“The Shroud is an image of silence. There is a tragic silence of incommunicability, which finds its greatest expression in death, and there is the silence of fruitfulness, which belongs to whoever refrains from being heard outwardly in order to delve to the roots of truth and life. The Shroud expresses not only the silence of death but also the courageous and fruitful silence of triumph over the transitory, through total immersion in God's eternal present.”
--John Paul II, May 24, 1998, pastoral visit to Turin
Image: Shroud of Turin, digitally modified photonegative
Prayer Before a Crucifix
BEHOLD, o good and most sweet Jesus, I fall upon my knees before Thee, and with most fervent desire beg and beseech Thee that Thou wouldst impress upon my heart a lively sense of faith, hope and charity, true repentance for my sins, and a firm resolve to make amends.
And with deep affection and grief, I reflect upon Thy five wounds, having before my eyes that which Thy prophet David spoke about Thee, o good Jesus: "They have pierced my hands and feet, they have counted all my bones." Amen.
Image: Crucifix, Basilica della Consolata, Turin
Holy Thursday. Tonight will be the Mass of the Lord's Supper, a liturgy of unearthly beauty and heartache that will conclude by removing, in solemn procession, a golden monstrance—that sun-flared medieval repository for the consecrated host—leaving its usual sanctuary open and empty. Then, at the "altar of repose," we will kneel before a little flat piece of bread while a choir sings "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum." The scent of lilies and incense will fill the air. It will be, depending on your point of view, the dizzying celebration of a divine romance or an atheist's laugh-riot.
That is what I love about the Catholic theology of the Eucharist: We take Christ at His word. "This is my Body...this is my Blood." Seriously? Oh, yes. It's why I love the lavish Baroque monstrance and hated the Seventies-era "authentic" wooden vessels and earthenware plates that the Kumbayah crowd bought for the altars. "We are 'star-stuff,'" intoned Carl Sagan, as he spun our physical connection to the Big Bang. Well, our God who made the stars makes Himself bread stuff. Wine stuff. Body and blood stuff. Us-stuff. Bring out the good china.
Here is my favorite prayer in the entire world: the "Anima Christi," a post-Communion litany. Every line is fathomlessly deep and instantly accessible. (I know my "malignant enemy," and you know yours.) The Latin rocks, so I'll give that, too. I've seen translations that take out the word "inebriate"...not on your life.
The 'Anima Christi'
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Never let me be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
Forever and ever
And in Latin:
Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Jesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
In saecula saeculorum.
I call it the Big Liturgical Kahuna, but the next few days are more rightly called the Easter Triduum. Lent is wrapping up. Fasting, as usual, was a disaster (not a pound lighter), but prayer-blogging has been a blast. I hope you have enjoyed sharing some wildly over-the-top spirituality from our Catholic tradition (and a few others), and that non-Catholic visitors might have glimpsed some of the mad poetry that is our heritage. For Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I have saved the best for last, so check back!
Before all eyes turn to the Cross and Resurrection, I must share my go-to prayer to Mary. I'm not much of a Rosary girl (although I dug mine out on 9/11). But the "Memorare" is the prayer I say in the elevator on the way to the doctor to find out what kind of lump it was.
My relationship with Mary has "evolved," as we say these days instead of admitting we were wrong. Growing up in the 1970s, I found her rather irrelevant: What kind of role model was both Virgin and Mother? One to make all us gals fall short, it seemed. Much later, pregnant and searching to allay my fears, I stumbled on New Agey advice that described how Native American women would connect to a female spirit ancestor. Wait, I've got one of those. The experience of childbirth erased the sappy image of a thousand holy cards and replaced it with a gutsy human whose body did the hard work of bringing a precious Life into this world. And motherhood shocked me with its intimacy and fierce protectiveness; if a broken heart could link Heaven and Earth, hers must have been the one.
The Memorare offers a rare thing: the consolation of a guarantee, "no prayer left unanswered." Intercessory prayer to Mary is one of the things that Protestants historically hold against us Catholics, but we cannot help ourselves; we find the concept of a Heavenly Mother irresistible, as apparently did God Himself. In Turin, when I went to see the Shroud in 2010, I visited the Basilica of the Consolata, Our Lady of Consolation. The icon shown above reigns over this shimmering high-Baroque confection of a church, and she's lovely. But what won my heart was a side-aisle festooned with hundreds of home-made ex-voto pictures attesting to La Consolata's miraculous intervention.
The paintings and drawings evoke a homey panorama of human suffering. The perils of war—exploding shells, prison camps—are well-represented. But so are the torments of watching a child languish on a sickbed.
Grateful amateur artists also depict a catalog of random catastrophes across the decades, and in each La Consolata floats overhead, guiding the victim to safety. Or perhaps, for some, she waved them securely into the Pearly Gates.
Yes, those stern Protestant Reformers were probably right that we need only pray directly to God. But we Irish and Italians know there are times when you just need to talk to your mother.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins and Mother; to thee do we come; before thee do we stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer us. Amen.
On the seventh anniversary of Blessed John Paul II's death, here is his magnificent prayer for peace, delivered in 1981:
To the Creator of nature and man, of truth and beauty, I pray:
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations.
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.
Hear my voice when I beg You to instill into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice, and the joy of fellowship.
Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.
Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice and grant unto the world Your everlasting peace.