Saint John-Paul II wrote: "The fact that one can die for the faith shows that other demands of the faith can also be met."                                                 Cardinal Müller says, “For the real danger to today’s humanity is the greenhouse gases of sin and the global warming of unbelief and the decay of morality when no one knows and teaches the difference between good and evil.”                                                  St Catherine of Siena said, “We've had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues - I see the world is rotten because of silence.”                                                  Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”


LAST NIGHT we went in spirit to the Garden to keep vigil with the Lord in His agony. On that same night, in the first Holy Week, he was taken by force, abandoned by most of His friends and dragged before the Sanhedrin. It is to the Gospels that we turn for the recorded details of that night. They convey enough of the scene for us to envisage the worst that occurred. Our imagination may do the rest. We can also look more deeply into the account and put together from other sources what is not immediately available in that narrative. 

THE betrayal itself was done with a kiss. John’s Gospel –the one that we shall hear today- does not mention this. He desires more to show the voluntary and majestic manner of Jesus in the moment of His arrest. The other Gospels speak in Greek of the kataphilein: it was a kiss of the tender, loving kind by which Judas betrayed the Master.  The trial of Jesus –if we may so describe it- before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, is given in its outline by the Gospels with Luke adding the extra detail of a trial before King Herod. If we understand something of the custom of Jewish trials of the time, we shall observe how far short of justice this one fell.

THE Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews. It was comprised of seventy one members, presided over by the High Priest. It included Priests, Sadducess, Pharisees and elders of the people. Under Roman jurisdiction, the death penalty could not be imposed by it but the person on trial could be declared guilty of it According to proper procedure the trial should be conducted in a manner that conserved the interests of the accused. There was a prescribed method of questioning and of the number of questions to be asked. One curious feature of legal procedure was that the accused was held to be absolutely innocent and indeed not even on trial, until the evidence of the witnesses had been stated and confirmed. Certain witnesses were debarred from giving evidence such as criminals and also the accused friends or enemies. The case must always begin with arguments for the acquittal of the prisoner. Every member of the court, in capital offence cases was supposed to give his verdict individually and acquittal required only a majority of one while condemnation required a majority of at least two. Verdicts in capital trials were not to be given by night but had to be held over until the next day to allow for a change of mind. It was illegal to convict a prisoner on his own answers.

THESE are some of the principal features of trial by the Sanhedrin that come to us from the writings of Jewish experts in their ancient legal system. It is against this background of what should have happened that we must judge what took place at the trial of Jesus. It will be observed from the Gospel accounts that none of these regulations were followed. In fact, that they were totally set aside. The enquiries before Annas and Caiaphas were conducted by night and were preliminaries to the actual trial which took place on the Friday morning. That took place with the full Sanhedrin present. When asked directly if He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus unequivocally answered that He was and thereby sealed His fate. For those who were determined to be done with Him, that public statement before so many hostile witnesses condemned Him of blasphemy. Now all that was required was to convince the Roman Governor that He was guilty of something completely different, treason and rebellion.

THE attitude of Pilate is in marked contrast to that of the Sanhedrin. He is an experienced and hardened politician and he can tell instantly that the man who stands before him is no political agitator. Having asked Jesus if He was a king and receiving the answer “my kingdom is not of this world” he makes no attempt to follow it up, Clearly he perceives there is nothing there to answer. It is also apparent that Pilate is perplexed and in some ways in awe of Jesus. His silence was inexplicable to the governor. The Gospels are all unanimous that Pilate showed no inclination to believe the accusers and was anxious to release the prisoner. One strange and un-noticed aspect of the trial concerns the figure of Barabbas. There is a strong tradition that his name was actually Jesus Barabbas. Jesus was a not uncommon name, being the Greek form of Joshua. The name Barabbas means “son of the father”. Hence when Pilate offered to release on of the prisoners it is likely that the choice would have been between two men called Jesus, one surnamed Barabbas and the other “who is called Christ”. The crowd chose the man of violence in preference to the man of peace.
THE details of the crucifixion of Jesus are imprinted on our minds by so many images of it that we have seen in religious art. Some small and easily overlooked details of that terrible three-hour agony may provide us with sufficient cause for reflection. The vinegar offered by the soldier was not a gesture of torment but kindness for it was all the soldiers were allowed to drink on duty. The words of Jesus “it is finished” are one word in Hebrew and are a triumphant cry not one of despair. Finally, His last words “Father in Thy Hands I commend my spirit, “ from psalm 30 (Vulgate) are the words taught to him by Mary when he was small boy. They were the first prayers that every Jewish boy learnt and they were said just before bedtime. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus bowed his head and died. The Greek word that John uses is klinein which is the word for laying one’s head peacefully on a pillow. Finally, Our Lord is buried in a garden. The garden is among those recurring themes of holy scripture which signify contests between good and evil and from which God draws fruitfulness where man has failed. The garden witnessed the burial of the Lord; it will be also be the place where He will be met again alive.

ATONEMENT means making up for wrong that has been done. In the case of the crucifixion the wrong was not Christ’s but ours. That is how the first Christians identified the death of Our Lord. He had taken the wrong that came into the world through sin and suffered its most terrible consequences. But in doing so he corrected and repaired the damage done. At the same time, He had anticipated this shedding of His blood in the consecration of the bread and wine on Maundy Thursday so that each time that action was repeated the memorial of His death would also be effectively recreated. This is what the Mass means for Catholics. Calvary is present but without the further shedding of blood. That is effective for all time by extension, through the power of the Holy Ghost whenever the Mass is validly offered.

ON Good Friday we do not have Mass. We recall the once for all sacrifice that gave it to us and devoutly receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood.   The liturgy is one of entering into the desolation of the Cross and yet being allowed to receive the ultimate comfort that it provided. How wise the Church is in her provision of these sacred and solemn moments of recall and of remembrance.