Message of the Sorrowful Mysteries – The Crucifixion

The mystery of the crucifixion comprises the nailing to the cross, the three hours agony, and the death of Jesus. We are reminded of it by every crucifix, which has been called by saints a book of life, in which the faithful can and must read the way of life. Our Blessed Mother stood beneath the cross of her dying Son; she understands this mystery as no other mortal ever did. Uniting ourselves with her, let us look up to Him Whom they have pierced and learn to love Him Who has loved us unto death.

When the sad procession with Jesus carrying the cross had arrived on Calvary, the soldiers at once proceeded to the execution. First, Jesus was offered a cup of wine mixed with some bitter substance. This was usually done by friends of the condemned or other charitable people in order to make the condemned less sensitive to the cruel pains of the crucifixion. But Jesus, having tasted the drink, did not take it; He wished to offer the sacrifice of His life fully conscious without any alleviation. Then Jesus was stripped and ordered to lie down on the cross and now the heavy blows of the hammer drive the nails through his Hands and Feet into the hard wood of the cross. At last, the cross was raised and there Jesus was hanging between heaven and earth in indescribable agony.

Crucifixion was considered in ancient times the most painful manner of inflicting the death penalty and modern medical science concurs in this opinion. The wounds in the hands and feet must have burned like fire; then the distention of the joints and dislocation of the bones, the disturbance of the blood circulation, the strain upon the heart and lungs, the feverish condition brought about by the lacerations covering the whole body were such as to make the victim cry out in pain and agony. Frequently these sufferings caused the death of the victim within a few hours, but robust natures, especially if the scourging had not preceded, could live for one or two days or even longer.

To these pains, which Jesus suffered in His body, must be added the sufferings of His soul. He felt the injustice of the trials that had brought upon Him the condemnation. He was grieved by the hatred and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. How deeply He must have felt hurt by their cruel mockeries, “Vah, You that would destroy the temple of God and in three days do rebuild it, save Your own-self. If You be the Son of God, save Yourself. He has saved others, Himself He cannot save. If You be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” And where are the crowds that only a week before had enthusiastically acclaimed Him as the Son of David, the King of Israel? Where are they, who on former occasions had admired the great Miracle Worker, the blind who had received their sight, the deaf who had been made to hear, the mute to whom He restored the use of speech, the paralysed who went away from Him in perfect health, where are they now? Where are those whom He had loved above all others and chosen for His intimate following? Peter who had protested that he would go with Jesus even unto death; Thomas who was ready to die with Him, and all the others, where are they? Not one of them except Saint John is present to bear Him company in the most dreadful hours of His life.

Yet the climax of His mental agony was the apparent abandonment by His Heavenly Father. God is the helper in every need; to Him the fathers cried and He heard them, but He seems deaf to the prayers of His beloved Son, who had sought nothing but the glory of the Father, had always done the things pleasing to Him. There is no abandonment more bitter than to feel abandoned by God; then it is as if the soul’s very substance were torn asunder, then the last stars in the firmament fade out, then night settles on the soul, dark and dreary night. Although God did not actually abandon His Son, He did let Him feel the effects of such an abandonment. This abandonment was the greatest suffering of Our Lord, so great that all anguish and sorrow that men ever experienced on earth, even if put together, are like a drop of water compared to the endless ocean; it was that suffering that wrung from the lips of our dear Saviour the heart-rending cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46. See Psalm 21:2 in the Vulgate, which is Psalm 22:1 in the Hebrew.)

Amid such pain and agony death approaches. Death had entered into the world through the disobedience of the first Adam; it is now to be atoned for, by the obedience unto death of the second Adam. With hands and feet nailed to the cross, He can no longer work as He did at Nazareth. He can no longer walk about the land announcing the glad tidings of the Gospel; all He can do is to obey. But His life’s mission is consummated, the will of the Father accomplished, and so He commends His soul into the hands of the Father, bows His head and dies. And, behold, the earth trembles, the rock of Calvary is split asunder, the veil of the temple is rent in two, the dead arise from their graves. Nature, horror stricken, mourns over the crime committed. Yet out of this death, new immortal life has sprung; Jesus died that men might live.

What the great Apostle said of Himself applies to every man throughout the world in the past, present, and future. He “loved me and delivered Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). The love of Jesus sends forth its flaming light and warmth in the seven words (or sentences) He spoke on the cross. His enemies and executioners and in them all sinners, great and small, are the first beneficiaries of His love, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is the language of love that knows how to excuse and to find some mitigating circumstances even in the greatest sin. The Jews could and should have known what they were doing, but having closed their eyes to the light of grace they now do not know what they are doing. Yet their sin shall be forgiven, if they accept Jesus as their Saviour and repent. How they, and all repenting sinners will be received by Jesus, if they trustfully turn to Him for mercy and forgiveness, is illustrated by the words of mercy He spoke to the repentant thief, “Amen I say to you, this day you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

There is one treasure left in the possession of Jesus, dearer to Him than anything else on earth, His holy Mother. That she may be men’s refuge and hope and that through her we may find the way to Jesus, He leaves her to us: “Woman, behold your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your Mother” (John 19:27), If men have refused the invitations of His Love, it may be they will be more responsive to the love of a mother. No matter how much men may have offended Him and how unworthy they may be, He has died for all and He thirsts for their salvation, “I thirst” (John 19:28). His bodily thirst is but the expression of His thirst for souls.

Thus did Jesus love us unto death; thus, He atoned for all the hatred among men that has turned this earth into a valley of tears, into a vast battlefield. Thus He atoned for all selfishness, that thinks only of its own interest and forgets about the sufferings of the rest, for that cynical denial of guilt and responsibility that asks with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”; for all love of the world that seeks to drown its sorrow and pain in the vortex of earthly pleasures. Here Jesus paid the penalty for all fickleness and instability that refuses to finish the task assigned to us by God because it is ‘too hard’, for that spirit of hatred and revengefulness that cannot bring itself to forgive and to return good for evil. Here Jesus merits the grace of a happy death for all, provided we love Him and through Him commend the souls into the hands of our Heavenly Father.

For Saint Paul the practical lesson drawn from the love of Jesus was, “With Christ I am nailed to the cross” (Galatians 2:20), and, “To me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). As Jesus loved us unto death, so must we love Him unto death. Nothing can be too hard to endure for Him who has endured for us the unendurable. Love for Him must be love unto the death of our self-love and, if needs be, death unto the shedding of our blood.

Such love unto death is forgiving love that is extended even to our enemies; benevolent love that seeks the best of our fellow-men; generous love ready to give up what is most dear to us; resigned and patient love in the sufferings of body and soul; faithful and persevering love that is influenced neither by the promises and pleasures of the world, nor by its threats and persecutions. Such love burned in the heart of Saint Paul when he wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or hunger or nakedness, or danger, or the sword? . . . . . . . For, I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Love unto death is the lesson which our Lady of Fatima wants us to learn from this mystery. Shall we be able to resist the appeal of love? “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself” (John 12:32). Let us allow ourselves to be drawn to Him by the bonds of love in and through the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother standing beneath the cross.

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