OFFICE FOR THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS
WAY OF THE CROSS
GOOD FRIDAY 2005
The leitmotiv of the present Way of the Cross appears immediately, in the opening prayer, and again at the Fourteenth Station. It is found in the words spoken by Jesus on Palm Sunday, after entering Jerusalem, in reply to the question of some Greeks who sought to see him: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). In this saying, the Lord compares the course of his whole earthly existence to that of a grain of wheat, which only by dying can produce fruit. He interprets his earthly life, his death and resurrection from the standpoint of the Most Holy Eucharist, which recapitulates his entire mystery. He had experienced his death as an act of self-oblation, an act of love, and his body was then transfigured in the new life of the Resurrection. He, the Incarnate Word, now becomes our food, food which leads to true life, life eternal. The Eternal Word – the power which creates life – comes down from heaven as the true manna, the bread bestowed upon man in faith and in sacrament. The Way of the Cross is thus a path leading to the heart of the Eucharistic mystery: popular piety and sacramental piety of the Church blend together and become one. The prayer of the Way of the Cross is a path leading to a deep spiritual communion with Jesus; lacking this, our sacramental communion would remain empty. The Way of the Cross is thus a “mystagogical” way.
This vision contrasts with a purely sentimental approach to the Way of the Cross. In the Eighth Station our Lord speaks of this danger to the women of Jerusalem who weep for him. Mere sentiment is never enough; the Way of the Cross ought to be a school of faith, the faith which by its very nature “works through love” (Gal 5:6). This is not to say that sentiment does not have its proper place. The Fathers considered heartlessness to be the primary vice of the pagans, and they appealed to the vision of Ezechiel, who announced to the People of Israel God’s promise to take away their hearts of stone and to give them hearts of flesh (cf. Ez 11:19). In the Way of the Cross we see a God who shares in human sufferings, a God whose love does not remain aloof and distant, but comes into our midst, even enduring death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:8). The God who shares our sufferings, the God who became man in order to bear our cross, wants to transform our hearts of stone; he invites us to share in the sufferings of others. He wants to give us a “heart of flesh” which will not remain stony before the suffering of others, but can be touched and led to the love which heals and restores. Here, once again, we return to the words of Jesus about the grain of wheat, which he himself laid down as the fundamental axiom of the Christian life: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25; cf. Mat 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24 and 17:33: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it”). We also see more clearly the meaning of the words which, in the Synoptic Gospels, precede this summation of Christ’s message: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus himself interpreted for us the meaning of the “Way of the Cross”; he taught us how to pray it and follow it: the Way of the Cross is the path of losing ourselves, the path of true love. On this path he has gone before us, on it he teaches us how to pray the Way of the Cross. Once again we come back to the grain of wheat, to the Most Holy Eucharist, in which the fruits of Christ’s death and Resurrection are continually made present in our midst. In the Eucharist Jesus walks at our side, as he did with the disciples of Emmaus, making himself ever anew a part of our history.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus Christ, for our sake you became like the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies, so that it may bear much fruit (Jn 12:24). You invited us to follow you along this path when you told us that “the one who loves his life loses it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). Yet we are attached to our life. We do not want to abandon it; we want to keep it all for ourselves. We want to hold on to it, not to give it away. But you go before us, showing us that it is only by giving away our life that we can save it. As we walk with you on the Way of the Cross, you lead us along the way of the grain of wheat, the way of a fruitfulness which leads to eternity. The cross – our self-offering – weighs heavily upon us. Along your own Way of the Cross you also carried my cross. Nor did you carry it just at one distant moment in the past, for your love continues to accompany every moment of my life. Today you carry that cross with me and for me, and, amazingly, you want me, like Simon of Cyrene, to join you in carrying your Cross; you want me to walk at your side and place myself with you at the service of the world’s redemption. Grant that my Way of the Cross may not be just a moment of passing piety. Help all of us to accompany you not only with noble thoughts, but with all our hearts and in every step we take each day of our lives. Help us resolutely to set out on the Way of the Cross and to persevere on your path. Free us from the fear of the Cross, from the fear of mockery, from the fear that our life may escape our grasp unless we cling possessively to everything it has to offer. Help us to unmask all those temptations that promise life, but whose enticements in the end leave us only empty and deluded. Help us not to take life, but to give it. As you accompany us on the path of the grain of wheat, help us to discover, in “losing our lives”, the path of love, the path which gives us true life, and life in abundance (Jn 10:10).