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CHRIST CROSSED

Kristu Msallab: About Us
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Written by Fr. Joseph Ellul OP

Translated by Fr. Dominic Scerri OP

The centre of St. Dominic's prayer was also the centre of preaching: Christ Crucified.

 

Saint Dominic, in front of the altar or at chapter, used to fix his eyes and gaze on Christ crucified and kneel down frequently in front of him.  At times, after compline to midnight, he sometimes stood still and on other times knelt down like James the apostle or like the leper of the Gospel who went down before Christ and said: Lord, if you want you can heal me, or like Stephen who went down on his knees and shouted loudly: Lord do not blame them for this sin (1).

 

No wonder that in the Dominican iconography, Saint Dominic is continually in an attitude of respect in front or at the feet of Christ Crucified.  Blessed Angelico painted an majestic affresco, decorating the cloister of St Mark’s convent in Firenze, with Saint Dominic kneeling down at the foot of the cross, with his hands around the wooden cross smeared in blood while his eyes look up meeting those of Christ.  Christ’s look is one of peace, of one meeting death peacefully while the Saint’s face is full of sorrow and pain taking upon himself  the Saviour’s suffering.  It reminds us of St Paul’s sweet words to the Galations: “I have been crucified with Christ and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me (2).  For Saint Dominic, Christ Crucified was the largest, the nicest, and the dearest inheritance.

 

The same we can say about that manscript which speaks about the nine ways of prayer of Saint Dominic.  The saint is always shown in front of Christ crucified making gestures of humility (inclining from the waist downward lying on the floor, in sackcloth, genuflecting), gestures of plea (with open arms, open arms, lifting up hands, and gestures of silence (reading and meditation, prayer and the sign of the cross when travelling).

 

Saint Dominic’s dialogue with Jesus along the night was aimed at the salvation of those for whom our Saviour died on the cross: his brothers in the Order, lay, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, all those who were far away from the road of truth.  All were objects of his attention in prayer.  The brethren frequently heard him moaning in prayer whilst saying: “ Lord, have mercy on your people.  What will become of sinners?”(3).

 

Adoration and meditation of the Crucified Christ is the principal theme of the spiritual works of the mystic dominicans.  St Catherine of Siena sees the Crucified Christ as if He were a bridge on which man crosses over to get to God the Father (4).

 

 

This likeness is inspired by the words of Jesus in the Gospel according to St John: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (5).  In the Dialogue God the Father declares to Catherine:

 

My righteousness saw that you could not be drawn to him in another way, so I sent him to be lifted up high on the cross.  I made the cross an anvil so that on it the Son of man would be hammered to destroy death, and renew him to the life of grace (6).

 

She contemplates one of the best meditations looking at the feet, heart, and mouth of the Crucifix.  The feet mean love because as the feet carry the body, so does love carries the soul.  The feet of Christ crucified are like the root of the tree and an anchor of shelter for one beginning  the road to spiritual life.  The heart shows divine love that cannot be explained with words.  The pierced heart of Jesus is hidden and beats with life. It feeds and keeps the life of the spirit.  The mouth of Christ Crucified means the peace that the soul finds after going through a great struggle because of its sins.

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1. St Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue.

2. Ibid.

3. From The Nine Ways of Saint Dominic , from the Proper of the Order of Preachers, Liturgy of the Hours: Proper of the Saints, Maltese Dominican Province, Malta 1988, p.242.

4.Gal 2:19b-20.

5. Witness of Abbot Wiliam Peyre, Canonisation Process in Toulouse,n.18.

6. See Dialogue, chapters 26-28.

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