01 March 2010

Thy Desolate Sanctuary

Today in the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Epistle is taken from the Book of Daniel (9:15-19). In it the prophet Daniel, while at prayer to Almighty God, says: “Show Thy Face upon Thy sanctuary which is desolate.” Daniel, a prophet, and considering what is contained within the Book that bears his name, one would have to conclude that he was also a visionary.

What did the Lord lay upon Daniel’s heart as he spoke these words? What did Almighty God show him in his spirit? Could he have possibly envisioned the Messiah, the Institution of the Eucharist, and His Crucifixion, and what we all experience on Holy Thursday night when our Eucharistic Lord is removed from the Sanctuary?

This is always a moment in the Sacred Triduum when a deep sadness, and an uncomfortable emptiness hits one’s soul. If there’s ever a doubt about the Real Presence, Holy Thursday night can certainly cure those doubts, when Jesus is removed from the Tabernacle, from the Sanctuary, and suddenly the worship space just feels like a mere building.

Certainly for the Most Holy Mother of Jesus, His apostles and all His followers, that was a time of great fear, anxiety, uncertainty and emptiness; and so it should be for us. Quite possibly our Blessed Mother knew that the Crucifixion and death of her Son wasn’t the end, but even if she did know, it surely doesn’t make witnessing His suffering and Crucifixion any easier, as indicated by her title of “The Mother of Sorrows.”

On Holy Thursday, we begin to anticipate the great Victor, Jesus Christ, on Easter Sunday rising from the dead. Why do many of us, then, go through a period of this feeling of emptiness when Jesus is removed from the Sanctuary? Perhaps it is a brand of compunction that God infused in our souls. The prophet Daniel said something else in his prayer that is also most interesting: “For by reason of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers…” That is a heaping dose of reality: our Tabernacles and Sanctuaries are empty beginning on Holy Thursday night because we are sinners, and Jesus, consequently, had to pay the ultimate price for our sins.

Our Lord through the prophet Joel sets the tone for us at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday: “Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy” (Joel 2:12-13). That is our God, Who is Love, calling to those whom He loves, asking them to take the season of Lent seriously. Man fell from grace and God’s justice was sentenced to the Man Jesus Christ, for the sins of us all. And now our God calls us to repentance, that He may exercise His mercy. And when Jesus rises from the dead on Easter morn, most especially, our gratitude is called for. Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, defeated death; He overcame the darkness with His marvelous Light – for us all.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). This is the plea of ten lepers. They were mercifully made clean by Jesus but of the ten only one Samaritan returned to Jesus to offer thanks. Jesus said: “Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger” (Luke 17:17-18). May we all be strangers, by meditating on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by unceasingly offering gratitude to God for His mercy, which ultimately rewards us the unfathomable gift of eternal life with Him.