The Pope's "Dies Irae." And the Mystery of Evil
ROME, April 21, 2011 – It is a special Holy Week, the one this year with the pope. With an unprecedented development.
On Good Friday, before the liturgy in the basilica of Saint Peter and the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, Benedict XVI will respond on television to seven questions, each sent to him from a different country. Seven questions chosen from among thousands. The ones that go most directly to the drama of human existence.
The first question, from a Japanese girl, will be about the scandal of evil. About incomprehensible evil, like that of an earthquake. About the evil that has as its backdrop the mystery of innocent suffering.
The pope will respond to this and to the other questions.
But pope Joseph Ratzinger has gone live before. He did so with the general audience on the Wednesday of Holy Week and with the homily at the Chrism Mass on morning of Holy Thursday. The first time with spontaneous words, the written text set aside. The second time with words written entirely on his own, and also welling up from his heart.
This twofold introduction to the Paschal rites has shown better than ever how for Benedict XVI, the question of bringing man close to God is "the priority" of his pontificate. That God who seems distant. But in reality is on a ceaseless journey in search of wayward man.
Benedict XVI cited the "Dies Irae," the chant that was imprudently removed from the liturgy because it was thought to be imbued with terror, when instead it has features of touching tenderness. As when it says:
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus,
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Which the pope translated as: "Seeking me you sat down wearied... May so much effort not be in vain!" And he saw in it the adventure of God, who "set out on the journey toward us" out of pure love, and in order to do this "became man and descended to the very abyss of human existence, to the very night of death."
The slumber of the disciples on the Mount of Olives, while Jesus consents to drink the cup of the passion – Benedict XVI said in the audience on the Wednesday of Holy Week – is our insensitivity to God, which also leads to our insensitivity to the power that evil has in the world.
"Seek his face always," the pope urged, citing Psalm 105. This is also a constant of his preaching: as in the memorable talk in Paris, in 2008, on "quaerere Deum," on the search for God as the origin of Western civilization.
The following are the key passages from the audience on Wednesday of Holy Week and from the homily on the morning of Holy Thursday. Followed by the text of the "Dies Irae."
The complete texts, together with the others of Benedict XVI during Holy Week, are on the Vatican website:
FROM THE GENERAL AUDIENCE OF THE WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK
Saint Peter's Square, April 20, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters, [...] leaving the Cenacle, Jesus withdrew to pray, alone, in the presence of his Father. At that moment of profound communion, the Gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such suffering that he sweat blood (cf. Matthew 26:38). Conscious of his imminent death on the cross, he felt great anguish and the closeness of death.
In this situation an element is seen that is of great importance also for the whole Church. Jesus said to his own: Stay here and watch; and this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish, of menace, in which the betrayer arrives, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for all times, because the somnolence of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but is the problem of the whole of history.
The question is what this somnolence consists of, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples' somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them: We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget.
And it is not only insensitivity to evil; instead, we should be watching to do good, to struggle for the force of good. It is insensitivity to God – this is our real somnolence: this insensitivity to the presence of God that makes us insensitive also to evil. We do not listen to God – it would bother us – and so we do not listen, of course, to the force of evil either, and we stay on the path of our comfort.
The nocturnal adoration on Maundy Thursday, our being vigilant with the Lord, should be precisely the moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of Jesus' defenders, of the apostles, of ourselves, who do not see, we do not want to see all the force of evil, and we do not want to enter into his passion for the good, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of neighbor and of God.
Then the Lord began to pray. The three apostles – Peter, James and John – slept, but then they woke up and heard the phrase of this prayer of the Lord: "Not my will but thine be done." What is this will of mine, what is this will of yours, of which the Lord speaks? My will is that I "should not die," that he be spared this chalice of suffering: It is the human will, of human nature, and Christ feels, with all the consciousness of his being, life, the abyss of death, the terror of nothingness, this menace of suffering. And he more than us, who have this natural aversion to death, this natural fear of death, even more than us, he felt the abyss of evil. He also felt, with death, all the suffering of humanity.
He felt that all this was the chalice he must drink, that he must make himself drink, accept the evil of the world, everything that is terrible, the aversion to God, the whole of sin. And we can understand that Jesus, with his human soul, was terrified before this reality, which he perceived in all its cruelty: My will would be not to drink the chalice, but my will is subordinated to your will, to the will of God, to the will of the Father, which is also the real will of the Son.
And thus Jesus transformed, in this prayer, the natural aversion, the aversion to the chalice, to his mission to die for us. He transformed this natural will of his into the will of God, in a "yes" to the will of God. On his own man is tempted to oppose the will of God, to have the intention to follow his own will, to feel free only if he is autonomous; he opposes his own autonomy against the heteronomy of following the will of God. This is the whole drama of humanity. But in truth this autonomy is erroneous and this entering into God's will is not an opposition to oneself, it is not a slavery that violates my will, but it is to enter into truth and love, into the good. And Jesus attracts our will, which is opposed to the will of God, which seeks its autonomy. He attracts this will of ours on high, to the will of God.
This is the drama of our redemption, that Jesus attracts our will on high, all our aversion to the will of God and our aversion to death and sin, and unites it to the will of the Father: "Not my will but thine be done." In this transformation of the "no" into "yes," in this insertion of the will of the creature in the will of the Father, he transforms humanity and redeems us. And he invites us to enter into this movement of his: To come out of our "no" and enter into the "yes" of the Son. My will exists, but the decisive will is the will of the Father, because the will of the Father is truth and love.
A further element of this prayer seems important to me. The three witnesses have kept – as it appears in sacred Scripture – the Hebrew or Aramaic word with which the Lord spoke to the Father, he called him: "Abba," father. But this formula, "Abba," is a familiar form of the term father, a form that is used only in the family, which has never been used toward God. Here we see in the intimacy of Jesus how he speaks in the family, he speaks truly as Son with his Father. We see the Trinitarian mystery: The Son who speaks with the Father and redeems humanity.
One more observation. The Letter to the Hebrews gives us a profound interpretation of this prayer of the Lord, of this drama of Gethsemane. It says: these tears of Jesus, this prayer, these cries of Jesus, this anguish – is not all this simply a concession to the weakness of the flesh, as could be said. But precisely in this way he realizes the task of High Priest, because the High Priest must lead the human being, with all his problems and sufferings, to the height of God. And the Letter to the Hebrews says: with all these cries, tears, sufferings, prayers, the Lord took our reality to God (cf. Hebrews 5:7ff). And it uses this Greek word "prosferein," which is the technical term for what the High Priest must do to offer, to raise his hand on high. Precisely in this drama of Gethsemane, where it seems that God's strength is no longer present, Jesus realizes the function of High Priest. And it says, moreover, that in this act of obedience, namely, of conformity of the natural human will to the will of God, he is perfected as priest. And it uses again the technical word to ordain a priest. Precisely in this way he becomes the High Priest of humanity and thus opens heaven and the door to resurrection.
If we reflect on this drama of Gethsemane, we can also see the great contrast between Jesus, with his anguish, with his suffering, in comparison with the great philosopher Socrates, who remains peaceful, imperturbable in the face of death. And this seems to be the ideal.
We can admire this philosopher, but Jesus' mission is another. His mission was not this total indifference and liberty; his mission was to bear in himself all the suffering, all the human drama. And because of this, precisely this humiliation of Gethsemane is essential for the mission of the Man-God. He bears in himself our suffering, our poverty and transforms them according to the will of God. And thus opens the doors of heaven, he opens heaven: This curtain of the Most Holy, which up to now man closed against God, is opened by his suffering and obedience. [...]
(Translation by > Zenit).
FROM THE HOMILY OF THE CHRISM MASS OF HOLY THURSDAY
Basilica of Saint Peter, April 21, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters, at the heart of this morning’s liturgy is the blessing of the holy oils. [...] First, there is the oil of catechumens. This oil indicates a first way of being touched by Christ and by his Spirit – an inner touch, by which the Lord draws people close to himself. Through this first anointing, which takes place even prior to baptism, our gaze is turned towards people who are journeying towards Christ – people who are searching for faith, searching for God. The oil of catechumens tells us that it is not only we who seek God: God himself is searching for us. The fact that he himself was made man and came down into the depths of human existence, even into the darkness of death, shows us how much God loves his creature, man. Driven by love, God has set out towards us. “Seeking me, you sat down weary... let such labour not be in vain!”, we pray in the "Dies Irae." God is searching for me. Do I want to recognize him? Do I want to be known by him, found by him? God loves us. He comes to meet the unrest of our hearts, the unrest of our questioning and seeking, with the unrest of his own heart, which leads him to accomplish the ultimate for us. That restlessness for God, that journeying towards him, so as to know and love him better, must not be extinguished in us.
In this sense we should always remain catechumens. “Constantly seek his face”, says one of the Psalms (105:4). Saint Augustine comments as follows: God is so great as to surpass infinitely all our knowing and all our being. Knowledge of God is never exhausted. For all eternity, with ever increasing joy, we can always continue to seek him, so as to know him and love him more and more. “Our heart is restless until it rests in you”, said Saint Augustine at the beginning of his Confessions. Yes, man is restless, because whatever is finite is too little. But are we truly restless for him? Have we perhaps become resigned to his absence, do we not seek to be self-sufficient? Let us not allow our humanity to be diminished in this way! Let us remain constantly on a journey towards him, longing for him, always open to receive new knowledge and love! [...]
In third place, finally, is the most noble of the ecclesial oils, the chrism, a mixture of olive oil and aromatic vegetable oils. It is the oil used for anointing priests and kings, in continuity with the great Old Testament traditions of anointing. In the Church this oil serves chiefly for the anointing of confirmation and ordination. Today’s liturgy links this oil with the promise of the prophet Isaiah: “You shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God” (61:6). The prophet makes reference here to the momentous words of commission and promise that God had addressed to Israel on Sinai: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). In and for the vast world, which was largely ignorant of God, Israel had to be as it were a shrine of God for all peoples, exercising a priestly function vis-à-vis the world. It had to bring the world to God, to open it up to him.
In his great baptismal catechesis, Saint Peter applied this privilege and this commission of Israel to the entire community of the baptized, proclaiming: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:9f.).
Baptism and confirmation are an initiation into this people of God that spans the world; the anointing that takes place in baptism and confirmation is an anointing that confers this priestly ministry towards mankind. Christians are a priestly people for the world. Christians should make the living God visible to the world, they should bear witness to him and lead people towards him. When we speak of this task in which we share by virtue of our baptism, it is no reason to boast. It poses a question to us that makes us both joyful and anxious: are we truly God’s shrine in and for the world? Do we open up the pathway to God for others or do we rather conceal it? Have not we – the people of God – become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God? Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ? We have reason to cry out at this time to God: “Do not allow us to become a ‘non-people’! Make us recognize you again! Truly, you have anointed us with your love, you have poured out your Holy Spirit upon us. Grant that the power of your Spirit may become newly effective in us, so that we may bear joyful witness to your message!
For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world through their faith and love. When Pope John Paul II is beatified on 1 May, we shall think of him, with hearts full of thankfulness, as a great witness to God and to Jesus Christ in our day, as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. [...]
Dies Irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla:
teste David cum Sybilla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus.
Tuba, mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum
coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet, apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus
quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me, fons pietatis.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae
ne me perdas illa die.
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus,
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus,
culpa rubet vultus meus
supplicanti parce, Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Preces meae non sunt dignae,
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.
flammis acribus addictis,
voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus.
Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the sibyl!
How much tremor there will be,
when the judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!
The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
through the sepulchres of the regions,
will summon all before the throne.
Death and nature will marvel,
when the creature arises,
to respond to the Judge.
The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.
When therefore the judge will sit,
whatever hides will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
What am I, miserable, then to say?
Which patron to ask,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?
King of tremendous majesty,
who freely savest those that have to be saved,
save me, source of mercy.
Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of thy way:
lest thou lose me in that day.
Seeking me, thou sat tired:
thou redeemed [me] having suffered the Cross:
let not so much hardship be lost.
Just judge of revenge,
give the gift of remission
before the day of reckoning.
I sigh, like the guilty one:
my face reddens in guilt:
Spare the supplicating one, God.
Thou who absolved Mary,
and heardest the robber,
gavest hope to me, too.
My prayers are not worthy:
however, thou, Good [Lord], do good,
lest I am burned up by eternal fire.
Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.
Once the cursed have been rebuked,
sentenced to acrid flames:
Call thou me with the blessed.
I meekly and humbly pray,
[my] heart is as crushed as the ashes:
perform the healing of mine end.
Tearful will be that day,
on which from the ash arises
the guilty man who is to be judged.
Spare him therefore, God.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.