Each day of the Easter Triduum is inseparable from the rest: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday form a single, liturgical action, as the Church sees it. Together, the Thursday evening to Sunday morning constitute a time of immersion in the most sacred and greatest of mysteries. In the middle of this liturgical trio is the celebration of Our Lord’s Crucifixion on Good Friday. It would not be inaccurate to call this, literally, the “meat” of the Triduum: the substance of the rite that is instituted on Holy Thursday is found on Good Friday; and, without Christ’s death, there would be no Resurrection. The celebration of the most joyous and solemn Easter Mass hinges on the prior celebration of Good Friday.

Equally, if Easter signals the commencement of our life in the Holy Spirit, the era of the Church, Good Friday can be perhaps considered the absolute pivotal moment between Testaments Old and New. Although a “New Testament event”, it also signals the final closure of the Old Testament, in the sense that Good Friday celebrates the Sacrifice of sacrifices, the last word with respect to man’s historic need for sin offerings as practiced under the Old Covenant. Christ’s sacrifice is the final but only effective one in a long chain of sacrifices made since Abel and Cain. Similarly, in finally atoning for all human sin, past and future, it ushers in the life of grace. So it is that all sacrifices before Christ’s were a mere antetype; any sacrifices made since cannot be other than idolatry.

At the same time, the Cross speaks most profoundly of the Mystery of God’s Love. It brings together and crushes the contradiction created by man’s first disobedience. In the Cross, the weight of human sin and the magnitude of the Father’s Love confront each other; High Priest and Victim are united; God and man are reconciled; life and death are met. The Mystery of this day is such that “every word is silenced before this… the Father’s hour, when the eternal triune plan is executed,” in the words of von Balthasar.

Carl Bloch, The Crucifixion of Christ

Indeed, the only necessary words on Good Friday are those spoken by the Son as He hangs from the Cross: seven phrases, identified from across the Gospels, referred to as the Seven Last words. These words uttered by the Word are, in a sense, God’s final word. “But in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb 1:2), and these are the words spoken by the Son in the last moments of His life on earth. Each is therefore full of significance, drawing together all of God’s preceding revelation and bringing it to its climatic fulfilment.

Perhaps the most enigmatic of these words, and the ones that most vividly speak of the transition from Old Testament to New, is the fourth phrase: “Eli, Eli, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

These words come from the beginning of Psalm 22; Israel’s great psalm of suffering, a plea for deliverance from suffering and hostility. It is addressed to an apparently-distant God: One who is recognised as past deliverer of Israel, but Who is currently silent, despite the repeated prayers of the people. The psalmist, some 1,000 years before, speaks of the very details that are to manifest themselves on Calvary: the mockery and the challenge to God, the piercing of the hands and feet, the division of the clothes amongst the soldiers and the casting of lots for the outer garment. By invoking Psalm 22 from the Cross, Jesus thus identifies those prophetic words with the event of His Crucifixion, simultaneously speaking reality into those words as he undergoes what they portray.

At the same time, Psalm 22, and therefore the Crucifixion event, does not end with the sufferings of the Messiah. In the last stanzas of the Psalm, a transformation takes place: “From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied… the families of the nations shall worship before him.” In these lines, the early Church identified herself as the “great congregation” that offers a sacrifice of praise. In the memorial of the Passion, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and manifested in the Church’s liturgy, the Bread of Life Himself becomes the food of the afflicted. And as the Gospel spread throughout the Roman empire and beyond, so those who worshipped the One, true God spread beyond the people of Israel to include the wider families of the nations.

And so Psalm 22 also alludes to the immediate fruit of Christ’s Suffering: the birth of the Church, and with her, of the Sacramental economy. As the Old Testament is brought to completion and the New begun, so too the people of God is created anew. From the side of the Body of Our Lord is drawn forth the water and blood of the Church’s Sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist. As Eve was drawn from Adam’s side, so too is the Church drawn from Christ’s.

We celebrate today “a great mystery… Christ and the Church”, in which “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). The contemplation of the Cross is the contemplation of Christ’s love for each of us, from which flows the offer of grace and the promise of new life. Good Friday is not a day to be overlooked.

Post updated 29th March 2024