“And the cross of Christ become the altar not of the temple, but of the world”

When our Lord was handed over to the will of his cruel foes, they ordered him, in mockery of his royal dignity, to carry the instrument of his own torture. This was done to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “A child is born for as, a son is given to us; sovereignty is laid upon his shoulders.” To the wicked, the sight of the Lord carrying his own cross was indeed an object of derision; but to the faithful a great mystery was revealed, for the cross was destined to become the scepter of his power. Here was the majestic spectacle of a glorious conqueror mightily overthrowing the hostile forces of the devil and nobly bearing the trophy of his victory. On the shoulders of his invincible patience he carried the sign of salvation for all the kingdoms of the earth to worship, as if on that day he would strengthen all his future disciples by the symbol of his work, and say to them: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

It was not in the temple, whose cult was now at an end, that Christ, as the new and authentic sacrifice of reconciliation, offered himself to the Father; nor was it within the walls of the city doomed to destruction for its crimes. It was beyond the city gates, outside the camp, that he was crucified, in order that when the ancient sacrificial dispensation came to an end a new victim might be laid on a new altar, and the cross of Christ become the altar not of the temple, but of the world.

O the marvelous power of the cross, the glory of the passion! No tongue can fully describe it. Here we see the judgment seat of the Lord, here sentence is passed upon the world, and here the sovereignty of the Crucified is revealed.

You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when you stretched out your hands all the day long to a people that denied and opposed you, until at last the whole world was brought to proclaim your majesty.

You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when all the elements combined to pronounce judgment in execration of that crime; when the lights of heaven were darkened and the day was turned into night; when the land was shaken by unwonted earthquakes, and all creation refused to serve those wicked people.

Yes, Lord, you drew all things to yourself. The veil of the temple was torn in two and the Holy of Holies taken away from those unworthy high priests. Figures gave way to reality, prophecy to manifestation, law to gospel.

You drew all things to yourself in order that the worship of the whole human race could be celebrated everywhere in a sacramental form which would openly fulfil what had been enacted by means of veiled symbols in that single Jewish temple.

Now that the multiplicity of animal sacrifices has ceased, the single offering of your body and blood takes the place of that diversity of victims, since you are the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and in yourself you fulfil all the rites of the old law, so that as there is now a single sacrifice in place of all those victims, so there is a single kingdom formed of all the peoples of the earth.

St Leo the Great

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