Saturday, 3 April 2021

Good Friday at the Vatican Basilica

 The celebration of Good Friday at the Vatican has been different in two ways this year. Firstly, the celebration of the Liturgy which normally takes place at 3 pm appears to have taken place at 6 pm (I'm not sure I understand exactly why). And secondly, the celebration of the Way of the Cross that normally takes place at the Colosseum in the evening took place in St Peter's Square, with a minimal participation  of the faithful. It is worth recognising that these celebrations are taking place during an Easter weekend when the whole of Italy has been designated a "red zone", Italy's highest level of coronovirus restrictions, equivalent to a national lockdown.

At the Liturgy, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa offered a reflection on a Christological basis for human fraternity, reported at the Vatican News website: Cross, the Christological foundation of fraternity. The full text of his homily is at Fr Cantalamessa's website: The First-born Among Many Brothers (Rom8:29).

Significantly, only after the resurrection for the first time Jesus calls his disciples brothers. He instructs Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn 20:17). The Letter to the Hebrews uses the term in the same sense, “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11). 
After the Easter event, this is the most common use of the term brother. It indicates a brother in the faith, a member of the Christian community. They are also blood brothers – but in the blood of Christ! Because Christ is also God, this fraternity is both unique and transcendent. Christ’s fraternity does not replace other types of fraternity, due to family, nation, or race, but rather it crowns them. As creatures of the same God and Father, all human beings are brothers. The Christian faith adds a second and decisive dimension. We are brothers not only because we all have the same Father in virtue of creation, but we also have the same brother, Christ, “the firstborn among many brothers” in virtue of redemption.

Fr Cantalamessa goes on to draw a conclusion that a concern to build this fraternity should start with the Catholic Church itself:

What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political opinions that grow into ideologies after being given priority over religious and ecclesial considerations. In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.

I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).... 

Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’.

 At the Way of the Cross, the meditations were written and read by young children, while a small group made their way round the obelisk at the centre of St Peter's Square. The meditations for the celebration are at the Vatican website: here, with video and photographs here. (From the video I can't work out exactly where the readers are, but it looks as if they are out of direct view from the Square, in the atrium of the Basilica.) Watching the video and looking at the photographs gives a real sense of the way in which a practice of piety, that is not strictly speaking liturgical, represents nevertheless an inculturation of the Gospel in the lives of the people taking part.

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