2 April 2015: a Holy Thursday to remember

Carissimi fratelli e sorelle, alle 21.37, il nostro amatissimo Santo Padre Giovanni Paolo II è tornato alla casa del Padre. Preghiamo per lui.

With these words, in a Piazza San Pietro filled with pilgrims praying the Rosary, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, Sostituto of the Secretariat of State, announced the death of Karol Wojtyla to the world. Amidst the applause of thanksgiving and cries of grief, Sandri once more took to the microphone, his voice cracking with sorrow, and tearily intoned the Salve Regina. The bells of St. Peter pealed in slow solemnity, and the windows of the pope’s private quarters, against the backdrop of a dark Roman sky, shone defiantly. Perhaps it was an image of hope in the Resurrection, a reminder of Easter’s triumph over the darkness of death, and a sign that Sandri’s words– that John Paul II had “returned to the Father’s house”– had already come true.

That was 2 April 2005– ten years ago this day.

Today, 2 April 2015, is Maundy Thursday, whose name derives from the mandatum novum, the “new commandment” given by the Lord to his disciples at the Last Supper, ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos— “that you should love one another as I have loved you.” John Paul II, justly enrolled in sanctorum catalogo, was himself eminently faithful to that mandatum novum. Christ, who chastised his Apostles as much as he praised them, never ceased to love them; likewise, John Paul II’s love was not the the impulsive cheap “love” of modernity, nor the do-no-harm utilitarianism which dominates contemporary relativistic society. His love was the the love of Christ, a true pastoral love which, though tender and mild, nevertheless does not hesitate to wield the pastoral staff against those who would dare pervert the faith. He knew himself not the master of the Christian faith but its custodian, and thus from the scourge of Marxism and the threat of heterodoxy he defended the purity of the Gospel message.

In the Traditional Latin liturgy for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we hear the magnificent gradual Christus factus est derived from the text of Philippians 2– and how appropriate is it that we should appreciate this wonderful chant about humility, self-emptying, and obedience unto death, for Papa Wojtyla, too, was obedient to his duty unto his own passing to the Father’s house. Through the sufferings of his final hours, he made himself a witness to both the perseverance of faith and the sacrality of all human life unto natural death. In an act of indefatigable spiritual strength despite the frailty of human power, it was as if, on his deathbed, he exhorted us all one last time with the cry of his pontificate’s beginning: non abbiate paura– be not afraid!

While Sandri and other members of the Curia remained with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, the Pontifical Household remained at the dead pontiff’s bedside, continuing to pray. Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s personal secretary and future Cardinal-Archbishop of Krakow, recounted something remarkable at the moment the Pope expired:

…quando il dottore ha detto “è già passato nella casa del Signore,” abbiamo cantato Te Deum Laudamus. Non lutto, ringraziamento.

…when the doctor said “he has already gone to the house of the Lord,” we sang Te Deum Laudamus. Not mourning, but thanksgiving.

Nine days later, at the grandest funeral the world has ever known, those same sentiments were captured and expressed so eloquently by the erstwhile Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals in that now-famous funeral oration. Cardinal Ratzinger, so often unjustly maligned as John Paul’s enforcer, revealed himself the meek voice of the world’s humble gratitude, whose vivid evocations of the late pontiff’s memory earned the sustained applause of the crowd. Those words, then as now, never fail to stir pious hearts to meditate upon the graceful suffering of John Paul II and the promise of eternal paradise which, with certainty, we know he enjoys.

Per tutti noi rimane indimenticabile come in questa ultima domenica di Pasqua della sua vita, il Santo Padre, segnato dalla sofferenza, si è affacciato ancora una volta alla finestra del Palazzo Apostolico ed un’ultima volta ha dato la benedizione “Urbi et orbi”. Possiamo essere sicuri che il nostro amato Papa sta adesso alla finestra della casa del Padre, ci vede e ci benedice. Sì, ci benedica, Santo Padre. Noi affidiamo la tua cara anima alla Madre di Dio, tua Madre, che ti ha guidato ogni giorno e ti guiderà adesso alla gloria eterna del Suo Figlio, Gesù Cristo nostro Signore. Amen.

It remains unforgettable for all of us how, in this last week of Easter of his life, the Holy Father, marked with suffering, appeared once more at the window of the Apostolic Palace, and for one last time, gave the Urbi et Orbi blessing. We can be sure that our beloved Pope is now at the window of the house of the Father, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you every day, and who guides you now unto the eternal glory of her Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For the life and ministry of Karol Jozef Wojtyla– Saint John Paul II– the Church once more sings with one accord: Te Deum laudamus, te Dominum confitemur!

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