"It is finished."-John 19:30.
OUR Blessed Savior now
comes to the Ite, missa est of His Mass, as He utters the cry of
triumph: "It is finished." The work of salvation is finished, but when
did it begin? It began back in the agelessness of eternity, when God
willed to make man. Ever since the beginning of the world there was a
Divine "Impatience" to restore man to the arms of God. The Word was
impatient in heaven to be the "Lamb slain from the beginning of the
world." He was impatient in prophetic types and symbols, as His dying
face was reflected in a hundred mirrors stretching through all Old
Testament history. He was impatient to be the real Isaac carrying the
wood of His sacrifice in obedience to the commands of His heavenly
Abraham. He was impatient to fulfill the mystic symbol of the Lamb of
the Jewish Pasch, who was slain without a single bone of its body being
He was impatient to be the new Abel, slain by
his jealous brethren of the race of Cain, that His Blood might cry to
Heaven for forgiveness. He was impatient in His mother's womb, as He
saluted His recursor John. He was impatient in the Circumcision, as He
anticipated His blood-shedding and received the name of "Savior." He
was impatient at the age of twelve, as He reminded His Mother that He
had to be about His Father's business. He was impatient in His public
life, as He said He had a baptism wherewith He was to be baptized and
He was "straightened until it be accomplished." He was impatient in the
Garden, as He turned His back to the consoling twelve legions of angels
to crimson olive roots with His redemptive Blood. He was impatient at
His Last Supper as He anticipated the separation of His Body and Blood
under the appearance of bread and wine. And then, impatience closed as
the hour of darkness drew near at the end of that Last Supper-He sang.
It was the only time He ever sang, the moment He went to His death.
was a trivial matter for the world if the stars burned brightly, or the
mountains stood as symbols of perplexity, or the hills made their
tribute to valleys which gave them birth. What was important was that
every single word predicted of Him should be true. Heaven and earth
would not pass away until every jot and tittle had been fulfilled.
There was only a little iota remaining, one tiny little jot; it was a
word of David's about every prediction being fulfilled. Now that all
else was fulfilled, He fulfilled that iota; He, the true David, quoted
the prophetic David: "It is finished."
That is finished?
The Redemption of man is finished. Love had completed its mission, for
Love had done all that it could. There are two things Love can do. Love
by its very nature tends to an Incarnation, and every Incarnation tends
to a Crucifixion. Does not all true love tend toward an Incarnation? In
the order of human love, does not the affection of husband for wife
create from their mutual loves the incarnation of their confluent love
in the form of a child? Once they have begotten their child, do not
they make sacrifices for it, even to the point of death? And thus their
love tends to a crucifixion.
But this is just a
reflection of the divine order, where the love of God for man was so
deep and intense that it ended in an Incarnation, which found God in
the form and habit of man, whom He loved. But our Lord's love for man
did not stop with the Incarnation. Unlike everyone else who was ever
born, our Lord came into this world to redeem it. Death was the supreme
goal He was seeking. Death interrupted the careers of great men, but it
was no interruption to our Lord; it was His crowning glory; it was the
unique goal He was seeking.
His Incarnation thus tended
to the Crucifixion, for "greater love than this no man hast, that he
lay down his life for his friends." Now that Love had run its course in
the Redemption of man, Divine Love could say: "I have done all for my
vineyard that I can do." Love can do no more than die. It is finished:
"Ite, missa est."
His work is finished. But is ours?
When He said, "it is finished," He did not mean that the opportunities
of His life had ended; He meant that His work was done so perfectly
that nothing could be added to it to make it more perfect-but with us,
how seldom that is true. Too many of us end our lives, but few of us
see them finished. A sinful life may end, but a sinful life is never a
finished life. If our lives just "end," our friends will ask: "How much
did he leave?" But if our life is "finished" our friends will ask: "How
much did he take with him?" A finished life is not measured by years
but by deeds; not by the time spent in the vineyard, but by the work
done. In a short time a man may fulfill many years; even those who come
at the eleventh hour may finish their lives; even those who come to God
like the thief at the last breath, may finish their lives in the
Kingdom of God. Not for them the sad word of regret: "Too late, O
ancient Beauty, have I loved Thee."
Our Lord finished His
work, but we have not finished ours. He pointed the way we must follow.
He laid down the Cross at the finish, but we must take it up. He
finished Redemption in His physical Body, but we have not finished it
in His Mystical Body.
He has finished salvation, we have
not yet applied it to our souls. He has finished the Temple, but we
must live in it. He has finished the model Cross, we must fashion ours
to its pattern. He has finished sowing the seed, we must reap the
harvest. He has finished filling the chalice, but we have not finished
drinking its refreshing draughts. He has planted the wheat field; we
must gather it into our barns. He has finished the Sacrifice of
Calvary; we must finish the Mass.
The Crucifixion was not
meant to be an inspirational drama, but a pattern act on which to model
our lives. We are not meant to sit and watch the Cross as something
done and ended like the life of Socrates. What was done on Calvary
avails for us only in the degree that we repeat it in our own lives.
Mass makes this possible, for at the renewal of Calvary on our altars
we are not on-lookers but sharers in Redemption, and there it is that
we "finish" our work. He has told us: "And I, if I be lifted up from
the earth, will draw all things to myself." He finished His work when
He was lifted up on the Cross; we finish ours when we permit Him to
draw us unto Himself in the Mass.
The Mass is that
which makes the cross visible to every eye; it placards the Cross at
all the crossroads of civilization; it brings Calvary so close that
even tired feet can make the journey to its sweet embrace; every hand
may now reach out to touch its Sacred Burden, and every ear may hear
its sweet appeal, for the Mass and the Cross are the same. In both
there is the same offering of a perfectly surrendered will of the
beloved Son, the same Body broken, the same Blood flowed forth, the
same Divine Forgiveness. All that has been said and done and acted
during Holy Mass is to be taken away with us, lived, practiced, and
woven into all the circumstances and conditions of our daily lives.
sacrifice is made our sacrifice by making it the oblation of ourselves
in union with Him; His life given for us becomes our life given for
Him. Thus do we return from Mass as those who have made their choice,
turned their backs upon the world, and become for the generation in
which we live other Christs living potent witnesses to the Love that
died that we might live with Love. This world of ours is full of
half-completed Gothic cathedrals, of half-finished lives and
half-crucified souls. Some carry the Cross to Calvary and then abandon
it; others are nailed to it and detach themselves before the elevation;
others are crucified, but in answer to the challenge of the world "Come
down," they come down after one hour. . . two hours. . .after two hours
and fifty-nine minutes. Real Christians are they who persevere unto the
end. Our Lord stayed until He had finished.
must likewise stay at the altar until the Mass is finished. He may not
come down. So we must stay with the Cross until our lives are finished.
Christ on the Cross is the pattern and model of a finished life. Our
human nature is the raw material; our will is the chisel; God's grace
is the energy and the inspiration. Touching the chisel to our
unfinished nature we first cut off huge chunks of selfishness, then by
more delicate chiselings we dig away smaller bits of egotism until
finally only a brush of the hand is needed to bring out the completed
masterpiece a finished man made to the image and likeness of the
pattern on the Cross. We are at the altar under the symbol of bread and
wine; we have offered ourselves to our Lord; He has consecrated us.
must therefore not take ourselves back, but remain there unto the end,
praying unceasingly, that when the lease of our life has ended and we
look back upon a life lived in intimacy with the Cross, the echo of the
Sixth Word may ring out on our lips: "It is finished."
as the sweet accents of that Ite, missa est reach beyond the corridors
of Time and pierce the "hid battlements of eternity," the angel choirs
and the white-robed army of the Church Triumphant will answer back: