This week we will reflect on what took place at the foot of the cross and how we participate in it still today.
The gospel of John tells us who was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdala.” (Jn 19:25). Of course, John was also present as this was when he was entrusted with Jesus’ mother, Mary (Jn 19:27). As you can see, there were not very many people there. Jesus had many friends and followers who followed him around in crowds numbering in the thousands, forcing him to perform miracles just to feed them. He had 12 dedicated Apostles as his closest friends, yet only one remained at the foot of the cross. Here Jesus was, at the apex of his suffering out of love for us, and he was abandoned by all but a few people. This fact is not unlike what is going on today around us. Many Christians today claim to love Jesus, but how far are they really willing to go for Him? To be standing at the foot of a cross where a man is suffering and dying is not a comfortable place to be and many are not willing to be that uncomfortable.
The second thing that is important to notice in the scene at the foot of the cross is that Mary, His mother, is standing. She is not sitting or flailing about, she is standing. There is no doubt that Mary’s suffering was second only to Jesus’. Simeon had prophesied to her that a sword would pierce her heart (Lk 2:35) and that moment had finally come. Yet, she handles her suffering with dignity and conviction, standing before her crucified Son. Her strength and perseverance in the midst of such horrendous suffering serves as our example in our own suffering. Of course, in our fallen nature, we so often fall to the ground or flail about under the weight of our suffering, but we should always strive to follow Mary’s suffering. The next time we feel tempted to collapse, we can ask ourselves if our suffering matches the suffering of Jesus or Mary and when we see that it does not, we can ask for her strength and stand strong under the weight of it.
Now, how do we participate in the scene at the foot of the cross today? In a word, Mass. At every single Mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are standing (or kneeling) there with Mary and the others at the foot of the cross. At every Eucharistic celebration, Jesus is made present by His sacrifice right before our eyes. To explain this, the Catholic Church uses the Greek word anamnesis which loosely translates to “memorial” but clarifies that it is more than that. “In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.” (CCCC #1364) In other words, the initial sacrifice on Calvary was a one-time event, but because the Divine is outside of time that one sacrifice is re-presented in in every celebration which we recognize through our memorial. We are not simply remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, we are there at the foot of the cross ourselves.
You have probably noticed that Catholics use the symbol of the crucifix as opposed to other Christian denominations which use the cross without the crucified Christ on it. Typically, they argue that the crucifix takes away from the power of the Resurrection. However, for Catholics the crucifix serves as a visual reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. The crucifixion was the ultimate act of love. There wouldn’t be a Resurrection without a Crucifixion. Because in our humanity we use all of our five senses to experience the Truth of God, we can use this visual reminder to strengthen our understanding of what is present before us at the sacrifice of the altar in the Eucharist. The next time you are at Mass, if you don’t already, look at the crucifix over the altar and really contemplate your reality, in that you are at the foot of the cross on Calvary, next to Mary, experiencing firsthand the sacrifice your Lord made for you.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how few people were at the foot of the cross on that Good Friday compared with how many followed Him in life. Now that we have a richer understanding of how we are at the foot of the cross in every Mass, we can see clearly how few people continue to be there with Him. Going to Mass every Sunday should not be considered an obligation so much as an act of love and appreciation. Considering what He has done for us, it seems the very least we can do is be present with Him as He makes that sacrifice. We can imitate the love our Blessed Mary had for her Son and stand before Him in love ourselves.
I can’t talk about what it means to go to the foot of the cross without at least briefly mentioning Eucharistic Adoration. When we enter into an Adoration chapel, we are quite literally in the physical presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Adoration chapel, we can be present with Him in His sacrifice for us. We can enter into this chapel with all of our problems, struggles, sorrows, successes, joys, and celebrations and we can lay them right at His feet in prayer. We can gaze upon His body, like Mary and the others did, and love Him for how He loved us. To spend an hour each week in Adoration is a tremendous gift that will bring about many blessings in your life if you give it the opportunity. If you haven’t signed up for an Adoration hour yet, consider doing so this week. If you are just beginning to explore the idea of Adoration, but are not quite ready for the commitment, find time this Lent to spend some physical time with the Lord, if even just for a little while.