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The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding at Cana

This guest post was written by Greg Hoerter, Manager of Strategic Partnerships for Verbum Catholic Products.

Meditating on the Wedding at Cana always gives me a better sense of Mary’s role as the Queen Mother of the Messiah. In John 2:1-11, we see a very unusual wedding story.

First, the Bride and Groom are never named. Many church fathers and theologians speculate that Jesus, who is called the Bridegroom in the next chapter (Jn 3:29) and elsewhere in scripture, is meant to be the Groom and Mary the Bride, as she is the New Eve.

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The Miracle at Cana by Vialy Makovsky, 1887.

Mary takes a very prominent role in the story as she is listed first among the guests: “1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.” (John 2:1–2, RSVCE)

As the wine runs out, Mary immediately acts and intercedes for the hosts. As the Queen Mother, this is her role as the intercessor, as we see in the Old Testament.  In the Davidic Kingdom, the Queen was the Mother of the King since he often had more than one wife.  In 1 Kings we read: “So Bathsheba [Solomon’s mother] went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.”” (1 Kings 2:19–20, RSVCE)

The role of the Queen Mother (Hebrew: Gebirah) is to hear the requests of the people and to take them to the King. Just as Bathsheba did in the Old Testament, Mary did at Cana in the New Testament and even still today for us. She intercedes and takes our prayers and requests to Her Son the King of Kings. And just as King Solomon said 3,000 years ago, Jesus says to his Mother today: “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you”.

But our requests are not always answered. In the above example in 1 Kings, Adonijah, the half-brother of Solomon, requested something that would have cost Solomon his kingdom. Therefore, Solomon could not honor the request, as it was against his Father David’s will, and God’s will. In the same way, we cannot ask for something that goes against God’s will and our ultimate good and expect it to be granted. King Solomon had a double portion of Wisdom granted to him, but our Lord knows our minds and our hearts, and what’s best for us, even better than we do.

So after we make our petitions, Mary’s words to us are still: “Do whatever he tells you”.

 

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of Jesus

This guest post is by David Walker, Verbum Business Development Team Lead.

As one studies the narrative of the Gospel of St. Mark, it quickly becomes clear that the author utilizes intense language throughout his writings. For instance, the Greek word εὐθύς (euthys), translated “immediately,”is utilized 8 times in just the first chapter. St. Mark utilizes this word to drive the reader along Mark’s narrative of the life of Christ.

Another example of this intense language, specifically within the first chapter, is the Greek word σχίζω(schizo), translated “torn” (from which we get the English word “schism”). However, this word is utilized more sparingly and to great effect by St. Mark. In fact, σχίζω (schizo) appears at only two key places within his entire Gospel. The first time is at the beginning of his gospel as Mark describes the Baptism of our Lord: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mk1:10).

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The Baptism of Christ by Giotto, 1305.

Mark returns to this word a second time to describe a specific moment of the Passion: “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mk 15:38).

When a unique word is utilized this way, Biblical scholars sometimes refer to it as an inclusio. An inclusio is a literary technique by which the author creates theological “book ends” at the beginning and end of the text for added significance and meaning.

One way of interpreting St. Mark’s purpose for utilizing this word σχίζω (schizo), at our Lord’s Baptism and again at His passion, might be to emphasize a powerful new dispensation of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit breaks into the fallen world at Christ’s baptism and is then made available to us all by Christ’s suffering on the Cross. The tearing of the veil might thus indicate the power of the Holy Spirit breaking through the veil in a way that was a foreshadowing was merely a shadow of what was to come (Col. 2:17), when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.

St. Matthew’s Gospel shows this reality in another way. To quote the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:

Matthew assembles ten miracle stories. They portray Jesus bringing into the world a divine holiness that overpowers the causes of defilement: sin, disease, demons, and even death. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, considered those defiled by these things to be unclean and untouchable; Jesus, however, takes an offensive stance against evil and by his mighty words (8:13, 16, 26, 32; 9:6) and physical touch (8:3, 15; 9:21, 25, 29) heals the effects of sin. He was not only immune to uncleanness, but the superior power of his holiness went forth to purify others in his midst. These episodes also reveal Jesus’ favor with the crowds (8:1, 16, 18; 9:8, 31, 33) as well as mounting opposition by skeptical authorities (9:3, 34).

St. Matthew seems to point out a type of “reversed polarity” that has now taken place through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit enables one to actually effect righteousness—rather than being made unclean, the power of the Holy Spirit makes these things clean.

For St. Mark, this dramatically begins at Jesus’ Baptism, as the Heavens are “torn” open and the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ.  His finished work on the Cross then opens the power of the Holy Spirit to His followers, which we Christians receive when we follow Jesus in the Sacrament of Baptism.  As the Catechism states: “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1265).

 

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary

  • This guest post was written by James Battle, Catholic Marketing Specialist here at Verbum.

Why does the Catholic Church hold each of the faithful to believe the Assumption of our Blessed Mother? What do we gain by meditating upon this mystery?

Like many converts, I had a lot of trouble with the Marian dogmas––but this one especially. I wondered, “What is the point of the Assumption?” The hymns and practice of the Church in celebrating this idea are recorded well back to the 6th century, so why was it only defined dogmatically barely more than 50 years ago? Of all of the Glorious Mysteries—Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit, Assumption .and Coronation of Mary—the last two are the least explicitly explained in Sacred Scripture (Revelation 12) and can be the most difficult to understand.

One reason that I can see why the Church took so long to declare the Assumption of Mary a dogma of the Church is that it cannot be well understood without first understanding and believing much of what the Church has said elsewhere about Christ. Let’s consider three signifcant aspectsof the Assumption:

  • Because Christ is fully man and fully God, Mary had to receive special grace to be able to carry the Word in her womb (Lk 1:39-56)
  • Like Elijah and Enoch, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven – our bodies matter to God (1 Cor 6:20)
  • Mary’s Assumption foreshadows our own Resurrection, and gives us hope (1 Cor 15; Rev 11:9-12:7).

To learn more about how this doctrine developed, I recommend the Mariology Collection in Verbum.

As my own faith grew, I eventually discovered, and began to believe, that every dogma that the Catholic Church has defined about Mary has the sole purpose of bringing us closer to Christ Jesus.

Meditating upon this mystery, I find myself amazed at the love of our God: From all eternity He would choose one of His creation to become His mother. He would make Himself a helpless baby in her arms, and he would bless the rest of us through her.

I guess that’s why Mary says, “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).

This is one of my favorite prayers from the Kontakion from the Feast of the Assumption:

 “Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,

Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.

For being the Mother of Life,

She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.”

Note: In the Orthodox tradition, Mary is known as “Theotokos,” or “God-bearer.”

 

The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation of Mary

This guest post is by Isaiah Hoogendyk, Biblical Languages Engineer at Faithlife Corporation.

The Salve, Regina, or “Hail, Holy Queen!” is typically used as a concluding prayer to the five decades of the Rosary. Why do we do address the Blessed Virgin Mary this way? Let us first take a look back at the mysteries we have already written about.

If the Joyous Mysteries tell of the beginning of our salvation, the joy of knowing that Christ is coming to dwell among us and show the way to everlasting life; and the Sorrowful Mysteries tell of how He suffered for our sake and for our sin, in order that we may have life eternal; then the Glorious Mysteries tell of Christ’s triumph and its promise for the Church, Christ’s Body, victorious upon earth and in heaven.

The Glorious Mysteries begin with Christ’s promised Resurrection from the dead and His glorious Ascension, which together look forward to what awaits those who fall asleep in God’s grace. The third mystery, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, recalls the birth of the Church, and is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise that the Paraclete, the Comforter, would be sent after He Himself went to be with the Father. The fourth mystery parallels the first mystery: Mary’s Assumption into heaven proves Christ’s promise for His faithful Church.

What, then, is the parallel to the second mystery and what is the triumphant end of this progression of gloriously fulfilled promises? It is what is celebrated on the Octave of the Assumption, a feast established in 1954 by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (“To the Queen of Heaven”): the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. If her Assumption marks the completion of her life on earth, then there must be something even greater awaiting her in the new creation. Indeed, it is the very same thing that awaits Christ’s chosen and faithful servants. For in the end, we too will receive our crown. Not only are we God’s handiwork and the pinnacle of His beautiful creation, but we are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17) who will reign with Him in His everlasting kingdom (2 Tim. 2:12).

We can look to Ad Caeli Reginam for excellent support of Mary’s exalted status and title, wherein the Pope appeals to Holy Tradition and the Church Fathers:

So it is that St. Ephrem, burning with poetic inspiration, represents her as speaking in this way: “Let Heaven sustain me in its embrace, because I am honored above it. For heaven was not Thy mother, but Thou hast made it Thy throne. How much more honorable and venerable than the throne of a king is her mother.” … St. Gregory Nazianzen calls Mary “the Mother of the King of the universe,” and the “Virgin Mother who brought forth the King of the whole world,” while Prudentius asserts that the Mother marvels “that she has brought forth God as man, and even as Supreme King.” (Ad Caeli Reginam 10, 11)

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The Coronation of the Virgin by El Greco, 1591.

Who is mother of the King of the Universe but a mother of royal lineage herself? Therefore we can rightly call her Queen. We can also look to Holy Scripture to find prophecy of Mary’s role as Queen; namely, the final book of the New Testament, St. John’s Apocalypse. In one of the readings used for Mass at the Solemnity of the Assumption, we read:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev. 11:19-12:2, 10 RSV2CE)

Mary, who is called the First Apostle, the Mother of God, and the Star of the Sea, is also the Queen. But as queen, should we fear her as we would a great and powerful leader or monarch? In fact, we can take consolation, writes Alphonsus Liguori, Saint and Doctor of the Church. In his excellent devotional writing The Glories of Mary, he writes an extensive commentary on the Salve, Regina. In regards to Mary’s queenship, he states that “she is a mild and merciful queen, desiring the good of us poor sinners. Hence the holy Church bids us salute her in this prayer, and name her the Queen of Mercy. The very name of queen signifies, as blessed Albertus Magnus remarks, compassion, and provision for the poor.” (The Glories of Mary, 27-28)

In view of her compassion, let us fly to her aid and her comfort. In recognition of our being “poor, banished children of Eve,” let us ask humbly that she turn her eyes of mercy toward us and show unto us her Son, Our Lord Jesus, when we meet in Heaven on that Glorious Day, after a fight well fought, and a race well run.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary

Excerpt from Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen.

Scientists formulate and test various theories, some of which are proven with enough certitude to be renamed laws, for instance, Newton’s law of gravity; others are discarded as unworkable hypotheses. Thus, laws become the markers of scientific progress. Similarly, the definition of dogma serves as the mark of theological progress.

Dogma is the perfection of doctrine, and doctrine is nothing other than the Church’s teaching and preaching the gospel truth, as Jesus commissioned and empowered her to do. When the pope chooses to define a Marian dogma, he does much more than teach the world a valuable lesson in theology. He uses his God-given charism to fulfill his apostolic mission to preach the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:18–20).

Throughout the history of the Church, the definition of dogmas has stimulated the apostolic and theological energies of some of her best minds, especially when a definition became the occasion of controversy. In the 1940s, many Protestants, including the late Max Thurian of Taizé, France, objected strenuously after hearing rumors that Pope Pius XII was about to define the dogma of Mary’s assumption. “Where is that in the Bible?” they asked, as they made dire predictions about the death of Catholic ecumenism.

Yet the definition of the assumption coincided with the dawn of a golden age of Catholic ecumenism. Now, almost fifty years later, the Catholic Church can be described as the engine of the ecumenical movement, when many of the institutions of the old guard have lost their steam.

And incidentally, Max Thurian died a Catholic priest on the feast of the Assumption in 1996 (146).

 

The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

This post is by Juan Pablo Saju, Verbum’s Representative to the the Spanish-speaking world. He is based in Argentina.

Saint John Paul II describes the descent of the Holy Spirit this way:

“The Holy Spirit descends as love and gift, in a certain sense, into the very heart of the sacrifice which is offered on the cross. Referring to the Biblical tradition we can say: He consumes this sacrifice by the fire of the love which unites the Son to the Father in the Trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the Cross is an act proper to Christ, in this sacrifice too He “receives” the Holy Spirit. He receives the Spirit in such a way that He – and He alone with the Father – can give the Spirit to the Apostles, to the Church, to humanity” (“Dominum et Vivificantem).

It is Jesus who sends the Fire of Love to us. This Fire of Love is the Holy Spirit, and because He is sent by Jesus is also a Gift, the most excellent Gift. In the Holy Spirit there is equality between being Love and being Gift. St Thomas explains it well: “Love is the reason for a free gift which is given to a person out of love. The first gift, therefore, is love (amor habet rationem primi don:) . . . Thus, if the Holy Spirit proceeds as Love, He proceeds also as First Gift” (Summa Theologiae, I, q.38, a.2). All the other gifts are distributed among Christ’s Body through the Gift which is the Holy Spirit, concludes the Angelic Doctor in harmony with St Augustine (De Trinitate, XV, 1,9: PL 42, 1084).

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The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles by Mikhail Vrubel, 1885.

In communicating this vital energy to the soul, the Holy Spirit makes it capable, in virtue of supernatural charity, of observing the twofold commandment of love, given by Jesus Christ: love for God and for one’s neighbor. The Holy Spirit enables the soul to share in Jesus’ filial love for the Father, so that, as St. Paul says: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:14). He enables the Father to be loved as the Son has loved him, i.e, with a filial love which is shown in the cry of “Abba” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15).

The capacity to observe the other commandment, love of neighbor, comes from the Holy Spirit, too. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus commands his apostles and all his followers. With these words: “As I have loved you,” the new value of supernatural love is present, which is a sharing in Christ’s love for human beings, and therefore, is a sharing in the eternal Charity . It is the Holy Spirit who thus makes us able to love not only God, but also our neighbor, as Jesus Christ loved him. Yes, even our neighbor because, given that the love of God has been poured into our hearts, with that love we can love other persons and even in some way,  as God loves them.

In another address, Saint John Paul II sums up the significance of the descent the Holy spirit came down, at the first moment of the Church:

“On the spiritual and ethical level, yet having profound repercussions on the psychological and social planes, the force which unites is most of all love which is shared and practiced according to Christ’s commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34; 15:12). According to St. Paul, this love is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 13:13)” (General audience December 5, 1990).

The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension

This guest post is by Kathryn Heltsley, Product Marketing Copywriter for Verbum.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11)

God’s plan. God’s timing. God’s perfect will. These phrases are repeated over and over in the Christian life. Why do we hear them so often? Because we need to. We can’t help it—we want to know what’s coming, what we’re signing up for. Instead, we get a lot of opportunities to scratch our heads as we think, “Well that wasn’t what I was expecting!” It’s easy to get stuck “looking into heaven,” rather than to keep walking in the direction that Christ has pointed us.

The disciples are always an accurate reflection of our own humanity. The gospel narratives are full of examples where they unconsciously demonstrate their preconceptions of who Jesus was and their expectations of what that would look like (see Mt 16:22, for example).

Father Vincent Nagel, author of Life Promises Life—and a dear friend to all who have met him for more than a minute—once described the scene of the Ascension with his characteristic humor: “So the disciples crowd around him, asking, ‘So are you gonna save us from the Romans now?’ Oh boy! I mean, you can just about hear Jesus slapping his palm to his forehead as he ascends in the cloud!”

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The Ascension by Gustave Dore.

We all do this. We are designed with expectations. The very fact of our design implies an answer. But the form our expectations take—and the reality of the answer—can be a constant challenge as we stumble along the path of faith. Here, Jesus tells the disciples “not to concern themselves with God’s timing in fulfilling His plan” (Acts 1:7 Faithlife Study Bible). Ouch.

It’s not as though the disciples had pulled this idea of rescue from Roman oppression out of a hat. They had good reason to hope for Jesus overturning Roman rule. But the actual event of Christ’s presence in the world revealed a different plan. The openness of the disciples to receive it, however confusedly, is the essential triumph of humanity. And what they received through their faith, God’s presence inside each of them in the person of the Holy Spirit, was truly above and beyond anything they could have thought to hope for. And so it is with us all.

 

The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection

This post is by Juan Pablo Saju, Verbum’s Representative to the the Spanish-speaking world. He is based in Argentina.

The Resurrection of Jesus Makes the New Covenant Possible 

In the first Glorious Mystery, I invite you to meditate on the Resurrection of Jesus and the fact that this amazing, real event made possible to set the New Covenant and the fruits of it which is the coming of the Holy Spirit and our redemption.

The history of the Old Covenant shows many instances of Israel’s infidelity to God. But the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah elaborate God’s beautiful plan, and it is to make a new covenant with His people Israel. The prophet Jeremiah says:

Behold, the days are coming says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke” (Jer. 31:31-32).

The new and future covenant foretold by the Old Testament prophets will involve the human being much more intimately. Again, we read: “This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).

This new initiative of God concerns especially the interior person. Jeremiah characterizes this interiority with a compelling and vivid image: “I will write it upon their hearts” (Jer 31:33). Rather than nation or race indicating god’s people, under the new Covenant, God’s law will be written on the hearts of his people. Only then is God truly “their” God.

According to the prophet Isaiah, the law constituting the New Covenant will be established by the Holy Spirit. In fact the Spirit of the Lord “shall rest on him” (Is 11:2); that is, on the Messiah. In him shall the words of the prophet be fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1).”

This new covenant replaces the old one, and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

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Resurrection by Deborah Anderson.

 

Teaching and Learning with Verbum’s New High School Curriculum

This guest post is by Robert Klesko, Catholic Educational Resources Product Manager at Verbum.

“You are all missionary disciples of Christ. With your help, students will love and serve Jesus Christ in the world.”

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, Bishop of Camden

I heard the above words during an in-service for Theology teachers in the Diocese of Camden that I was blessed to attend earlier this month. While I was in New Jersey to present the new Verbum High School Curriculum to high school teachers, and the Bishop’s words resonated with my teacher’s heart. Indeed, his words provide a point of reflection for us all.

Anyone involved in teaching the faith is a missionary and our missionary work extends to classrooms, RCIA programs, Bible studies, weekend homilies, and prison ministry. Jesus commands us to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). One of our special tasks, of course, is to pass on the faith to our young people, and we at Verbum take this divine duty very seriously. As a high school theology teacher, I used to strive every day spark my students’ interest and desire for meaning. There are so many competing voices in the world vying for our attention, and this is especially true for adolescents. My goal was to make the faith relevant, exciting, and engaging on a daily basis, and I did this by integrating technology into the classroom. Technology is the currency of the modern student. At Verbum, we have embraced the great gifts of technology and used it to form a compelling, dynamic, and Spirit-charged tool for the proclamation of the kerygma.

When I was invited to join Verbum and work on our digital high school theology curriculum, I was opened up to the great possibilities that this technology has in store with all levels of theological instruction. Verbum allows you to engage the vast Catholic tradition directly while simultaneously being part of a wider network of learners. As a teacher, I always wondered how to make complicated group work and collaboration more effective, and Verbum provides an excellent answer by gathering people of common interest and mission into a community. Perfect for face-to-face instruction with its various interactive tools, wonderful for facilitating learning beyond the borders of the traditional classroom, Verbum makes education possible where you are.

It was these capabilities that I was pleased to share with my fellow teachers in Camden and in my meetings with educators across the country. The response has been overwhelmingly positive:

  • Father Allain Caparas, Director of Catholic Identity at Gloucester Catholic, noted the “need to use technology to reach our students,” and concluded that Verbum would be a great benefit to help students become active learners, and defenders, of the faith. “[Verbum is] worth our time and worth our investment (Catholic Star Herald).[1]
  • “Every Catholic high school that is serious about providing a passionate, compelling evangelization and catechesis to students should investigate the Verbum curriculum” says Marie Pitt-Payne, Theology teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy, the first Verbum-equipped school.

Again and again, I have encountered administrators and educators who have had epiphanies about ways that Verbum can transform high school religious education. Part of this epiphany is Verbum’s ability to put the great sources of the faith at the fingertips of students in an accessible and searchable way:

“Students crave depth and answers; they need hard information,” said Janice Schumann, a Senior Religion teacher from Wildwood Catholic.

The knowledge that Verbum provides, with its “documents that demonstrate that scholars and saints have studied and researched the faith,” will inspire students to do the same, Schumann believes (Catholic Star Herald).

Combining the vast Catholic tradition and cutting-edge software tools in a compelling curriculum for high school students, Verbum is opening minds and hearts to the possibility of teaching the faith in a new and engaging way. Verbum is pushing the paradigm to new heights and changing the way teaching and learning are taking place. We do this because we believe that we are all missionaries—“laborers in the vineyard” (Mt. 20:8)— of the Lord, and our goal is to create inspired believers for the future.

If you’re reading this blog, please take some time to think about anyone you know who has an active role in ministry in the Church. Tell them about Verbum and invite them to invest in our powerful software. Consider adopting Verbum for your school, or visit Verbum.com to see how it can help you improve your own personal ministry.

For more information about the Verbum High School Curriculum—including a visit to your Catholic high school!— please contact Robert at Robert.Klesko@verbum.com.



[1] Original article can be found at: http://catholicstarherald.org/spiritual-instructional-and-communal-refreshment/

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion of Our Lord

This post is by Brody Stewart, Verbum Marketing and Promotions Coordinator.

When I meditate upon Jesus’ crucifixion, I can’t help but think about Palm Sunday. Why is that?

Palm Sunday should be a celebration of Christ’s victorious entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:7-9); the fulfillment of messianic prophesies (Zec. 9:9); and the royal procession for the King of All Creation (Lk. 19:39-40).

But during the Palm Sunday liturgy, these triumphant events are juxtaposed with a memorial of Christ’s crucifixion.

If you’re a contemporary American Catholic (like myself), you’ve probably celebrated a Palm Sunday Mass in which the Gospel is read more like a play than a pericope. The priest takes the role of Jesus, the lector narrates, and the people in the pews speak for the angry mob. As the narrative progresses, we inevitably come to the scene of Christ’s condemnation:

 Pilate again said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him.” Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, NABRE, emphasis added)

Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross

Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross, by Jacques Tissot, 1890.

We, as hapless members of the congregation, are compelled to chant: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

It’s very uncomfortable. It ought to be.

It’s easy for us to picture the pristine, glorified Christ hanging on a cross. It’s far more difficult to picture the blood, the pain, and the death—in short, the penalty for our sins.

The truth of the matter is that we are responsible for Christ’s death. Every time we lie, cheat, or steal; every time we gossip, slander, or boast; every time we lust, lash out, or refuse to forgive—we may as well be shouting, “Crucify him!

When I meditate upon the crucifixion, I can’t help but think about my own part in Christ’s passion and death. It’s sobering, but it’s also illuminating. It transforms the Sunday-school platitude into a life-giving reality:

“While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NABRE).

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