Friday, 10 April 2020

Good Friday 2020

Today we celebrate the Liturgy or the Mass of the Presanctified. The word “Mass” is rather misleading because it is not a Mass. But, it is “Presanctified” because Holy Communion that was consecrated yesterday is today given out under the species of bread alone. As we honour the Passion and Death of Jesus, the Church abstains from offering the Mass. We are here to celebrate the Lord’s Passion through the long re-enactment of the Gospel, the Veneration of the Cross and ending with the reception of Holy Communion.

The phones would usually be ringing off the hooks during the Triduum enquiring about the times of the Masses. Today is no different. What time is Mass? But there is no Mass. Why? In sacramental theology, St Thomas Aquinas explains, “the ‘figure or sign’ disappears at the showing of the reality”. The Mass is the figure or sign or representation of the Passion. The familiar definition we are accustomed to hearing which states that a sacrament (in this case, the Mass) is an outward sign of inward reality (Sacrifice on Calvary) is excellent in helping us understand why on this day alone, no Mass is celebrated. According to Pope St Leo the Great, “What was made manifest in our Redeemer has passed over into His mysteries”. (Quod Redemptoris nostri conspicuum fuit in sacramenta transivit). Thus, on this day when we remember the very event of Christ’s Passion and Death on the Cross, the sign, the figure, the representation or the mystery is not needed. He died once and so we commemorate it once a year.

However, today we worship in an empty Church. It is definitely a weird feeling because Good Friday draws so many people especially when the service is held at 3 pm. And usually rain falls at that hour. The crowd can be denser than Easter Sunday sometimes. This extra-large crowd is a good indication that we have an affinity with death which the service is nothing but a memento mori.

The topic of death is never more appropriate than on Good Friday. In these pandemic days, our focus is on the preservation of life. However, hard as it may be to hear, saving lives is nothing more than delaying death. Good Friday reminds us that death is inevitable. We are born to die and Covid 19 has just uncovered and in a way magnified our fears of dying.

The Church has a role to play in preparing people for death. Saving lives and saving souls are two sides of a coin and both are not mutually exclusive as far the Church is concerned.

If we came to church so that we can feel good about ourselves, then we have missed the point of “churching”, that is, coming to church. People come so that they can hear and also to know WHY they are miserable. We are miserable because we are far from God. Distance from God can be everlasting death meaning that if we canonise the distance or we make the distance permanent, then, death seals that space or that abyss between us and God. However, we are all created for everlasting life. Like a homing pigeon that knows how to fly home, no one chooses everlasting death wittingly. Nobody wants to die forever. Even the most horrific of tyrants do not want that. Watch how people topple the statues of their previous dictators—Saddam Hussein is of recent memory. After his death people started destroying his statues. What are those statues but totemic poles that we all desire to live forever even after our death? Unless we have a death wish, in wanting NOTHING to do we God, we will have to face the death of a temporary kind. This separation between God and us is a temporary and not a permanent one. Catholics call it purgatory. Even so, this temporary separation creates anxiety and fear. Hence, we need the language of death or rather the tool to face death. Not the distractions of feeling good about ourselves. Coming to church is to help us face death with dignity and courage.

Just like tombstones. They do not mark the death as to remind the living that dying or death is the doorway that we must pass through. One of the more famous memento mori states this: “Where you are, I was once. Where I am, you will be”. This is not fatalistic in the sense that we focus on death. We must focus on living but that life we have must somehow be lived in the shadow of death. The shadow of death is not entirely negative as it is an invitation to look beyond the darkness of the shadow into eternity—the eternal glory that will be ours.

I know that we are not allowed to blame people and here I am not. In fact, we have come a long way from blaming the Jews. However, consider that the churches are shuttered, who stands to benefit most for this? The silence of the churches is the sound of Satan braying “Crucify Him, crucify Him” and that silence is loud and aided by people who are ignorant of Satan’s lies and machinations in leading people away from God. Good Friday highlights the cosmic battle between good and evil, between the Lord and the evil forces against Him. Whilst on earth, the ministry of healing and exorcisms clearly showed Jesus delivering people from the actual dominion of demonic forces. Right now, for Christians everywhere, Good Friday is not simply today. Ever since the closure of the churches, the faithful have been denied the Eucharist, it has been Good Friday for the longest time ever. It feels as if Satan has won. The longer the churches are shut, the happier Satan is.

So, we pray today to the Lord of life and death to quickly bring an end to this pandemic so that those who hunger for eternal life may soon have the possibility to consume again the Bread of Life, the Bread of Eternal Life. We need Him because we still have Satan and his evil spirits to overcome and also our Calvary to ascend before we can claim eternity. Christ in walking to Calvary lends us the courage and He tells us not to fear. He has conquered death and Satan’s eternal hold over us. We will have our Resurrection but only if we hold onto Him.