Mediator Dei 162-163

Pope Pius XII offers a critique of a movement that, perhaps, we have seen a bit of in churches and in Catholic piety:

162. From what We have already explained, Venerable Brethren, it is perfectly clear how much modern writers are wanting in the genuine and true liturgical spirit who, deceived by the illusion of a higher mysticism, dare to assert that attention should be paid not to the historic Christ but to a “pneumatic” or glorified Christ. They do not hesitate to assert that a change has taken place in the piety of the faithful by dethroning, as it were, Christ from His position; since they say that the glorified Christ, who liveth and reigneth forever and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, has been overshadowed and in His place has been substituted that Christ who lived on earth. For this reason, some have gone so far as to want to remove from the churches images of the divine Redeemer suffering on the cross.

Personally, I can’t say I’ve encountered people who wanted a total removal of Christ from the cross, as it were. My sense is that some people are turned off by the cruelty of many presentations. Mel Gibson’s flirtation with sadomasochism, or the image I once saw of the flesh ripped from Christ’s knees–wounds to the bare bone.

On the other hand, there are people who prefer not to encounter the full cross, as it were. The social sins: mob mentality, gossip, conspiracy, and such in which we participate. We crucify Christ anew for transgressions against neighbor and stranger, and sometimes especially the poor.

I don’t think every cross needs an image of the suffering Christ. But every believer and faith community is obliged to encounter Christ on the cross. I find that our avoidance of Christ transcends ideology, by the way. Traditionalists, liberals, old, young, all–we have our particular blind spots to overcome. Long before we are in the position of pointing fingers at others.

Tradition proposes we adhere to the example of Christ:

163. But these false statements are completely opposed to the solid doctrine handed down by tradition. “You believe in Christ born in the flesh,” says St. Augustine, “and you will come to Christ begotten of God.”[Saint Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 123, n. 2] In the sacred liturgy, the whole Christ is proposed to us in all the circumstances of His life, as the Word of the eternal Father, as born of the Virgin Mother of God, as He who teaches us truth, heals the sick, consoles the afflicted, who endures suffering and who dies; finally, as He who rose triumphantly from the dead and who, reigning in the glory of heaven, sends us the Holy Paraclete and who abides in His Church forever; “Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, and the same forever.”[Heb. 13:8] Besides, the liturgy shows us Christ not only as a model to be imitated but as a master to whom we should listen readily, a Shepherd whom we should follow, Author of our salvation, the Source of our holiness and the Head of the Mystical Body whose members we are, living by His very life.

My sense is that many Christians, perhaps most of us, limit our experience of suffering and do not readily see Christ in our experiences. The difference–the place where we cannot go–is his innocent suffering. We can imitate Christ. But we have a culpability he does not share with us.

Mediator Dei on the Vatican web site.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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