By Michael H. Brown
It is the Week of weeks, the time for the deep devotion, the time when we can really feel the power of Jesus and know His suffering — the time during which we can plead His Blood.
The world changed when the first drop of that Blood touched the earth at Calvary. “On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed,” says Isaiah 53:5 — and when we’re oppressed, when we’re ill, when we’re down, we can hide in His wounds, the wounds that defeated Satan, the wounds that stood against all the evil and oppression of a world that is one big temptation, a world that He overcame and that we too can transcend through devotions, especially the Stations of the Cross.
Mostly, it is a week for meditating on Scripture, for placing Jesus in context and recognizing what He did is not just history but something that’s alive at every single moment as the Eucharist is celebrated somewhere around the world at every moment. We recommend Mass every day this week. We recommend prayer booklets like the Pieta Prayer Book. We urge heart-felt recitation — slow, well-formed prayers — on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as we join our troubles with His, as we meet and overcome our own affliction.
It is a grand build-up to Friday and we can even rely on the mystics like Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich — who so vividly imagined the sufferings of Christ and who asserted that the phenomena attendant to the Crucifixion sailed well beyond natural explanation in testimony to the power of that Blood.
Something happened at that moment, something beyond the natural. “At last they reached a spot where the pathway turned suddenly to the south. Here He stumbled and fell for the sixth time. The fall was a dreadful one, but the guards only struck Him harder to force Him to get up, and no sooner did He reach Calvary than He sank down again for the seventh time.”
She “saw” Jesus beaten, scourged, beaten again, now putting Himself on the Cross as they measured for His feet and hands. There was a board at the bottom to support Christ’s feet, said Emmerich (something that has long been portrayed on crucifixes), and the Blessed Mother fainted at one point before the Crucifixion, after meeting with Him — though she recovered and remained near her Son. According to Emmerich, the nails were pounded into the palms of Jesus (not the wrists, as some assert); He faced the northwest as He hung on the Cross; and it took 36 hammer blows to nail the feet.
There were five entrances to Calvary, wrote Emmerich — who believed the number five, representing the number of His wounds, bore great mystical significance. And there was the array of unusual natural phenomena. Towards noon, a thick red fog began to obscure the vicinity, a scene rendered more frightful to her by the sight of demons. “I saw large bodies of evil spirits under the forms of toads, serpents, sharp-clawed dragons, and venomous insects, urging these wicked men to still greater cruelty, and perfectly darkening the air,” wrote the mystic.
“The sky grew darker and the stars appeared to cast a red and lurid light,” said Emmerich. “The Pharisees endeavored to give philosophical reasons for what was taking place, but they failed in their attempt, and were reduced to silence. Many were seized with remorse, struck their breasts, and cried out, ‘May His Blood fall upon His murderers!’ Numbers of others, whether near the Cross or at a distance, fell on their knees and entreated forgiveness of Jesus, Who turned His eyes compassionately upon them in the midst of His sufferings.
“However, the darkness continued to increase, and everyone excepting Mary and the most faithful among the friends of Jesus left the Cross. When the darkness increased to such a degree that it was impossible to distinguish the countenance of one from that of the other, they were seized with fear, horror, and dread. The High Priests endeavored to maintain order and quiet. All the lamps were lighted; but the confusion became greater every moment, and Annas appeared perfectly paralyzed with terror.
There was what seemed like an eclipse. The birds flew low and other animals hid themselves or uttered mournful cries; Pilate remarked that the events were “not common in the course of nature.”
“As the darkness continued to grow more and more dense, the silence became perfectly astounding,” contended Emmerich. “Everyone appeared terror-struck. Some looked at the sky, while others, filled with remorse, turned toward the Cross, smote their breasts, and were converted.
“The disc of the sun was of a dark-yellow tint, rather resembling a mountain when viewed by moonlight, and it was surrounded by a bright fiery ring; the stars appeared, but the light they cast was red and lurid; the birds were so terrified as to drop to the ground; the beasts trembled and moaned. Stillness reigned around the Cross. Jesus hung upon it alone: forsaken by all — disciples, followers, friends, His Mother was even removed from His side [for a short time]; not one person of the thousands upon whom He had lavished benefits was near to offer Him the slightest alleviation of His bitter agony.”
Was it really how it happened? Was there such phenomena in nature? We know from the Bible that besides the preternatural darkness, there was a quake. There were also apparitions of the dead. Obviously, it was an extraordinary moment, one that has not been repeated since — though a coming darkness is in many prophecies.
Was the phenomenon of the sun similar to the supernatural way the sun has reacted at places like Fatima?
The most important point is the feeling. It is something we too need to feel, to glimpse, to taste as the week approaches a crescendo.
“I beheld Him motionless, and almost lifeless,” wrote Emmerich. “I felt as if I myself must expire; my heart was overwhelmed between grief, love, and horror; my mind was half wandering, my hands and feet burning with a feverish heat; each vein, nerve, and limb was racked with inexpressible pain; I saw nothing distinctly, excepting my beloved Spouse hanging on the Cross. I contemplated His disfigured countenance, His head encircled with that terrible crown of thorns, which prevented His raising it even for a moment without the most intense suffering, His mouth parched and half open from exhaustion, and His hair and beard clotted with Blood.
“His chest was torn with stripes and wounds, and His elbows, wrists, and shoulders so violently distended as to be almost dislocated.
“Blood constantly trickled down from His gaping wounds in His hands, and the flesh was so torn from His ribs that you might almost count them. His legs and thighs, as also His arms, were stretched out almost to dislocation, the flesh and muscles so completely laid bare that every bone was visible…
“The Blood which flowed from His wounds was at first red, but it became by degrees light and watery, and the whole appearance of His Body was that of a corpse ready for interment.
“And yet, notwithstanding the state of ignominy to which He was reduced, there still remained that inexpressible look of dignity and goodness which had ever filled all beholders with awe.”
[Resources: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ; see our bookstore]