"Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."-Luke 23:46.
is a beautiful paradox that the Last Gospel of the Mass takes us back
to the beginning, for it opens with the words "In the beginning." And
such is life: the last of this life is the beginning of the next.
Fittingly indeed, then, that the Last Word of our Lord was His Last
Gospel: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Like the Last
Gospel of the Mass, it too takes Him back to the beginning, for He now
goes back to the Father whence He came. He has completed His work. He
began His Mass with the word: "Father." And He ends it with the same
"Everything perfect," the Greeks would say,
"travels in circles." Just as the great planets only after a long
period of time complete their orbits, and then go back again to their
starting point, as if to salute Him who sent them on their way, so the
Word Incarnate, who came down to say His Mass, now completes His
earthly career and goes back again to His heavenly Father who sent Him
on the journey of the world's redemption. The Prodigal Son is about to
return to His Father's House, for is He not the Prodigal Son?
Thirty-three years ago He left the Father's House and the blessedness
of heaven, and came down to this earth of ours, which is a foreign
country-for every country is foreign which is away from the Father's
For thirty-three years He had been spending His
substance. He spent the substance of His Truth in the infallibility of
His Church; He spent the substance of His Power in the authority He
gave to His apostles and their successors. He spent the substance of
His Life in the Redemption and the Sacraments. Now every drop of it is
gone, He looks longingly back again to the Father's House, and with a
loud cry throws His Spirit into His Father's arms, not in the attitude
of one who is taking a plunge into the darkness, but as one who knows
where He is going-to a homecoming with His Father.
that Last Word and Last Gospel which took Him back to the Beginning of
all beginnings, namely, His Father, is revealed the history and rhythm
of life. The end of all things must in some way get back to their
beginning. As the Son goes back to the Father; as Nicodemus must be
born again; as the body returns to the dust – so the soul of man which
came from God must one day go back to God. Death is not the end of all.
The cold clod falling upon the grave does not mark finis to the history
of a man. The way he has lived in this life determines how he shall
live in the next.
If he has sought God during life,
death will be like the opening of a cage, enabling him to use his wings
to fly to the arms of the divine Beloved. If he has fled from God
during life, death will be the beginning of an eternal flight away from
Life and Truth and Love-and that is hell. Before the throne of God,
whence we came on our earthly novitiate, we must one day go back to
render an account of our stewardship. There will not be a human
creature who, when the last sheaf is garnered, will not be found either
to have accepted or rejected the divine gift of Redemption, and in
accepting or rejecting it to have signed the warrant of his eternal
As the sales on a cash register are recorded for
the end of our business day, so our thoughts, words, and deeds are
recorded for the final Judgment. If we but live in the shadow of the
Cross, death will not be an ending but a beginning of eternal life.
Instead of a parting, it will be a meeting; instead of a going away, it
will be an arriving; instead of being an end, it will be a Last
Gospel-a return to the beginning. As a voice whispers, "You must leave
the earth," the Father's voice will say, "My child, come unto Me." We
have been sent into this world as children of God, to assist at the
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are to take our stand at the foot of the
Cross and, like those who stood under it the first day, we will be
asked to declare our loyalties. God has given us the wheat and the
grapes of life, and as the men who, in the Gospel, were given talents,
we will have to how return on that divine gift.
given us our lives as wheat and grapes. It is our duty to consecrate
them and bring them back to God as bread and wine – transubstantiated,
divinized, and spiritualized. There must be harvest in our hands after
the springtime of the earthly pilgrimage.
That is why
Calvary is erected in the midst of us, and we are on its sacred hill.
We were not made to be mere on-lookers, shaking our dice like the
executioners of old, but rather to be participants in the mystery of
the Cross. If there is any way to picture Judgment in terms of the
Mass, it is to picture it in the way the Father greeted His Son,
namely, by looking at His hands. They bore the marks of labor, the
callouses of redemption, and the scars of salvation. So too when our
earthly pilgrimage is over, and we go back to the beginning, God will
look at both of our hands. If our hands in life touched the hands of
His divine Son they will bear the same livid marks of nails; if our
feet in life have trod over the same road that leads to eternal glory
through the detour of a rocky and thorny Calvary, they too shall bear
the same bruises; if our hearts beat in unison with His, then they too
shall show the riven side which the wicked lance of jealous earth did
Blessed indeed are they who carry in their
Cross-marked hands the bread and wine of consecrated lives signed with
the sign and sealed with the seal of redemptive Love. But woe unto them
who come from Calvary with hands unscarred and white. God grant that
when life is over, and the earth is vanishing like a dream of one
awakening, when eternity is flooding our souls with its splendors, we
may with humble and triumphant faith re-echo the Last Word of Christ:
"Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." And so the Mass of Christ
The Confiteor was His prayer to the Father for
the forgiveness of our sins; the Offertory was the presentation on the
paten of the Cross of small hosts of the thief and ourselves; the
Sanctus was His commending ourselves to Mary, the Queen of Saints; the
Consecration was the separation of His Blood from His Body, and the
seeming separation of divinity and humanity; the Communion was His
thirst for the souls of men; the Ite, missa est was the finishing of
the work of salvation; the Last Gospel was the return to the Father
whence He came. And now that the Mass is over, and He has commended His
Spirit to the Father, He prepares to give back His Body to His Blessed
Mother at the foot of the Cross. Thus once again will the end be the
beginning, for at the beginning of His earthly life He was nestled on
her lap in Bethlehem, and now, on Calvary, He will take His place there
Earth had been cruel to Him; His feet
wandered after lost sheep and we dug them with steel; His hands
stretched out the Bread of everlasting life and we fastened them with
nails; His lips spoke the Truth and we sealed them with dust. He came
to give us Life and we took away His. But that was our fatal mistake.
We really did not take it away. We only tried to take it away. He laid
it down of Himself. Nowhere do the Evangelists say that He died. They
say, "He gave up the ghost." It was a willing, self-determined
relinquishment of life.
It was not death which approached
Him, it was He who approached death. That is why, as the end draws
near, the Savior commands the portal of death to open unto Him in the
presence of the Father. The chalice is gradually being drained of its
rich red wine of salvation. The rocks of earth open their hungry mouths
to drink as if more thirsty for the draughts of salvation than the
parched hearts of man; the earth itself shook in horror because men had
erected God's Cross upon its breast. Magdalene, the penitent, as usual
clings to His feet, and there she will be again Easter morn; John, the
priest, with a face like a cast moulded out of love, listens to the
beating of the Heart whose secrets He learned and loved and mastered;
Mary thinks how different Calvary is from Bethlehem.
years ago Mary looked down at His sacred face; now He looks down at
her. In Bethlehem heaven looked up into the face of earth; now the
roles are reversed. Earth looks up into the face of heaven – but a
heaven marred by the scars of earth. He loved her above all the
creatures of earth, for she was His Mother and the Mother of us all. He
saw her first on coming to earth; He shall see her last on leaving it.
Their eyes meet, all aglow with life, speaking a language all their
own. There is a rupture of a heart through a rapture of love, then a
bowed head, a broken heart. Back to the hands of God He gives, pure and
sinless, His spirit, in loud and ringing voice that trumpets eternal
victory. And Mary stands alone a Childless Mother. Jesus is dead!
looks up into His eyes which are so clear even in the face of death:
"High Priest of Heaven and earth, Thy Mass is finished! Leave the altar
of the Cross and repair into Thy Sacristy. As High Priest Thou didst
come forth from the sacristy of Heaven, panoplied in the vestments of
humanity and bearing Thy Body as Bread and Thy Blood as Wine. Now the
Sacrifice has been consummated. The Consecration bell has rung. Thou
didst offer Thy Spirit to Thy Father; Thy Body and Thy Blood to man.
There remains now nothing but the drained chalice. Enter into Thy
Take off the garments of mortality and put on
the white robes of immortality. Show Thy hands, and feet, and side to
Thy heavenly Father and say: "With these was I wounded in the house of
those that love me." "Enter, High Priest, into Thy heavenly Sacristy,
and as Thy earthly ambassadors hold aloft the Bread and Wine do Thou
show Thyself to the Father in loving intercession for us even unto the
consummation of the world. Earth has been cruel to Thee; but Thou wilt
be kind to earth. Earth lifted Thee on the Cross, but now Thou shalt
lift earth unto the Cross. Open the door of the heavenly Sacristy, O
High Priest! Behold it is now we who stand at the door and knock!
Mary, what shall we say to Thee? Mary, Thou art the Sacristan of the
High Priest! Thou wert a Sacristan in Bethlehem when He did come to
Thee as wheat and grapes in the crib of Bethlehem. Thou wert His
Sacristan at the Cross, where He became the Living Bread and Wine
through the Crucifixion. Thou art His Sacristan now, as He comes from
the altar of the Cross wearing only the drained chalice of His sacred
"As that chalice is laid in your lap it may seem
that Bethlehem has come back again, for He is once more yours. But it
only seems -for in Bethlehem He was the chalice whose gold was to be
tried by fire; but now at Calvary He is the chalice whose gold has
passed through the fires of Golgotha and Calvary. In Bethlehem He was
white as He came from the Father, now He is red as He came from us. But
thou art still His Sacristan! And as the Immaculate Mother of all hosts
who go to the altar, do thou, O Virgin Mary, send us there pure, and
keep us pure, even unto the day when we enter into the heavenly
Sacristy of the Kingdom of Heaven, where thou wilt be our eternal
Sacristan and He our eternal Priest."
And you, friends of
the Crucified, your High Priest has left the Cross, but He has left us
the Altar. On the Cross He was alone; in the Mass He is with us. On the
Cross He suffered in His physical Body; on the altar He suffers in the
Mystical Body which we are. On the Cross He was the unique Host; in the
Mass we are the small hosts, and He the large host receiving his
Calvary through us. On the Cross He was the wine; in the Mass, we are
the drop of water united with the wine and consecrated with Him. In
that sense He is still on the Cross, still saying the Confiteor with
us, still forgiving us, still commending us to Mary, still thirsting
for us, still drawing us unto the Father, for as long as sin remains on
earth, still will the Cross remain.
"Whenever there is silence around me
By day or by night
I am startled by a cry.
It came down from the Cross.
The first time I heard it
I went out and searched-
And found a man in the throes of Crucifixion.
And I said: 'I will take you down,'
And I tried to take the nails out of His Feet,
But He said: 'Let them be
For I cannot be taken down
Until every man, every woman, and every child
Come together to take me down.'
And I said: 'But I cannot bear your cry.
What can I do?'
And He said: 'Go about the world-
Tell every one that you meet
There is a Man on the Cross.'"