Skip to comments.[Catholic Caucus] Easter Sunday (Gueranger)
Posted on 03/31/2018 10:19:44 PM PDT by CMRosary
THE NIGHT BETWEEN SATURDAY AND SUNDAY has well nigh run its course, and the day-dawn is appearing. The Mother of sorrows is waiting, in courageous hope and patience, for the blissful moment of her Jesus’ return. Magdalene and the other holy women have spent the night in watching, and are preparing to start for the sepulcher. In limbo, the Soul of our crucified Lord is about to give the glad word of departure to the myriads of the long-imprisoned holy souls, who cluster round Him in adoring love. Death is still holding his silent sway over the sepulcher, where rests the Body of Jesus. Since the day when he gained his first victim, Abel, he has swept off countless generations; but never has he held in his grasp a prey so noble as this that now lies in the tomb near Calvary. Never has the terrible sentence of God, pronounced against our first parents, received such a fulfillment as this; but never has death received such a defeat as the one that is now preparing. It is true, the power of God has, at times brought back the dead to life: the son of the widow of Naim, and Lazarus, were reclaimed from the bondage of this tyrant death; but he regained his sway over them all. But his Victim of Calvary is to conquer him forever, for this is He of whom it is written in the prophecy: “O death! I will be thy death!” Yet a few brief moments and the battle will be begun, and life shall vanquish death.
As divine justice could not allow the Body that was united to the Word to see corruption, and there wait, like ours must, for the Archangel’s word to “rise and come to judgment,” so neither could it permit the dominion of death to be long over such a Victim. Jesus had said to the Jews: “A wicked generation seeketh a sign; and a sign shall not be given it, but that of Jonas the prophet.” Three days in the tomb—the afternoon and night of Friday, the whole of Saturday, and a few hours of the Sunday—yes, these are enough: enough to satisfy divine justice; enough to certify the death of the Crucified, and make His triumph glorious; enough to complete the martyrdom of that most loving of mothers, the Queen of sorrows.
“No man taketh away my life from Me: I lay it down of Myself: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” Thus spoke our Redeemer to the Jews before His Passion: now is the hour for the fulfillment of His words, and death shall feel their whole force. The day of light, Sunday, has begun, and its early dawn is struggling with the gloom. The Soul of Jesus immediately darts from the prison of limbo, followed by the whole multitude of the holy souls that are around Him. In the twinkling of an eye, it reaches and enters the sepulcher, and reunites itself with that Body which, three days before, it had quitted amidst an agony of suffering. The sacred Body returns to life, raises itself up, and throws aside the winding-sheet, the spices, and the bands. The bruises have disappeared, the Blood has been brought back to the veins; and from these limbs that had been torn by the scourging, from this head that had been mangled by the thorns, from these hands and feet that had been pierced with nails, there darts forth a dazzling light that fills the cave. The holy Angels had clustered round the stable and adored the Babe of Bethlehem; they are now around the sepulcher, adoring the conqueror of death. They take the shrouds, and reverently folding them up, place them on the slab, whereon the Body had been laid by Joseph and Nicodemus.
But Jesus is not to tarry in the gloomy sepulcher. Quicker than a ray of light through a crystal, He passes through the stone that closes the entrance of the cave. Pilate had ordered his seal to be put upon this stone, and a guard of soldiers is there to see that no one touches it. Untouched it is, and unmoved; and yet Jesus is free! Thus, as the holy Fathers unanimously teach us, was it at His birth: He appeared to the gaze of Mary, without having offered the slightest violence to her maternal womb. The birth and the resurrection, the commencement and the end of Jesus’ mission, these two mysteries bear on them the seal of resemblance: in the first, it is a Virgin Mother; in the last, it is a sealed tomb giving forth its captive God.
And while this Jesus, this Man-God, thus breaks the scepter of death, the stillness of the night is undisturbed. His and our victory has cost Him no effort. O death! where is now thy kingdom? Sin had made us slaves; thy victory was complete; and now, lo! thou thyself art defeated! Jesus, whom thou didst exultingly hold under thy law, has set Himself free; and we, after thou hast domineered over us for a time, we too shall be free from thy grasp. The tomb thou makest for us will become to us the source of a new life, for He that now conquers thee is “the First-born among the dead;” and today is the Pasch, the Passover, the deliverance, for Jesus and for us, His brethren. He has led the way; we shall follow; and the day will come when thou, the enemy that destroyest all things, shalt thyself be destroyed by immortality. Thy defeat dates from this moment of Jesus’ resurrection, and, with the great Apostle, we say to thee: “O death! where is thy victory! O death! where is thy sting?”
But the sepulcher is not to remain shut: it must be thrown open, and testify to men, that He whose lifeless Body lay there is indeed risen from the dead. As when our Jesus expired upon the Cross, so now, immediately after His resurrection, an earthquake shook the foundations of the world; but this time, it was for joy. “The Angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror,” and fell on the ground “as dead men.” God has mercy on them; they return to themselves, and quitting the dread sepulcher, they hasten to the city and relate what they have seen.
Meanwhile, our risen Jesus, seen by no other mortal eye, has sped to His most holy Mother. He is the Son of God; He is the vanquisher of death; but He is, likewise, the Son of Mary. She stood near Him to the last, uniting the sacrifice of her mother’s heart with that He made upon the Cross; it is just, therefore, that she should be the first to partake of the joy of His resurrection. The Gospel does not relate the apparition thus made by Jesus to His Mother, whereas all the others are fully described. It is not difficult to assign the reason. The other apparitions were intended as proofs of the resurrection; this to Mary was dictated by the tender love borne to her by her Son. Both nature and grace required that His first visit should be to such a Mother, and Christian hearts dwell with delight on the meditation of the mystery. There was no need of its being mentioned in the Gospel; the tradition of the holy Fathers, beginning with St. Ambrose, bears sufficient testimony to it; and even had they been silent, our hearts would have told it us. And why was it that our Savior rose fro the tomb so early on the day He had fixed for His resurrection? It was because His filial love was impatient to satisfy the vehement longings of His dearest and most afflicted Mother. Such is the teaching of many pious and learned writers; and who that knows aught of Jesus and Mary could refuse to accept it?
But who is there would attempt to describe the joy of such a meeting? Those eyes, that had grown dim from wakefulness and tears, now flash with delight at beholding the brightness which tells her Jesus is come. He calls her by her name; not with the tone of voice which pierced her soul when He addressed her from the Cross, but with an accent of joy and love, such as a son would take when telling a mother that he had triumphed. The Body which, three days ago, she had seen covered with Blood and dead, is now radiant with life, beaming with the reflections of divinity. He speaks to her words of tenderest affection, He embraces her, He kisses her. Who, we ask, would dare to describe this scene, which the devout Abbot Rupert says so inundated the soul of Mary with joy that it made her forget all the sorrows she had endured.
Nor must we suppose that the visit was a short one. In one of the revelations granted to the seraphic St. Teresa, our Lord told her that when He appeared to His blessed Mother immediately after His resurrection, He found her so overwhelmed with grief that she would soon have died; that it was not until several moments had passed, that she was able to realize the immense joy of His presence; and that He remained a long time with her, in order to console her.
Let us, who love this blessed Mother and have seen her offer up her Son on Calvary for our sake, let us affectionately rejoice in the happiness wherewith Jesus now repays her, and let us learn to compassionate her in her dolors. This is the first manifestation of our risen Jesus: it is a just reward for the unwavering faith which has dwelt in Mary’s soul during these three days, when all but she had lost it. But it is time for Him to show Himself to others, that so the glory of His resurrection may be made known to the world. His first visit was to her who is the dearest to Him of all creatures, and who well deserved the favor; now, in His goodness, He is about to console those devoted women, whose grief is, perhaps, too human, but their love is firm, and neither death nor the tomb have shaken it.
Yesterday, when the sunset proclaimed to the Jews the end of the great Sabbath and the commencement of the Sunday, Magdalene and her companions went into the city and bought perfumes, wherewith, this morning at break of day, they purpose embalming the Body of their dear Master. They have spent a sleepless night. Before the dawn of day, Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James), and Salome, are on the road that leads to Calvary, for the sepulcher is there. So intent are they on the one object, that it never occurs to them, until it is too late, to provide for the removing of the heavy stones, which closes the sepulcher. There is the seal, too, of the Governor, which must be broken before they can enter; there are the soldiers who are keeping guard: these difficulties are quite overlooked. It is early daybreak when they reach the tomb. The first thing that attracts their attention is that the stone has been removed, so that one can see into the sepulcher. The Angel of the Lord, who had received the mission to roll back the stone is seated on it as upon a throne; he thus addresses the three holy women, who are speechless from astonishment and fear: “Be not affrighted! Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here.” Then encouraging them to enter the sepulcher, he adds: “Behold the place where they laid him!”
These words should fill them with joy: but no; their faith is weak, and as the Evangelist says, “a trembling and fear seize them.” The dear Remains they are in search of are gone: the Angel tells them so: his saying that Jesus is risen fails to awaken their faith in the resurrection: they had hoped to find the Body! While in the sepulcher, two other Angels appear to them, and the place is filled with light. St. Luke tells us that Magdalene and her companions “bowed down their heads,” for they were overpowered with fear and disappointment. Then the Angels said to them: “Why seek ye the Living with the dead? Remember how He spake unto you, when He was yet in Galilee, saying: “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again!” These words make some impression upon the holy women, and they begin to remember something of what our Lord had said of His resurrection. “Go!” said one of the Angels, “tell His disciples and Peter, that He is going before you into Galilee.”
The three women leave the sepulcher and return with haste to the city; they are full of fear, and yet there is an irresistible feeling of joy mingled with their fear. They relate what they have seen: they have seen Angels, and the sepulcher open, and Jesus’ Body was not there. All three agree in their account;but the Apostles, as the Evangelist tells us, set it down to womanish excitement: “Their words seem idle tales and they believe them not.” The Resurrection, of which their divine Master had so clearly and so often spoken, never once crosses their mind. It is particularly to Peter and John that Magdalene relates the wonderful things she has seen and heard; but her own faith is still weak! She went with the intention of embalming the Body of Jesus, and she found it not! She can speak of nothing but her disappointment: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him!”
Peter and John determine to go themselves to the sepulcher. They enter. They see the “linen cloths lying” upon the slab whereon the Body of Jesus had been placed; but the Angels who are now keeping guard in the holy cave appear not to them. Saint John tells us that this was the moment he received the faith in the resurrection: he believes. We are now merely giving the history of the events of this greatest of days, in the order in which they occurred: we will afterwards meditate upon them more leisurely, when the holy Liturgy brings them before us.
So far, Jesus has appeared to no one save His blessed Mother; the holy women have only seen the Angels, who spoke to them. These heavenly spirits bade them go and announce the resurrection of their Master to the disciples and Peter. They are not told to bear the message to Mary; the reason is obvious: Jesus has already appeared to His Mother, and is with her while all these events are happening. The sun is now shedding his beams upon the earth, and the hours of the grand morning are speeding onwards: the Man-God is about to proclaim the triumph He has won for us over death. Let us reverently follow Him in each of these manifestations, and attentively study the lessons they teach us.
As soon as Peter and John have returned, Magdalene hastens once more to the tomb of her dear Master. A soul like hers, ever earnest, and now tormented with anxiety, cannot endure to rest. Where is the Body of Jesus? Perhaps being insulted by His enemies? Having reached the door of the sepulcher, she bursts into tears. Looking in, she sees two Angels, seated at either end of the slab on which her Jesus had been laid. They speak to her, for she knows not what to say: “Woman! why weepest thou?”—“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” Without waiting for the Angels to reply, she turns as thou she would leave the sepulcher; when lo! she sees a man standing before her, and this Man is Jesus. She does not recognize Him: she is in search of the dead Body of our Lord; she is absorbed in the resolution of giving it a second burial! Her love distracts her, for it is a love that is not guided by faith; her desire to find Him, as she thinks Him to be, blinds her from seeing Him as He really is—living, and near her.
Jesus, with His wonted condescension, speaks to her: “Woman! why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” Magdalene recognizes not this voice; her heart is dulled by an excessive and blind sentiment of grief; her spirit does not as yet know Jesus. Her eyes are fixed upon Him; but her imagination persuades her that this man is the gardener, who has care of the ground about the sepulcher. She thinks within herself, “This perhaps is he that has taken my Jesus!” and thereupon she thus speaks to him: “Sir, if thou hast taken Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” How is our loving Redeemer to withstand this? If He praised her for the love she showed him in the pharisee’s house, we may be sure He will now reward this affectionate simplicity. A single word, spoken to her with the tone of voice she so well understood, is enough:—“Mary!”—“Master!” exclaims the delighted and humble Magdalene. All is now clear: she believes.
She rushes forward: she would kiss those sacred feet, as on the happy day when she received her pardon; but Jesus stays her; this is not the time for such a demonstration of her affection. Magdalene, the first witness of the resurrection, is to be raised, in reward of her love, to the high honor of publishing the great mystery. It is not fitting that the blessed Mother should reveal the secret favor she has received from her Son: Magdalene is to proclaim what she has seen and heard at the sepulcher, and become as the holy Fathers express it, the Apostle of the very Apostles. Jesus says to her: “Go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
The second apparition of Jesus, then, is to Mary Magdalene: it is the first in testimony of His resurrection, for the one to His blessed Mother was for another object. The Church will bring it before us on the Thursday of this week, and we will then make it the subject of our meditation. At present, let us adore the infinite goodness of our Redeemer, who, before seeking to fix the faith of His resurrection in them that are to preach it to all nations, deigns to recompense the love of this woman who followed Him even to the Cross, was faithful to Him after His death, and loved Him most, because most forgiven. By thus showing Himself to Magdalene, Jesus teaches us that He is more anxious to satisfy the love He bears His faithful creature than to provide for His own glory.
Magdalene loses no time in doing her Master’s bidding. She hastens back to the city, and having come to the disciples, says to them: “I have seen the Lord, and these things He said to me.” But as yet, they have not faith; John alone has received that gift, although he has seen nothing more than the empty sepulcher. Let us remember that after having fled like the rest of the disciples, he followed Jesus to Calvary, was present at His death, and was made the adopted son of Mary.
Meanwhile, Magdalene’s two companions, Salome, and Mary the mother of James, are following her, though slowly and at some distance, to Jerusalem. Jesus meets them, and greets them, saying: “All hail.” Overcome with joy they fall down and adore Him, and kiss His sacred feet. It is the third apparition; and they that are favored with it are permitted to do what was denied to the more favored and fervent Magdalene. Before the day is over, Jesus will show Himself to them whom He has chosen as the heralds of His glory; but He first wishes to honor these generous women, who, braving every danger, and triumphing over the weakness of their sex, were more faithful to Him in His Passion, than the men He had so highly honored as to make them His Apostles. When He was born in the stable at Bethlehem, the first he called to worship Him in His crib were some poor shepherds; He sent his Angels to invite them to go to Him before He sent the star to call the magi. So now—when He has reached the summit of His glory, put the finish to all His works by His resurrection, and confirmed our faith in His divinity by the most indisputable miracle—He does not begin by instructing and enlightening His Apostles, but by instructing, consoling, and most affectionately honoring these humble but courageous women. How admirable are the dispensations of our God! How sweet, and yet how strong! Well does He say to us by His prophet: “My thoughts are not your thoughts!”
Let us suppose, for a moment, that we had been permitted to arrange the order of these two mysteries. We should have summoned the whole world, kings and people, to go and pay homage at the crib. We should have trumpeted to all nations the miracle of miracles, the resurrection of the Crucified, the victory over death, the restoration of mankind to immortality! But He who is “the power and wisdom of God,” Christ Jesus our Lord, has followed a very different plan. When born in Bethlehem He would have for His first worshipers a few simple-minded shepherds, whose power to herald the great event was confined to their own village: and yet the birthday of this little Child is now the era of every civilized nation. For the first witnesses of His resurrection, He chose three weak women; and yet, the whole earth is now, at this very moment, celebrating anniversary of this resurrection. There is in it a mysterious feeling of joy unlike that of any other day throughout the year: no one can resist it, not even the coldest heart. The infidel who scoffs at the believer, knows at least that this is Easter Sunday. Yea, in the very countries where paganism and idolatry are still rife, there are Christians whose voices unite with ours in singing the glorious Alleluia to our risen Jesus. Let us, then, cry out as Moses did when the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, and were keeping their first Pasch: “Who, O Lord, is like unto Thee, among the strong?”
We will resume our history of the resurrection when we come to the hour of each apparition. It is now time for us to unite with the Church in her Office of Matins. She has spent the greatest part of the night in administering that holy Sacrament of regeneration, which gives her a new people; and now she is about to offer to God the wonted tribute of her praise.
MASS.—It is the hour of Tierce (9 o’clock), and the basilica is crowded with the faithful. The sun is pouring in his brightest beams; and who has not felt the charm of an Easter sun? The pavement is strewed with flowers. Above the glittering mosaics of the apse, the wall is covered with rich tapestry. Festoons hang from the sanctuary arch to the pillars of the nave and aisles. Lamps, fed with the purest oil and suspended from the ciborium (or canopy), are burning around the altar. The Paschal candle, which has been ceaselessly burning since last night, stands on its marble pillar; its bright flame attracts every eye, and the perfumes wherewith its wick is saturated fill the sacred edifice with a delicious fragrance. It is the noble symbol of Jesus, our light, and seems to say: “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
But by far the most interesting object is the group of the neophytes, clad in their white garments, like the Angels that appeared at the sepulcher. They are the living expression of the mystery of our Lord’s Resurrection. Yesterday they were dead, by sin; now they are living, by that new life which is the fruit of Jesus’ victory over death. Oh! happy thought of our mother the Church, to choose for the day of their regeneration that on which the Man-God won immortality for us His creatures!
The Station, at Rome, was formerly in the basilica of Saint Mary Major, the principal church of all those that are dedicated to the Mother of God in the holy city. Was it not just to associate with the Paschal solemnity the memory of her who, more than all other creatures, had merited its joys, not only because of the exceptional share she had in all the sufferings of Jesus, but also because of the unshaken faith wherewith, during those long and cruel hours of His lying in the tomb, she had awaited His Resurrection? But now the papal Mass is celebrated in St. Peter’s, as being more convenient, by its size and situation, to the immense concourse of the faithful who flock to Rome from every part of the Christian world for the Feast of Easter. The Roman Missal, however, still gives Saint Mary Major as the stational church of today; and the indulgences are gained, as formerly, by those who assist at the Services celebrated there.
There is no water blessed for the Asperges today, as it is the custom on all other Sundays throughout the year. We assisted, a few hours ago, at the imposing ceremony of the blessing of the water, which was to be used for the Baptism of the catechumens. The water which is now going to be sprinkled upon the faithful was taken from the font of regeneration. During this ceremony, the choir sings the following Antiphon:
In many of the western churches, the following stanzas, written by St. Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, used formerly to be sung during the procession before today’s Mass. We insert them here, feeling assured that they will interest our readers, and assist them to enter more fully into the spirit of the great solemnity for which our forefathers made them serve as a preparation. We shall find them replete with the same enthusiasm that inspired the author when he composed the Vexilla Regis, and the hymn of the holy chrism: there is the same bold and energetic, almost harsh, diction, the same piety, the same richness of poetry and sentiment. The beautiful chant to which this hymn was sung is still extant.
The preparations completed, the cantors intone the majestic melody of the Introit. Meanwhile, the pontiff, accompanied by the priests, deacons, and other ministers, advances in procession to the altar steps. This opening chant is the cry of the Man-God as He rises from the tomb: it is the hymn of Jesus’ gratitude to His eternal Father.
In the Collect, the Church proclaims the grace of immortality, which our Redeemer’s victory over death restored to mankind. She prays that her children may ambition the glorious destiny thus won for them.
God commanded the Israelites to use unleavened bread when they ate the Paschal Lamb; hereby teaching them that, before partaking of this mysterious food, they should abandon their sins, which are signified by leaven. We Christians, who are called to the new life which Jesus has created for us by His Resurrection, must, henceforth, be intent on good works, as the unleavened bread wherewith we must receive the Paschal Lamb, our Easter banquet.
The Gradual is formed of those joyous words, which the Church untiringly repeats in all her Offices of this solemnity of the Pasch. They are taken from the 117th Psalm. Joy, on such a day as this, is a duty incumbent on every Christian, both because of the triumph of our beloved Redeemer, and because of the blessings that triumph has won for us. Sadness would be a criminal protestation against the grand things, wherewith God has graced us through His Son, who not only died, but also rose from the grave, for us.
The Alleluia-Verse expresses one of the motives we have for rejoicing: a banquet is prepared for us! Jesus is our Lamb. He was slain; now He is living: slain, that we might be redeemed by His Blood; living, that we may share His immortality.
The better to encourage her children to be glad, the Church adds to her ordinary chants a hymn full of enthusiastic admiration for her risen Jesus. It is called a Sequence, because it is a continuation of the Alleluia.
The Church gives her preference today to the Evangelist St. Mark, who was a disciple of St. Peter, and wrote his Gospel at Rome, under the eye of this prince of the Apostles. It was fitting that on such a festival as Easter, we should, in some manner, hear him speaking to us, whom our divine Master appointed to be the Rock of His Church, and the supreme pastor of all, both sheep and lambs.
He is risen: He is not here! The Corpse, laid by the hands of them that loved their Lord, on the slab that lies in that cave, is risen; and without removing the stone that closed the entrance, has gone forth, quickened with a life which can never die. No man has helped Him. No prophet has stood over the dead Body, bidding it return to life. It is Jesus Himself, and by His own power, that has risen. He suffered death, not from necessity, but because He so willed; and again, because He willed, He has delivered Himself from its bondage. O Jesus! Thou, that thus mockest death, art the Lord our God! We reverently bend our knee before this empty tomb, which is now forever sacred, because, for a few hours, it was the place of Thy abode. Behold the place where they laid Him! Behold the winding-sheet and bands, which remain to tell the mystery of thy having once been dead! The Angel says to the women: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified! The recollection makes us weep. Yes, it was but the day before yesterday that His Body was carried hither, mangled, wounded, bleeding. Here, in this cave, from which the Angel has now rolled back the stone—in this cave, which His presence fills with a more than mid-day brightness—stood the afflicted Mother. It echoed with the sobs of them that were at the burial, John and the two disciples, Magdalene and her companions. The sun sank beneath the horizon, and the first day of Jesus’ burial began. But the prophet had said: “In the evening weeping shall have place; and in the morning gladness.” This glorious, happy morning has come, O Jesus! and great indeed is our gladness at seeing that this same sepulcher, whither we followed Thee with aching hearts, is now but the trophy of Thy victory! Thy precious wounds are healed! It was we that caused them; permit us to kiss them. Thou art now living, more glorious than ever, and immortal. And because we resolved to die in our sins, when Thou wast dying in order to expiate them, Thou willest that we too should live eternally with Thee; that Thy victory over death should be ours; that death should be for us as it was for Thee, a mere passage to immortality, and should one day give back, uninjured and glorified, these bodies which are to be lent for a while to the tomb. Glory, then, and honor, and love, be to Thee, O Jesus! who didst deign not only to die, but to rise again for us!/p>
The Offertory is composed of the words wherein David foretold that the earth would tremble, when the Man-God arose. This earth of ours has not only witnessed the grandest manifestations of God’s power and goodness, but, by the sovereign will of its Maker, has been frequently made to share in them, by preternatural movements.
The whole assembly of the faithful is about to partake of the Paschal banquet; the divine Lamb invites them to it. The altar is laden with the offerings they have presented. The holy Church, in her Secret, invokes upon these favored guests the graces which will procure for them the blissful immortality whereof they are about to receive a pledge.
At the papal Mass, during the middle ages, while the pontiff recited the Secret, the two youngest cardinal-deacons came forward, vested in white dalmatics, and stood at each end of the altar, with their faces turned towards the people. They represented the two Angels who kept guard over our Savior’s tomb, and announced to the holy women that He had risen. The two deacons remained in that position until the pontiff left the altar at the Agnus Dei, in order to receive the holy Communion on the throne.
Another impressive custom was observed at Saint Mary Major’s. When the Pope, after breaking the Host, addressed the faithful the wish of peace, with the usual greeting of Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum, the choir did not answer the usual Et cum spiritu tuo. It was the tradition that St. Gregory the Great was once officiating in this church on Easter Sunday when, having sung these words, which bring down the Spirit of peace on the assembled people, a choir of Angels responded with such sweet melody that the singers of earth were silent, for they feared to join in the celestial music. The year following the cantors awaited the angelic response to the words of the pontiff: the favor, however, was never renewed, but the custom of not answering the Et cum spiritu tuo was observed for several centuries.
The moment has at length come for the faithful to partake of the divine Banquet. It was the practice in the ancient Church of Gaul to chant the following solemn appeal to the people, who were about to receive the Bread of life. (It was sung in cathedral churches even after the introduction of the Roman Liturgy into France by Pepin and Charlemagne. It was not entirely discontinued until the last century came with its unsanctioned and ever to be regretted innovations.) The music, which accompanied the Antiphon, is most impressive and appropriate. We give the words, as they will assist the devotion of the faithful.
While the sacred ministers are distributing the divine Food, the Church celebrates, in her Communion-Anthem, the true Paschal Lamb, which has been mystically immolated on the altar, and requires, from them who receive it, that purity of soul, which is signified by the unleavened bread, under whose accidents the reality lies hid.
The last prayer made by the Church for them that have received their God is that the spirit of fraternal charity, which is the spirit of our Pasch, may abide in them. The Son of God, by assuming our nature in the mystery of the Incarnation, has made us to be His brothers; by shedding His Blood for us upon the Cross, He has united us to one another by the bond of the redemption; and by His resurrection, He has linked us together in one glorious immortality.
The pontiff then gives his blessing to the people. They leave the House of God, to return thither for the Vespers, which most solemn Office will conclude the magnificent functions of our solemnity.
At Rome, the Pope descends from the throne, wearing his triple crown. He ascends the sedia gestatoria, which is borne on the shoulders of the servants of the palace, and is carried to the great nave. Having reached the appointed place, he descends and humbly kneels down. Then, from the tribune of the cupola, are shown by priests, vested in their stoles, the wood of the true Cross, and the Veil, called the Veronica, on which is impressed the face of our Redeemer. This commemoration of the sufferings and humiliations of the Man-God, at the very moment when His triumph over death has been celebrated with all the pomp of the Liturgy, eloquently proclaims the glory and power of our risen Jesus, and shows us how faithfully and how lovingly He fulfilled the mission He had so graciously taken upon Himself, of working our salvation. It was on this very day that He Himself said to the disciples of Emmaus: “Thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise again from the dead the third day.” The Christian world, in the person of its supreme pastor, hereby pays its homage to the sufferings and glory of its Redeemer. The pontiff then resumes the triple Crown, and is carried, on the sedia, to the balcony, where he gives the papal benediction to the people assembled in the piazza of Saint Peter’s. We have already described this solemn rite.
Formerly, when the Lateran palace was the papal residence, and the Station of Easter Sunday was held at Saint Mary Major’s, the sovereign Pontiff, vested in a cope and wearing the tiara, went to the basilica on a horse caparisoned in white. After the Mass, he proceeded to the banquet hall, called the Triclinium Leonianum. It was built by St. Leo III and was decorated with mosaics representing Christ, St. Peter, Constantine and Charlemagne. A repast was prepared, to which were invited, as guests of the pontiff, five cardinals, five deacons, and the first in dignity (the Primicerius) of the clergy attached to the church of St. John Lateran. Near to the Pope’s own table, a seat was prepared for a twelfth guest—the prior, called basilicarius. The Paschal Lamb was then served up, laid on a rich dish. The Pope blessed it, and thus signified that the severe law of abstinence was at an end. He himself cut it into portions and sent one to each of his guests; but first of all he cut off a small piece, and gave it to the basilicarius, saying to him what would have seemed a harsh allusion, but for the words that followed: “What thou hast to do, do quickly! But what was said as a condemnation, I say to thee as a pardon.” The repast began with joyous conversation; but after some time, the archdeacon gave a signal, and a deacon began to read. The papal choristers were afterwards introduced, and sang such of the favorite sequences as the Pope called for. This done, the choristers kissed the feet of the pontiff, who gave to each of them a cup full of wine from his own table; and each received a piece of money, called a besant, from the treasurer.
Our object in mentioning such customs as this is to show our readers the simple manners of the middle ages. The custom of blessing and eating lamb on Easter Sunday still continues, though in many instances it conveys very little meaning. For those who, from idle pretexts, have scarcely observed a day’s abstinence during the whole of Lent, the Paschal lamb is a reproach, rather than a consolation. We here give the blessing as a completion to our Easter rites. The venerable prayer, used by the Church, will take us back in thought to other ages and prompt us to ask of God that He will grant us a return to the simple and practical faith which gave such soul and grandeur to the every-day life of our Catholic forefathers.
The law of Lent forbids not only flesh-meat, but also eggs. It is only by a dispensation that we are allowed to eat them during that holy season of penance. The Churches of the east have strictly maintained the ancient discipline on this point, and no dispensation is admitted. Here again, the faithful show their joy, by asking the Church to bless the eggs that are to appear at their Easter repast. The following is the prayer used for this blessing.
Yes, let our Easter repast, blessed as it is by our mother the Church, be one of joy, and add to the gladness of this great day! The Feasts of religion should always be kept as feasts by Christian families: but there is not one throughout the year that can be compared to this of Easter, which we have waited for so long and in such sorrow, and which has at length come, bringing with it the riches of God’s pardon, and the hope of our immortality.
Wishing you a Blessed and Holy Easter.
Thank you! And I hope that the Lenten season brought you an abundance of grace.