Passion of Christ, II (Devotion to)

views updated


In the strict sense devotion is an act of the will giving oneself with fervor to the service of God or divine cult. The Passion is the suffering both interior and exterior endured by Jesus Christ from the Last Supper until His death on the cross. Further, the earliest Latin use of the term passio refers to the entirety of the paschal mystery, and this includes the Resurrection and the Ascension, as well as the sufferings of Good Friday.

From apostolic times these events have been looked on as an integrated action on the part of the Savior of mankind and, aside from the actual NT Passion narratives, are generally mentioned as a whole in the writings of the early Church. Thus are they referred to in the Acts of the Apostles (1.3), where St. Luke wrote of Christ alive "after His Passion." St. Paul, using the same unification, preferred the personification in "Christ Crucified" (1 Cor 1.23) or the instrumentality in "the Cross" (Gal 6.14). St. Peter referred to the totality of His "sufferings" (1 Pt 2.21, 23) and exhorted his hearers to follow in Christ's steps. In the carrying out of this exhortation the lives and the martyrdom of the Apostles show the intensity of their devotion to to the service of God and His Son. But from the early Church, in a period close to the Passion, when the Second Coming was thought of as imminent, there is little literature specifically concerned with devotion to Christ's Passion, but rather a group of human, individual, joyous passions patterned on Christ's action and reported sometimes by the sufferers, sometimes by their pagan onlookers.

Moreover, there is also the hypothesis that the emphasis on the Resurrection rather than the suffering came about through the desire on the part of the Church to combat misunderstandings of the two natures of Christ that overemphasized His humanity. Special attention to the Passion sufferings may have been deliberately avoided in order to prevent adding to the imbalance.

From the East there came, on the one hand, most of the early heresies concerning Christ's nature, and on the other hand, outstanding devotion to Christ's Passion.

The Syrian Church, although lacking Rome's influence, had a certain aura because it was centered in the Holy Land and possessed the relics of the Passion, which it concealed and revealed in turn. The personalized and intense devotion to Christ's Passion that the Syrian Church nurtured was typified by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who, on his way to Rome to his own martyrdom, wrote in glowing terms of the triumph of Christ's Passion and Resurrection, "Him I seek who died on our behalf; Him I desire who rose again for our sake . Permit me tobe an imitator of the Passion of my God" (Epist. ad Rom. 4, 9).

St. Melito of Sardis (2d century), in a homily on the Passion, referred to the "Passover" and Christ in His mission to the world and His Resurrection, ending: "Listen while you tremble! He that suspended the earth was hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that supported the earth was supported upon a tree; the Lord was exposed to ignominy with a naked body; God put to death!" [W. Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum (London 1861) 55]. St. Ephraemwho used to interrupt his own sermons from time to time to exclaim, "Glory be to Him, how much He suffered!"gives this vignette: "Let the heavens and earth stand awestruck to behold Him who swayeth the rod of fire, Himself smitten with scourges, to behold Him who spread over the earth the veil of the skies and who set fast the foundations of the mountains, who poised the earth over the waters and sent down the blazing lightning-flash, now beaten by wretches over a stone pillar that His own word had created" [T.J. Lamy, S. Ephraemi Syri Hymni et Sermones (4 v. Louvain 18821902) 1.511].

It was in Jerusalem, part of the Syrian Church, that the relics of the Passion were rediscovered; and in the 4th century the pilgrim Aetheria reported the veneration of the true cross on Good Friday and the reading of the Gospel of the Agony in Gethsemane during Holy Week. The veneration of the true cross was the precursor of adoration of the wood in the Good Friday liturgy.

Development in the West. In the period of the expansion of the Church from the 5th century, there are the teachings of the Fathers regarding the Passion. St. Augustine, bearing in mind Christ's tremendous sacrifice and the men for whom He died, prayed, "Look, O loving Father, on thy most loving Son suffering so many outrages for me: See, most loving Ruler, who it is that suffers and remember to be kind to him for whom He suffered .Note His innocent hands dripping with holy blood and being placated forgive the sins which my hands have done" [Meditationes S. Augustini (pseudo.) ch. 6]. St. Anselm wrote: "I, myself am the wound of your sorrow, I am to blame for your murder. I have merited that you should die, I am the scourge of vengeance upon you. I am the real malice in your Passion, the real suffering in your Crucifixion" (Meditations 7). St. Bernard advised: "As much as we can, let us love our wounded Lord, let us give love for love, and embrace Him whose hands and feet and side wicked ploughmen have furrowed" (Omnia Opera S. Bern. 3:3). These three quotations span five centuries. The Church passed from an age of persecution into one of missionary zeal and from a time of adult Baptism into one when infant Baptism was general. The necessity of replacing the catechesis of those who learned, accepted, and were baptized with one for those who were baptized and then learned and had to be led to acceptance produced a new emphasis on compassion, the actual feeling with the suffering of Christ. The development of a concept of sin as something that man must put off anew every day after baptism also contributed to the idea of a personal wounding of Christ by each man's sin.

St. Francis of Assisi introduced a new element into devotion to the Passion. Through the use of crib scenes and crucifixes, he began to bring to the people a human Christ with whom to suffer. Francis bore the signs of his own devotion to the Passion in the stigmata, the wounds

of Christ in man's flesh, of which Francis is the first known example. From Francis we have the invocation "We adore The, O Christ, and we bless The, because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world." St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure excelled in their teachings concerning the dignity and effects of devotion to the Passion. All of this devotion was strengthened among the laity by the practices the Crusaders brought back from the Holy Land and by the instructive devices that mendicant preachers had developed, such as the stations of the cross, miracle plays, Passion tropes, hymns, prayers, and Books of Hours, replete with Passion references.

The Devotio Moderna, which is crystallized in the Imitation of Christ, and in a similar way the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, stressed the Passion as a means of daily perfection, the support of every virtue, and the means to endure every affliction.

Among the outstanding missionary preachers who moved the masses by their emphasis on the Passion of Our Lord were SS. Vincent de Paul, John Eudes, Alphonsus Liguori, Paul of the Cross (who founded the Passionists), and Leonard of Port Maurice (who preached the Way of the Cross). The love of the crucified Christ was promoted by such pulpit orators of the 18th and 19th centuries as Bossuet, Bourdaloue, Fénelon, and Lacordaire. Through these periods there was a steady increase in the number and type of devotion accorded not only the Passion itself but also the individual phases and even the instruments of Christ's suffering. Among these subsidiary devotions are numbered the cult of Holy Relics, reaffirmed by Vatican Council II, devotion to the Holy Infancy, the Holy Face, the Precious Blood, and the instruments of the Passion, as well as to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Sorrows of Mary. Passion feasts and Offices also developed, and the practices of the Holy Hour, the Three Hours Agony, and the Forty Hours devotion became common.

The Mass and the Sacraments. St. Francis of Assisi was followed in the stigmata by many mystics of the Passion, and every age has produced new writers to develop the theme of Christ's Passion in ways pertinent to that age. In every age, however, it is the Mass that is the major source and the prime mover of devotion to the Passion. The Mass, as the perfect reenactment of all the events of Christ's Passion, His suffering, death, and Resurrection, forever present to man, is also the perfect act of devotion to those events for man. All the Sacraments commemorate the Passion, most especially, of course, the Holy Eucharist, but in Baptism man is called upon to be baptized "into Christ Jesus into His death. For we were buried with Him by means of Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ has risen from the dead so we also may walk in newness of life" (Rom 6.35). In Confirmation we have become "the temple of the Holy Spirit for you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God and bear Him in your body" (1 Cor 6.1920). And in the other four Sacraments there are equal reminders that it is in Christ and His Church through the Passion in all its fullness that we receive the abundance of God's life. In a like manner the sacramentals of the Church, and in a special way the Sign of the Cross, draw efficacy from Christ's Passion. But it is the restored rites of Holy Week that have brought the Passion into prominence so that Christians may appreciate the words of Pope St. Leo I: "Our Lord's Passion is being continually reenacted until the end of the world; for just as, in the person of His saints, it is Christ Himself who is honored, it is Christ Himself who is loved; just as in the person of His poor, it is Christ Himself who is fed and clothed, so, in the person of all who suffer wrongs for justice' sake, it is Christ Himself who suffers" (Sermo 7.5).

Bibliography: p. pourrat, Christian Spirituality, tr. w. h. mitchell et al., 4 v. (New York 192227; Westminster, Md. 195355). m. j. ollivier, The Passion, tr. e. leahy (Boston 1901). r. plus, Folly of the Cross (New York 1927). j. mead, Hours of the Passion (Milwaukee 1956). c. marmion, Christ in His Mysteries (St. Louis 1926). j. daniÉlou, The Bible and the Liturgy (Notre Dame, Ind. 1956). f. x. durrwell, The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, tr. r. sheed (New York 1960). w. f. hogan, Christ's Redemptive Sacrifice (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1963). j. a. jungmann, Pastoral Liturgy (New York 1962).

[j. mead]