Holy Saturday: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Holy Saturday

WHY OUR LORD WENT DOWN TO LIMBO

From the descent of Christ to hell we may learn, for our instruction, four things:

1. Firm hope in God. No matter what the trouble in which a man finds himself, he should always put trust in God s help and rely on it. There is no trouble greater than to find oneself in hell. If then Christ freed those who were in hell, any man who is a friend of God cannot but have great confidence that he too shall be freed from whatever anxiety holds him. Wisdom forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners; she went down with him into the pit and in bands she left him not (Wis. x. 13-14). And since to His servants God gives a special assistance, he who serves God should have still greater confidence. He that feareth the Lord shall tremble at nothing, and shall not be afraid: for he is his hope (Ecclus. xxxiv. 16).

2. We ought to conceive fear and to rid ourselves of presumption. For although Christ suffered for sinners, and went down into hell to set them free, he did not set all sinners free, but only those who were free of mortal sin. Those who had died in mortal sin He left there. Wherefore for those who have gone down to hell in mortal sin there remains no hope of pardon. They shall be in hell as the holy Fathers are in heaven, that is for ever.

3. We ought to be full of care. Christ went down into hell for our salvation, and we should be careful frequently to go down there too, turning over in our minds hell’s pain and penalties, as did the holy king Ezechias as we read in the prophecy of Isaias, I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of hell (Isaias xxxviii. 10).

Those who in their meditation often go down to hell during life, will not easily go down there at death. Such meditations are a powerful arm against sin, and a useful aid to bring a man back from sin. Daily we see men kept from evildoing by the fear of the law’s punishments. How much greater care should they not take on account of the punishment of hell, greater in its duration, in its bitterness and in its variety. Remember thy last end and thou shalt never sin (Ecclus. vii. 40).

4. The fact is for us an example of love. Christ went down into hell to set free those that were his own. We, too, therefore, should go down there to help our own. For those who are in purgatory are themselves unable to do anything, and therefore we ought to help them. Truly he would be a harsh man indeed who failed to come to the aid of a kinsman who lay in prison, here on earth. How much more harsh, then, the man who will not aid the friend who is in purgatory, for there is no comparison between the pains there and the pains of this world. Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me (Job xix. 21).

We help the souls in purgatory chiefly by these three means, by masses, by prayers, and by almsgiving. Nor is it wonderful that we can do so, for even in this world a friend can make satisfaction for a friend.

(In Symb.)

Meditations and Readings for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Father Philip Hughes (London, Sheed and Ward, 1937)

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Good Friday: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Good Friday

THE DEATH OF CHRIST

That Christ should die was expedient.

1. To make our redemption complete. For, although any suffering of Christ had an infinite value, because of its union with His divinity, it was not by no matter which of His sufferings that the redemption of mankind was made complete, but only by His death. So the Holy Spirit declared speaking through the mouth of Caiaphas, It is expedient for you that one man shall die for the people (John xi. 50). Whence St. Augustine says, “Let us stand in wonder, rejoice, be glad, love, praise, and adore since it is by the death of our Redeemer, that we have been called from death to life, from exile to our own land, from mourning to joy.”

2. To increase our faith, our hope and our charity. With regard to faith the Psalm says (Ps. cxl. 10), I am alone until I pass from this world, that is, to the Father. When I shall have passed to the Father, then shall I be multiplied. Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone (John xii. 24).

As to the increase of hope St. Paul writes, He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things? (Rom. viii. 32). God cannot deny us this, for to give us all things is less than to give His own Son to death for us. St. Bernard says, “Who is not carried away to hope and confidence in prayer, when he looks on the crucifix and sees how Our Lord hangs there, the head bent as though to kiss, the arms outstretched in an embrace, the hands pierced to give, the side opened to love, the feet nailed to remain with us.”

Come, my dove, in the clefts of the rock (Cant. ii. 14). It is in the wounds of Christ, the Church builds its nest and waits, for it is in the Passion of Our Lord that she places her hope of salvation, and thereby trusts to be protected from the craft of the falcon, that is, of the devil.

With regard to the increase of charity, Holy Scripture says, At noon he burneth the earth (Ecclus. xliii. 3), that is to say, in the fervour of His Passion He burns up all mankind with His love. So St. Bernard says, “The chalice thou didst drink, O good Jesus, maketh thee lovable above all things.” The work of our redemption easily, brushing aside all hindrances, calls out in return the whole of our love. This it is which more gently draws out our devotion, builds it up more straightly, guards it more closely, and fires it with greater ardour.

3. Because our salvation is wrought in the manner of a sacrament, we dying to this world in a likeness to His death, So that my soul chooseth hanging, and my bones death (Job vii. 15). St. Gregory says, “The soul is the mind’s aspiration, the bones are the strength of the body’s desires. Things hanged are raised thereby from the depths. The soul, then, is hanged to things eternal that the bones may die, for it is with the love of eternal life that the soul slays the strong attraction earthly things possess for it.”

It is a sign that a soul is dead to the world when a soul is despised by the world. Again, to quote St. Gregory, “The sea keeps the bodies that are alive in it. Once they are dead it quickly casts them up.”

(De Humanitate Christi, cap. 47.)

Meditations and Readings for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Father Philip Hughes (London, Sheed and Ward, 1937)

 

Maundy Thursday: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Maundy Thursday

THE LAST SUPPER

It was most fitting that the sacrament of the body of the Lord should have been instituted at the Last Supper.

1. Because of what that sacrament contains. For that which is contained in it is Christ Himself. When Christ in His natural appearance was about to depart from His disciples, He left Himself to them in a sacramental appearance, just as in the absence of the emperor there is exhibited the emperor’s image. Whence St. Eusebius says, “Since the body He had assumed was about to be taken away from their bodily sight, and was about to be carried to the stars, it was necessary that, on the day of His last supper, He should consecrate for us the sacrament of His body and blood, so that what, as a price, was offered once should, through a mystery, be worshipped unceasingly.”

2. Because without faith in the Passion there can never be salvation. Therefore it is necessary that there should be, for ever, among men something that would represent the Lord’s Passion and the chief of such representative things in the Old Testament was the Paschal Lamb. To this there succeeded in the New Testament the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is commemorative of the past Passion of the Lord as the Paschal Lamb was a foreshadowing of the Passion to come (Quod est rememorativum praeteritae Dominicae Passionis, sicut et illud fuit futurae praefigurativum).

And therefore was it most fitting that, on the very eve of the Passion, the old sacrament of the Paschal Lamb having been celebrated, Our Lord should institute the new sacrament.

3. Because the last words of departing friends remain longest in the memory, our love being at such moments most tenderly alert. Nothing can be greater in the realm of sacrifice than that of the body and blood of Christ, no offering can be more effective. And hence, in order that the sacrament might be held in all the more veneration, it was in His last leave-taking of the Apostles that Our Lord instituted it.

Hence St. Augustine says, “Our Saviour, to bring before our minds with all His power the heights and the depths of this sacrament, willed, ere He left the disciples to go forth to His Passion, to fix it in their hearts and their memories as His last act.”

Let us note that this sacrament has a threefold meaning:

(i) In regard to the past, it is commemorative of the Lord’s Passion, which was a true sacrifice, and because of this the sacrament is called a sacrifice.

(ii) In regard to a fact of our own time, that is, to the unity of the church and that through this sacrament mankind should be gathered together. Because of this the sacrament is called communion.

St. John Damascene says the sacrament is called communion because by means of it we communicate with Christ, and this because we hereby share in His body and in His divinity, and because by it we are communicated to and united with one another.

(iii) In regard to the future, the sacrament foreshadows that enjoyment of God which shall be ours in our fatherland. On this account the sacrament is called viaticum, since it provides us with the means of journeying to that fatherland.

And on this account, too, the sacrament is also called Eucharist, that is to say, the good grace, either because the grace of God is life eternal, or because it really contains Christ who is the fullness of grace. In Greek the sacrament is also called Metalipsis, that is, Assumption, for through the sacrament we assume the divinity of the Son of God.

(De Humanitate Christi.)

Meditations and Readings for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Father Philip Hughes (London, Sheed and Ward, 1937)

Holy Wednesday: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Holy Wednesday

THREE THINGS ARE SYMBOLISED BY THE WASHING OF THE FEET

He putteth water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded — (John xiii. 5).

There are three things which this can be taken to symbolise.

1. The pouring of the water into the basin is a symbol of the pouring out of His blood upon the earth. Since the blood of Jesus has a power of cleansing it may in a sense be called water. The reason why water, as well as blood, came out of
His side, was to show that this blood could wash away sin.

Again we might take the water as a figure of Christ’s Passion. He putteth water into a basin, that is, by faith and devotion He stamped into the minds of faithful followers the memory of His Passion. Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood and the gall (Lam. iii. 19).

2. By the words and began to wash it is human imperfection that is symbolised. For the Apostles, after their living with Christ, were certainly more perfect, and yet they needed to be washed, there were still stains upon them. We are here made to understand that no matter what is the degree of any
man’s perfection he still needs to be made more perfect; he is still contracting uncleanness of some kind to some extent. So in the Book of Proverbs we read, Who can say My heart is clean, I am pure from sin (Prov. xx. 9).

Nevertheless the Apostles and the just have this kind of uncleanness only in their feet.

There are however others who are infected, not only in their feet, but wholly and entirely. Those who make their bed upon the soiling attractions of the world are made wholly unclean thereby. Those who wholly, that is to say, with their senses and with their wills, cleave to their desire of earthly things, these are wholly unclean.

But they who do not thus lie down, they who stand, that is, they who, in mind and in desire, are tending towards heavenly things, contract this uncleanness in their feet. Whoever stands must, necessarily, touch the earth at least with his feet. And we, too, in this life, where we must, to maintain life, make use of earthly things, cannot but contract a certain uncleanness, at least as far as those desires and inclinations are concerned which begin in our senses.

Therefore Our Lord commanded His disciples to shake off the dust from their feet. The text says, “He began to wash,” because this washing away on earth of the affection for earthly things is only a beginning. It is only in the life to come that it will be really complete.

Thus by putting water into the basin, the pouring out of His blood is signified, and by His beginning to wash the feet of His disciples the washing away of our sins.

3. There is symbolised finally Our Lord’s taking upon Him the punishment due to our sins. Not only did He wash away our sins but He also took upon Himself the punishment that they had earned. For our pains and our penances would not suffice were they not founded in the merit and the power of the Passion of Christ. And this is shown in His wiping the feet of the disciples with the linen towel, that is the towel which is His body.

(In John xiii.)

Meditations and Readings for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Father Philip Hughes (London, Sheed and Ward, 1937)

Tuesday in Holy Week: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Tuesday in Holy Week

CHRIST PREPARING TO WASH THE APOSTLE’S FEET

He riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments, and having taken a towel, girded himself. — John xiii. 4.

1. Christ, in his lowly office, shows Himself truly to be a servant, in keeping with His own words, The Son of Man is not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many (Matt. xx. 28).

Three things are looked for in a good servant or minister:

(i) That he should be careful to keep before him the numerous details in which his serving may so easily fall short. Now for a servant to sit or to lie down during his service is to make this necessary supervision impossible. Hence it is that servants stand. And therefore the gospel says of Our Lord, He riseth from supper. Our Lord himself also asks us, For which is greater, he that sitteth at table or he that serveth? (Luke xxii. 27).

(ii) That he should show dexterity in doing at the right time all the things his particular office calls for. Now elaborate dress is a hindrance to this. Therefore Our Lord layeth aside his garments. And this was foreshadowed in the Old Testament when Abraham chose servants who were well appointed (Gen. xiv. 14).

(iii) That he should be prompt, having ready to hand all the things he needs. St. Luke (x. 40) says of Martha that she was busy about much serving. This is why Our Lord, having taken a towel, girded himself. Thus he was ready not only to wash the feet, but also to dry them. So He (who came from God and goeth to God — John xiii. 3), as He washes their feet, crushes down for ever our swollen, human self-importance.

2. After that, he putteth water into a basin, and to wash (John xiii. 5).

We arc given for our consideration this service of Christ; and in three ways his humility is set for our example.

(i) The kind of service this was, for it was the lowest kind of service of all! The Lord of all majesty bending to wash the feet of his slaves.

(ii) The number of services it contained, for, we are told, he put water into a basin, he washed their feet, he dried them and so forth.

(iii) The method of doing the service, for He did not do it through others, nor even with others helping him. He did the service Himself. The greater thou art, the more humble thyself in all things (Ecclus. iii. 20).

(In John xiii.)

Meditations and Readings for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Father Philip Hughes (London, Sheed and Ward, 1937)

Monday in Holy Week: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Monday in Holy Week

IT IS NECESSARY THAT WE BE WHOLLY CLEAN

1. If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me (John xiii. 8). No one can be made a sharer in the inheritance of eternity, a co-heir with Christ, unless he is spiritually cleansed, for in the Apocalypse it is so stated. There shall not enter into it anything defiled (Apoc. xxi. 27), and in the Psalms we read, Lord who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? (Ps. xiv.) Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord; or who shall stand in his holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart (Ps. xxiii. 3, 4).

It is therefore as though Our Lord said, If I wash thee not, thou shalt not be cleansed, and if thou art not cleansed, thou shalt have no part with me.

2. Simon Peter saith to him: Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head (John xiii. 9).

Peter, utterly stricken, offers his whole self to be washed, so confounded is he with love and with fear. We read, in fact, in the book called The Journeying of Clement, that Peter used to be so overcome by the bodily presence of Our Lord, which he had most fervently loved, that whenever, after Our Lord’s Ascension, the memory of that dearest presence and most holy company came to him, he used so to melt into tears, that his cheeks seemed all worn out with them.

We can consider three parts in man’s body, the head, which is the highest, the feet, which are the lowest part, and the hands which lie in between. In the interior man, that is to say, in the soul, there are likewise three parts. Corresponding to the head there is the higher reason, the power by means of which the soul clings to God. For the hands there is the lower reason by which the soul operates in good works. For the feet there are the senses and the feelings and desires arising from them. Now Our Lord knew the disciples to be clean as far as the head was concerned, for He knew they were joined to God by faith and by charity. He knew their hands also were clean, for He knew their good works. But as to their feet, He knew that the disciples were still somewhat entangled in those inclinations to earthly things that derive out of the life of the senses.

Peter, alarmed by Our Lord’s warning (v. 8), not only consented that his feet should be washed, but begged that his hands and his head should be washed too.

Lord, he said, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head. As though to say, “I know not whether hands and head need to be washed. For I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified (i Cor. iv. 4). Therefore I am ready not only for my feet to be washed, that is, those inclinations that arise out of the life of my senses, but also my hands, that is, my works, and my head, too, that is, my higher reason.”

3. Jesus saith to him: He that is washed, needeth not but to wash his feet, but is clean wholly. And you are clean (John xiii. 10). Origen, commenting on this text, says that the Apostles were clean, but needed to be yet cleaner. For reason should ever desire gifts that are better still, should ever set itself to achieve the very heights of virtue, should aspire to shine with the brightness of justice itself. He that is holy, let him be sanctified still (Apoc. xxii. n).

(In John xiii.)

Meditations and Readings for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Father Philip Hughes (London, Sheed and Ward, 1937)

Holy Week – Palm Sunday: St. Thomas Aquinas, Meditations and Readings for Lent

Holy Week Palm Sunday

CHRIST’S PASSION SERVES US AS AN EXAMPLE

The Passion of Christ is by itself sufficient to form us in every virtue. For whoever wishes to live perfectly, need do no more than scorn what Christ scorned on the cross, and desire what He there desired. There is no virtue of which, from the cross, Christ does not give us an example.

If you seek an example of charity, Greater love than this no man hath, than that a man lay down His life for his friends (John xv. 13), and this Christ did on the cross. And since it was for us that He gave his life, it should not be burdensome to bear for Him whatever evils come our way. What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things that He hath rendered to me (Ps. cxv. 12).

If you seek an example of patience, in the cross you find the best of all. Great patience shows itself in two ways. Either when a man suffers great evils patiently, or when he suffers what he could avoid and forbears to avoid. Now Christ on the cross suffered great evils. O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see, if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow (Lam. i. 12). And He suffered them patiently, for, when he suffered he threatened not (1 Pet. ii. 23) but led as a sheep to the slaughter, he was dumb as a lamb before his shearer (Isaias liii. 7).

Also it was in His power to avoid the suffering and He did not avoid it. Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. xxvi. 53). The patience of Christ, then, on the cross was the greatest patience ever shown. Let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. xii. i, 2).

If you seek an example of humility, look at the crucified. For it is God who wills to be judged and to die at the will of Pontius Pilate. Thy cause hath been judged as that of the wicked (Job xxxvi. 17). Truly as that of the wicked, for Let us condemn him to a most shameful death (Wis. ii. 20). The Lord willed to die for the slave, the life of the angels for man.

If you seek an example of obedience, follow Him who became obedient unto death (Phil. ii. 8), for as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just (Rom. v. 19).

If you seek an example in the scorning of the things of this world, follow Him who is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom. Lo! on the cross He hangs naked, fooled, spit upon, beaten, crowned with thorns, sated with gall and vinegar, and dead. My garments they parted among them ; and upon my vesture they cast lots (Ps. xxi. 19).

Error to crave for honours, for He was exposed to blows and to mockery. Error to seek titles and decorations for platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying Hail, king of the Jews (Matt. xxvii. 29).

Error to cling to pleasures and comfort for they gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Ps. lxviii. 22).

(In Symb.)