by Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
THE MORNING. A night has passed over the Tomb, wherein lies buried the Body of the Man-God. Death is triumphant in that silent cave, and holds captive Him that gives life to every creature: but his triumph will soon be at an end. The Soldiers may watch, as best they will, over that Grave: they cannot hold Jesus prisoner, as soon as the moment fixed for His Resurrection comes. The holy Angels are there, profoundly adoring the lifeless Body of Him, Whose Blood is to reconcile all things, both on earth, and in heaven (Coloss. i. 20). This Body, though, for a brief interval, separated from the Soul, is still united to the Person of the Son of God; so, likewise, the Soul, during its separation from the Body, has not, for an instant, lost its union with the Word. The Divinity remains also united with the Blood that lies sprinkled on Calvary, and which, at the moment of the Resurrection of the Man-God, is to enter once more into his sacred veins.
Let us, also, return to the Sepulchre, and adore the Body of our Buried Jesus. Now, at last, we understand what sin has done: By sin, death entered into the world; and it passed upon all men (Rom. v. 12)? Though Jesus knew no sin (II. Cor. v. 21), yet has he permitted Death to have dominion over Him, in order that He might make it less bitter to us, and, by His Resurrection, restore unto us that eternal life, of which we had been deprived by sin. How gratefully we should appreciate this Death of our Jesus! By becoming Incarnate, He became a Servant (Philipp. ii. 7)? His Death was a still deeper humiliation. The sight of this Tomb, wherein His Body lies lifeless and cold, teaches us something far more important than the power of death: it reveals to us the immense, the incomprehensible love of God for man. He knew that we were to gain by His humiliations; the greater His humiliations, the greater our exaltation: this was His principle, and it led Him to what seems like an excess! Let us, then, love this sacred Sepulchre, which is to give us Life. We have thanked Him for having died for us upon the Cross; let us thank him, but most feelingly, for having humbled Himself, for our sakes, even to the Tomb!
And now, let us visit the Holy Mother, who has passed the night in Jerusalem, going over, in saddest memory, the scenes she has witnessed. Her Jesus has been a Victim to every possible insult and cruelty: He has been crucified: His precious Blood has flowed in torrents from those Five Wounds: He is dead, and now lies buried in yonder Tomb, as though He were but a mere man, yea the most abject of men. How many tears have fallen, during these long hours, from the eyes of the Daughter of David! and yet, her Son has not come back to her! Near her is Magdalene; heart-broken by yesterday’s events, she has no words to tell her grief, for Jesus is gone, and, as she thinks, for ever. The other Women, less loved by Jesus than Magdalene, yet, still, dear to Him, stand round the disconsolate Mother. They have braved every insult and danger in order to remain on Calvary till all was over, and they intend returning thither with Magdalene, as soon as the Sabbath is over, to honour the Tomb and the Body of Jesus.
John, the adopted son of Mary, and the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, is oppressed with sorrow. Others, also, of the Apostles and Disciples visit the house of mourning. Peter, penitent and humble, fears not to appear before the Mother of Mercy. Among the Disciples, are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. We may easily imagine the conversation, it is on the Sufferings and Death of Jesus, and on the ingratitude of the Jews. The Church, in the 7th Responsory of today’s Tenebrae, represents these men as saying: “Behold! how the Just One dieth, and there is none that taketh it to heart. Iniquity has had its way. He was silent as a Lamb under his shearer, and He opened not His mouth. He was taken away from distress and judgment: but His memory shall be in peace.”
Thus speak the men! the women are thinking of their morrow’s visit to the Sepulchre! The saintliness of Jesus, His goodness, His power, His Sufferings, His Death, everything is remembered, except His Resurrection, which they had often heard him say should certainly and speedily take place. Mary alone lives in expectation of His triumph. In her was verified that expression of the Holy Ghost, where, speaking of the Valiant Woman, He says: Her lamp shall not be put out in the night (Prov. xxxi. 18). Her courage fails not, because she knows that the Sepulchre must yield up its Dead, and her Jesus will rise again to Life. St. Paul tells us that our religion is vain, unless we have faith in the mystery of our Saviour’s Resurrection; where was this faith on the day after our Lord’s Death? In one heart only, and that was Mary’s. As it was her chaste womb, that had held within it Him, Whom heaven and earth cannot contain, so on this day, by her firm and unwavering faith, she resumes within her single self the whole Church. How sacred is this Saturday, which, notwithstanding all its sadness, is such a day of glory to the Mother of Jesus! It is on this account that the Church has consecrated to Mary the Saturday of every week.
THE BLESSING OF THE NEW FIRE AND INCENSE
Last Wednesday, the Catechumens were told to present themselves at the Church, for the hour of today’s Tierce, (that is, nine o’clock in the morning). It is the final Scrutiny. The Priests are there to receive them; they who have not previously been examined upon the Symbol, are now questioned. The Lord’s Prayer, and the biblical attributes of the four Evangelists, having been explained, one of the Priests dismisses the Candidates for Baptism, bidding them spend the interval in recollection and prayer.
At the hour of None, (our three o’clock in the afternoon,) the Bishop and all the Clergy repair to the Church, and Holy Saturday Vigil begins from this moment. The first ceremony consists in the blessing the new fire, which is to furnish light for the whole Service. It was the daily custom, in the first Ages of the Church, to strike a light from a flint, before Vespers: from this the lamps and candles were lighted for the celebration of that Hour, and the light thus procured was kept up in the Church till the Vespers of the following day. The Church of Rome observed this custom with great solemnity on Maundy Thursday morning, and the new fire received a special blessing. We learn from a letter written, in the 8th century, by Pope St. Zachary to St. Boniface, Archbishop of Mayence, that three lamps were lighted from this fire, which were then removed to some safe place, and care was taken that their light was kept in. It was from these lamps that the light for Holy Saturday Night was taken. In the following century, under St. Leo the Fourth, whose Pontificate lasted from 847 to 855, the custom of every day procuring new fire from a flint was extended also to Holy Saturday.
It is not difficult to understand the meaning of this ceremony, which is now not observed by the Latin Church save on this day. Our Lord said of Himself: I am the Light of the world (St. John, viii. 12). Light, then, is an image of the Son of God. Stone, also, is one of the types under which the Scriptures speak to us of the Messias. St. Peter (1. St. Peter, ii. 6) and St. Paul (Eph. ii. 20.), quoting the words of the Prophet Isaias (Is. xxviii. 16.), speak of Jesus as the Corner-Stone. The spark which is struck from the flint represents our Lord rising from His rock-hewn Sepulchre, through the Stone that had been rolled against it.
It is fitting, therefore, that this fire, which is to provide light for the Paschal Candle, as well as for those that are upon the Altar, should receive a special blessing, and be triumphantly shown to the Faithful. All the Lamps in the Church have been extinguished; formerly, the Faithful used to put out the fires in their houses, before going to the Church: they lighted them, on their return, with light taken from the blessed Fire, which they received as a symbol of our Lord’s Resurrection. Let us not here omit to notice, that the putting out of all the lights in the Church is a symbol of the abrogation of the Old Law, which ended with the rending of the Veil of the Temple; and that the new Fire represents the preaching of the New Law, whereby our Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, fulfilled all the figures of the ancient Covenant.
In order to help our readers to enter more fully into the mystery of the ceremony we are describing, we will here mention a miracle which was witnessed for many centuries. The clergy and people of Jerusalem assembled for the Service of Easter Eve in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. After waiting for some time in silence, one of the lamps that were suspended over our Lord’s Tomb, was miraculously lighted. The other lamps and torches throughout the Church were lighted from this, and the Faithful took its holy flame with them to their homes. It would seem, that this annual miracle first began after the Saracens had taken possession of Jerusalem; God so ordaining, that it might be a proof to these Infidels of the Divinity of the Christian Religion. The historians of those times, who have written upon the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, all speak of this miracle as of an incontestable fact; and when Pope Urban the Second went to France, there to preach the first Crusade, he brought forward this Miracle as one of the motives, which should inspire the Faithful with zeal for the defence of the Sepulchre of Christ. When our Lord, in the unsearchable ways of His justice, permitted Jerusalem to be re-conquered by the Infidels, the Miracle ceased, nor has it ever been witnessed from that time. Our readers have no doubt heard of the scandalous scene, which is now repeated every Holy Saturday in the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: we allude to the deception practised by the schismatic Greek Priests, whereby they persuade their deluded people that their ingenious trick for lighting a lamp is the continuation of the Miracle. The Church also blesses the five grains of Incense, which are to be used in this Morning’s Service. They represent the perfumes prepared by Magdalene and her holy companions for the embalming the Body of Jesus. The Prayer said by the Bishop, when blessing the Incense, not only shows us the connection there is between it and the Light, but it also teaches us what is the power these several sacred objects have against the wicked spirits.
The Bishop and his attendants go, in procession, from the Church to the place where he is to bless the Fire and Incense. The Fire, as we have already said, is the symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the Sepulchre, whence He is to rise to life, is outside the walls of Jerusalem. The holy Women and the Apostles, when they go to the Sepulchre, will have to go forth from the City.
THE PASCHAL CANDLE
The sun is setting, and our earth will soon be mantled in darkness. The Church has provided a torch, which is to spread its light upon us during the whole of this long Vigil. It is of an unusual size. It stands alone, and is of a pillar-like form. It is the symbol of Christ. Before being lighted, its scriptural type is the pillar of a cloud, which hid the Israelites when they went out from Egypt; under this form, it is the figure of our Lord, when lying lifeless in the tomb. When lighted, we must see in it both the pillar of fire, which guided the people of God, and the glory of our Jesus risen from his grave. Our holy mother the Church, would have us enthusiastically love this glorious symbol, and speaks its praises to us in all the magnificence of her inspired eloquence. As early as the beginning of the 5th century, Pope St. Zozimus extended to all the Churches of the City of Rome, the privilege of blessing the Paschal Candle, although Baptism was administered no where but in the Baptistery of St. John Lateran. The object of this grant was, that all the Faithful might share in the holy impressions which so solemn a rite is intended to produce. It was for the same intention that, later, every Church, even though it had no Baptismal Font, was permitted to have the Blessing of the Paschal Candle.
The Deacon proclaims the Easter Solemnity to the people, whilst chanting the praises of this sacred object: and whilst celebrating the glory of Him, Whose emblem it is, he becomes the herald of the Resurrection. The Altar, the Sanctuary, the Bishop, all are in the sombre colour of the Lenten rite; the Deacon alone is vested in white. At other times, he would not presume to raise his voice as he is now going to do, in the solemn tone of a Preface: but this is the Eve of the Resurrection, and the Deacon, as the interpreters of the Liturgy tell us, represents Magdalene and the holy women, on whom our Lord conferred the honour of being the first to know His Resurrection, and to whom He gave the mission of preaching to the very Apostles, that He had risen from the dead, and would meet them in Galilee.
The Pontiff returns to the Font, and the Catechumens are called in turns. They come one by one, led by their Sponsors. The Bishop stands upon a platform, that reaches over the Font. The Catechumen takes off all garments as far as the waist, descends the steps, and goes into the Water, within reach of the Bishop’s hand. The Bishop then asks the Catechumen: “Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?” The Catechumen answers: “I do believe.” “Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was born and suffered for us?” “I do believe.” “Dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?” “I do believe.” And having thus received the confession of the Catechumen’s Faith, the Bishop asks him, or her: “Wilt thou be baptised?” “I will,” answers the Catechumen. Then the Bishop places his hand upon the Catechumen’s head, and thrice immerges him, or her, under the Water, saying: “I baptize thee, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Thrice, then, has the Catechumen entirely disappeared under the Water: they have closed over and shrouded him. We have the explanation of this given us by the great Apostle: the Water of Baptism is the tomb, in which we are buried together with Christ; and, together with him, we rise again to life: the death we had suffered, was the death of sin; the life we are henceforth to live, is the life of grace (Rom. vi. 4). Thus is the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection repeated, with all its fulness, in them that are baptised. But before the Baptised comes from the Font, a sacred rite is performed over him, which completes his resemblance with Christ. Whilst Jesus was yet standing in the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a Dove: and before the Neophyte comes forth from the Font, a Priest anoints his head with the Chrism, which is a gift received from the Holy Spirit. This anointing expresses the kingly and priestly character that resides in the Christian, for, by his union with Jesus Christ, his Head, he partakes, in some degree, of the Royalty and the Priesthood of this Divine Mediator. Thus loaded with honours by the Divine Word and the Holy Ghost, and adopted by the Eternal Father, who sees in him a member of His own Son, the Neophyte comes up from the Font by the steps of the side opposite to that by which he descended, beautiful in grace and spotless as the flocks of which the Canticle speaks such praises (Cant. iv. 2). The Sponsor is ready to receive him from the Font; he stretches out his hand to help him to mount the steps, and covers his shoulders with a cloth.
Thus goes on the divine work of the holy Font: each Baptism is a resurrection from sin to justification. But the Pontiff has to administer to the Neophytes another Sacrament, which is the confirming them by the gift of the Holy Ghost, and which he alone can confer. Were he to wait till all are Baptised, Easter-day would dawn upon them, before the whole of tonight’s service is over. He therefore baptises a few himself, men, women, and children, and leaves his Priests to administer baptism to all the rest. In the Baptistery, there is a part which is called the Chrismarium, because the Sacrament of Chrism, or Confirmation, is given there. Thither does the Pontiff now repair, and sits upon the throne prepared for him. He resumes the Vestments he had laid aside, when descending to the Font; and immediately, they bring to him the Neophytes he has baptised, and, after them, those baptised by the Priests. He gives to each a white robe, which they must wear till the following Saturday; and as he gives it, he says: “Receive this white garment, which is holy and unspotted: and see thou carry it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have eternal life!” As soon as the Neophytes have received it, they retire to the Pavilions prepared in the Baptistery. There they change their wet clothes for others, and, aided by their Sponsors, they vest themselves with the White Robe. They then return to the Chrismarium, where they are to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
On Thursday last, when consecrating the Chrism, the Pontiff told us how, when the Waters of the deluge had fulfilled their office of purifying the earth, the Dove appeared, bearing an olive-branch in her beak; it was the symbol of peace, and of the reign of Him, Whose sacred Name signifies the Anointed: His name is Christ. Our Neophytes have been purified from their sins by the Water of Baptism: they are now kneeling before the Pontiff, awaiting the gift of the Dove, and longing for that pledge of peace whereof the Olive is the symbol. The holy Chrism has been already marked upon their heads; but, then, it was only a sign of the dignity to which they had been raised. Now, it does more than signify grace, it works it in the soul. Neither is it in the power of a Priest to give this anointing, which confirms the Christian; it requires the hand of a Bishop, for he alone can consecrate the Chrism.
The Neophytes are arranged before him: on one side, the men; on the other, the women; the infants are in their Sponsors’ arms. The Adults place their right foot on the right foot of their godfather or godmother, showing, by this sign of union, their spiritual filiation in the Church.
The sight of this innocent flock gladdens the heart of the Pontiff. He rises from his throne, and thus addresses them: “May the Holy Ghost come down upon you, and may the power of the Most High keep you from sin!” Then stretching forth his hands, he invokes upon them the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, whose action is to confirm, in our Neophytes, the graces they have received in the Font of Baptism.
Led by their Sponsors, they come, one by one, before the Bishop. Their faces express the eagerness, wherewith they long to receive what will make them perfect Christians. The Pontiff signs the forehead of each of them with the holy Chrism; and, by this he imprints an indelible character on the soul. The words he uses are these: “I sign thee with the sign of the Cross, and I confirm thee with the Chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Then giving a slight blow on the cheek, (which, with the ancients, was the sign of a slave’s being made a freedman,) he signifies that the Neophyte is admitted into the liberty of the Children of God; and he says: ” Peace be with thee!” The assistant Ministers tie a bandlet round the forehead, so that nothing may touch the part which has been anointed with holy Chrism. The Neophytes have to wear this bandlet until the Saturday following, when they will lay aside the white garments received at their Baptism.
The night has passed away during the solemnisation of these sublime mysteries: the hour has come for the glad celebration of the Holy Sacrifice in honor of our Lord’s Resurrection from the Tomb. It is time for the Pastor to lead back to the Temple his happy flock, that has received such a glorious addition. It is time for him to give to his dear Sheep the Divine Nourishment, to which they have henceforth a claim. The gates of the Baptistery are thrown open, and all return in procession to the Church. The Paschal Candle, the Pillar of Fire, goes before the troop of Neophytes, whose white robes glitter in the day-dawn of Easter. The faithful people follow after the Bishop and Clergy, and all enter, with an air of triumph, into the Church. During the Procession, they again chant the Canticle that was sung by Moses and the children of Israel after the Passage through the Red Sea. The Bishop repairs to the Secretarium, where he is robed in the richest Vestments of the Treasury. During this interval, the Chanters recommence the Litany, repeating each invocation thrice over. According to the present arrangement of the Liturgy, it is sung but once during the whole of today’s Service, that is, as soon as the Clergy return to the Choir, after the Blessing of the Font, and each invocation is sung twice. In Churches where there is no Font, the Litany is sung after the Prayer which follows the Twelfth Prophecy; and as far as the words, Peccatores, te rogamus audi nos, the Celebrant and Ministers lie prostrate on the Altar steps, praying for the Neophytes who are this day added to the Church, throughout the world.
The description we have been giving of the magnificent ceremonies of Baptism, has made us forget the Sepulchre wherein reposes the Body of our Crucified Jesus. Let us return thither in thought, for the hour of His Resurrection is not yet come. Let us devote a few moments in meditating on the mystery of the three days, during which the Soul of our Redeemer was separated from His Body. We went, this morning, to visit the Tomb, where lies our buried Jesus; we adored that sacred Body, which Magdalene and her companions are preparing to honour, by anointing it early on the morrow. Now let us offer the tribute of our profound adoration to the Soul of our Divine Master. It is not in the Tomb, where His Body is: let us follow it to the place where it lives during these hours of separation. In the centre of the earth, there are four immense regions, into which no one living can ever enter: it is only by divine revelation that we know of their existence. The farthest from us is the Hell of the damned, the frightful abode where Satan and his angels and the reprobate are suffering eternal torments. It is here that the Prince of darkness is ever forming his plots against God and his creatures. Nearer to us, is the Limbo wherein are detained the souls of children, who departed this world before being regenerated. The opinion which has met most favour from the Church, is that these souls suffer no torment; and that although they can never enjoy the beatific vision, yet are they enjoying a natural happiness, and one that is proportionate to their desires. Above the abode of these children, is the place of expiation, where souls, that have departed this life in the state of grace, cleanse themselves from any stains of lesser sins, or satisfy for the debt of temporal punishment still due to divine justice. And lastly, still nearer to us, is the Limbo where are kept from heaven the saints who died under the Old Law. Here are our First Parents, Abel, Noe, Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets; the just Gentiles, such as that great Saint of Arabia, Job; and those holy personages who were closely connected with our Lord, such as Joachim and Anne, the parents of his Blessed Mother, Joseph, her Spouse and his own foster-father, and John, His Precursor, together with His holy parents, Zachary and Elizabeth.
Until such time as the gate of heaven shall have been opened by the Blood of the Redeemer, none of the Just can ascend thither. How holy soever they might have been during this life, they must descend into Limbo after death. We meet with innumerable passages of the Old Testament, where mention is made of hell, (that is, that portion of the regions in the centre of the earth, which we call Limbo,) as being the abode of even the holiest of God’s Servants: it is only in the New Testament that Heaven is spoken of as being the abode of men. The Limbo of the Just is not one of torment, beyond that of expectation and captivity. The souls that dwell there are confirmed in grace, and are sure of enjoying, at some future period, an infinite happiness; they resignedly bear this long banishment, which is a consequence of Adam’s Sin; and, as they saw the time drawing nigh for their deliverance, their joy was beyond all we can imagine.
The Son of God has subjected Himself to every thing, (save sin,) that our human nature has to suffer or undergo: it is by His Resurrection that He is to triumph, it is by His Ascension alone that He is to open the gates of heaven: hence, His Soul, having been separated from his Body by Death, was to descend into the depths of the earth, and become a companion with the holy exiles there. He had said of Himself: The Son of Man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights (St. Matth. xii. 40). What must have been the joy of these countless Saints! and how majestic must not have been the entrance of our Emmanuel into their abode! No sooner did our Jesus breathe His last upon the Cross, than the Limbo of the Saints was illumined with heavenly splendour. The Soul of the Redeemer, united to the Divinity of the Word, descended thither, and changed it, from a place of banishment, into a very Paradise. Thus did He fulfil the promise he had made to the Good Thief: This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
The happy hour, so long expected by these Saints, is come! What tongue could tell their joy, their admiration, and their love, as they beheld the Soul of Jesus, Who thus comes among them, to share and close their exile! He looks complacently on this countless number of His Elect, this fruit, of four thousand years of His grace, this portion of His Church purchased by his Blood, and to which the merits of His Blood were applied by the mercy of His Eternal Father, even before it was shed on Calvary! Let us who hope, on our departure from this world, to ascend to Him, Who has gone to prepare a place for us in Heaven (St. John, xiv. 2), let us joyfully congratulate these our holy ancestors. Let us also adore the condescension of our Emmanuel, Who deigns to spend these three days in the heart of the earth, that so He might sanctify every condition of our Nature, and take upon Himself even what was but a transient state of our existence.
But, the Son of God would have this His visit to the regions beneath our earth to be a manifestation of His sovereign power. His Soul does not, it is true, descend into the Hell of Satan, but He makes His power be felt there. The Prince of this world is now forced to bend his knee and humble himself (Philipp. ii. 10). In this Jesus, Whom he has instigated the Jews to crucify, he now recognises the Son of God. Man is saved, Death is conquered, Sin is effaced. Henceforth, it is not to the Bosom of Abraham, but to Heaven itself, that the souls of the Just made perfect shall ascend, there to reign, together with the faithful Angels, with Christ their Divine Head. The reign of Idolatry is to be at an end: the altars, whereon men have offered incense to Satan, are to be destroyed. The house of the strong one is to be entered by his Divine Adversary, and his goods are to be rifled (St. Matth. xii. 29). The Hand-writing of our condemnation is snatched from the Serpent (Coloss. ii. 14). The Cross, “which he had so exultingly prepared for the Just One, has been his overthrow, or, as St. Antony so forcibly expresses it, the bait thrown out to the Leviathan, which he took, and, taking it, was conquered.
The Soul of our Jesus makes its presence felt also by the just who dwell in the abode of expiation. It mercifully alleviates their sufferings, and shortens their Purgatory. Many of them are delivered altogether, and numbered with the Saints in Limbo, where they spend the Forty Days, between this and the Ascension, in the happy expectation of ascending to Heaven with their Deliverer. It is not contrary to the principles of Faith, to suppose, as several learned Theologians have taught, that the visit of the Man-God to Limbo was a source of blessing and consolation to the abode of unregenerated Children, and that they then received a promise, that the time would come when they should be re-united to their bodies, and, after the Day of Judgment, be placed in a happier land than that in which Divine Justice now holds them captives.
We adore Thee, O holy Soul of our Redeemer! for Thy having deigned to pass these hours with Thy Saints, our fathers, in the heart of the earth. We extol Thy goodness and love shown towards these Thy Elect, whom thou hast made to be thine own Brethren. We give Thee thanks for that thou didst humble our enemy: oh, give us grace to conquer him! But now, dearest Jesus! it is time for Thee to rise from Thy Tomb, and re-unite Thy Soul to Thy Body! Heaven and Earth await Thy Resurrection! The Church, Thy Spouse, has already sung the Alleluia of her glad expectation! Rise, then, from Thy Grave, O Jesus, our Life! Triumph over Death, and reign our King for ever!
Let us close our day and our volume with the following Preface, taken from the Ambrosian Missal. It is one of the finest pieces of this venerable Liturgy, and is the blessing of the Paschal Candle. The mystery of this great Night is here treated with an eloquence and poetry truly worthy of the subject.
Truly it is meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should here and in all places give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God! Thou hast consecrated the Pasch, unto which Thou invitest all mankind, not by the gore and fat of sheep, but by the Blood and Flesh of Thine Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord: that thus the rite of an ungrateful people being abolished, grace should succeed the law, and the sins of the whole world be expiated by one Victim, once, and by Himself, offered up to Thy Majesty. This is the Lamb that was pre-figured on tablets of stone. He was not taken from the flock, but was brought from heaven. He needed not a shepherd, but was Himself the one Good Shepherd, Who laid lown His life for His sheep, and again assumed it, that His divine condescension might show us how to be humble, and His body’s Resurrection teach us to hope. No plaintive voice came from Him when under His shearer, but thus spake He the prophecy of His Gospel: Hereafter, ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of Majesty. May He, O Almighty Father! reconcile us with Thee, and, by the Majesty wherewith He is co-equal with Thee, may He be merciful unto us.
For those things which happened in figure to our fathers, have become realities to us. Lo! now shineth that pillar of fire, which, on that blessed night, went before the people of God, leading to waters that saved them: for in them was the persecutor drowned, and from the same came liberated the people of Christ. Conceived in the stream made fruitful by the Holy Ghost, man, that was born of Adam unto death, is regenerated by Christ unto life. Let us, therefore, bid farewell to the fast we have been voluntarily keeping, for Christ, our Pasch, is slain: let us not only feast on the Flesh of the Lamb, but let us also be inebriated with His Blood. Yea, let us also eat the Unleavened, for not by bread alone doth man live, but by every word of God, for Christ is the Bread that came down from heaven, more excellent far than that manna of old which fell in abundant showers, and of which the Israelites, who then were, ate, yet died. Where as he that eats of this Body, is made a possessor of everlasting life.
Lo! the old things have passed away: all things are made new. The knife of the Mosaic Circumcision has become blunted, and the cruel sharp stone of Josue has gone out of use: but the people of Christ is signed on the forehead? and not invisibly; by a baptism, not by a wound; by Chrism, not by blood.
Rightly, therefore, during this Night, when we are awaiting the Resurrection of the Lord our Saviour, do we burn a rich waxen torch, whose properties are fair whiteness, sweet fragrance, and bright light: which flows not down as it melts, nor sends forth an offensive smell as it burns. For what could be more appropriate, what more festive, than that we should keep watch for the Flower of Jesse, with torches that are the juice of flowers? The more so, as Wisdom thus sang in her own praise: “I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valley.” Wax is not the sweat that oozes from a burnt pine, nor the tear that trickles from the cedar when wounded with many blows of the axe: it is a mysterious virginal production; and one that is transfigured into the whiteness of snow. Its fount-like melted stream feeds the (wick of) papyrus, which, as a guileless soul, stands, with its unbent, unjointed oneness, surrounded by the virginal substance, and becomes, by the flame, the stream’s much cherished guest.
Therefore doth it behove the Church to await, with sweet lights, the coming of the Spouse, and with all possible devotion, to weigh the holy gift she has received. Holy vigils, such as this, should have no fellowship with darkness. We should be wise, and make the light of our lamp be unceasing; lest, whilst preparing to trim it with oil, our Lord should come, and we be too late to do Him homage. for we are assured that He will come in the twinkling of the eye, as a flash of light.
Therefore, this day’s evening is rich in the fulness of the most august mysteries, which, though prefigured or accomplished at various times, are all brought before us during the course of this night. For firstly, we have this Evening Torch, which leads the way, as did the Star that guided the Magi. Then follows the Font of spiritual regeneration, as it were the river of Jordan, in which our Lord vouchsafed to be baptised. Thirdly, we have the Priest’s apostolic words announcing the Resurrection of Christ. Then, to complete the mysteries, the faithful flock feeds on the flesh of Christ. Being sanctified by the prayer and merits of thy high Priest and Pontiff Ambrose, and being prospered in all things by Christ, may this flock enjoy the day of our Lord’s Resurrection.