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Good Friday… The “Hour” Of Christ’s Battle Against Satan And The Spirit Of The World

April 19, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES MONTI

Each year the return of Holy Week brings with it a sense of entering into a loftier realm, a more sacred domain, the Holy of Holies surpassing any other liturgical season. From the middle of Lent onward, the daily readings from the Gospel of St. John at the weekday Masses have fostered within our souls a building sense of drama. Time and again in the pages of John’s inspired account, there appear the evocative words “hour” and “world.” Yet these are not mere literary inventions of the Evangelist; he has taken them from the lips of our Lord.
And it is from the lips of Christ that the Church has learned to understand His Passion as the ultimate battle between good and evil, an understanding that she eloquently articulates through the sacred liturgy of Holy Week. From an early date the Church has seen the palms of Palm Sunday as a symbol of this combat. Both St. Isidore of Seville (+636) and a prayer for the blessing of palm and olive branches from the tenth century Romano-Germanic Pontifical speak of the salutation of Christ with palms as anticipating His triumph over “the prince of death.”
The term “world” is used in a twofold manner by our Lord. There is the world as created by God, created to be good, created for our good, and it is of this “world” that He speaks when He tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
Yet this world created by God has become a fallen world, which is precisely why it needs to be saved by Him. And it is of this world in the sense of its alienation from God that our Lord speaks when, in answering those urging Him to go to Jerusalem for the Passover, He replies, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). His enemies are the slaves of this alienated world:
“You are from below; I am from above; you are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). And this world alienated from God has its prince (cf. John 12:31), its tyrant, the author of its hatred for God, he who is “a murderer from the beginning…a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
There are those who insinuate that the Church has had a centuries-old “bad attitude” toward the world, with the Gospel of St. John blamed for this. First of all, the Church has never had a bad attitude toward the goodness of the world as God created it; in fact, she has condemned as heresy the idea that creation is evil.
As for the Gospel of St. John, this Gospel is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Like the other three Gospels, it has faithfully preserved for us the very words of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made man, uttered while He dwelt among us, and these words include warnings about the spirit of “the world,” that is, the ethos or culture that fallen, sinful man has fashioned for himself under the tutelage of Satan, an ethos of materialism, relativism, and the pursuit of carnal pleasure in which the sovereignty and very existence of God, the reality of the supernatural and an afterlife, as well as the reality of God-given Commandments are ignored or flatly denied.
It was all the amassed wealth and power of such a world, “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” (Matt. 4:8), that Satan offered to hand over to Christ when he madly dared to tempt our Lord, as recorded in the Gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will” (Luke 4:6; see also Matt. 4:8-9).
Such a “world” Christ has indeed condemned, and the Church will be in battle against such a “world” until the crack of doom. The Church will always be hated by such a world, just as that world has hated Christ, for she could only win the approval of such a world by being untrue to Christ. “If you were of the world,” our Lord said, “the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).
It is not without significance that at the end of his account of Satan’s temptations to Christ St. Luke adds, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). That return at “an opportune time” surely came when Satan avenged himself upon Christ in His Passion. But Satan has also returned at “an opportune time” over the centuries since, not to tempt Christ again but rather to tempt the Bride of our Lord, the Church, tempting her with the forbidden fruit of inhaling the spirit of the world, of making the world’s ways and values her own.
Of this His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah has recently spoken in an interview concerning his new book, Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse, warning of those clergy who, bewitched by the desire for societal approval, want the Church to “lose herself in purely materialistic questions” and “embrace the stupid development of the world” (quoted in Maike Hickson, “Cardinal Sarah Compares Current Crisis in Church to Jesus’ Betrayal on Good Friday,” LifeSiteNews, March 27, 2019).
The early Church knew the danger of this temptation. In his Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul tells of a defection he suffered, relating, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10). Elsewhere, Paul warns of what a Christianity “in love with this present world” would mean: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).
For a faithful Catholic, then, confrontation with a world hostile to Christ is inescapable. Our Lord told us as much: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). “…not of the world…”: it is an expression our Lord will use six more times before dying on the cross (John 17:14,16; 18:36), so much did He want His disciples and His Church to resist giving in to the spirit of the world.
Our Lord clearly speaks of His Passion as the decisive moment of His battle with Satan, saying shortly before setting out for His agony in Gethsemane, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me” (John 14:30). And it is particularly this moment of supreme battle to the death, the “moment” of Good Friday, that our Lord speaks of as His “hour”:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. . . . Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:27, 31-32).
Not only does this meaning of “hour” appear in the Gospel of St. John (John 7:30; 12:23; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1), but also a few times in the other Gospels (Matt. 26:45; Mark 14:35, 41; Luke 22:53). It is St. Luke who has recorded for us our Lord’s use of this word to confront His enemies when they came to arrest Him in Gethsemane, describing this “hour” as their “hour”: “. . . this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

The Death Of The King

It is in Gethsemane that the great battle with Satan and the spirit of the world is joined. And thus by going in procession to the Repository on Holy Thursday evening and remaining there, we are going into battle with Christ, “to keep watch with Jesus, not to abandon Him in the night of the world, on the night of betrayal, on the night of the indifference of many people,” as Pope Benedict XVI explained (Corpus Christi homily, May 26, 2005, © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, June 1, 2005, p. 3). In the Repository one experiences in an effable way the nobility of the battle and the infinite nobility of the King who wages it.
In the medieval liturgy, the carrying of the cross in the entrance procession of Mass was seen as scattering the enemies of Christ — that at the sight of the crucifix demons flee in terror. How much more could this be said of the unveiling of the cross on the very day of Christ’s supreme battle against Satan, Good Friday.
Just as at the Red Sea Pharaoh’s charioteers were terrified when “the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:24), so too the sight of Christ on the cross has driven out Satan and his cohort. The hymn for the Veneration of the Cross Pange lingua gloriosi lauream certaminis celebrates this divine conquest: “Sing my tongue the victory /of the glorious battle, / and about the trophy of the Cross, / tell the triumph noble. . . .”
In Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, from at least the sixteenth century, the evening of Good Friday has been marked by processions commemorating the carrying of Christ’s Body to the Sepulcher. In these devotions an image of Christ resting in death is borne on a bier or in a glass casket. Implicit in these rites is the perception of Christ as the Divine King slain in battle for our sakes.
In this battle, unlike earthly wars, the death of the King brings victory. As the ancient homily for Holy Saturday in the Office of Readings observes, “God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear” (The Liturgy of the Hours: II: Lenten Season, Easter Season, New York, Catholic Publishing Co., 1976, p. 496 , © ICEL). Yet His glory in death is but the prelude to His glory in rising from the dead. And His Easter glory is our hope: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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