The Mystery of Paschal Time

From The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Gueranger

Of all the Seasons of the Liturgical Year, Eastertide is by far the richest in mystery. We might even say that Easter is the summit of the Mystery of the sacred Liturgy. The Christian who is happy enough to enter, with his whole mind and heart, into the knowledge and the love of the Paschal Mystery, has reached the very centre of the supernatural life. Hence it is, that the Church uses every effort in order to effect this: what she has hitherto done, was all intended as a preparation for Easter. The holy longings of Advent, the sweet joys of Christmas, the severe truths of Septuagesima, the contrition and penance of Lent, the heart-rending sight of the Passion,- all were given us as preliminaries, as paths, to the sublime and glorious Paseh, which is now ours.

And that we might be convinced of the supreme importance of this Solemnity, God willed that the Christian Easter and Pentecost should be prepared by those of the Jewish Law: a thousand five hundred years of typical beauty prefigured the reality; and that reality is ours!

During these days, then, we have brought before us the two great manifestations of God’s goodness towards mankind—the Pasch of Israel, and the Christian Pasch; the Pentecost of Sinai, and the Pentecost of the Church. We shall have occasion to show how the ancient figures were fulfilled in the realities of the new Easter and Pentecost, and how the twilight of the Mosaic Law made way f~r the full lay of the Gospel; but we cannot resist the feeling of holy reverence, at the bare thought that the Solemnities we have now to celebrate are more than three thousand years old, and that they are to be renewed every year from this till the Angel shall be heard proclaiming: ‘Time shall be no more !‘ The gates of eternity will then be thrown open.

Eternity in Heaven is the true Pasch: hence, our Pasch, here on earth, is the Feast of feasts, the Solemnity of solemnities. The human race was dead; it was the victim of that sentence, wierehy it was condemned to lie mere dust in the tomb; the gates of life were shut against it. But see the Son of God rises from His grave and takes possession of eternal life. Nor is He the only one that is to die no more, for, as the Apostle teaches us, He is the. first-born from the dead.’ The Church would, there- fore, have us consider ourselves as having already risen with our Jesus, and as having already taken possession of eternal life. The holy Fathers bid us look on these fifty days of Easter, as the image of our eternal happiness. They are days devoted exclusively to joy; every sort of sadness is forbidden; and the Church cannot speak to her divine Spouse without joining to her words that glorious cry of heaven, the Alleluia, wherewith, as the holy Liturgy says, the streets and squares of the heavenly Jerusalem resound without ceasing. We have been forbidden the use of this joyous word during the past nine weeks; it behoved us to die with Christ:- but now that we have risen together with Him, from the tomb, and that we are resolved to die no more that death, which kills the soul, and called our Redeemer to die on the Cross, we have a right to our Alleluia.

The Providence of God, who has established harmony between the visible world and the supernatural work of grace, willed that the Resurrection of our Lord should take place at that particular season of the year, when even nature herself seems to rise from the grave. The meadows give forth their verdure, the trees resume their foliage, the birds fill the air with their songs, and the sun, the type of our triumphant Jesus, pours out his floods of light on our earth made new by lovely Spring. At Christmas, the sun had little power, and his stay with us was short; it harmonized with the humble birth of our Emmanuel, who came among us in the midst of night, and shrouded in swaddling clothes ; but now, He is ‘as a giant that runs his way, and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.’1 Speaking, in the Canticle, to the faithful soul, and inviting her to take her part in this new life which He is now un parting to every creature, our Lord Himself says: ‘Arise, my dove, and come! Winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land. The voice of the turtle is heard. The fig-free hath put forth her green figs. The vines, in flower, yield their sweet smell. Arise thou, and come!‘

In the preceding chapter, we explained why our Saviour chose the Sunday for His Resurrection, whereby He conquered death and proclaimed life to the world. It was on this favoured day of the week, that He had, four thousand years previously, created the light; by selecting it now for the commencement of the new life He graciously imparts to man, He would show us that Easter is the renewal of the entire creation. Not only is the anniversary of His glorious Resurrection to be, henceforward, the greatest of days, but every Sunday throughout the year is to be a sort of Easter, a holy and sacred day. The Synagogue, by God’s command, kept holy the Saturday, or the Sabbath, and this in honour of God’s resting after the six days of the creation; but the Church, the Spouse, is commanded to honour the Work of her Lord. She allows the Saturday to pass,- it is the day her Jesus rested in the Sepulchre: but, now that she is illumined with the brightness of the Resurrection, she devotes to the contemplation of His Work the first day of the week; it is the day of light, for on it He called forth material light, (which was the first manifestation of life upon chaos) and on the same, He that is the ‘Brightness of the Father,’ and ‘the Light of the world,’ rose from the darkness of the tomb.

Let, then, the week with its Sabbath pass by; what we Christians want is the eighth day, the day that is beyond the measure of time, the day of eternity, the day whose light is not intermittent or partial, but endless and unlimited. Thus speak the holy Fathers, when explaining the substitution of the Sunday for the Saturday. It was, indeed, right that man should keep, as the day of his weekly and ~iritual repose, that on which the Creator of the visible world had taken His divine rest; but it was a commemoration of the material creation only. The Eternal Word comes down in the world that He has created; He comes with the rays of His divinity clouded beneath the humble veil of our flesh; He comes to fulfil the figures of the first Covenant. Before abrogating the Sabbath, He would observe it, as He did every tittle of the Law; He would spend it as the day of rest, after the work of His Passion, in the silence of the Sepulchre: but, early on the eighth day, He rises to life, and the life is one of glory. ‘Let us,’ says the learned and pious Abbot Rupert, ‘leave the Jews to enjoy the ancient Sabbath, which is a memorial of the visible creation. They know not how to love or desire or merit aught but earthly things. … They would not recognize this world’s Creator as their King, because He said: “Blessed are the poor!” and, ‘Wo to the rich!” But our Sabbath has been transferred from the seventh to the eighth day, and the eighth is the first. And rightly was the seventh changed into the eighth, because we Christians put our joy in a better work than the creation of the world.

Let the lovers of the world keep a Sabbath for its creation: but our joy is in the salvation of the world, for our life, yea and our rest, is hidden with Christ in God.”

The mystery of the seventh followed by an eighth day, as the holy one, is again brought before us by the number of weeks, which form Eastertide. These weeks are seven; they form a week of weeks, and their morrow is again a Sunday, the Feast of the glorious Pentecost. These mysterious numbers,— which God Himself fixed, when He instituted the first Pentecost after the first Pasch,—were followed by the Apostles, when they regulated the Christian Easter, as we learn from St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Isidore, Amalarius, Rabanus Maurus, and from all the ancient interpreters of the mysteries of the holy Liturgy. ‘If we multiply seven by seven,’ says St. Hilary, ‘We shall find that this holy Season is truly the Sabbath of sabbaths; but what completes it, and raises it to the plenitude of the Gospel, is the eighth day which follows, eighth and first both together in itself. The Apostles have given so sacred an in stitution to these seven weeks that, during then no one should kneel, or mar by fasting the spiritual joy of this long Feast. The same institution has been extended to each Sunday; for this day which follows the Saturday has become, by the application of the progress of the Gospel, the completion of the Saturday, and the day of feast and joy.”

Thus, then, the whole Season of Easter is marked with the mystery expressed by each Sunday of the year. Sunday is to us the great day of our wed because beautified with the splendour of our Lord’ Resurrection, of which the creation of material ugh was but a type. We have already said that the institution was prefigured in the Old Law, although the Jewish people were not in any way aware of ii Their Pentecost fell on the fiftieth day after the Pasch it was the morrow of the seven weeks. Another figure of our Eastertide was the year of Jubilee which God bade Moses prescribe to his people. Each fiftieth year, the houses and lands that had been alienated during the preceding forty-nine, returned to their original owners; and those Israelites, who have been compelled by poverty to sell themselves a slaves, recovered their liberty. This year which was properly called the Sabbatical year was the sequel of the preceding seven weeks of years, and was thu the image of our eighth day, whereon the Son of Mary, by His Resurrection, redeemed us from the slavery of the tomb, and restored us to the inheritance of our immortality.

The rites peculiar to Eastertide, in the present discipline of the Church, are two: the unceasing repetition of the Alleluia, of which we have a1ready spoken and the colour of the Vestments used for its two great solemnities, white for the first, and red for the second. White is appropriate to the Resurrection; it is the mystery of eternal light, which knows neither spot nor shadow; it is the mystery that produces in a faithful soul the sentiment of purity and joy. Pentecost, which gives us the Holy Spirit, the ‘consuming Fire,’1 is symbolized by the red vestments, which express the mystery of the Divine Paraclete coming down iii the form of fiery tongues upon them that were assembled in the Cenacle. With regard to the ancient usage of not kneeling during Paschal Time, we have already said, ti at there is a mere vestige of it now left in the Latin Liturgy.

The Saints’ Feasts, which were interrupted during Holy Week, are likewise excluded from the first eight days of Eastertide; but these ended, we shall have them in rich abundance, as a bright constellation of stars round the divine Sun of Justice, our Jesus. They will accompany us in our celebration of His admirable Ascension; but such is the grandeur of the mystery of Pentecost, that, from the eve of that day, they will be again interrupted until the expiration of Paschal Time.

The rites of the primitive Church with reference to the Neophytes, who were regenerated by Baptism on the night of Easter, are extremely interesting and instructive But as they are peculiar to the two Octaves of Easter and Pentecost, we will explain them as they are brought before us by the Liturgy of those days.

History of Passiontide and Holy Week

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From The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Gueranger

The holy liturgy is rich in mystery during these days of the Church’s celebrating the anniversaries of so many wonderful events; but as the principal part of these mysteries is embodied in the rites and ceremonies of the respective days, we shall give our explanations according as the occasion presents itself. Our object in the present chapter, is to say a few words respecting the general character of the mysteries of these two weeks.

We have nothing to add to the explanation, already given in our Lent, on the mystery of forty. The holy season of expiation continues its course until the fast of sinful man has imitated, in its duration, that observed by the Man-God in the desert. The army of Christ’s faithful children is still fighting against the invisible enemies of man’s salvation; they are still vested in their spiritual armour, and, aided by the angels of light, they are struggling hand to hand with the spirits of darkness, by compunction of heart and by mortification of the flesh.

As we have already observed, there are three objects which principally engage the thoughts of the Church during Lent. The Passion of our Redeemer, which we have felt to be coming nearer to us each week; the preparation of the catechumens for Baptism, which is to be administered to them on Easter eve; the reconciliation of the public penitents, who are to be readmitted into the Church on the Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. Each of these three object engages more and more the attention of the Church, the nearer she approaches the time of their celebration.

The miracle performed by our Saviour almost at the very gates of Jerusalem, by which He restored Lazarus to life, has roused the fury of His enemies to the highest pitch of phrensy. The people’s enthusiasm has been excited by seeing him, who had been four days in the grave, walking in the streets of their city. They ask each other if the Messias, when He comes, can work greater wonders than these done by Jesus, and whether they ought not at once to receive this Jesus as the Messias, and sing their Hosanna to Him, for He is the Son of David. They cannot contain their feelings: Jesus enters Jerusalem, and they welcome Him as their King. The high priests and princes of the people are alarmed at this demonstration of feeling; they have no time to lose; they are resolved to destroy Jesus. We are going to assist at their impious conspiracy: the Blood of the just Man is to be sold, and the price put on it is thirty silver pieces. The divine Victim, betrayed by one of His disciples, is to be judged, condemned, and crucified. Every circumstance of this awful tragedy is to be put before us by the liturgy, not merely in words, but with all the expressiveness of a sublime ceremonial.

The catechumens have but a few more days to wait for the fount that is to give them life. Each day their instruction becomes fuller; the figures of the old Law are being explained to them; and very little now remains for them to learn with regard to the mysteries of salvation. The Symbol of faith is soon to be delivered to them. Initiated into the glories and the humiliations of the Redeemer, they will await with the faithful the moment of His glorious Resurrection; and we shall accompany them with our prayers and hymns at that solemn hour, when, leaving the defilements of sin in the life-giving waters of the font, they shall come forth pure and radiant with innocence, be enriched with the gifts of the holy Spirit, and be fed with the divine flesh of the Lamb that liveth for ever.

The reconciliation of the penitents, too, is close at hand. Clothed in sackcloth and ashes, they are continuing their work of expiation. The Church has still several passages from the sacred Scriptures to read to them, which, like those we have already heard during the last few weeks, will breathe consolation and refreshment to their souls. The near approach of the day when the Lamb is to be slain increases their hope, for they know that the Blood of this Lamb is of infinite worth, and can take away the sins of the whole world. Before the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, they will have recovered their lost innocence; their pardon will come in time to enable them, like the penitent prodigal, to join in the great Banquet of that Thursday, when Jesus will say to His guests: ‘With desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with you before I suffer.’ (Luke 22:15).

Such are the sublime subjects which are about to be brought before us: but, at the same time, we shall see our holy mother the Church mourning, like a disconsolate widow, and sad beyond all human grief. Hitherto she has been weeping over the sins of her children; now she bewails the death of her divine Spouse. The joyous Alleluia has long since been hushed in her canticles; she is now going to suppress another expression, which seems too glad for a time like the present. Partially, at first [Unless it be the feast of a saint, as frequently happens during the first of these two weeks. The same exception is to be made in what follows.], but entirely during the last three days, she is about to deny herself the use of that formula, which is so dear to her: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. There is an accent of jubilation in these words, which would ill suit her grief and the mournfulness of the rest of her chants.

Her lessons, for the night Office, are taken from Jeremiah, the prophet of lamentation above all others. The colour of her vestments is the one she had on when she assembled us at the commencement of Lent to sprinkle us with ashes; but when the dreaded day of Good Friday comes, purple would not sufficiently express the depth of her grief; she will clothe herself in black, as men do when mourning the death of a fellow-mortal; for Jesus, her Spouse, is to be put to death on that day: the sins of mankind and the rigours of the divine justice are then to weigh him down, and in all the realities of a last agony, He is to yield up His Soul to His Father.

The presentiment of that awful hour leads the afflicted mother to veil the image of her Jesus: the cross is hidden from the eyes of the faithful. The statues of the saints, too, are covered; for it is but just that, if the glory of the Master be eclipsed, the servant should not appear. The interpreters of the liturgy tell us that this ceremony of veiling the crucifix during Passiontide, expresses the humiliation to which our Saviour subjected Himself, of hiding Himself when the Jews threatened to stone Him, as is related in the Gospel of Passion Sunday. The Church begins this solemn rite with the Vespers of the Saturday before Passion Sunday. Thus it is that, in those years when the feast of our Lady’s Annunciation falls in Passion-week, the statue of Mary, the Mother of God, remains veiled, even on that very day when the Archangel greets her as being full of grace, and blessed among women.