The Three Crucified

Commentary by the Author for Good Friday
Based on the  Office of Tenebræ:
Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.



But let us look up and see our Jesus, Whose life is so soon to end upon this instrument of torture. Here we behold Him exposed to the view of the Jewish people, as the serpent was, of old, lifted up by Moses in the desert. [St. John iii. 14]  His enemies pass before Him, making insulting gestures, and saying: 'Vah! Thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it: save Thine Own self! If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross!' [St. Matt. xxvii. 40] The chief priests and the ancients continue the blasphemy, adding their own emphasis to it: 'He saved others; Himself He cannot save! If He be King of Israel, let Him now come down from the Cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusted in God; let Him now deliver Him, if He will have Him; for He said: I am the Son of God.' [Ibid. 42, 43] The two thieves crucified with Him insult Him in like manner.

Never had God conferred on His creatures a blessing compared to this: and yet, never did man so boldly insult his God! Let us Christians, who adore Him Whom the Jews blaspheme, offer Him, at this moment, the reparation He so infinitely deserves. These impious men cite His Own words, and turn them against Him: let us reverently remind our Jesus of an expression He once deigned to use, which should fill us with hope: 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself.' [St. John xii. 32] Sweet Jesus! the time has come; Thou art lifted up from the earth: fulfill Thy promise, draw us to Thyself! Alas! this earth has such hold upon us, we are chained fast to it by so many ties; self-love fetters us; and when we attempt to fly towards Thee, our flight is checked. Oh! break our chains, and draw us to Thyself, that we may at length reach Thee, and Thou mayest be consoled by the conquest of our souls!

It is the sixth hour, or, as we call it, midday. The sun immediately withdraws his light, and darkness covers the face of the earth. The stars appear in the heavens, and a gloomy silence pervades throughout the world. It is said that the celebrated Denys the Areopagite of Athens, who was afterwards a disciple of St. Paul, exclaimed, on witnessing this awful eclipse: 'Either the God of nature is suffering, or the world is coming to an end.' Phlegon, a pagan author, who wrote a century later, tells us that this sudden darkness spread consternation throughout the Roman empire, and that the astronomers owned it baffled all their calculations.

So terrible an indication of the wrath of Heaven produces a panic of fear among the spectators on Calvary. Blasphemers are struck dumb, and the blasphemies of them that were just now insulting our Redeemer cease. All is silent as death. The thief whose cross is at the right of Jesus', feels himself touched with repentance and hope. Turning to his companion, he upbraids him for what he has been saying: 'Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation? And we, indeed, justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done no evil.' [St. Luke xxiii. 40, 41] Jesus defended by a thief, at the very time that He is being insulted by those who boast that they know every iota of God's Law, and are sitting in the chair of Moses! Nothing could give us a. clearer idea of the blindness to which the Synagogue has voluntarily brought itself. This poor criminal, whose name is Dismas, represents the Gentile world, which now is steeped in ignorance and crime, yet is soon to be cleansed from all its abominations by confessing Jesus crucified to be the Son of God. Turning his head towards our Saviour's Cross, he thus prays to Him: 'Lord! remember me, when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom!' He believes Jesus to be king and the chief priests and ancients were, but a moment ago, deriding this King! Dismas sees the Divine calmness and dignity of the innocent Victim: it is evidence enough He gives him his faith, and begs a remembrance from Him when the day of His glory comes. Grace has made him a true Christian: and who can doubt that the grace was asked and obtained for him by Mary, the Mother of mercy, who is now uniting herself in sacrifice together with her Jesus? Jesus is pleased to find in this poor criminal the faith He had vainly sought for from Israel: He thus grants his humble prayer: 'Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.' [Ibid. 42, 43] It is the second of Jesus' words on the Cross. The happy penitent is filled with joy, and awaits in patient silence the blissful moment when death shall set him free.

Meanwhile, Mary draws near to the Cross, whereon hangs her Son. She recognizes Him, in spite of all the darkness her love is her light. The eclipse has dispersed the crowd; all is silent; and the soldiers can find no reason for keeping the afflicted Mother from approaching her Son. Jesus looks with tenderest affection on Mary; the sight of her sorrow is a new grief to His Sacred Heart. He is dying, and His Mother cannot console or embrace Him ...

The moment has at length come, when Jesus is to yield up His Soul to His Father. He has fulfilled every single prophecy that had been foretold of Him, even that of His receiving vinegar when parched with thirst. He therefore speaks this His sixth word: 'It is consummated!' [St. John xix. 30] He has, then, but to die; His death is to put the finishing stroke to our redemption, as the prophet assures us. But He must die as God. This Man, worn out by suffering, exhausted by His three hours' agony, whose few words were scarce audible to them that stood round His Cross, now utters a loud cry, which is heard at a great distance, and fills the centurion, who commands the guard, with fear and astonishment: 'Father! into Thy hands I commend My Spirit!' [St. Luke xxiii. 46] This is His seventh and last word; after which He bows down His head and dies.

At this awful moment, the sun reappears in the heavens, and darkness ceases: but the earth is shaken by an earthquake, and the rocks are split. The space between the Cross of Jesus and that of the bad thief is violently rent asunder, and the opening is shown to this day. The Jewish priests, who are in the temple, are terrified at seeing the veil, which hides the Holy of holies, torn from top to bottom: the time for figures and types is over, the great realities are come. Many holy personages arise from their graves, and return to life. But it is in Hell itself that the death of Jesus is most felt. Satan now sees who He is, against Whom he has excited all this persecution. He sees that the Blood, which he has caused to be shed, has saved mankind and opened the gates of Heaven. This Jesus, Whom he dared to tempt in the desert, he now recognizes as the Son of God, Whose precious Blood has purchased for men a redemption that was refused to the rebel Angels!