Januis clausis

Msgr. Carlo Maria Viganò

Januis clausis

Homily on Holy Thursday
at the Chrism Mass

Et ego dispono vobis sicut disposuit mihi Pater meus regnum.
I am preparing for you a kingdom, as the Father has prepared it for me.

Lk 22: 29


The solemn Liturgy of Holy Thursday introduces us into the heart of the Easter Mysteries and constitutes a sort of parenthesis between the long Lenten itinerary – culminating in the last two Sundays – and the celebration of the Passion and Death of the Lord, which will take place tomorrow. There are two great moments that bring us together around the altar today: the first, the Chrism Mass; the second, the Mass in Cena Domini. In both, the Church draws our attention to Holy Orders, so that we can rightly consider Holy Thursday as a feast in honor of Christ the High Priest and consequently of all His sacred Ministers, who draw their own Ministry from the One Priesthood of Christ.

In the Chrism Mass the Bishop – who possesses the plenitudo Sacerdotii – gathers his own Presbytery around him to consecrate the Holy Oils, necessary for the administration of the Sacraments: Consecrare tu dignare, Rex perennis patriæ, hoc olivum, signum vivum, iura contra dæmonum (Hymn. O Redemptor). In the Mass in Cena Domini we celebrate the institution of the Holy Sacrifice, of the Most Holy Eucharist, and of the Priesthood itself, whose Sacred Anointing recalls Christ, the Anointed of the Lord. The composed solemnity of these rites – which a compulsive succession of Bugninian reforms, carried out between the 1950s and the 1970s by the supporters of the Novus Ordo, has largely distorted and disfigured – takes us back to the Cenacle and to those words that the Redeemer addresses to His Disciples, in a moment of great oppression and fear. These are the hours in which that sense of siege and imminent danger looms over the Twelve that we too experience today; the hours in which the repeated attempts of the Jews to capture and kill the Lord – thus far unsuccessful – are about to succeed, due to the betrayal of Judas; the hours in which the triumph of the wicked seems inevitable, having managed to corrupt an Apostle in order to imprison the Son of God, put Him on trial, and condemn Him to death, He who a few days earlier had been welcomed into Jerusalem by the cheering crowd as King of Israel. The children’s Hosannas are silent, the crowd has disappeared, no one seems to remember the miracles performed by the Master in the last three years, and the palm branches lie abandoned on the sides of the road that leads to the Temple.

It is not difficult, in this crucial phase of the history of humanity and of the Church, to identify with the Apostles, oppressed by that feeling of the inevitability of Evil which tries to tear hope from hearts and instills despondency and disappointment, after the joy and the enthusiasm of entering the Holy City. Even the Mystical Body of Christ, which over the centuries retraces the stages of the Public Ministry of its Divine Head, has experienced those enthusiasms of the Disciples for the preaching and the miracles performed, today almost eclipsed in the abandonment of the crowds, in the conspiracy of the ready Sanhedrin to send their guards, in the betrayal of new Judas. This is your hour, it is the empire of darkness (Lk 22:53), Our Lord will say in a few hours to the high priests and temple guards who have come to capture Him.

But just as the empire of darkness looms – which the Apostles foolishly but humanely believe to be victorious – the Lord has the Cenacle prepared in a large, sumptuously decorated room to celebrate the Passover. A place in which, after the Crucifixion of the Master, we will see the Disciples gather again together with the Virgin Mother, with the doors bolted and the shutters closed for fear of the Jews. And on which fifty days later, ianuis clausis, the Holy Spirit will descend, accomplishing what had been prefigured in the consecration of the temple by King Solomon (2 Kgs 7:1).

The serenity and dignity with which the Savior faces the last hours before the Passion disorients the Apostles, who not only do not understand what is being prepared, but they are so confused so to ask themselves which of them should be considered the greatest (Lk 22: 24), while Peter says he is ready to face prison and death (Lk 22:33), unaware of the triple denial that he would soon make: Non cantabit hodie gallus, donec ter abneges nosse me, we heard yesterday, on Spy Wednesday, in the Passio.

You therefore, enclosed like the Apostles in this chapel around your Bishop to celebrate the Passover, feel besieged and in danger, wanted as disciples of the same Jesus the Nazarene whom the guards are about to arrest. And perhaps you too are amazed, dearest brothers, by the serenity with which I exhort you to face events with the same spirit of humble and obedient abandonment to the will of God. Ecce Satanas expetivit vos ut cribraret sicut triticum: Satan has asked to sift you as wheat is sifted (Lk 22:31). The test is approaching, because without engaging in the competition it is not possible to achieve the feat – the prize of victory – and without going through the ignominy of the Cross there can be no glory of the Resurrection. And it is perhaps a less bloody trial than the one the Apostles had to go through, but before which one needs the same state of mind that the Lord orders them to have: Vigilate et orate, ut non intretis in temptationem (Lk 22:46). Stay awake and pray.

In a world hostile to Christ – yesterday as today – the humility of the priest is the only safeguard for not giving in to temptation: the humility of recognizing oneself as fragile and incapable of facing adverse events, if not thanks to the help of God, which we can achieve only with vigilance and prayer. Our Lord tells us: Let the greatest among you be like the least, and the one who governs like the one who serves (Lk 22:26). You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, because I am. If therefore I, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. In fact, I have given you an example, so that you may do as I have done (Jn 13:13-15). The Liturgy of Holy Thursday involves the repetition of that ancient and solemn gesture, in the awareness of both our human frailty and the immeasurable dignity of the Priesthood conferred on us by Christ. Nos autem Gloriari oportet in cruce Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, we will sing this evening in the Introit of the Mass in Cena Domini, and in the dazzling light of the Priesthood of Christ we will sing the Gloria in excelsis accompanied by the ringing of the bells, after the Lenten silence, which will remain silent until the Easter Vigil. These are small glimpses of sky that manage to bring us back to the presence of the Divine Majesty and make us contemplate the things of the world sub specie æternitatis, and therefore to see them in their transitory dimension.

Today’s two Masses remind us, each with its very ancient rites, of the importance and indispensability of the Priesthood, which we could consider as a sort of καθῆκον (2 Thess 2:6), which holds back and prevents the Antichrist from manifesting himself. Throughout history it was identified with the Church, with the Papacy, and with the Holy Roman Empire. But if Saint Paul tells us that the mystery of iniquity is already underway, but it is necessary that those who are holding it back must be removed (2 Thess 2:7), we can understand why the Catholic Priesthood is made the object of Satan’s fury: without priests there is no Mass, and without Mass there is no Holy Sacrifice. On the other hand, it is the prophet Daniel himself who explains to us how, under the infernal reign of the Antichrist, the perennial sacrifice will fall silent. Therefore, if the Priesthood does not constitute the καθῆκον, the Holy Mass certainly is, which is intrinsically linked to the Priesthood.

Saint Augustine explains: The first persecution (that of the Caesars) was violent: to force Christians to sacrifice to idols, they proscribed them, tormented them, slaughtered them. The second, the current one, is insidious and hypocritical: heretics and disloyal brothers are its authors. Later another one will happen, more disastrous than the previous ones; because it will add seduction to violence, and this will be the persecution of the Antichrist. Over the centuries, the faithful of the Lord have suffered the persecution of the pagans, then that of the heretics and modernists, and finally the subtle and seductive one of apostasy: first the cult of false gods, then that of a God whose religion has become adulterated in its essence, and finally that of Satan. And what is inflicted on the baptized will be made to be suffered even more so on priests, through the seduction of the Antichrist: fascinating in appearance and speech, socially affirmed, capable of inducing one to follow his power and prestige to the point of accepting his blasphemies and his horrendous crimes. And the Beast opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle and the inhabitants of heaven (Rev 13:6). And this in the silence of the authority: All the nations agreed to obey (1 Mac 1:44). Three and a half years of hell on earth: a time that will seem to never end, but which will certainly be limited and during which we will have to face – if we are not already doing so – that same feeling of oppression and siege that was felt by the Apostles in the three days of the Passion, and which after the descent of the Paraclete changed into heroic testimony, leading them to face the torments of Martyrdom.

Watch and pray, dear brothers. Be vigilant, remaining firm in the faith and pray to the Lord asking that He will not allow you to be seduced by the charm of the wicked and malicious man, of the lion that wanders looking for prey to tear to pieces. Draw your strength from Christ and His eternal Priesthood, of which yours is a perpetuation: Tu es sacerdos in æternum (Ps 109:4). It is Christ the High Priest who celebrates the celestial liturgy, and who from the altar of the Cross intones the antiphon that begins the rite: Deus, Deus meus: quare me dereliquisti? They are the same words that we read in the Office of these blessed days, which echo with Jeremiah the pain and discouragement of the Eternal Father towards unfaithful Jerusalem, and with Ezekiel His anger at the betrayal of His ministers: Son of man, do you see what they do? Behold the great abominations that the house of Israel commits here to remove me from my sanctuary! You will see others even worse (Ez 8: 6). In this terrible vision of Ezekiel the priests of the Lord adore Baal, the demon to whom children are offered as sacrifices: it is difficult not to see in the horrors of today’s world the same abomination, the same betrayals, the same apostasy, the same offenses against the Majesty of God, and the same wrath of the Most High.

When we look at the state of the Church, of our seminaries, of the convents, of the religious communities, and the consequences of the infidelities of the Hierarchy, we cannot ignore the terrible words of the indignant Lord: Desecrate even the temple, fill the courtyards with corpses (Ez 9:7). It is God himself, in his holy wrath, who orders His enemies to carry out His vengeance on the unfaithful members of the Church, who in the secret chambers of the temple worship the idols of the world. Fill the courtyards with corpses: the cloisters of the monasteries, the naves of the churches are strewn with the corpses of lost vocations, of failed religious, of faithful who have fled.

What remains is the pusillus grex, the καθῆκον of the Catholic Priesthood, which no earthly or infernal power will ever be able to erase from the face of the earth. You guard within yourselves, in your very flesh, the pignus, the treasure given as a pledge to the Church by Christ the High Priest: as long as you have the strength to hold a host and a chalice in your hands and to pronounce the words of the Consecration, you will have the power to renew the Sacrifice of Christ which has destroyed Satan’s tyranny over souls forever. As long as you can raise your hand to bless, to sanctify, and to absolve, the work of the devil may appear victorious, but it will never be able to prevail.

We know that the Antichrist – and all his precursors with him – are masters of seduction. But seduction is also corruption, the ability to attract us by buying us, just as the Iscariot was bought. Have you seen, son of man, what the elders of the house of Israel do in the darkness, each in the secret room of his own idol? They go saying: “The Lord does not see us; the Lord has abandoned the land” (Ez 8, 12). But the Lord sees their faults and does not abandon the Church, because the Church is His Mystical Body, a part of Him, His living and holy members. Everything that falls, everything that appears behind the wall to have collapsed in its corruption and betrayals will not prevent the final victory, and indeed it will be an incentive to all of us to remain faithful to our God and Lord even when the temple seems empty and the altar seems deserted.

While the traitors and the wicked try to hide from the gaze of God in the recesses of their conventicles, the Disciples take refuge in the Cenacle to escape the Jews. The former trust in creatures and in the world, of which Satan is the prince; the latter in the Creator and in the Redeemer, the Conqueror of the world. Let us therefore remain in this mystical Cenacle, in fraternal harmony, keeping vigil and praying together with the Most Holy Virgin, Mother of the Church and Mother of the Priesthood, while the exterminating Angel passes by. The hour of darkness will pass. And so may it be.

+ Carlo Maria Viganò, Archbishop

28 March 2024
Feria V in Cœna Domini 


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