Saturday, April 11, 2009

Descend from the Cross - chapter from "The Mysteries of Calvary" by Fr Antonio de Guevara

"Christ's Entombment" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

"I SAID, I will go up to the palm-tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof" (Cant. 7: 8). That is, I will take a very high ladder, and I will ascend to the top of the palm-tree, and take hold of the branches, and pluck the fruit from off the tree.

In Divine and human learning the palm-tree is regarded as emblematical of Victory. Those who entered Rome in triumph had palm-leaf crowns ; and all the martyr-host, as seen by S. John the Divine, had palm-boughs in their hands.

Origen, in commenting on this passage of the Song of Solomon, asks, What palm-tree has there ever been, or ever shall be in this world, like the Cross of Christ, on which He triumphed over the World and overcame the Devil? Oh, what a great difference there was betwixt the palm on which the Son of God triumphed and that which was used in triumph by the people of Rome. They, if we credit Livy, only conceded the palm to the soldier who had slain his enemy ; but Jesus assumes the palm by being slain by His enemies.

O glorious Palm-tree, blessed Cross ! on which JESUS first hung the Devil, crucified sin, atoned for the world, yielded up His own life, shed His own Blood, planted the Church, and opened the way to glory.

It certainly appears, O Good Jesus, that none ever triumphed, and none ever will triumph like Thee. Thou dost not bear the palm, but the palm Thee, to let us understand that the Cross did first triumph over Thy life, before Thou didst triumph over death.

There is but one tree and abundant fruit ; and what is that fruit but the Flesh of CHRIST, whereof whosoever eateth shall live for ever. But now let us place our ladder against this tree, and let us, with Joseph and Nicodemus, go up into the palm-tree, and take hold of the boughs thereof, and gather the fruit.

Time was short, as the sun was near the horizon, and much had to be accomplished in a brief space. Joseph and Nicodemus consult with S. John and the Magdalen, and with their knees on the ground, and their grey heads uncovered, reverently kiss the Cross and worship Him Who is crucified thereon.

Christ was placed on the Cross by the hands of infidels ; but it was by the hands of the faithful that He was removed from it.

Having done reverence to Him Who hung on the tree, they set their ladders against the Cross, and took the pincers in their hands ; and, each with a hammer in his girdle, they mounted, step by step, one on either side.

Having reached the Lord, they beheld His face pale as ashes, His eyes dull and closed, His blood clotted, His hair draggled and knotted among the thorns, His bones out of joint, and His body covered with wounds and bruises. S. Cyprian exclaims, However much man may have written on the subject of the sufferings of Christ, it falls far short of what He endured.

Upon Jacob's ladder the Angels ascended and descended singing ; but on that of Joseph are shed tears. There is joy and song in Heaven ; on Calvary there is only heaviness and weeping.

The first thing that the two old men did, was to draw the cruel nails from the hands of Christ, and this they could not do without great difficulty, for the nails were of necessity large, and firm in the wood, and the dead sinews had contracted upon them. Thus they were constrained to smite with the hammer and work with the pincers ; and each blow wrung the heart of the weeping Mother, who with wan face stood below, stayed up by Salome, and gazed on the awful scene.

S. Bernard says, I conjure you, Nicodemus, by the love you bear Him Who hangs there, be gentle and spare your blows, for the Blessed Mother is ready to swoon beneath the Cross. Let not the drawing forth of the nails, which by entering slew the Son, slay now the Mother!

But, doubtless, with reverence and. dexterity the earnest men wrought. And S. Ansehn thinks that they gently struck, tenderly handled, easily withdrew, the nails from the pierced hands, and then washed them with their tears.

O glorious ladder, not of Jacob, by which Angels descend to men, but of CHRIST, by which men go up to GOD! My soul, do thou mount that ladder and contemplate thy LORD dead for thee; and do thou labour to undo that which crucified Him, and amend that which caused Him to die.

His hands having been detached from the arms of the Cross, the sacred Body of Christ leaned forward, and one of those above sustained it above, whilst another supported it below. Wondrous sight! These men held up the God Who at the same moment was sustaining their souls.

Gustave Dore "Descend from the Cross"

And now they draw out the long nail which was driven through the feet; and then they gently let down the dead Body of their GOD.

" It shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: and I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation ; . . . and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day" (Amos 8: 9, 10). This, that was prophesied of old, has come to pass. The clear day was darkened ; and the sun withdrew his light at noon ; and there on Calvary was the mourning of the Only Son. Thenceforth the Jewish feasts were turned to mourning, and all their songs into lamentation, for their house was left unto the Jews desolate, and the curse was upon them and upon their children.

And now, indeed, as the red sun touches the western horizon, is the end of a bitter day ; a day bitter in its beginning, bitter in its continuance, and bitter in its close; bitter in the hall of the Chief Priest, and bitter in the court of Pilate ; bitter on the Way of Sorrows, bitter on Calvary; bitter on the Cross, and bitter to the Mother in its close, as the Body of her SON is laid on her lap, to be washed with her tears, anointed with the " mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight," brought by Nicodemus (S. John 19: 39), and wrapped in the linen shroud.

" AND there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to JESUS by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight. Then took they the Body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (S. John 19: 39, 40). In like manner, when the Patriarch Jacob was dead in Egypt, his son Joseph "commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel" (Gen. 1. 2). Having thus cared for the body of Jacob, Joseph went with it from Egypt, and conveyed it to Palestine, where he buried it in the cave of Machpelah.

S. Chrysostom observes that, as the works of the Son of God were many and great, so were the types that went before Him many in number and great in quality. And S. Augustine says that, as the thing prefigured exceeds the figure, and the substance excels the shadow it casts, so, without all comparison, the works done by Christ surpassed the types which foretold them.

Indeed, as the kernel surpasses in quality the shell, and the wheat excels the chaff, and the gold is more estimable than the crude ore, so much does CHRIST surpass all the figures which spoke of Him. All that the Patriarchs did may be imitated, all that the Prophets wrote may be understood ; but the great miracles that were wrought by the SON of Man none can imitate, and the depth of His teaching none can wholly fathom.

When Isaac bore the wood of the sacrifice on his shoulders