The Mystery of the Crown of Thorns
by A Passionist Father
Preserving Christian Publications, Inc.
Albany, NY


<>"Let Aaron offer the living goat; and, putting both hands upon its head, let him confess all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their offenses and sins: and, praying that they may light on its head, he shall  turn it out into the desert by a man ready for it." [Levit. 16: 21]

The Old Testament is full of mysteries. It is, in fact, the shadow of Christianity, and the veil which indicates, whilst it conceals, Jesus Christ. Since the fall of Adam man feels two wants: the first is the necessity of acknowledging his fallen, state; the second is the need of a Mediator and Redeemer, between him and God. The mysterious ceremony of the Azazel, or emissary goat, represents and expresses these two wants. We find in it the confession of sin, and the removal of it by a Mediator. Let us say something first about confession of sin and of human misery.

Even pagans, with the dim and flickering light of reason, could perceive that some terrible calamity had fallen upon our human nature. On one side they discovered in man something very noble, with high aspirations: on the other side they found him groveling upon the earth, degraded by low passions, and defiled by the filth of sin and vice. Hence St. Paul says: "We know that every creature groaneth and is in labor even till now." [Rom. 8: 22] Every one of us can cry with holy David, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am afflicted; my eye, my soul, my heart is troubled.  ... My life is wasted with grief, and my years in sighs." [Ps. 30: 10]

Sin being the cause of human misery, because sin maketh people miserable [Prov. 16: 34], hence arises in the sinner the want and the desire of removing sin from his troubled and afflicted soul. Sin is to the soul what poison is to the body. Both must be ejected if we wish to enjoy health, peace and rest. The commission of sin generates in man the necessity of confession: because sin, to be cured, must be acknowledged. Hence, in many parts of Sacred Scripture we find the obligation of confession imposed by God upon the sinner. As soon as Adam and Eve had fallen, God interrogated them, asking them what they had done, to oblige them to acknowledge their transgression. Cain murdered his innocent brother Abel; the body of the latter was still warm when God, in a visible form, appeared to Cain and asked: "Where is thy brother Abel?" [Gen. 4: 9] Let Cain answer this question and he will confess the murder.

The more sin is multiplied on earth the more explicit the obligation of confession is made by the command of God. For the sake of brevity we must pass over the various ordinances of God contained in the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of Leviticus, which are practical confessions of sin, as the Angelic doctor, St. Thomas, observes. We will, however, make some few quotations   from other parts of Scripture. "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall have committed any of all the sins that men are wont to commit, and by negligence shall have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and offended, they shall    confess their sin." [Num. 5: 6] Again: "He that hideth his sins shall not prosper; but he that confesseth and forsakes them shall obtain mercy." [Prov. 28: 13] 

From the Gospel we learn that the Jews at the time of St. John the Baptist observed the practice of confession: "John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of  Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." [Mk. 1: 4-5; 4, 5; see also Mt. 3: 6] This is more than sufficient to show that confession of sin was a duty among the Jews. This duty is too well known in the Christian Church to require proof from us in this place. 

2. As we Catholics are commanded by the Church to confess our grievous sins at least once every year, so the Israelites were commanded by God to celebrate every year the feast of expiation, when the High Priest, by a mysterious rite, had to transfer publicly all the sins of the people upon the head of a living goat, in Hebrew called Azazel, or the emissary goat. On this solemn occasion the High Pontiff, in the presence of the assembled multitude, laid both hands on the head of the mysterious animal, confessing aloud all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their offenses and sins, and praying that they might light on its head; he gave the emissary goat in charge of a man appointed for this office, who led it into a desert, and abandoned it to the universal execration of Heaven and earth. [Lev. 16: 21]

In this ceremony we have seen accomplished one of the two duties mentioned above, namely, confession of sin, and the acknowledgment, before Heaven and earth that we are a fallen race of men. In consequence, however, of our fall, we feel a second want.

3. We feel the need of a mediator to relieve us from the crushing burden of our sins and miseries. In short, human nature feels the want of a Redeemer, Who, in His goodness and merciful compassion, may vouchsafe to deliver us from the manifold evils that oppress our common humanity. Hence, the holy Patriarch Jacob, on his death-bed, foretold that the Redeemer Who was to be sent "shall be the expectation of nations." [Gen. 49: 10] It is evident that this Redeemer, to cure and save the sinner, must be innocent and free from sin, in order that His mediation and atonement may be acceptable to God. Among the Jews this office of mediator was on this occasion well prefigured in the Azazel, or emissary goat. This animal could not be guilty of any sin. Hence, being guiltless, the High Pontiff laid publicly and solemnly the iniquities, offenses and sins of the children of Israel upon its head, and drove it away from them, praying and hoping that, with the victim, all the sins were taken away from the people.

This rite or ceremony, however, without the profound mystery of the Crown of Thorns, would remain very obscure and unsatisfactory: because a senseless beast could not atone for the sins of man. But this animal was a striking figure of the Divine Lamb of God, on Whose adorable Head all the iniquities, offenses and sins of mankind were laid by the Eternal God, represented in the person of the Jewish High Priest. "All we, like sheep, have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way, and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquities of us all He shall be led like a sheep to the slaughter." [Is. 53: 6] This terrible mystery was fully revealed and accomplished when the Divine Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was crowned with thorns. It was then that the Eternal Father laid upon the innocent head of His Son the iniquities of us all.

He was then made our true Mediator and our most merciful Redeemer: for, as holy Bede remarks, "by voluntarily assuming the Crown of Thorns, our merciful Lord undertook to atone for our sins, which, like thorns, germinate from the accursed earth of our corrupted hearts." [St. Bede comment in Joan. ch. 19] St. Augustine says, "Corona spinea capiti ejus imponitur quia punctio  peccatorum nostrorum aridis tribulis comparatur." [Senn. 41, de Pass. Domini] Contemplate, then, Christian soul, this Divine Son of God in the hall of the Roman governor's palace, sitting upon a cold stone, crowned with thorns.

Reflect that, whilst His cruel enemies torture His adorable Head with a horrible crown of long and sharp thorns, the Eternal Father presses it deeply down by laying upon it the enormous load of all the sins of mankind. Whilst these sharp thorns torture our Savior's head, our sins transfix His Divine Heart and make Him endure a double agony---one of pain in His Body, and another of grief and shame in His most holy Soul. Are you, devout reader, willing to promote, by your example and opportune words, the devotion of the Crown of Thorns, with the pious intention of making some suitable reparation to our dear Lord for the insults and sufferings endured by Him on this occasion? You will surely be moved to show your gratitude to our common Redeemer if you reflect that, at His crowning with thorns, He fulfilled for our sake and welfare the two duties of Confession and atonement. You remember that, as we observed above, thorns are both the punishment and the emblem of sin. Now, it is evident that our Lord, by allowing a Crown of Thorns to be placed upon His adorable Head, acknowledged by this act of profound humility the existence of our sins, which in reality is a confession of them made by Him publicly to God and man.

Moreover, by voluntarily taking them upon His Head, He, like the Jewish Azazel, undertook to atone for them, not in figure, but in truth, as our actual Mediator and real Savior, thus fulfilling the twofold duties of confession and atonement. In conclusion, we should learn that the Sacrament of Penance, instituted by Him for the remission of sin, should be devoutly frequented by us if we wish to obtain from His mercy forgiveness for our transgressions. 

4. When King Clovis, in the presence of an immense multitude of his people, presented himself to receive Baptism from the holy Bishop Remigius, this latter placed his pontifical hand on the head of the kneeling monarch, and, with great solemnity and dignity, said to him: "Bow down your neck with meekness, great Sicambrian prince, and promise to burn what you have hitherto adored, and to adore Him Whom you have attempted to burn. As a pagan you adored idols: promise now to burn and destroy them, throughout the kingdom of France. In your pagan zeal you attempted to abolish the religion of Jesus crucified: promise now to adore and to worship Him." The fervent royal neophyte promptly made to the bishop these two promises, and received the forgiveness of all his sins through the holy Sacrament of Baptism. [Life of St. Remigius]

Confession is a second baptism for the sinner. When we go to Confession we should be resolved to destroy in our hearts all the secret idols of our sins and evil passions, and to love and worship Jesus Christ alone, Who, by His humiliations, sufferings and death, atoned for them, and obtained for us the grace of pardon and reconciliation.



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