In this extraordinary work, Pacino di Bonaguida (1280–1340) depicts the Cross of Jesus as the Tree of Life (ca. 1305–1310). In a cave at the root of the tree lies the devil (his image was scratched out sometime in the 15th century), and at ground level, the Genesis narrative of the creation and fall unfolds, indicating that Christ’s Death upon this Cross, this tree, sprouted from the seed of Adam and Eve’s sin. Twelve branches sprout from the trunk, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles of Jesus. Hanging from these branches are the fruits of the Crucifixion, and each fruit depicts a scene from the life of Christ.
On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the last night in the life of Christ, when he “gave the supreme expression of his free offering of himself,” and “transformed [the] Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of [all]” (CCC, §610). Jesus, in offering his Body and Blood under the veil of bread and wine, anticipates the complete gift of self he will make on the Cross the next day. In the fathomless grace of the Eucharist, by the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus draws all who receive him into unity with himself and with one another, and in this communion, he offers them to the Father.
Life for nearly everyone has been upended to some degree these days, and it can be easy to get swept away in a current of fear and anxiety, or to teeter out on the edges of loneliness. In times like these, when many things seem to be out of one’s control, turning (or returning) to daily, simple practices of prayer can provide a deep peace that only comes from opening oneself up to the grace and love of God.
In times of crisis, people often—rightly—turn to prayer. When confronted with the very real limitations of humanity, the natural response for many is to cry out to God for protection, for rescue, for comfort. At times, though, it can be difficult to find words to articulate these cries for help. Indeed, we may feel helpless in the face of it all. When that happens, the liturgy of the Church and the words of Scripture provide a lifeline to God. By giving ourselves over to the Word of God and the prayer of the Church, we are freed from the burden of trying to speak for ourselves when our hearts are heavy and our minds are weary, and we are united by the grace of the Holy Spirit to our brothers and sisters across time and space—indeed, united with Jesus Christ himself—by making these words our own as they did.
This Sunday, like many of my fellow Catholics, I’ll be participating in Mass via live-stream. This is a totally new experience for me, and, I suspect, will be a little strange. Many in Catholic media like Nick Mayrand (a participant in the McGrath Institute’s Strong Foundations for Pastoral Leaders program and writer at Crux) are asking how this might be done well. Here are a few things I’m personally going to try in order to make this mediated Mass more fruitful.
Topics: COVID-19 Resources