The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Good Friday - Humbled for a Season

Friday, April 10, 2009

Readings: Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12; Psalm 31; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

The Good Friday liturgy begins with a dramatic gesture that hearkens to the words with which we began our Lenten journey. Just as we were told "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return", so the priest recalls this by falling prostrate, humbling himself to the dust of the earth. For the word humilitas comes from humus, meaning earth or ground. The act of prostration is, according to the Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic, an expression of humility on account of our sinfulness and St Dominic could be heard saying, as he lay flat on the ground, "God, be merciful to me a sinner". Our Lenten journey, then, has been about this: coming back down to earth, having exalted ourselves; humbling ourselves before God and seeking His mercy.

In Blackfriars we follow the medieval practice of creeping to the Cross which involves three prostrations as we approach the Cross to venerate it. Again, St Dominic's Nine Ways tells us that he would perform the prostration "to teach the brethren with what reverence they ought to pray", for this was the posture of adoration. This, then, is the posture befitting a creature before God, and so, the prostration shows justice restored, making right what humankind, by their sinfulness and rebellious pride, had done wrong. Thus we express now, before the Tree of Life, the humility and obedience that our ancestors, Adam and Eve, had not shown before that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Eden. And so, creation is restored to its proper order.

However, it is not sinful humankind that restores justice and puts right its relationship with God. It is not we who have humbled ourselves before God and merited His forgiveness. None of this is our doing. As the liturgy proclaims in these days, Christus factus est pro nobis..., 'Christ for our sake became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross'. And this is what the Good Friday liturgy recounts. The prostrations symbolise the humbling of Jesus Christ, our God who became Man because of His love for us, and who suffered and died for our sake. Through His profound humility and obedience shown on the Cross, He has restored order to His creation and won for us and for all people, God's forgiveness and salvation. And so, this Friday is called Good, for on this day all is made good again.

And the antiphon continues: Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum..., 'Therefore God has exalted Him'. We are wont to exalt ourselves but Christ is exalted by God and raised high on the Cross, his Throne of Glory, to draw all humanity to himself. And so, we creep to the Cross, humbly approaching our humble King enthroned on the Cross, the suffering High Priest at His Cruciform Altar, and we kiss the Cross as a sign, not of betrayal (as Judas did), but of embrace, acceptance and love. Through this kiss, we signal our desire to be one with Jesus Christ, to share His humility, and so, to share the exaltation and glory of Him who is "the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:9).

Lawrence Lew OP


Maureen Phoebe Ellis commented on 04-Jun-2021 04:05 PM
Delighted to find your site, and to learn of Godzdogz. As linguist anthropologist at UCL, I thrill to progressive revelation, conative kenning of evolutionary (Diogenes?) canine intelligence, the transposed 's', 'z', and rich derivation, inflection, phonological and morphological distributions which have fractured, but could with guidance provide integrity to fractured defining/divining of Go(o)d. I like to think 'humbled for a season', as in the Anglican hymn, allows us to balance Taoist yin/yang narrative gravity with Kingship, throne, empire, lord, of metaphoric, metaphysical panentheism. Reminded of William Blake's rejection of a 'creeping Jesus' ... All Go(o)d wishes.

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