Fulget Crucis Mysterium!


Santa Cruz Sto. Toribio de Líebana

Vera Crux Santo Toribio de Liébana (Santander)

Vexilla Regis prodeunt: Fulget Crucis mysterium, quo carne carnis conditor, suspensus est patibulo {…} O Crux ave, spes unica, hoc Passionis tempore auge piis justitiam, reisque dona veniam {…} Te, summa Deus Trinitas, collaudet omnes spiritus: Quos per Crucis mysterium salvas, rege per sæcula. Amen.

The Royal Banner forward goes, the mystic Cross refulgent glows: Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made, upon the Tree of pain is laid {…} O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide with us now in this Passion-tide: New grace in pious hearts implant, and pardon to the guilty grant {…} Thee, mighty Trinity! One God! Let every living creature laud; Whom by the mystery of the Cross Thou dost deliver, o guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

With such inspired and venerable words for the Divine Office by the Christian poet, Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-c.609), Bishop of Poitiers, France, the traditional Roman liturgy of Holy Mother Church sings the praises of the redeeming Cross of Christ during the season of Passion-tide.

The liturgical hymn was sung for the first time in the Procession (19 November 569) when a relic of the Vera Crux / True Cross, sent by the Byzantine Emperor, Justin II (565-574), from the East at the request of St. Radegunda, was carried with in great solemnity from Tours to her monastery of Saint-Croix at Poitiers.

There is relatively near me, in the neighboring province of Santander (Cantabria), the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana. It’s a Roman Catholic monastery, named in honor of St. Turibius of Liébana (+530), a Benedictine monk, and located in the district of Liébana, near Potes in Santander (Cantabria), Spain.

The monastery is located in the exquisite Cantabrian mountain range in northern Spain, being one of the five places of Christendom that, together with Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela (St. James—Spain) and Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia—Spain), has the privilege of perpetual Indulgences.

The monastery was founded sometime before the VI century. According to venerable tradition, this monastery venerates that largest piece of the Lignum Crucis discovered in Jerusalem by Saint Helena of Constantinople.

Brought from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the left arm of the True Cross is kept on a gilded silver reliquary, as is shown in the photo.

Initially dedicated to St. Martin of Tours (316-397), its name was changed in the XII century to the saint who had brought over such a precious relic of the true Lignum Crucis / Wood of the Cross.

The picture shown are precisely the Relics of the Lignum Crucis, Vera Cruz or True Cross, venerated at this Monastery-Sanctuary of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Santander, Spain, since the Middle Ages, and for the past fifty years under the pastoral care of the Franciscans…

Contemplating the Church’s beautiful sacred Tradition, the moving liturgy for Good Friday—and also the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September, just prior to the Temporas of Autumn—bids that in the celebration of the Passion of Our Lord, during the adoration of the Cross, the faithful should actually adore the Cross itself, specifically the wood of the Cross, and not the figure of Christ himself, if present.

The traditional liturgical text for the Adoratio Crucis / Adoration of the Cross from the Missale Romanum for Good Friday reads thus: Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit. Venite, adoremus / Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world. Come, let us adore. Let us adore… the wood of the Cross!

There is a a profound biblical theology for this liturgical gesture, beautifully commented by the Fathers of the Church.

The wood of the Cross represents the true Tree of Life, and also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, from whose Fruit we partake in Holy Communion during the Sacrifice of the Mass, precious Fruit of the Tree of Life—eternal!—that permits us to return again from the exile of this vale of tears, to Paradise.

As the Preface of the Sanctæ Crucis sings in the Missale Romanum, where Satan once deceived us on a tree—indeed with an attractive though poisonous fruit—and we, in Adam and Eve, extended our arms in disobedience to seize the prohibited fruit, Our Lord freely extends his arms, in obedience to his Father (and our Father), to another tree, the Tree of the Cross, as comments St. John Chrysostom in one of his homilies for Good Friday.

Thus the suffering Christ, our unattractive Fruit, delivers us from the attractive but deadly fruit in Genesis, returning us to life. Does not Our Lord say that a tree is known by its fruits?

Does not Our Lord also say that no good fruit can come from a bad or sick tree? And that only good fruit can come forth from a good or healthy tree?

The wood of the Tree/Cross is also the wood of Noah’s Ark, prefiguration of Holy Mother Church, the only ark of salvation, outside of which there is quite simply no salvation, only perdition.

St. Augustine (354-430), as always, explains it so well and with such delightful political incorrectness: Outside the Catholic Church you can find everything… except salvation.

A crucially important Catholic truth that for some reason, is not usually recalled by many in the Church… after Vatican II. And, oh yes, forgotten along with other vitally important Catholic truths, by the way.

The wood of the Cross is likewise the wood of St. Peter’s Barque, the fisher of men, whose barque caught those 153 fish, another symbol of the universal ark of salvation that is the Holy Catholic Church…

Adoring Christ by kissing Him, which is always an act of love, is not really what the liturgy of Good Friday bids us to do. Why? Because those who already love Our Lord find it quite natural to kiss an image of Him, especially a Crucifix, a very pious thing to do as Christians.

But on this most holy day of Good Friday, the sixth day of the week, day in which according to the Book of Genesis, man and woman were created—and redeemed—in God’s image and likeness, our Mother the Church, bids us to kiss rather the wood of the Cross, for we should adore the instrument that Christ himself freely and lovingly assumed for our Redemption.

Kissing an image of Christ is easy to do for those who love Him and strive to be his disciple. Kissing the wood of the Cross, which He freely, perfectly willingly, and lovingly took upon Himself, for our sake, is much more difficult, since we instinctively reject the Cross. Hence the centuries-wise liturgical purification of our heart, mind, will, and love.

But in kissing the wood of the Cross on Good Friday, we likewise are kissing the real Tree of Life and the real Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We also are kissing the New Ark of Noah and St. Peter’s Barque, that is, we are also kissing our Mother, the Church, outside of which we cannot find salvation.

As the traditional Roman Breviary Hymn sings during Passion-tide (alas, a brief but decisive liturgical season that was suppressed, along with the season of Septuagesima and the Octave of Pentecost—by the liturgical revolutionaries):

Vexilla Regis prodeunt; Fulget Crucis mysterium, qua Vita mortem pertulit, et morte vitam protulit… / Abroad the Regal Banners fly, Now shines the Cross’s mystery; Upon it Life did death endure, And yet by death did life procure…

And so, as we strive in this blog to harvest the fruit from Vatican II, we cannot but see quite a bit of fruit these past fifty-odd years. Ah, whether that abundant fruit is good or bad, is for each one of us to carefully discern.

There are those who claim that the fruits of conciliar reform have been an outstanding new springtime and new Pentecost for the Church… (!)

Well, I suppose that the enormous drop in vocations (to put it mildly), a worrisome drop in the number of genuine Catholic families, the closing of seminaries, the closing of countless parishes, etc., and yet the Church—by God’s merciful grace—has not entirely (!) disappeared from the face of the earth, yes, I guess that’s one good fruit in our basket!

But here we not only strive to harvest whatever fruit we can from the Vatican II-inspired reforms, we also endeavor to separate the fruits from the nuts…

Alas, indeed there are the nuts, that is, the usual suspects of heresy, which seem to have enjoyed a field day these past fifty years.

They are those who have more or less freely professed their doctrinal errors—all while maintaining full communion and full canonical faculties, of course!—been ordained priests, been consecrated bishops, been made professors of philosophy and theology, and have been permitted to erode and ultimately ruin the faith of countless of Catholics, all over the world, for decades.

Some of these fruitful nuts have had the audacity of proclaiming proudly that, oh yes, Christ has “saved” us, not by the Cross but rather despite the Cross. Just think about that and ponder it. An apparent subtle nuance that offers two completely different meanings. That Christ has “saved” us, not by the Cross but despite the Cross.

NO! That, my dear friends, is not only a heresy, it’s also a grievous blasphemy. Once during a priest reunion in my home diocese (Oviedo, Asturias, Spain), one religious permanent deacon expressed his dismay at one of the Mass collect prayers.

It was the one for Palm Sunday of the Paul VI Roman Missal, which reads in English: Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow, caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection…

Naturally, this permanent deacon was referring to the Spanish Roman Missal, which has a slightly different nuance: Dios todopoderoso y eterno, tú quisiste que nuestro Salvador se hiciese Hombre y muriese en la Cruz… / Almighty and ever-living God, you wanted that our Savior become Man in order to die on the Cross…

The man was literally scandalized! How could we, so much more sophisticated than generations of Catholics before us who knew no better, continue to pray in this XXI century, that God the Father actually wanted his Son to become Man in order to submit to the Cross? How can the Father positively want his Son to suffer the Cross?

Well, that’s been the faith of the Church for over two thousand years. But he just couldn’t fathom the thought…

Obviously, knowingly or not, he was of the heretical mindset of those who say that Christ saved us despite the Cross, not by the Cross. Huge difference! In other words, that the Cross was not wanted at all by the Father nor the Son, but that it couldn’t be avoided.

But what more was his dismay implying? For one thing, that the Cross was somehow a mere accident in Christ’s life, not something that was intended or desired by God in any way.

Furthermore, that the Cross was the exclusive result of wicked men, sinners even!—that forced Christ to take up his Cross, totally unwillingly. Saved us despite the Cross, not by the Cross, freely and lovingly taken up by Christ, for us and for the sake of our Redemption. See the difference?

Several years back in a television interview, the former President of the German Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, actually denied the act of Redemption by asserting that today, we cannot really speak of “redemption” on the Cross, but rather of “solidarity” (sic).

That is, according to this German prelate, Christ did not really die for us on the Cross, instead He merely died with us, sharing in our death. Really?

This even surprised his interviewer, that he asked for a clarification. But said “clarification” only came afterwards, claiming Msgr. Zollitsch that what he really meant was a pastoral language more comprehensible to modern man… OK, yeah, right.

Ironically though, Msgr. Zollitsch’s material heresy may be correct in one respect: modern man may indeed not understand the meaning of redemption. Modern man, as Pius XII said in 1946, has lost the capacity to conceive of sin, much less even entertain the need for redemption and the need of a Redeemer.

But then if that is so—and despite the fact that the Novus Ordo liturgy is supposedly so comprehensible because Latin has been mercilessly done away with in favor of the vernacular—what catechesis has been typically imparted to the people of God the past fifty years or so, pray tell?

A catechesis that has managed admirably to keep Catholics so in the dark about the most elemental of revealed truths, such as the Redemption?

Be that as it may, there have been way too many such “clarifications” in the Church of late. Can’t we say what we really mean to say at the beginning, and avoid unnecessary confusion? Is it that difficult to be clear after Vatican II, you know, like right from the start?

Ah, but that presupposes that we have a Catholic mindset, does it not?

So, alas, this line of thought denies the Redemption of the Cross and as a direct consequence, thus also undermines the conception of the Mass as a Holy Sacrifice. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Been this way since 1969…

TLM Calvary

Hmmm… a supper table facing the people of God (sometimes more a people than of God), with a Cross off to the side (if at all present) instead of a sacrificial altar facing a Crucified Christ in the very center of our common gaze—the priest and the faithful—looking not at our wonderful selves, but rather to whom is to come again in crucified and resurrected glory from the East…

To compliment this commentary, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than watching Mel Gibson’s brilliant masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ (2004), an extraordinarily excellent film, theologically bordering perfection, and the particularly moving scene of the piercing of the Lord’s right side is so well done.

In this movie scene of the Gospel according to St. John chapter 19, beautifully rendered, there is great mystical and sacramental significance that is no less beautifully commented by the Fathers of the Church.

The Blood and Water flowing copiously from the Lamb of God’s open Heart, is the New Eve—the Church—coming forth from the side of the “sleeping” New Adam—Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea by ancient Israel, that is, now the New Testament Exodus of the New Israel—the Holy Catholic Church—are the Waters (i.e., Sea) of Baptism, the renewed life of grace by and in the Holy Ghost, and the Blood (i.e., Red) is that of the Sacrifice—also the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the altar—of the true and proper Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

With the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle St. John, the Beloved Disciple, and St. Mary Magdalene, the music, the Water and Blood flowing outward with such abundance, and the Roman soldier falling to his knees with a gaping mouth…

When I saw this extraordinarily beautiful film for the first time (and ever since then), I wanted very much to be like the Roman soldier, falling on my knees and drinking that Precious redeeming Water and Blood: Baptism and the Eucharist, the two sacraments which edify the Church and give meaning to the other sacraments.

Is that not what, in essence, we do at Holy Communion during the Sacrifice of the Mass, while kneeling to receive Him, and on the tongue? And even us, priests, receiving Communion while bowing profoundly over the altar? That’s so good for all of us, and especially for our priestly humility: to realize that liturgical celebrations are not about us and what we do for God, but rather what God does for us to redeem us.

And that for us priests, that it’s about our being a living sacrament of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest.

May Our good Lord grant us the grace of appreciating ever more the incomparable biblical and patristic treasures of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as our Holy Mother, the Church, has provided for us children of hers and of God, according to the venerable ancient liturgical Roman rite.

May we never fall into that postconciliar temptation to think we can celebrate a liturgy better than Our Lord and his Holy Catholic Church. May we never do our own liturgy, but rather make ours the authentic liturgy of Christ and his Church.

Our eternal participation—or no—in the Heavenly liturgy of the celestial Jerusalem (as St. John recounts in the Book of Revelation) depends to a great degree on it. In the sacred liturgy, there is much more than meets the eye. May we have the grace to see it…

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