Message of the Sorrowful Mysteries – The Crowning with Thorns

After the scourging Jesus was to be taken to Pilate for the final verdict. But the governor was still busy and the guards in charge of Jesus had to wait. So these cruel men looked for some sport to pass away the time. They now remembered that the Jews had accused Jesus of calling Himself the king of the Jews. That idea suggested some royal sport, the crowning of Jesus as king.

At once, the soldiers took Jesus to a broken pillar and seated Him on it. They then tore off his garments again and threw over Him a ragged purple cloak, similar to those worn by Roman generals in a triumph. From the branches of a prickly bush, provided with long and sharp thorns, they plaited a thick wreath; now they had a royal crown. This they put on His head, pressing it down so as to make it fit. With burning pain, the thorns penetrate into the scalp, injuring even the bone of the skull. The blood again begins to flow. His hair, already matted by the blood of the scourging, becomes a twisted and disorderly mass; blood is trickling down over His forehead and cheeks, forming around His eyes, nose and lips a dark unsightly crust. At last, to finish their preparation – they put into His fettered hands a reed as royal sceptre and all is ready for the sport. Calling together the other soldiers of the cohort these cruel men now march around Jesus in derision, genuflect and mockingly salute Him with the words, “Hail, King of the Jews.” Then standing before Him, they spit upon Him, take the reed out of His hands and with it strike Him on His thorn-crowned head. And so the sport continues while the all-seeing, outraged majesty of God veils His face and angels weep and tremble.

The crowning of Jesus with thorns is the atonement for the sins of pride; pride, the root from which all other sins have sprung. It is a mystery of iniquity that beings created by God and endowed with intelligence should attempt to be like unto God their Creator. But so did Lucifer in heaven, and so did men on earth. As in the case of Lucifer, so in the case of men, their own exaltation and the excellence of the gifts which they had received, blinded them to their own nothingness before God. We have seen in our own days how men arrogate to themselves divine authority, attempting to dethrone God, to abrogate the Ten Commandments and to substitute in their place their own hell-inspired principles.

All heresies and rebellions have their origin in pride. In the former, the human mind refuses to accept the truth revealed by God, and in the latter men refuse to render obedience to the authority appointed by God. Pride enters into almost every phase of human life. Disrespect for God’s representatives, destructive criticism that undermines authority, defiance and lawlessness are the poisonous fruits growing from the same root of pride. But also contempt of our fellow-man, all haughty and supercilious treatment meted out to him, all disregard of His rights, all pharisaical self-complacency that sees the good in oneself and is blind to the good in others, all this is pride in action which put the crown of thorns upon our Saviour’s head. By the pain and humiliation of His crowning with thorns, He atoned for it.

We even recognize some particular forms of human pride in the various phases of Our Lord’s crowning. In the head crowned with thorns, we see atoned the pride and vainglorious thoughts and desires that lead to rebellion against God, to contempt and oppression of fellow-men. The purple cloak may well remind us of the pride and vanity displayed in the fashions of the world, that sinful desire to attract attention, to call forth admiration, to outshine others. The reed in the hands of our thorn-crowned Saviour atones for the lust for power, for tyranny of imposing one’s own will upon others and using violence against such as attempt to resist. The mockery of Christ’s divine and royal authority through the genuflection of the soldiers, how it atones for the lack of respect for God and holy things, the desecration of churches, the contempt for which the temple of God in our neighbour’s soul is treated, those haughty, sarcastic gestures, by which we ridicule and vilify our fellow-men! Jesus is spat upon and struck in the face; but is it not precisely the face, our face, upon which the most careful attention is bestowed so that it may charm, subdue and enslave? So much attention is given to physical beauty and so little interest shown in the beauty of the soul.

There is a painting that represents Our Blessed Saviour crowned with thorns and holding in His fettered hands the reed, behind the tabernacle door. The picture is deeply significant. Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, still receives from millions of men nothing but contempt, coldness and indifference; even marks of reverence are frequently given to Him in such a way as to create the impression of mockery rather than of faith. So we wish to offer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament all reverence and love, all adoration and glorification due to Him to atone for the unspeakable humiliations and indignities which He endured in the crowning with thorns.

We wish to atone furthermore by reverence and obedience to the representatives of the Divine King in the Church, of whom Jesus Himself has said, “He that hears you, hears Me; and he who despises you, despises Me” (Luke 10:16). And since there is no authority except from God, every act of obedience rendered because of God, is also an act of reparation for the rebellion of pride, that put the crown of thorns upon the head of Jesus. On the other hand, wherever human authority forgets its dependence upon divine authority and in the rebellious spirit of Lucifer, demands things which would be a denial of Christ, the King, there can be but one answer, and that is loyalty to Christ even unto death.

We can, furthermore, atone for the sins of pride by humble reverence and respect for our fellow-men as the images and temples of God and the redeemed of Christ, and that, the more effectively, the lowlier they are whom we thus honour. But the most fitting, though the most painful, will be the reparation that is rendered to Jesus by true humility. The humble will not consider themselves better than their fellow-men, will not prefer themselves to them; they will through modesty in dress and speech and manners, suppress the natural inclination to pride and vainglory. Above all, the truly humble are satisfied to be humbled, that is, ignored, put to shame, ridiculed, despised. All possible contempt that we could endure in this life is not too great a reparation for one mortal sin, by which the sinner has deserved the everlasting disgrace of hell. No other reparation will be as pleasing and comforting to our thorn-crowned King.

Precious lessons are learned from this mystery of the crowning of Our Blessed Saviour. Let us seek the strength for their practice in loving union with Jesus humbled and despised. Under a Head crowned with thorns, we must not be pampered members.

O Sacred Head surrounded, O Jesus, I adore You,
By crown of piercing thorns, A humble plea I bring,
O bleeding Head, so wounded, My guilt I own before You,
Reviled, and put to scorn. O pardon me, my King.

– from Message of the Rosary – Sorrowful Mysteries, by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.