Fourth Sunday of Lent - The Glory of the Cross

Source: District of Asia

In the early days of Christianity this Sunday was dedicated to the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. The people of Rome all went in procession to the church of that name, and so to-day you will find many allusions to Jerusalem in the liturgical texts. Another interesting point is the fact that many centuries ago the Pope used to go in procession to the Church of the Holy Cross carrying a golden rose; after explaining the mystical significance of the rose, he would send it as a token of esteem to one of the Christian princes.

The bestowal of the Lætare Medal in this country is perhaps a reminiscence of that custom. In the Eastern Church this Sunday had a rather festive character: it was called the Feast of Mid-Lent. And to-day, in many of our churches, the priest wears rose-colored vestments to signify cheerfulness at the prospect of Christ's resurrection, brightness of spirit in spite of the rigors of the Lenten fast, and general relief before the intensity of the latter half of Lent.


The Introit tells us to be glad as we look towards Jerusalem, the town where our salvation was accomplished upon the holy wood of the Cross. There are abundant consolations in the Cross when we realize that we would have been a lost race of men without it. There was mourning on the day of the crucifixion, but now all Christendom knows the joy of salvation spoken of by Isaias the Prophet in the Introit for the Mass to-day: sorrow is gone and deep consolation takes its place.

There is a unique lesson in this touch of joy on Lætare Sunday. We might remember that the best spirit for doing penance and suffering hardship is a joyful spirit: the truly brave man makes light of difficulties; he puts up with sorrow and mortification with a cheerful attitude; he refuses to groan. and complain: he accepts the challenge of penance as one takes medicine which will bring health-full of hope. The Collect makes us recognize that we deserve punishment for our sins, but in the spirit of this Sunday it reminds us that we may breathe easily in the comfort of receiving God's grace to heal ns. How hopelessly mixed up our world would be without the redeeming Cross! What could we make of our perverse and blundering nature without the realization that we needed redemption? How helpless we become when we give ourselves everything we crave and know nothing of the discipline of self-denial and penance! There is nothing morbid about this season; it is a time to renew our spiritual vigor by bringing ourselves under better control. Far from being dejected, we begin to sense the consolations that come from small sufferings, especially if we bear them willingly in a spirit of reparation.


The psalm verses which follow the Epistle bring back the symbol of Jerusalem as a glorified city-a place where the Lord dwells. "I rejoiced when they told me we would go into the house of the Lord: there is peace within its ramparts and abundance stored in its towers. Those who trust in the Lord are like the mount of Sion itself and the Lord protects His people as the hills protect Jerusalem." The Holy City will for all ages be associated with the glory of Christ's Cross. It will surmount Jerusalem as the cross surmounts a church; everything within its orbit becomes holy. The eyes of men have been gazing longingly and lovingly upon it for centuries, and, since Christ was nailed to it for our ransom, it has become the most glorified symbol in the world. The old Jerusalem with its bidden God and its worship of the types of redemption is replaced by a city flooded by the light of the Holy Cross Like the bond-servant, mentioned by St. Paul in the Epistle of this Mass, Jerusalem of old begot its children in slavery; and then she was cast out, and in the new, heavenly Jerusalem we become the children of the promise and rejoice in our freedom. All of this is St. Paul's way of describing the redemption of mankind by Christ. Now we can, as heirs, have eternal life in heaven. for our inheritance was won back for us through the Cross.


The Gospel recalls the First Sunday of Lent when Our Lord was pictured. standing in the desert hungry after forty days of fasting. The tempter came to Him and suggested that He turn the stones into bread, but Our Lord refused to give any sign of His power other than His wisdom, for He told Satan that real life comes from another source than bread. To-day, however, the people are hungry and Our Lord gives them an abundance of bread, perhaps to show His power as Creator, and to convince them, if possible, that if they depend upon Him they can have life, that He will nourish them with the Bread of eternal life. We are accustomed to say that He multiplied the loaves, but the Gospel tells us He fed five thousand people with five loaves and there was abundance for everyone with twelve baskets left over. He seems to have worked a division rather than a multiplication of the loaves. He shows His power over the things of nature to make us realize that He can do things far beyond the scope of natural power. The Blessed Eucharist is the pledge of eternal life and a constant reminder of our redemption.

The Offertory verse from Psalm cxxxiv continues the idea of God's power: whatever He wishes, He does in heaven and on earth. But there is one point we may be sure of: God never shows His power in the way we show ours. He invariably waits until we have lost track of the way He does a thing and the effect He brings about. That amazing disproportion began with Our Lord's birth and continued through His resurrection. He did everything in a way ordinary human beings would never dream of doing it. He waits until a thing seems impossible and then He does it! He waits until Lazarus is dead so as to show His power over death; yet Lazarus's sisters urged Him to come quickly and complained when He delayed His coming for several days. He repulsed Peter's suggestion that He should not go up to Jerusalem and deliver Himself to the chief-priests. He stood silent before Pilate when His life hung upon a defensive answer; and He refused to come down from the Cross when the crowd challenged Him. That is why the Cross represents God's power and becomes a true symbol of redemption. Just when He seemed most powerless, He exerted His omnipotence.

After the priest's Communion, the Church takes us back to the psalms and reminds us that the new Jerusalem is built up of a redeemed race of men. There the tribes meet, the Lord's own tribes, and give praise to His name. For our further refreshment to-day we are to get a passing glimpse of heaven and see the multitudes who exult in the eternal triumph of the Cross. Christ has made their Lenten penances count by undergoing the death of the Cross, and He has brought with Him into the new Jerusalem every tribe and tongue and nation. May He bless our determination this day to share in the victory of His Cross!