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Saltem Diebus Dominicis: 1st Passion Sunday – “From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us O Lord!”

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We lose things during Lent.  We are being pruned through sacred liturgical worship. Holy Church experiences liturgical death before the feast of the Resurrection.   Music and flowers go first on Ash Wednesday, along with the word Alleluia.  Today, statues and images are draped in purple.  That is why today is sometimes called Repus Sunday, from repositus analogous to absconditus or “hidden”, because this is the day when Crosses and other images in churches are veiled.  A hint is taken from the end of the Gospel reading from John 8.  The Lord handles the Jews’ accusation that He has “a devil”.  He ends by saying, “Before Abraham was, I am”, which “I am” is a claim about being divine.  When the Jews took up stones to stone Him, “Iesus autem abscondit se… Jesus hid himself”.   Hence, we have the hiding of the image of Our Lord and all other saints.   Traditionally Crosses may be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and images, such as statues, may be covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

Also, as part of the pruning, as of today in the older form of Mass, the “Iudica” psalm in the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria Patri at the end of certain prayers are no longer said.

The pruning cuts more deeply as we march into the Triduum. After the Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main altar, which itself is stripped. Bells are replaced with wooden noise makers.  On Good Friday there isn’t even a Mass.  At the beginning of the Vigil we are deprived of light itself!  It is as if the Church herself were completely dead with the Lord in His tomb.  This liturgical death of the Church reveals how Christ emptied Himself of His glory in order to save us from our sins and to teach us who we are.

The Church then gloriously springs to life again at the Vigil of Easter.  In ancient times, the Vigil was celebrated in the depth of night.  In the darkness a single spark would be struck from flint and spread into the flames.  The flames spread through the whole Church.

If we can connect ourselves in heart and mind with the Church’s liturgy in which these sacred mysteries are re-presented, then by our active receptivity we become participants in the saving mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  To begin this active receptivity we must be baptized members of the Church and be in the state of grace.

This Sunday, 1st Passion Sunday, initiates Passiontide, which extends across this rough fortnight to the first Sunday after the first full moon of northern Spring.  The Roman Station is at St. Peter’s on the Vatican Hill, where in centuries past new priests were ordained at dawn after an all-night vigil.  Yesterday’s, Saturday, Gospel from John 8, recounted Our Lord’s declaration, “I am the light of the world” (v. 12), after the Temple’s mighty candelabra, so tall that their light was seen from the whole city, were extinguished at the end of the festive week of Sukkoth, Tabernacles.  As we enter Passiontide, a new theme rings in the readings, underscoring especially the persecution of the innocent Christ and the plots against Him and His followers, who have been threatened with excommunication from the synagogues for following Him.

The Gospel ended with the image of Christ hiding Himself and slipping out unharmed by the Jews who were going to stone Him for His “blasphemy”.   However, the Gospel starts with the provocative words of the Lord to the Jews: “Which of you can convict me of sin?” (John 8:46).  In the Epistle today, from Hebrews 9, St. Paul calls Christ the High Priest of an uncreated tabernacle.  In Hebrews 7 Pauls wrote:

“it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (v. 26).

On the other hand, St. John wrote in his first Letter,

8“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. …. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

But wait.  What was that verse I cut out? Verse 9?

9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Christ Himself underscores the importance of our making a confession of sins because at the Last Supper

22 … he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:20)

Let’s be clear about this.  Christ took common things of life and used their materiality to give us the seven Sacraments. One of the most common and natural things in the human condition is the need to unburden, to tell our troubles.   Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.  The form of the sacrament is the pronouncement of the words of absolution by a validly ordained priest – alter Christus … another Christ – who has the “faculty” or authorization to use His powers of forgiveness.  The matter of the sacrament is the telling of the sins.   Therefore, in order to know what must be forgiven the sins must be told to the priest.  A priest confessor cannot know the hidden most secrets unless the sinner reveals them.  Hence, the verbal confession of all mortal sins to the priest, in kind (what the sin entailed) and how many times.

To be forgiven we have to confess all mortal sins in kind and number without deliberately hiding them.  This requires a firm and resolute examination of conscience, concerning our acts in though, word, deed, or omission.  As the Council of Trent expressed:

“Whereas all mortal sins, even those of thought, render men children of wrath and enemies of God, is necessary to seek for the pardon of them all from God by an open and modest confession; . . . . they who act otherwise, and knowingly keep back certain sins, set nothing before the divine bounty to be forgiven through the priest.” (Sess. 14, Ch. 5.)

We must confess mortal sins which we remember after careful examination of conscience. If no mortal sin is discovered or remembered, once can confess venial sins or past, forgiven sins for a valid confession and absolution.  Those sins which were not discovered or remembered are also forgiven.  However, if later one does think of or remember something, that should be submitted in the next confession.  It is also necessary to confess the number of times the mortal sin was committed.  If we can’t remember exactly, we should give an honest estimate.  Also, some circumstances will change the gravity of guilt of an objectively sinful act, including the character and number of others involved.  As Trent explained:

“Those circumstances which change the species of the sin are necessarily to be explained in confession, because, without them, the sins themselves are neither entirely set forth by the penitents, nor are they known clearly to the judges, and it cannot be that they can estimate rightly the grievousness of the crimes, and impose on the penitents the punishment which ought to be inflicted on account of them.”— (Sess. 4. Can. 5.)

For example, theft is a mortal sin but theft of something sacred is also sacrilege, fornication is a sin but sex when one or both are married to others is adultery, sex with a close relative is incest while sex with a person of the same sex is sodomy and it “cries to heaven for vengeance” (cf. Jude 1:4).

Use of a good, printed list for an examination of conscience is highly recommended as a starting point.  Moreover, the problem of memory is solved in part by a frequent, even nightly, examen, with confession as frequently as is necessary.  Tips for making a good confession HERE.

The Sacrament of Penance is what Christ intended for us to use receive forgiveness of sins in ordinary circumstances.  It cannot be neglected or postponed without spiritual peril, since we do not know the day or hour when we will go before the Just Judge.

You, dear reader, have an immortal soul.

One of the most important things we pray in the Litany of Saints … those who know and use only the Novus Ordo perhaps have never heard this… is

A subitanea et improvisa morteFrom a sudden and unprovided death, spare us O Lord.”

A sudden death can be a blessing.

A sudden and unprovided death is a horrifying prospect.

Unprovided means no access to the sacraments.  No way to make a confession, be absolved or anointed, receive Viaticum and the Apostolic Blessing.

We don’t know when our time will be up. It could be soon.  It could be unforeseen.

Try to imagine for a moment, those first few moments of a soul which has newly been consigned to Hell.  Try to imagine the shock of dawning realization: “This can’t be happening to me!”

But it is.

Dear readers, as we hurtle down this road of life together it is my God given job to strive to keep as many of you in the bound Heaven lane and out of the Hell exit and as I can.

I can’t shove you into a confessional.  I can’t hear your confessions and absolve you via the internet.

Therefore, from the electronic glyphs of this webpage I implore you.


Confess ALL your mortal sins in both kind (what they were) and number (how many times, even if you have to guesstimate).   Never never never purposely hide a mortal sin of which you are fully aware.  Even if seems terribly embarrassing, just say it without mincing words.  There is no sin so bad that you, a little mortal, can commit that Almighty God cannot and will not forgive, provided you confess it and ask for mercy.  So, just say it. The priest will not think badly of you.  He will be impressed by your sincerity.  He can tell no one.

Lastly, help the priest out by making a good confession.  I wonder if laypeople understand how their good confessions help the priest himself to make his own good confession.  For this I close from my heart with, “Thank you for going to confession”.

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