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Good Friday Sermon: “It is finished.”

by Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

“It is finished.”  The Latin reads:  “Consummatum est.”  “It is consummated.”   The Greek verb (“tetélestai”) can be translated “it has been accomplished [or] fulfilled.”

What is “finished”? What is “accomplished”? What has been fulfilled? We can understand Christ’s words in two ways:  one, referring to His suffering; another, the Divine plan of Redemption.

First, Christ’s Passion.  His suffering has now come to an end.  In what did this suffering consist? Both bodily, and spiritual or mental, suffering. 

The great Anglican convert to Catholicism, John Henry Cardinal Newman – soon to be declared a blessed by Pope Benedict XVI – observes that “[a]ll pain of body depends . . . on the nature of the living mind which dwells in that body”;  that as man suffers more pain than animals do because of his intellectual soul, so Christ suffered more bodily pain than ordinary men because of His personal union with God as the Second Person of the Trinity.[1]

Cardinal Newman also makes the point that our suffering can be lessened when our mind is distracted and thinks of something else.  But when Christ suffered, He “looked pain in the face! He offered His whole mind to it, and received it, as it were, directly into His bosom, and suffered all He suffered with a full consciousness of suffering. . . . He willed to have the full sense of pain.  His soul was so intently fixed on his suffering as not to be distracted from it,” and this is why He at first refused to drink the soothing balm that was offered to Him.  The soldier feels not the wound which strikes him in the excitement of battle; but Our Lord’s soul “was so calm and sober and unexcited as to be passive, and thus to receive the full burden of the pain on it, without the power of throwing it off Him.”[2]

The Shroud of Turin offers us a close up look at the intensity of suffering that Jesus endured:  hundreds of lashes that literally shredded his back, arms and legs; the crown of thorns that was pressed deeply into his scalp, causing blood to run profusely down upon His beautiful Face; the many falls under the heavy cross which battered his already wounded body; the nails driven through the base of his hands wherein lies one of the major nerve centers in the human body, causing Him excruciating pain every time He moved – and Christ had to move up and down on the cross in order to breathe, using the nail in His feet as a fulcrum to relieve the pressure of His body suspended by His arms.  In this manner our precious Lord hung for three long hours before He gave up His human soul.

The saints tell us that Christ’s physical suffering was beyond anything we can imagine.  But his mental suffering was even worse.  His Passion began with His Agony in the Garden the night before He died.  It was then that He beheld in His human mind not only His own suffering that He would undergo the next day, but also all the sins of mankind for which He was going to die;[3] and – what was most painful – how many souls would reject His love and render His horrible suffering worthless for themselves.  Nothing is more painful to the heart and soul than worthless suffering.

Cardinal Newman says that “Our Lord’s sufferings were so great, because His soul was in suffering.”[4]  In the garden Our Lord said, “My soul is sorrowing even unto death.”  It was truly a suffering which stung most bitterly His gentle and humble Heart.  In fact, we might say that Christ died from a broken, afflicted Heart, which bore infinite love and sorrow.[5]  Maybe this explains why He allowed his side and Heart to be pierced with the centurion’s lance after His death, and why both blood and water flowed forth:  to show that He poured out everything for us and had nothing more to give.

But let us now turn to the second meaning of Christ’s words, “It is finished.”  As I said, the Greek verb can mean “fulfilled.”  With Christ’s death on the cross, the work of our redemption, which provides for our salvation, has been consummated.  This work – which was planned from all eternity in the Mind of God, in the Divine Councils of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was foretold by the Patriarchs and Prophets of old, and was prepared for down through the centuries through the Chosen People, the Jews – has now come to an end.  Now, all the prophecies have been fulfilled; all the types and symbols of the Old Testament have been realized in their fullness:  the seed of the woman now crushes Satan’s head; the Star foretold by Balaam now lights the pilgrim’s way; the Lion of the Tribe of Judah now reigns as King of kings; the Shoot from the stump of Jesse and the Offspring of David has now established His throne for ever.  In sum, the Divine Plan has been accomplished:  the God-man, the Eternal Word who became flesh, has completed the sacrifice deemed necessary by God to atone for the sin of Adam and for all of our sins.  Christ our Savior has suffered and died, that we may live. 

[1] “Meditations on Lent:  Hope in God, Redeemer,” no. 3, “The Bodily Sufferings of Our Lord (April 19, Wed. in Holy Week)” in Newman on Lent (Roman Catholic Books:  Fort Collins, Co., n.d., BooksforCatholics.com), p. 21.

[2] Ibid., pp. 21-22.

[3] See Pope Pius XI’s wonderful encyclical letter of May 28, 1928, Miserentissimus Redemptor, on reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, avail. at Vatican.va; see esp. no. 13, where he speaks of Christ’s foreknowledge of our sins which caused Him such mental agony in the garden that His soul became “sorrowful unto death.”

[4] “Meditations on Lent:  Hope in God, Redeemer,” no. 3, “The Bodily Sufferings of Our Lord (Maundy Thursday)” in Newman on Lent, p. 23.

[5] See Newman, ibid., pp. 23-24.

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