Rorate Caeli

Palm Sunday with Lacordaire:
Jesus Christ, "the immortal King of souls"

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe Redemptor: Cui puerile decus prompsit Hosanna pium. (from the Anthem for the Procession of Palms, on Palm Sunday: Glory, praise and honor to Thee, O Christ, King Redeemer: to whom children poured their glad and sweet hosanna's song.)

Jesus Christ claimed the soul; He claimed that it should be free to know Him, to love Him, to adore Him, to pray to Him, to unite with Him. He did not admit that any other than Himself had right over the soul, and above all the right of hindering the soul from communicating with Him.

Yet there is much more than this: Jesus Christ claimed the public union of souls in His service; He knew nothing of secrecy; He demanded a clear and social worship. The liberty of the soul implied the right to found material and spiritual churches, to assemble, to pray together, to hear in common the Word of God, that substantial food of the soul which is its daily bread, and of which it can be deprived only by an act of sacrilegious homicide. The liberty of the soul implied the right of practising together all the ceremonies of public worship, of receiving the sacrament of eternal life, of living together by the Gospel and Jesus Christ.

None upon earth possessed any longer the government of sacred things, but the anointed of the Lord initiated the chosen souls into a larger faith and love, tested by the successors of the apostles, sanctified by ordination. All the rest, princes and peoples, were excluded from the administration of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that divine centre of the kingdom of souls, and which it was not meet to deliver to dogs, according to the forcible expression of the most gentle Gospel.

But as the soul is the basis of man, by creating the liberty of the soul, Jesus Christ, at the same time, created the liberty of man. The Gospel, as the regulator of the rights and duties of all, rose to the power of a universal charter, which became the measure of all legitimate authority, and which, in hallowing it, preserved it from the excesses into which human power had everywhere fallen. On this account, the kingdom of souls was absolutely the very opposite of the Roman Empire, and it was impossible to imagine a more complete antagonism. The Roman Empire was universal servitude; the kingdom of souls, universal liberty. Between them it was a question of being or not being. The struggle was inevitable; it was to be a deadly struggle.

Now, what force did the kingdom of souls dispose of against that empire covered with legions? None. The Forum? It was no more. The Senate? It was no more. The people? They were no more. Eloquence? It was no more. Thought? It was no more. Was it at least permitted to the first Christians whom the Gospel had raised up in the world to gather one against a hundred thousand for the combat? No, that was not permitted to them.

What then was their strength? The same that Jesus Christ had before them. They had to confess His name and then to die, die today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, to die one after another, that is to say, to vanquish servitude by the peaceful exercise of the liberty of the soul; to vanquish force, not by force, but by virtue.

It had been said to them: If for three centuries you can boldly say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was dead, and is risen again"; if for three centuries you can say this openly, and die daily after haying declared it, in three centuries you shall be masters, that is to say, free.

And this was done.

And this was done despite the fury of the Roman Empire ... . I will say no more of the martyrs; they conquered, as the whole world knows. And this kingdom of souls, founded by their blood; this kingdom of souls, which was to destroy idolatry, and which has destroyed it, which was to overthrow the Roman Empire, and which has overthrown it in all that was false and unjust in it; where did this kingdom of souls set up its capital? In Rome!

The seat of virtue was placed in the seat of power; the seat of liberty in the seat of bondage; in the seat of shameful idols, the seat of the cross of Jesus Christ; in the seat whence the orders of Nero were issued to the world, the seat of the disarmed and aged pastor, who, in the name of Jesus Christ, whose vicar he is, spreads throughout the world purity, peace, and blessing.

O, triumph of faith and love! O, spectacle which enraptures man above himself by showing him what he can do for good with the help of God! My own eyes have seen that land, the liberator of souls, that soil formed of the ashes and blood of martyrs; and why should I not recall that which will confirm my words by reinvigorating my life?

One day, then, my heart all trembling with emotion, I entered by the Flaminian Gate that famous city which had conquered the world by her arms, and governed it by her laws. I hurried to the Capitol; but the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus no longer crowned its heroic summit. I went down to the Forum; the orator's tribune was broken down, and the voice of herdsmen had succeeded to the voices of Cicero and Hortensius. I mounted the steep paths of the Palatine Hill; the Caesars were gone, and they had not even left a praetorian at the entrance to ask the name of the inquisitive stranger.

Whilst I was pondering those mighty ruins, through the azure of the Italian sky, I perceived in the distance a temple whose dome appeared to cover all the present grandeur of that city upon whose dust I trod. I advanced towards it, and there, upon a vast and magnificent space, I found Europe assembled in the persons of her ambassadors, her poets, her artists, her pilgrims, a throng, diverse in origin, but united, it seemed, in common and earnest expectation. I also waited, when in the distance before me an old man advanced, borne in a chair above the crowd, bareheaded and holding in his two hands, under the form of mysterious bread, that Man of Judaea aforetime crucified. Every head bent before him, tears flowed in silent adoration, and upon no visage did I see the protestation of doubt, or the shadow of a feeling which was not, at least, respectful. Whilst I also adored my Master and my King, the immortal King of souls, sharing in the triumph, without seeking to express it even to myself, the obelisk of granite standing in our midst sang for us all, silent and enraptured, the hymn of God victorious: CHRISTUS VINCIT, CHRISTUS REGNAT, CHRISTUS IMPERAT, CHRISTUS AB OMNI MALO PLEBEM SUAM LIBERAT! [sic]

And, lest an enemy should have been found in that multitude, it answered itself by another celebrated hymn, which warned us to fly from the lion of Judah if we would not adore him in his victory. After many years, which have already whitened my brow, I repeat to you... those songs of joy; happy are you if ... drawing nearer, you repeat with us all, children of Christ and members of His kingdom: CHRISTUS VINCIT, CHRISTUS REGNAT, CHRISTUS IMPERAT, CHRISTUS AB OMNI MALO PLEBEM SUAM LIBERAT!
Henri-Dominique Lacordaire
Conférences de Notre-Dame de Paris (1846)
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