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The Reality of Christ’s Suffering in Gethsemane

Catholic Apologetics #7

Each year on the Tuesday after Septuagesima Sunday there was celebrated a “Mass in Some Places,” according to the Missal in place up until 1955. This special Mass was for “The Prayer of Christ” and had been around for several hundred years.  The Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes some important aspects of this unique feast day[1]:

“This feast occurs on the Tuesday after Septuagesima (double major). Its object is to commemorate the prolonged prayer which Christ offered in Gethsemane in our behalf in preparation for His Sacred Passion.

“The Office insists on the great importance of prayer. The feast is placed at the beginning of Lent to remind us that the penitential season is above all a time of prayer. The Office probably was composed by Bishop Struzzieri of Todi, at the suggestion of St. Paul of the Cross (d. 1775), and, together with the other six offices by which the mysteries of Christ’s Passion are celebrated (see FEAST OF THE PASSION OF CHRIST), was approved by Pius VI.”

During the days of Lent, it is meritorious that we should reflect on the actual, human sufferings of Our Lord. Those who claim that Christ, since He is truly the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, could not feel physical suffering fall into the sin of heresy. Our Lord’s truly painful and real sufferings in the Garden were not a mere illusion but actual and profound human suffering. Since Our Lord’s humanity and His divinity were perfectly united in His single, divine person, He experienced the most profound and painful suffering greater in severity in fact than we experience. And this intense and painful agony caused His body to become one immense bruise which only intensified the agony and pain He felt through His torture and Crucifixion on Good Friday.

Our Lord’s agony was caused by three things: His clear knowledge of all He was soon to endure, the sight of the many offenses committed against His Father by the sins of the whole world, and His knowledge of men’s ingratitude for the blessings of Redemption. The angels surrounded and comforted Our Lord as He foresaw the brutal torture and execution He was to suffer. Our Lord also saw the sins of all mankind, for which He was to offer His own life in Redemption.

In the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ knew that He was to be mocked, tortured, beaten, deprived of friendship, and killed; yet His love remained. And in His agony, knowing His coming brutal death, He cried out in prayer.  It is at this time, that Our Blessed Lord sweated blood, from the intense human fear of death.  It is this passage that is commonly used to illustrate that Our Lord had both a human and a divine nature, as this event in Our Lord’s life illustrates His true humanity. We can not forget that Christ had both a truly human nature and a true divine nature. Many of the heresies in the Church’s history have erroneously rejected or overemphasized one of these two natures.

Part of Our Lord’s suffering, as private revelations of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich and others relate, was due to the great ingratitude that Our Lord would receive from most of mankind. And in a special manner, what pain He must have felt when He saw how few truly care for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and how few receive Him truly worthily. In fact, as Archbishop Sheen related in his work, The Life of Christ, the betrayal of Judas itself was not begun the night in the Garden but rather at the first time Our Lord described Himself as the Bread of Life:

“A superficial reading of the life of Judas bases the beginning of the betrayal [on] the night of the Last Supper. This is not the fact, for the first record of the betrayal of Judas is when Our Blessed Lord announced Himself as the Bread of Life. The beginning and the end of Judas’ act of betrayal were both associated with Christ as the Bread of Life. The first knowledge of the betrayal of Judas is not when Our Lord instituted the Memorial of His death at the Last Supper, but when He promised it at the beginning of His public life. Into this incident of the Divine Life becoming the food of men was inserted the first record of the betrayal of Judas.”[2]

For those of us who choose to observe the time-honored custom of fasting and abstaining from meat all forty days of Lent, there will certainly be times of struggle. This will require significant sacrifice. But to those who persevere, we will not only grow in temperance but also make satisfaction for our sins and comfort Our Lord. During our Lenten trials, let us pray to Our Lord in His Agony. Let us pray that our sacrifices which He foresaw during His agony, gave Him some small comfort in that dark and lonely Garden.

O Lord in Agony, have mercy on us!

 

[1] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12354a.htm

[2] The Life of Christ, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Chapter 38: Judas, p. 287.

 

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