Feast of Easter Monday
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with Me in My throne, as I also have overcome.”–Apoc. iii, 21.
On every feast of the Church is stamped the impress and character of the mystery of faith it is intended to commemorate, and of which we are vividly reminded by its annual occurrence. Therefore the festival of Easter–“the feast of feasts “–is a day of triumph, and the exultant strain of the “Alleluia” resounds throughout the Church. On Holy Saturday, the Preface salutes Christ as the glorified Redeemer, Who, by His resurrection, triumphed over death and hell.
All Christendom entones a gladsome Easter hymn in honor of the Conqueror Who vanquished death, and burst the trammels of the grave. The Saviour struggled against the enemies of our salvation and conquered; and so will you vanquish them, if you call upon Him. “Death, I will be thy death; hell, I will be thy bite.” So Christ assures us through the mouth of the prophet. This was fulfilled by the painful death on the cross, from which He arose, the Victor. The joyful Alleluia reminds us of this. It is the cry of jubilee of the Church triumphant in heaven; and tells us also that, if we wish to celebrate Easter with Christ and all the blessed in heaven, we must, while members of the militant Church, combat and conquer with her. What will particularly encourage us to combat as children of God is the thought of Christ, the Conqueror; and, my dearest brethren, all that intensifies the joy of victory beams forth in an infinitely more perfect manner in this brilliant triumph which Jesus gained over death and hell.
The joy of the triumph re-echoes in the Alleluia which He entoned when He arose glorious and immortal from the tomb. O Mary, who, by crushing the serpent’s head, didst vanquish hell, assist us, that we may do so too; and thus rejoice with thee in the triumph of the Church for all eternity! I speak in the name of the Risen Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
When the children of Israel, protected and led by the hand of the Almighty God, crossed the Red Sea, a few days subsequent to the celebration of Easter, according to the command of God, and witnessed the terrible destruction of Pharaoh and his whole army, they lifted up their voices and sang the hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord which Moses, His faithful servant, had taught them:
“Sing praise to the Lord, Who giveth glory unto Himself. Horses and riders He cast into the sea. His name is Almighty. The justice of the Lord has exalted itself; His enemy is destroyed. His kingdom endures from eternity to eternity.” This hymn of joy and praise was sung by Mary, the sister of Moses and Aaron, and all the women of Israel; and then the strain was taken up by six hundred thousand men, and never before, nor since, has the world heard such a glorious song of praise.
But in heaven, ah, yes! in heaven will be sung a hymn of praise which will never end–a joyful chant more glorious far than this, to celebrate the triumph of Christ over Lucifer and his infernal hosts. Ah, yes! the Alleluia which the risen Lord, in the majesty of His power and glory, entones with the whole celestial choir and the valiant army of sanctified souls, in commemoration of His victory, surpasses by far the song of praise which the Israelites, rescued from Egyptian power, poured forth unto the Lord.
What increased the joy of this grateful people, as they stood upon the shores of Egypt’s dark sea, was, above all, the imminence of the danger from which they had been delivered. For we all know full well that the more numerous and powerful the enemy who suffers defeat, the more enthusiastic are the demonstrations of the conquerors. Now Pharaoh, with his powerful troops arrayed in armor, pursued the Israelites with the utmost haste, exulting in the fact that the chosen people of God were not prepared for war; moreover, they were surrounded by their terrified wives and wailing children, whom they expected to see slaughtered before their eyes, or led once more into a captivity worse than death.
When, therefore, they beheld their relentless foe stricken down by the arm of the Lord,–buried in the waters of the Red Sea,–when they knew that the tyrant and his minions lay lifeless in its turbid depths, their overwhelming delight at this unlooked for delivery can not be described.
What exalts the feelings of triumph of a victorious army is the fact that they have conquered in spite of the many exterior circumstances and dangers which utterly took away the hope of being so fortunate as to defeat the foe. It was thus with the children of Israel. The dark shadows of night were beginning to close around, enshrouding the weary wanderers in a sable pall. Before them, darkness and gloom; behind, the terrible foe. The mighty throng, they felt, was drawing nearer and nearer, to crush them with the weight of their strength. And yet, upon what a different scene did the sun of the morrow look down! The Lord, in His power, had called on the waves to divide, while the Israelites passed to the opposite shore; and, when the pursuer and his satellites rushed madly across, they united once more, and the Egyptians were buried in the depths of the sea. What jubilant gratitude was felt by the Israelites at this unexpected deliverance! The more, because God had freed them from a miserable state of bondage, and led them to the possession of a land in which they could live in comfort, and amply provide for their children and their children’s children. Yes, they beheld themselves rescued from that slavery in which the long, long weary days dragged so slowly on in marching to Canaan, the dear land of their fathers– the land flowing with milk and honey–where they need fear neither oppression nor want.
Their rejoicing was the more perfect because they felt assured that, after having wrought so wonderful a miracle in their favor, the Lord would go on and protect them, and victoriously conduct them to the promised land.
But what was this victory, and the triumphant hymn by which it was proclaimed, in comparison with that which the Lord Jesus obtained for us, and the Alleluia which resounded through the lofty dome of heaven when Christ arose from death? It was not one army alone which He defeated, for His combat was waged with the devil and numberless hosts of fallen spirits. He wrestled against these united powers–the world, the flesh; against those irregular desires which, as St. Paul teaches, have dwelt in our members since the fall of Adam, and whose attacks we must constantly suffer. What a splendid victory we have gained through Christ!
The children of Israel did not fight. God delivered them miraculously. Christ, on the contrary, fought and was victorious. Therefore the merits and the joy were the greater on account of His dearly-bought triumph. The peril of the Israelites was great, but the Lord delivered them. Alas! the dangers of salvation which have encompassed the soul since the fall of Adam, and through which we are exposed to innumerable temptations and individual sins, are immeasurably greater. But Christ has come to the rescue, and through Him, the Conqueror Who combats with and in us, we are enabled to trample under foot those dangers and burst the bonds of sin,–even as our Redeemer burst open the bonds of the grave and called upon us to trust in Him Who had vanquished the world. The triumph of God’s chosen people delivered them from Egyptian bondage and the miseries of an enslaved race: but the victory of Christ rescued us from the pains of hell and the thralldom of Satan.
The hymn entoned by them as they stood on the shores of the Red Sea was a hymn of joy and exultation, because they knew that victory would lead them to a fertile and lovely country;–but the soft verdure of Canaan was also dotted with graves. The curse of original sin rested also on Canaan: “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread;” whereas the country which Christ obtained for us is heaven–an eternity of delight, God Himself our future possession.
The triumph of the children of Israel was for one nation only; the victory of Christ was for every nation on the face of the earth–for the eternal salvation of all who are of good-will, and who will walk in this world following Christ by the practise of those virtues which are symbolized by the manner in which the children of Israel left Egypt and pursued their journey to Canaan.
First, they must kill the Paschal lamb and sprinkle their doors with its blood, that the destroying angel might pass them by.–What are we to learn from this? Christian souls, if you seek for salvation, you must destroy sin in your hearts–blot it out by contrition and confession. Reconcile yourselves with your Creator in the sacrament of Penance, and be purified in the blood of the Lamb.
The children of Israel were commanded to leave Egypt; and you, O Christians, if you would celebrate Easter in heaven, your watch-word must be, too, “Away from Egypt!” That is, you must avoid sin and its occasions, remembering the admonition of Christ: “If your eye scandalize you, pluck it out; if your hand or foot scandalize you, cut it off.” In other words, if not your eye, your hand or foot, but any thing as dear and precious, would be to you an occasion of sin, you must most certainly give it up.
The Israelites partook of the Paschal lamb standing and in haste, as if to set out on a long journey. If you would celebrate Easter with Christ in heaven, learn from this to free your hearts from all desire of possessing the goods and plunging into the pleasures of this world. Learn to stand, and not to sit; that is, to fix your thoughts on heavenly things, and to keep ever before you that eternity to which you are hastening. Learn also to participate even in the innocent enjoyments of life, as if expecting to be summoned away. Be not troubled about many things, nor live as if there were no other world than this one in which Providence now permits us to live.
The shoes indicate a life of determined resolution and unfaltering piety, while the staff which the Israelites held in their hands signifies the consciousness which supports us, and refers our every action to God. One thing alone is necessary–to serve our Creator and work out our salvation.
Over the Israelites hung a cloud to guide them on their perilous journey, which at night assumed the form of a pillar of fire to cast light on their way. Over the camp of the Egyptians it threw such a shadow that it was completely enveloped in darkness. This cloud signifies the word of divine revelation, the word of holy faith as it is announced to us by the Church; and it matters not if Lucifer, with all the powers of hell, the temptations of the flesh and the seductions of the world pursue us, the hand of the Lord is with us.
Christ has said that ” No one can snatch those from “Me whom the Father hath intrusted to Me.” That is, beloved in Christ, those who avail themselves of the spiritual weapons which God gives through the Church to all her members, in order to vanquish. Children of the Church! if we in spirit listen to the joyous strains of the “Alleluia” which, on the occasion of the victory of the Risen Jesus, the Church entones, we will feel encouraged to fight the battle of salvation as did millions of souls who have already gone before us with the sign of faith, and who rest in Christ.
Oh, what bliss to celebrate with Jesus, His blessed Mother, and the whole celestial choir, the “Feast of glorious Victory” forever in Heaven!–Amen!