"Vexilla Regis Prodeunt..."

"The banners of the King go forth, and now shines the mystery of the Cross, upon which the creator of all flesh was himself suspended in the flesh."

So begins the proper hymn for the Divine Office during Holy Week, and a fitting summary of the meaning behind it all. During this time, as I wrote last time, the Church celebrates not only the historical Passion of Jesus Christ, but also its enduring relevance and effective power in today's world and in the universe as a whole. The "mystery of the Cross" brings us to marvel at the greater mystery of God himself, who chose to reveal the summit of his saving love in no other way than a gruesome and excruciating death. Nevertheless, in this way we come to know him most perfectly, and to know the result of our sin and its gratuitous remission in a way that would be incomparable by any other means. "We proclaim Christ crucified," says St. Paul, "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor 1:23)

Today marks the beginning of the heart of Holy Week: the Easter Triduum. On Thursday evening, the Mass of the Lord's Supper begins the solemn period of prayer and meditation that surrounds Christ's Paschal Mystery; on this evening, we remember Jesus' Last Supper with his Apostles, his teaching of service, his prayer for unity among his followers, the institution of the Eucharist, the betrayal by Judas Iscariot and the subsequent imprisonment of the Son of God. Within a few short hours, the aim of Christ's life becomes directed at its final goal, the goal for which he was born in the first place and about which he had preached and prophesied up until this very moment: "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." (Lk 9:22) Suddenly, everything for the Apostles comes into horrific focus.

Perhaps one of the most insightful realities the Church gives us about this time of great trial, though, is that it should really come as no surprise; Jesus was constantly preaching self-denial, self-offering, suffering, patience, even death for the cause of salvation. Even before he was born of Mary's womb, Christ's mission was precisely to redeem mankind of its sins by any means necessary. His death on the Cross not only restores our fallen nature, but actually elevates it and glorifies it beyond what is naturally human. In essence, his goal of salvation is one of transformation in a very real and actual way, which renews and then exalts our human nature unto the supernatural realm. This is present all throughout Jesus' preaching in the Gospels, and is always coupled with the need for self-sacrifice and carrying the Cross; he never lets us lose sight of that.

Here, then, the Cross becomes the new Tree of Life, created by the Father to counter the sin that the first Tree of Good and Evil permitted in the Garden of Eden. Jesus Christ is manifested as the primordial Adam, generated by the Father to redeem the fall of the first Adam. The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the foot of the Cross, is the new Eve, perfectly submissive to the will of God and the will of her son, even though she did not fully understand all that was happening; she offered her heart to be pierced by a sword of sorrow beyond imagination, and allowed to be restored what was pridefully taken by her predecessor. The drama of the Cross is nothing less than the drama of Creation anew, this time a Creation into the glorified and exalted humanity that our Lord has desired for us since the beginning of time. The work taking place is truly divine, and ought to truly humble us and make us gasp in awe at the passionate love of our God. Indeed, as the Church sees, we are now bound to sing the anthem of this great feast of our redemption: Vexilla Regis prodeunt, fulget Crucis mysterium.

Thus begins the Paschal Triduum, and the celebration of our salvation.