Reading (Romans 6:3-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 28:1-10)
My dear friends, we celebrate this night the greatest of all the liturgies of the Church, and all of the symbolism that we celebrate is packed into one Mass. We start, for instance, with that dichotomy between darkness and light, and we recall that Jesus is the light that came into the world, that came into the darkness, and the darkness was not able to overcome the light. The Easter fire was lit in the darkness and the light then spread throughout the entire church. We also, in a few moments, will bless the Easter water, and we recall in that, not only the Passover for the Jewish people, but our own Baptism. We recall also the Creation, when at the very beginning there was the waters, and the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and brought order out of the chaos represented by the water.
We celebrate also tonight, not only the light and darkness, not only the order and the chaos, but we celebrate life and death. We celebrate today the greatest single event that humanity has ever known: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, something which has never happened in its like, but something which is going to happen for each and every one of us on the last day.
We celebrate also tonight in a special way a new creation. If we think about the events of the last couple of days, yesterday afternoon we recalled the Passion and Death of Our Lord. Yesterday, we thought about how He was scourged and crowned, and how He was beaten and finally crucified. Last night at Stations, we spoke about how God in His mercy does this interesting twist and the irony which is there so that when we look at the human body of Jesus, that that is the mirror for our souls. And on what would have been the sixth day of Creation, we made, as humanity, an attempt to recreate God in our image: We scourged Him; we beat Him; we flogged Him; we crucified Him; we made Him marred beyond recognition in our own image.
But today we celebrate Gods generosity and His re-creation because today we will look once again at the body of Jesus and it will be, once again, a mirror for our souls. But today it is a glorified body and it reflects the glory of God that dwells within our souls when we are in the state of grace. And so today, as we celebrate the seventh day of Creation (for the Jewish people, Sunday began at the moment that the sun went down this evening, so it is now Sunday), the day when God rested from all of the work He had undertaken in Creation, we recall the last words of Our Lord from the Cross: It is consummated. His work was finished; today He rested. And we celebrate the first day of a new creation, a recreated humanity made once again glorious in the image and likeness of God, sharing in His life and in His nature, united with Jesus in Baptism. That is the glory which is ours.
This morning when I came into church to pray, I experienced what I experience every year on this day. I was the only person here early in the morning and there was something that was missing. I looked around the church and I saw all of the beauty, but the church was empty because the real Beauty of the church was not here He was in the grave. But the hope that was there as I sat in prayer this morning, my heart, in essence, searching for the Lord and unable to make the connection that it is normally able to make when Jesus is Present in the tabernacle. I thought of Our Lady and I thought of the apostles. I pondered it, as you may have pondered it as well when you came into church tonight and the tabernacle was empty: the Lord is not Present in His church. We all experienced that same thing.
But what dawned on me this morning is that the great gift God gave was to experience what Our Lady experienced not what the apostles experienced. In those intervening days after the Death of Jesus, the apostles locked themselves in the Upper Room and they did not believe that He was going to rise from the dead. Saint Mary Magdalene did not believe it either. Recall that she came early in the morning carrying all of the things to anoint the body of Jesus, fully expecting that she would find His body there. Our Lady, on the other hand, is the only person who had the hope and the faith that her Son was going to rise from the dead. She was not there with any spices; she was there with her heart - praying, waiting for the moment that her Son would rise from the dead. As I sat in prayer this morning, I knew that same hope.
The emptiness in the church, even with all of its beauty, the emptiness - which I could feel in the depths of my heart - I knew tonight would be filled. And that is what we celebrate, not merely the Death of Jesus yesterday, but the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord and the way that He fills our hearts, the first day of a new creation, the first day of a new covenant where we are remade in the very image and likeness of God because we are united with His Son and made members of His Son, sharing His life.
And so now as we continue on with this Mass, we will recall and pray to all of the saints those whose faith in the Resurrection brought them to share in its glory - to pray for us. Then we will bless the Easter water and each one of us will renew again our own baptismal vows; we will recommit ourselves to Jesus where we recall the Death and Resurrection that we have already entered into in Baptism. We recall the darkness of sin and the light of Gods grace that fills us. And we look forward to the day that our faith will be fulfilled, our hope will be fulfilled, and our love will be complete when we share in the Resurrection of Jesus and behold Him face to face.
*This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.
April 19, 2003 Easter Vigil
Reading I (Genesis 1:1-2:2) Reading II (Genesis 22:1-18) Reading III (Exodus 14:15-15:1)Reading IV (Isaiah 54:5-14) Reading V (Isaiah 55:1-11)Reading VI (Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4) Reading VII (Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28)Epistle (Romans 6:3-11) Gospel (St. Mark 16:1-7)
The events of these last several days are brought into a very specific focus for anyone who had the opportunity to be here this morning to pray and now to come this evening once again to pray. The first three readings of this evenings Mass come to light in a very particular way. This morning you come into church very early in the morning as the sun was rising. You settle into your normal time of prayer, you get down into your heart and you focus on where you have always found Jesus, and you are struck immediately by the realization that He is not here you are in an empty building. And immediately your heart begins to search, as it says in the Song of Songs, to search for the One Whom your heart loves, and yet you cannot find Him. Like Mary Magdalene, you want to look at anyone and say, Where have you put Him? Where is the Lord? As you search around the church it becomes more difficult because at that point all of the statues are still covered; everything is draped in purple, all of the things that you would look to; there is nothing to hold onto. Finally, your eyes settle on the crucifix which is sitting right on the altar which is bare, other than the exposed crucifix. And even that does not settle the heart because it seems more like a memory which is burned in; you know the Lord is not on the Cross, but He is in the tomb. The church is silent and the neighborhood is silent and everything is dark.
Immediately, your mind begins to go to what we heard in the first reading, that in the beginning everything was a formless waste. As you look around for anything to grab onto in your heart, there is nothing. Suddenly, you begin to recognize that there is a mystery going on. It is something similar to the creation which we heard, although more similar to the second chapter of Genesis where we hear that God made man out of the dust of the earth. As we heard in the reading this evening, God made man in His own image and likeness. And now Jesus Christ, Who is the image of the invisible God and in Whose image each one of us is made yet in the depth of His love was made in our image in the womb of His mother suddenly He has reversed creation and He has entered into the earth, gone back to the dust from which He was made, as was said to Adam in punishment for his sin.
As you continue to look around the church in your heart to find someplace for your heart to settle, you come back to that crucifix which sits upon the altar and you begin to recognize that on that crucifix is the fulfillment of the prophecy that we heard in the second reading today. The Hebrew makes it even more clear and it is one of the most astounding passages in all Scripture when Isaac looks at his father and says, Here is the wood and here is the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? What it says in the Hebrew is God will provide Himself the lamb for the sacrifice. God will provide Himself the lamb for the sacrifice. And as your heart focuses in on that crucifix, you begin to recognize that this is the Lamb Whom God provided for the sacrifice, for the redemption of our souls.
You begin to go even beyond that as you ponder that mystery and you move on to the third reading. You think about the cross that stands upon the altar, knowing that the Lord is no longer on the Cross, and you see then that it is just a barren cross standing there like a standard, a cross which has been driven into the earth and is similar then to the staff which Moses used when he struck the rock and split it in two, similar to the staff which Moses held in his hand as he reached out across the sea and split it in two. Now the Cross has been driven into the earth the dust from which we were made and it has been split in two so that the God of all creation could enter into the realm of death, so that He could enter into the netherworld and preach the Gospel to those who were in prison, as Saint Peter says, so that they too would be able to hear the Gospel and be saved. At that point, you can begin to recognize that everything has been split in two. For the souls in the netherworld, there was a clear distinction between the saints and the condemned. There is a split between Heaven and hell. There is a split between life and death.
And as you continue to ponder upon the fact that now this Cross has been driven into the dust from which we were made, it has been driven deep into the heart of each one of us so that that same split takes place within of sin and forgiveness, of life and death, of Jesus Christ and Satan. And the choice we have to make is just like the choice that was made for generations before. As you continue to ponder on these mysteries, suddenly what happens tonight begins to come into focus but in reverse because at the beginning of Mass tonight we were once again in the dark and suddenly (as what we heard in the third reading) there was a pillar of light that was shining in the dark. It was the Lumen Christi, the Light of Christ. He is the Light that came into the world, into the darkness, and the darkness was not able to overcome it. That light then spread from that one flame on top of the Easter candle to all of the candles which each one of us held. And suddenly there was a beautiful glow throughout the church, and the darkness had been enveloped in the light just as each one of us was on the day we were baptized, as Saint Paul reminded us in the reading that we heard from his Letter to the Romans.
But we go beyond that, then, to the second reading again, back to the time of Abraham sacrificing his son. And we will recognize, as we continue through the Mass tonight, that the Lamb is going to be immolated once again upon the altar but this is the Lamb Who on the first day of the week brings about a new creation for Himself and for each one of us. On the first day of creation, He re-creates each one of us into His own image and likeness. Just as when God created Adam from the dust of the earth, Adams body laid there lifeless until the breath of God entered in and he had life. So, in the tomb, the body of Our Lord laid lifeless until at the moment of the Resurrection when His glorified soul re-entered His body and His body rose to a new and glorified state, and there was new life from death.
You begin to meditate upon this mystery that this is the One Whom the Book of Revelation says is the Lamb Who was sacrificed, the Lamb who was slain, and has been found worthy to open the book that is sealed with the seven seals. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and when the Lion was seen He was a Lamb. He is the One who will give Himself now to each one of us so that as we share already in His death and Resurrection through Baptism, now in the Eucharist we will elevate Our Lord and we will glorify in His Resurrection. But that is not all because the dust from which He was made, this earth which was remade in the Resurrection of Christ, is remade now in each one of us because we will receive our Risen Lord in the Eucharist tonight.
By the way, I must commend you: The priests of Saint Agnes Parish collectively heard forty hours of confessions in the last week. And other than Thursday night (when confessions ended at ten minutes to twelve midnight) my free time in the confessional consisted of five Hail Marys that is all. Otherwise, it was completely filled with one confession following the next, following the next, following the next. I commend you for bringing your children and for preparing your souls and the souls of your family members so that what was dead in sin could be brought to new life. Tonight in the Eucharist, God will breathe that new life into each one of us and we will share in the glory of the Resurrection, in the Risen Christ.
This glory is ours because Our Lord does not save it for Himself. It is the other element of the mystery upon which your heart settles as you try to find a bridge to link these two parts together. The only place that you could find that is in the one place where Jesus remained alive on earth while He remained also dead in the tomb. As you came this morning to pray in the silence of the church, you found yourself in union with the one person. You sought Him in the Upper Room and He was not there; you sought Him with Mary Magdalene but she was looking for Him as well; and finally, prostrate before His tomb, you found His mother. And in His mother, in her Immaculate Heart where Jesus was conceived first before He was conceived in her virginal womb, there He continued to live. At the moment of His crucifixion, He entrusted each one of us to His mother and there we lived with Him in her Immaculate Heart. She is the only one who believed in the Resurrection before it happened. In her alone the faith of the Church remained for those three days when Our Lord was in the tomb. But in her heart each one of us remained, and the faith which Our Lord would place into our hearts remained alive in her so that now with her we glorify in the Resurrection of her only-begotten Son.
As we proceed now with the Mass, the blessing of the Easter water, and the renewal of our baptismal promises, we need to recognize this mystery which we celebrate today, the mystery into which we have been incorporated. And we have that choice to make. That Cross has been driven deep into our hearts, the Cross with the Word of God right on it. As Saint Paul said to the Romans, The Word of God cuts more surely than a two-edged sword, and it separates spirit from soul and joint from marrow. It separates from within us Jesus Christ and Satan. In just a moment, as we renew our baptismal vows, we will once again renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises and we will once again profess our faith in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. And just as this church, which this morning was like a void and empty waste, is now once again filled with beauty and will once again be filled with our Resurrected Lord, so too this temple of our body is restored to its beauty and will also be filled with Our Resurrected Lord in whom we profess our Easter faith.
This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.
April 10, 2004 Easter Vigil
Reading I (Genesis 1:1-2:2)Reading II (Genesis 22:1-18) Reading III (Exodus 14:15-15:1)Reading IV (Isaiah 54:5-14) Epistle (Romans 6:3-11)Gospel (St. Luke 24:1-12)
In the twenty-fourth chapter of Saint Lukes Gospel which we will hear next week, as the disciples of Jesus are walking along the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to them, and we are told that He interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to Himself. That must have been an incredible walk as the disciples listened to Our Lord describing literally every passage of Scripture, because they are all about Him. What we see in the readings tonight shows us how it works. All of the readings we heard today demonstrate how what we see around us and what we have heard so many times in the Sacred Scriptures were prefigurations of Our Lord Himself.
We hear, for instance, in the first reading today from the Book of Genesis all about the glory of Gods creation and how He started with nothing and worked His way up to humanity, whom He created in His own image and likeness. We heard in the second reading about Abraham and how he had this son that God had promised (whom he had awaited for years), and now God was asking Abraham to make the ultimate sacrifice: to place the wood for the holocaust on his own sons shoulders and walk to a place called Mount Moriah, the place which would later be called the town of Salem, the place which Abraham called Yahweh-yireh. When they put the two words together, it becomes what we call it today: Yireh-salem or Jerusalem. It is in that place that Abraham spoke one of the most astounding prophecies that is contained in Scripture when his son Isaac asks, Here is the wood and here is the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? And while the translation is put into the English the way that we would be able to understand it, it is not quite what it says in the Hebrew. It says in Hebrew, God will provide Himself the sacrifice. When we read in the third reading today from the Book of Exodus about the Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt and now were brought forth into freedom as God opened the Red Sea for them and they passed through the waters, when they came to the other side of the waters and they saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore, they sang the song of praise to God.
Now we see how all of this prefigures Our Lord, the One Who first created us in His image and likeness. And then the One Who is uncreated took to Himself a created nature and became one of us, took a nature that was made in His own image and likeness (which He had already seen was very good) and now He raised it to a new dignity, uniting our nature to the divine nature in the unity of one Person. This one Person is the Son Who had been promised right from the very beginning in Genesis 3:15, that there would be enmity between the devil and the woman, between her offspring and his. So we knew that there would be a male child born of a woman who was going to come into this world; and it took thousands of years as we waited, long beyond what the expectations would have been, just like with Abraham. This time, in the same city bearing the same name Jerusalem the Son of God took the wood for the sacrifice upon His shoulders. He was indeed God Himself, the Lamb Who had been prepared for sacrifice, and He offered Himself; this time, God, not sparing the knife, but allowing the death of His Son so that each one of us could live.
After His death, as we profess in the Apostles Creed, Our Lord descended into hell (more specifically Sheol or the place of the dead), into the prison where the people had been enslaved, all of those who had been born from the time of Adam and Eve all the way up through even Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist. All of those who were awaiting Christ, as well as all of those who would be condemned, were all there in the one place of slavery. Our Lord entered into that place and He preached the Gospel to those who had believed in His coming so that they would be able to make that explicit act of faith in Himself. Those who had rejected God from the very beginning rejected Our Lord as well. And on the day of the Resurrection, just as the Red Sea opened for the chosen people, now the gates of death were opened and the chosen people were able to come forth into life. Death itself and the prince of death and all of his minions are the ones who lay crushed (dead on the seashore, if you will) lining the gates of hell so that life would reign over death.
Each one of us, as we heard in the New Testament reading from Saint Paul, have been baptized into Jesus Christ; and being baptized into Christ, we have been baptized into His death and resurrection. So we have been re-created. We have also been sacrificed. We have entered into the place of death and we have come forth into newness of life. We who were slaves to sin now are able to share in the glory of Christ because death has no more power over us because the Son of the woman is victorious over Satan and over death. And so today as we celebrate the single most important event in human history, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we must understand our own dignity as members of Christ to be able to see what the Son of God has done for us in taking on our nature, in allowing Himself to be born in the form of a slave, in making Himself the servant of all, in going into the very place of death He Who is Life entering into the place of death so that those who had chosen life over death would be able to live forever with Him.
That life is already within each one of us as we share in the very person, the very nature, and the very life of Jesus Himself. God has called us out of darkness into His own marvelous light, and He wants us now to walk as children of the light so that we can be truly dead to sin, to put all of that aside and live as true children, sons and daughters of God Himself. That is our dignity. That is the glory which is being offered to us. When we see how these few readings prefigure Our Lord, all of the rest of Scripture does the same. The Old Testament is all about Christ in one form or another. The New Testament reflects upon the life of Christ and the life of His Mystical Body, the Church. So as you read the Scriptures daily, ask yourself, What does this mean about Our Lord? What does this mean for me, who is a member of Jesus Christ? If God has chosen to work in such an extraordinary way because He loves us, then we are called also to love God in return in an extraordinary manner, to learn from the lesson of Our Lord, Who was willing to embrace death in order to give us life. If we are willing to embrace life, we can put to death within ourselves those things which are not of God so that we can live for God alone. Just as those people who were in that place of death 2,000 years ago came out as Jesus shattered the gates of hell and opened the way to life, so too, we who share already in that mystery spiritually will one day enter into it physically as well, as each one of us will have to embrace death just as Jesus did, knowing that it is not the end but rather a transition from this vale of tears to a place of glory for those who believe. And so it is not something that we fear, provided that we live the life of Christ, provided that we embrace life now so that we will be able to enjoy it forever.
That is the glory we celebrate today. Our Lord the Promised Son, the One Who was willing to be sacrificed, the One Who was willing to go into the place of slavery has freed you and me, His chosen people, so that we would be able to share forever in the life and the glory that He has won for us.
*This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.
March 26, 2005 Easter Vigil
Reading (Romans 6:3-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 28:1-10)
Today the Church celebrates the holiest of all the nights of the year, the night on which Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead; and in so celebrating, the Church also celebrates the beginning of a new creation. When we came into the church this evening, everything was dark. We began by lighting the new Ester fire, and from that fire the new Easter candle was lit, signifying the light of Christ Jesus Himself, Who said, I am the Light of the world. In a few moments, we will bless the new water for Easter. And if we look at the first reading in the very beginning, from the very first chapter and first verse of Scripture, we hear first that it was darkness and that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. The darkness and the waters were the two things that were present at the very beginning. They are signs of death and they are signs of sin. It was out of darkness that God made His first point of creation; the first element in the created order was light. And the second thing from which all the rest of material creation came was the order that came from the chaos of the water. The two things that life requires are light and water, and these are the two things that we see at the very beginning of creation.
So tonight as we continue with this Easter vigil, we have before us the Easter candle, which in a few moments will be plunged into the Easter water to bless the water, to bring forth new life, the new life which is ours in baptism, of which Saint Paul wrote in the reading that we heard in his Letter to the Romans, that all of us who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into His death and into His Resurrection. We enter into the waters, we are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, and we rise with Him to new life from the waters of baptism.
As we ponder these two elements and we look back again to the first chapter of Genesis, we see that it is the Spirit of God that is upon the water. In the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is defined by two different things fire and water the two things that we see this evening. Our Lord tells us that He is the light of the world and anyone who follows Him will have the light of life in them. He speaks about that light, and He tells us that we must be baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Saint John the Baptist, recall, said that he baptized with water but one is coming after Him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost, it was in tongues of fire. Our Lord also spoke of the water. He spoke of it to the woman from Samaria who was at the well, and said, If you knew who it was that was speaking to you, you would ask him, and he would give you living water. Later on in Saint Johns Gospel, He spoke again about this living water and about those who would follow Him, and that this water would well up within them and become springs welling up to eternal life. Saint John tells us that He was speaking of the Holy Spirit.
We see, then, that there is life on two different levels for us. There is our natural life and there is supernatural life, the natural life which we receive from our parents, and the supernatural life which is given to us in baptism, which is the grace of God that was won for us in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. These elements tell us then that we are a new creation. If we have been buried with Christ, we have gone down in death with Him already. Christ, as the Apostles Creed tells us, descended into hell, not the place of condemnation, but rather the place of the dead, the underworld or the netherworld (Sheol, as the Hebrew people called it). He went there to bring the light into the place of darkness. He came into this world as the light in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And so in our lives, when we see what has happened to us, we are conceived in sin and we are reborn into life. We go from darkness to light. We go from being plunged into the waters of death to rise in baptism, to having that new Water, Who is the Holy Spirit, welling up in us to eternal life. In our lives, we go from our sins the choice of darkness and of death, the very things that we see before God brought order into creation and when we come forth, whether it be in baptism or from the confessional, once again we have within us the light of Christ and the grace of God welling up to eternal life.
Therefore, Our Lord speaks to each one of us and says, You are the light of the world. He is the light of the world, and yet He tells each one of us that we are the light of the world. He also says, If the light is in you, then everything is bright; but if your light is darkness, how dark it is. On this night of the Resurrection, Our Lord has dispersed the darkness. He has broken through the chaos of death, and He has won for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He has called each one of us then to choose life, to choose supernatural life, to reject sin and to live according to the grace of God given to us through the Holy Spirit, Who is the gift of the risen Christ. Each one of us baptized into Christ shares already in His Resurrection, and we are called to live in this world of darkness as the light of the world, to live holy lives, to live Christ-like lives, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, to inspire us, to fill us with His light and with His love. Even in this world, as all of the pressures surrounding us tell us that we are to give in, that we are to be like everyone else, that we are to sin, the Holy Spirit within us tells us that we are to rise above death and darkness, that we are to shine like a brilliant light, and that the life which is given to us through water and the Holy Spirit is to help us to reject death and to spring up to life everlasting.
That is the gift Our Lord has won for us. It is the gift that we already share. It is the dignity that is ours: the call to be saints, to be children of the light, to reject darkness, to reject death, to reject sin, and to live lives of holiness, to be the light in the darkness of the world in union with Jesus Christ raised from the dead.
*This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.
EASTER VIGIL HOMILIES PING!
Fr. Altier *ping!*