by Dom Gueranger, 1908
For to this end Christ died and rose again; that He might be Lord
both of the dead and of the living.–Romans 14: 9
This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.
After having glorified the Lamb of God, and the Passover whereby our Lord destroyed our enemies; after having celebrated our deliverance by water, and our entrance into the Promised Land; let us now fix our respectful gaze upon Him whose triumph is prefigured by all these prodigies. So dazzling is the glory that now beams from this Man-God, that, like the prophet of Patmos, we shall fall prostrate before Him. But He is so wonderful, too, in His love, that He will encourage us to enjoy the grand vision: He will say to us, as He did to His disciple: Fear not! I am the First, and the Last; and alive, and was dead; and behold! I am living for ever and ever, and have the keys of death and of hell (Apoc. i. 17, 18.).’
Yes, He is now Master of death, which had held Him captive; He holds in His hand the keys of hell. These expressions of Scripture signify, that He has power over death and the tomb; He has conquered them. Now, the first use He makes of His victory, is to make us partakers of it. Let us adore His infinite goodness; and, in accordance with the wish of holy Church, let us meditate to-day upon the effects wrought in each one of ourselves by the mystery of the Pasch. Jesus says to His beloved disciple: ‘I am alive, and was dead’: the day will come, when we, also, shall triumphantly say: ‘We are living, and we were dead!’
Death awaits us; it is daily advancing towards us; we cannot escape its vengeance. ‘The wages of sin, is death (Rom. vi. 23)’: in these few words of Scripture, we are taught how death is not only universal, but even necessary; for we have all sinned. This, however, does not make the law less severe; nor can we help seeing a frightful disorder in the violent separation of soul and body, which were united together by God Himself. If we would truly understand death, we must remember that God made man immortal: this will explain the instinctive dread we have of death,–a dread which one thing alone can conquer; and that is, the spirit of sacrifice. In the death, then, of each one of us there is the handiwork of sin, and consequently a victory won by satan: nay, there would be a humiliation for our Creator Himself, were it not that, by sentencing us to this punishment, He satisfied His justice.
This is man’s well-merited, but terrible, condemnation. What can he hope for? Never to die? It would be folly: the sentence is clear, and none may escape. Can he hope that this body, which is to become first a corpse, and then be turned into a mere handful of dust, will one day return to life, and be reunited to the soul, for which it was made? But, who could bring about the reunion of an immortal substance with one that was formerly united with it, but has now seemingly been annihilated? And yet, O man! this is to be thy lot! Thou shalt rise again; that poor body of thine, which is to die, to be buried, forgotten, and humbled, shall be restored to life. Yea, it even now comes forth from the tomb, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ; our future resurrection is accomplished in His; it is to-day that we are made as sure of our resurrection as we are of our death. This, too, makes part of our glorious Feast, our Pasch!
God did not, at the beginning, reveal this miracle of His power and goodness: all He said to Adam was: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return (Gen. iii. 19).’ Not a word, not an allusion, which gives the culprit the least hope with reference to that portion of himself which is thus doomed to death and the grave. It was fitting that the ungrateful pride, which had led man to rebel against his Maker, should be humbled. Later on the great mystery was revealed, at least partially. Four thousand years ago, a poor sufferer, whose body was covered with ulcers, spoke these words of hope: ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see God: this my hope is laid up in my bosom (Job, xix. 25-27).’
But, in order that Job’s hope might be realized, this Redeemer, of whom he spoke, had to come down to this earth, give battle to death, feel its pang, and finally conquer it. He came at the time fixed by the divine decree. He came, not indeed to prevent us from dying, (for the sentence of God’s justice was absolute) but to die Himself, and so take away from death its bitterness and humiliation. Like to those devoted physicians, who have been known to inoculate themselves with the virus of contagion, our Jesus ‘swallowed down death (I.St. Pet. iii. 22)’, as the Apostle forcibly expresses it. But the enemy’s joy was soon at an end; for the Man-God rose to die no more; and by His Resurrection, He won that same right for us.
Henceforth, then, we must see the grave under a new aspect. The earth will receive our bodies, but only to yield them back again, just as she yields back the hundredfold of the seed that was confided to her. Her great Creator will, at some future day, bid her restore the deposit He entrusted to her. The Archangel’s trumpet will give the signal of His command; and, in the twinkling of an eye, the whole human race will rise up from the grave, and proclaim the final defeat of death. For the just it will be a Pasch, a continuation of the Pasch we are now celebrating.
Who could describe the joy we shall experience at such a meeting! Our soul, after, it may be, a separation of hundreds of years, united once more to that essential part of her being, the body! She, perhaps, has been all that time enjoying the beatific vision; but the whole man was not there; our happiness was not complete, because that of the body was wanting; and in the midst of the soul’s rapturous felicity, there was a trace still left of the punishment to which man was condemned, when our First Parents sinned. Our merciful God would not, now that His Son has opened the gates of heaven, wait till the general resurrection to reward the souls of His elect with the vision; and yet, these elect have not their whole glory and happiness until that last day comes and puts the last finish to the mystery of man’s redemption. Jesus, our King and our Head, wills that we His members shall sing with Him the song that comes from His own divine lips, and that each of us shall say for all eternity: ‘I am living, and I was dead !’ Mary, who on the third day after her death was united to her sinless body, longs to see her devoted children united with her in heaven; but wholly, and entirely, soul and body: and this will be, when the tomb has done its work of purification.
The holy Angels, whose ranks are waiting to be filled up by the elect among men, are affectionately looking forward to that happy day, when the glorified bodies of the just will spring up, like the loveliest of earth’s flowers, to beautify the land of spirits. One of their joys consists in gazing upon the resplendent Bodies of Jesus and Mary,–of Jesus, who, even as Man, is their King as well as ours, and of Mary, whom they reverence as their Queen. What a Feastday, then, will they count that, whereon we, their brothers and sisters, whose souls have been long their companions in bliss, shall be revested with the robe of flesh, sanctified, and fitted for union with our radiant souls! What a canticle of fresh joy will ring through heaven, as it then receives within itself all the grandeur and beauty of creation! The Angels who were present at Jesus’ Resurrection, were filled with admiration at the sight of this Body, which was, indeed, of a lower nature than themselves, but whose dazzling glory exceeded all the splendour of the angelic host together: will they not gladly hail our arrival, after our resurrection? Will they not welcome us with fraternal congratulations, when they see us, members as we are of this same risen Jesus, clad in the same gorgeous robe of glory as He, who is their God?
The sensual man never gives a thought to the eternal glory and happiness of the body: he acknowledges the Resurrection of the flesh as an article of faith, but it is not an object of his hope. He cares but for the present; material, carnal pleasures being all he aspires to, he considers his body as an instrument of self gratification, which, as it lasts so short a time, must be the more quickly used. There is no respect in the love he bears to his body; hence he fears not to defile it; and after a few years of insult, which he calls enjoyment, it becomes the food of worms and corruption. And yet, this sensual man accuses the Church of being an enemy to the body! the Church that so eloquently proclaims its dignity, and the glorious destiny that awaits it! He is the tyrant, and a tyrant is ever an impudent calumniator. The Church warns us of the dangers to which the body exposes the soul; she tells us of the infectious weakness that came to the flesh by original sin; she instructs us as to the means we should employ for making it ‘serve justice unto sanctification (Rom. ri. 19)’; but, far from forbidding us to love the body, she reveals to us a truth which should incite us to true charity, viz: that it is destined to endless glory and happiness.
When laid on the bed of death, the Church honours it with the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, fitting it for immortality by anointing it with holy oil; she is present at the departure of the soul from this the companion of her combats, and from which she is to be separated till the day of the general judgment; she respectfully burns incense over the body when dead; for, from the hour of its Baptism, she has regarded it as something holy ; and to the surviving friends of the departed one, she addresses these inspired words of consolation: ‘Be not sorrowful, even as others, who have no hope (I. Thess. iv. 12)!’ But what is this hope? That same which comforted Job: ‘In my flesh, I shall see my God.’ Thus does our holy faith reveal to us the future glory of our body; thus does it encourage, by supernatural motives, the instinctive love borne by the soul for this essential portion of our being. It unites together the two dogmas: our Lord’s Pasch, and the resurrection of our body. The Apostle assures us of the close relation that exists between them, and says: ‘If Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain; if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again: (I. Cor. xv. 14, 17)’ so that Jesus’ Resurrection and our resurrection seem to be parts of one and the same truth.
Hence, the sort of forgetfulness, which is now-a-days so common, of this important dogma of the ‘resurrection of the body,’ is a sad proof of the decay of lively faith. Such people believe in a future resurrection, for the Creed is too explicit to leave room for doubt; but the hope which Job had, is seldom the object of their thoughts or desires. They say that what they are anxious about, both for themselves and for those that are dear to them, is what will become of the soul, after this life: they do well to look to this; but, they should not forget what religion teaches them regarding the resurrection of the body; by professing it, they not only have a fresh incentive to virtue, but they also render testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus, whereby He gained victory over death, both for Himself and for us. They should remember, that they are in this world only to confess, by their words and actions, the truths that God has revealed. It is therefore not enough that they believe in the immortality of the soul; the resurrection of the body must also be believed and professed.
We find this article of our holy faith continually represented in the catacombs: its several symbols formed, together with the Good Shepherd, quite the favourite subject of primitive Christian art. In those early ages of the Church, when to receive Baptism was to break entirely with the sensuality of previous habits of life, this consoling dogma of the resurrection of the body was strongly urged upon the minds of the neophytes. Any of them might be called upon to suffer martyrdom: the thought of the future glory that awaited their flesh, inspired them with courage when the hour of trial came. Thus we read so very frequently in the Acts of the Martyrs, how, when in the midst of their most cruel torments, they declared that what supported them was the certain hope of the resurrection of the body. How many Christians are there now-a-days, who are cowardly in the essential duties of their state of life, simply because they never think of this important dogma of their faith!
The soul is more than the body; but the body is an essential portion of our being. It is our duty to treat it with great respect, because of its sublime destiny. If we, at present, chastise it and keep it in subjection, it is because its present state requires such treatment. We chastise it, because we love it. The Martyrs, and all the Saints, loved their body far more than does the most sensual voluptuary: they, by sacrificing it, saved it; he, by pampering it, exposes it to eternal suffering. Let us be on our guard: sensualism is akin to naturalism. Sensualism will have it, that there is no happiness for the body but such as this present life can give; and, with this principle, its degradation causes no remorse. Naturalism is that propensity we have to judge of everything by mere natural light, whereas we cannot possibly know the glorious future for which God has created us except by faith. If, therefore, the Christian can see what the Son of God has done for our bodies by the divine Resurrection we are now celebrating, and feel neither love nor hope, he may be sure that his faith is weak; and if he would not lose his soul, let him henceforth be guided by the word of God, which alone can teach him what he is now, and what he is called to be hereafter.