Bulletin -March 2017
“So the faith was planted: so must it be restored”
Eight Pond Place – Oyster Bay, NY 11771
Rejoice and Persevere
Taken from a sermon by The Most Rev. Clarence Kelly
Copyright © 2006 The Most Rev. Clarence Kelly
…..There was from ancient times a custom whereby the pope offered Mass in the various churches of Rome. He would go from church to church on particular occasions. This movement from church to church is in some part responsible for the fact that these churches are called Stational Churches. As we move around the Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent, so the pope moved around the various Stational Churches of Rome. On the day that the pope would offer the Mass at one of these Stational Churches, great crowds would go in solemn procession to the church. They would say prayers and would sing the Litany of the Saints. During Lent they followed, as it were, the steps of the Passion of Christ. When the procession arrived at the church, it would be met by the pope and his clergy. The pope would then offer Mass for the people.
…..Before the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, there were forty-three Stational Churches in Rome. In March of 1934, Pius XI added two more, thus bringing the number of Stational Churches to forty-five. One of them is called the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem at Rome. It is a church that dates back to ancient times and has a very interesting history. Located on Mount Coelius, it was originally the site of the Sessorian Palace. The Sessorian Palace was the mansion of St. Helena who was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It was Constantine who won the great victory at the Milvian Bridge and who then freed the Church. St. Helena was, of course, the person responsible for the finding of the True Cross. This occurred in Jerusalem in the early part of the fourth century. Later, the most important relic of the Holy Cross was brought to Rome by St. Helena who turned her palace into a church. There the relic of the True Cross was enshrined. Thus, the palace that was turned into a church became known as the Church of the Holy Cross.
…..It was the custom on Laetare Sunday – which is the Fourth Sunday of Lent – for the pope to say Mass in the Church of the Holy Cross, which became one of the Stational Churches. In fact, the reason the priest wears the rose colored vestments on the Fourth Sunday of Lent is related to this practice. The Latin word laetare means rejoice. On Laetare Sunday it was the custom of the pope not only to say Mass in the Church of the Holy Cross, but also to bless a rose. When the rose was blessed, the pope wore rose colored vestments. Hence, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church permits the wearing of rose colored vestments, stemming from this ancient custom.
…..But the question is why? Why was the rose blessed on this particular Sunday of Lent in the Church of the Holy Cross? The answer is actually quite simple. Laetare Sunday marks the middle of Lent. On this Sunday the Church encourages us in our penances. She does this by directing our attention to the victory of the Cross and the empty tomb that comes at the end of Lent. A rose is blessed because in it we see symbolized the Cross of Christ in the wood of the stem, the crown of Christ in the thorns of the rose, the Blood of Christ in its flower, and the wounds of Christ in its sweet smell. Hence, we see the means of our victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. The rose is, therefore, a symbol of our hope, for by the wood of the Cross, by the thorns of the crown, and by Our Lord’s wounds and Precious Blood, we are saved. So, on Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we look to this victory with courage and hope. That is why we are to “Rejoice.” We are to rejoice and to persevere in our penances and in our struggle to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are to persevere until we reach the great feast of Easter.
…..I strongly recommend that you read in your missals the words of the Introit of Laetare Sunday’s Mass, and I encourage you to meditate on them. The Introit is taken from the Prophet Isaias and refers to the victory of the New Jerusalem which is the Catholic Church. He says: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow; that you may exult, and be filled . . . [with] consolation.” Rejoice and persevere, the Church says. Persevere in your penances. Prepare for your Easter Confession and Holy Communion by a pure and devout Lent. Prepare to celebrate the great victory of Calvary and the empty tomb. Persevere with generosity. Be encouraged, says Holy Mother Church. And should there be anyone not living in the state of grace, the Church reminds us that this is a time of grace. This is the time to get it all straightened out by a good confession.
…..Having noted that the rose symbolizes our hope in the Cross, the crown, the wounds and the Blood of Christ, there is another symbolism that should not go unmentioned. It is that the rose also symbolizes our hearts – our hearts that we give to Our Lord. There is a poem about Holy Week in general and about Holy Thursday night in particular that speaks of the gift of our hearts to Christ. It centers around the Altar of Repose. As you know, on Holy Thursday we celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper. After Mass we remove the Blessed Sacrament from the altar and go in solemn procession to the Altar of Repose. There, at the Altar of Repose, the Blessed Sacrament remains exposed on the altar for the rest of the day and throughout the night. During all this time the faithful come to adore, to console, and to make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. They come to atone for the indifference of the Apostles on Holy Thursday night. They come to atone for the indifference of the world. They come to atone for their own indifference.
…..The Altar of Repose itself is decorated with candles and beautiful flowers to an extraordinary degree and to what the saints would call a delightful and holy excess. The countless candles burn around it. The beautiful flowers rest upon it. These, both candles and flowers, express our Faith in the Blessed Sacrament, our gratitude for the Blessed Sacrament, and our love for Our Blessed Lord and Savior in the Blessed Sacrament. The poem I mentioned speaks of the Altar of Repose and of our hearts. It speaks as well about the Blessed Mother of Christ and our Mother, who is called the Mother of the Rose, that is to say, the Mother of the suffering Savior, and the Mother of the love that burns in our hearts for the suffering Savior. It goes like this:
I kneel on Holy Thursday with the faithful worshiping
Where Christ is throned in splendor as the sacramental King.
I ever will remember it, that wondrous full-blown rose
Among the burning tapers of the altar of repose.
O blessed among roses all, to bloom in beauty there,
To give your heart unto your God and in His glory share.
In quiet fields beyond the town, near where the river flows
There is a humble garden where a gentle rose-tree grows.
To-night Our Lord remembers on the altar of repose
This rose-tree in the fields afar, the mother of the rose.
James M. Hayes