Friday, April 6, 2012

By what strange definition is today "Good"?

The day God died is called Good? That just doesn't seem right. Why isn't today called, Most Sorrowful Friday or Tragic Friday? What could be more sad or tragic than the death of our Lord? It could be easy to say today is "Good" in light of what we will celebrate on Sunday. And that's true, but it doesn't fully satisfy the issue. When we pray the rosary, the crucifixion of Jesus is listed as the Sorrowful Mysteries. We recognize, that it is appropriate and necessary to remember Christ's sacrifice with mourning. So how come when we remember the day Christ died, it is good? An obvious reason is that in Christ's death, He redeemed us and gave us access to eternal life. He died so that we may "have life and have it abundantly." (Jn 10:10)

However, I want to look at another, less obvious reason that today is good. Today is the birthday of the Church. Now I'm sure you are all saying to yourselves, "Hold on there Erin, I thought that wasn't for another 52 days." Yes, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and thousands were baptized and brought into the Church. This date is normally hailed as the birthday of the Church, and it is in a way. But here's a question to consider: If Christ's Church began on Pentecost, what were the apostles the day (or 52 days) before? Were they Jews? Did Christ's death and Resurrection not bring about the New Covenant? Thankfully, an early doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, answered these questions for us way back in the 2nd century.

“There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death. Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life. 
Christ giving birth to Ecclesia (from Vienna Codex 2554, ca. 1220s) 
So today is Good Friday partially because it is the anniversary of the Church's birth. Christ's last words on the cross, "It is finished" or "It is consummated" reflect this truth as well. In death, Christ wed Himself to His bride, the Church. Just as Adam's wedding to Eve was also her creation, so to the Church's wedding to the New Adam was it's creation. The concept of the Church's birth from the side of Christ was not lost or ignored since St. John preached it. Likewise, it was not his invention. It has deep roots in our faith tradition throughout the ages. It was a common theme in Medieval sacred art and writings of the saints. St. Augustine says in his commentary on John 19:34, "A watchful word the Evangelist has used, when he says not "Pierced His side," or "Wounded," or anything else, but "Opened": that there a gate of life might be opened, whence the sacraments of the Church have flowed forth, without which there is no entrance to the life that is truly life." (Comm. in Joannem, tr. CXX, 2: PL 35, 1953)

Also, notice the similarities from the above image of the birth of the Church and this one of the birth of Eve. Notice how in both images, Christ is the high priest receiving the new life, but in one He is also the victim, the sacrifice. It is a wonderful representation of Christ as the New Adam and the Church as the New Eve. This reminds me of yet another reason why today is good. Today, we received the gift of Mary as our mother. As Christ was dying, He gave Mary to John and to us as well. She is, in a specific way, the New Eve as well for through her "fiat" God brought about our salvation as well as her own. As Eve's choice brought our death, so Mary's choice brought our Life, in the person of Christ. As we remember with sorrow and mourning Christ's crucifixion and death, let us also remember that through His death comes the life of the Church and the Sacraments. May we fully embrace and partake in these gifts from Christ's own heart.

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