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Fifth Week after Easter

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra lætentur, alleluia.

℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.


ON this day, which is sacred to Mary, let us open the holy Gospel according to St John. There, in the second chapter, we find these words: There was a marriage in Cana of Galileeand the Mother of Jesus was there.[1] The sacred text goes on to say that Jesus also and his disciples were among the guests; but the Holy Spirit, who guided the Evangelist's hand, would have him first make mention of Mary. It was to teach us that this our blessed Mother extends her protection to those who enter upon the married life with worthy dispositions, that is, with such dispositions as to draw down upon themselves the blessing of her divine Son.

Marriage is a sacred state, for it was instituted by God. The first marriage was celebrated in the earthly Paradise between Adam and Eve, when yet they were innocent. It was God himself who dictated the conditions of marriage. Unity was to be its very basis; in other words, the wife was to have but one husband, the husband was to have but one wife. It was the type of a still more glorious unity, which was not to be revealed till a later period. The mystery of unity typified by marriage being part of the Christian revelation, we deem it a duty to put it before our readers by the following considerations.

The angels were all created at one and the same time: but the members of the human race were to be bom, each indeed from their respective parents, but yet so as that Adam and Eve were to be the common parents to whom all were to owe their origin. Such was our Creator’s design, and marriage was the means he selected for its fulfilment. An immense multitude of the angels having fallen, the places destined for them in heaven were to be filled up by the elect of earth; again, it was marriage that was to provide these citizens for heaven. Hence, God blessed marriage at the very commencement of the world, and with a blessing which was to be permanent, for, as the Church teaches us in the Liturgy,’it was not recalled, either by the punishment inflicted on original sin, or by the sentence which destroyed the world by the deluge.’[2]

Even before this second great chastisement came upon the earth, all flesh hud corrupted its way,[3] and marriage had fallen from the elevated dignity given to it by the Creator. The end for which he instituted it was forgotten; it was debased into a mere sensual gratification; it lost the sacred unity, which was its glory. Polygamy and divorce destroyed its primitive character, and two frightful evils ensued: family ties were at an end, and woman’s position was degraded into that of a being which must minister to man’s passions. The lesson intended to be conveyed by the Deluge was soon lost sight of; the world again became depraved, so much so indeed, that when the Mosaic Law came with its reforms, it had not power to restore to marriage the dignity of its first institution.

To effect this, it was requisite that God himself should descend upon the earth. When the miseries of humanity had reached their height, the Word, the second Person of the blessed Trinity, assumed our human nature, and dwelt amongst us. He called himself the Bridegroom.[4] The prophets and the Canticle of Canticles had foretold that he would take to himself a Spouse from among mortals. This Spouse is the Church—that is, the human race purified by baptism and enriched with supernatural gifts. As a dowry, he gave her his own precious Blood and merits; and then united her to himself for ever. This Spouse is One: he affectionately calls her his Only One.[5] On her part, she has no other but him. Here we have revealed to us the divine type on which marriage was formed, which, as the Apostle teaches us, derives its holiness and dignity from its resemblance to the union existing between Christ and his Church.[6] The two unions are for the same end, and bear a mutual relation to each other. Jesus loves his Church with the tenderest affection; but his Church is the issue of human marriage, for it is marriage that provides the Church with her children, and thus perpetuates her existence upon the earth. Let us not be surprised, therefore, that Jesus restored marriage to its primitive condition, and that he honours it as being his powerful aid in the accomplishment of his designs.

We have already seen, on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, how he selected the nuptial feast at Cana as the occasion of his working his first public miracle. By his accepting the invitation to assist, in company with his blessed Mother, at the marriage, it is evident that he wished to honour, by his divine presence, the sacred engagement which was to unite the two spouses; it is evident that he intended to renew, in their persons, the ancient blessing given in Paradise. Having, by his miracle at Cana, proved himself to be truly the Son of God, he began his public life and preaching. His object being to reform fallen man to the noble end for which he had been created, he frequently made marriage the subject of his instructions. He spoke of its being divinely instituted on the basis of unity. He authoritatively repeated the command given at its first institution: They shall be two in one flesh:[7] two, and only two. Speaking of the indissolubility of the marriage tie, he told his hearers that no power on earth, not even the unfaithfulness, however criminal, of the husband or wife, could sever the bond. These were his words: What God hath joined togetherlet no man put asunder.[8] Thus did he restore marriage to its normal state; thus did he abrogate the degrading liberty, or more correctly, the libertinism, of polygamy and divorce—those sad proofs of the hardness of man’s heart,[9] and of the need he had of a Redeemer. Thus did the New Law bring back to marriage its primal blessing, and make it once more a holy state, which, so far from being an obstacle, is a means to virtue, and peoples both earth and heaven with the elect.

But our Risen Jesus would do more than repair the injuries brought upon marriage by human frailty. He raised to the dignity of a sacrament the solemn and irrevocable contract whereby a man and woman take each other for husband and wife. The moment that two Christians are thus irrevocably united, a sacramental grace descends upon them, and cements their union, which there and then becomes a sacred thing. The Apostle, speaking of Christian marriage, says: It is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christand in the Church.[10] The meaning of these words is that marriage is the type of the union which exists between Christ and his Spouse the Church. There is one and the same object and end in the two unions—in that of Christ with the Church, and in that of the husband with his wife: this object, this end, is to people heaven with the elect. Hence it is that the Holy Ghost puts his divine seal upon both these unions.

But the grace of the seventh sacrament does more than cement the indissoluble union of husband and wife. It gives them every help they stand in need of for the fulfilment of their sacred mission. First of all, it infuses into their hearts a mutual love, which is strong as death, and which many waters cannot quench,[11] so long as they make religion the ruling principle of their lives. This love is mingled with a sentiment of chaste respect, which serves as a check upon evil concupiscence. It is a love which time, far from impairing, makes purer and stauncher. It is a love calm like that which is found in heaven. When sacrifices are to be made, it makes them almost without an effort, and is intensified by the making. The sacramental grace also fits the husband and wife for the great duty of educating their children. It gives them an untiring devotedness for their welfare; an affectionate patience with their faults; a supernatural discernment for treating them according to their age and dispositions; a ceaseless remembrance of the fact that these dear ones were created for heaven; and, finally, a deep-rooted sentiment that they belong to God more truly than to the parents, through whom he gave them life.

Thus was the married state transformed by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony. The Christian Law restored to it the dignity of which the vile egotism of pagan passion had deprived it. After so long a period of degradation, mankind was again brought to the knowledge of what marriage really is—namely, love surrounded by sacrifice, and sacrifice prompted and aided by love. Truly a sacrament was needed for bringing about such a change as this! The change came, and admirable indeed it was. Two centuries had not elapsed since the promulgation of the Gospel, and paganism was still powerful; and yet we find a writer of those days giving the following description of a Christian husband and wife.’How shall I find words to describe the happiness of a marriage, whose tie is formed by the hands of the Church, which is confirmed by the sacred oblation, sealed by the blessing, proclaimed by the angels, and ratified by the heavenly Father? How wonderful a yoke is that which is taken up by two of the faithful united together in the same hope, in the same law, in the same duty! They have the same God for their Father, they serve the same Master, they are two in one flesh, they are one heart and soul. They pray together, they prostrate together, they fast together; they instruct each other, they exhort each other, they encourage each other. You see them together in the Church, and at the holy Table. They share in each other's trials, persecutions, and joys. There are no secrets between them; no such thing as shunning each other, or being wearied of each other's company. They have not to hide from each other, in order to visit the sick or the needy. Their alms excite no disputes; they approve of each other’s sacrifices; they interfere not with each other’s practices of piety. They have no need to make the sign of the Cross stealthily; neither are they afraid to give way, in each other’s presence, to feelings of love and gratitude for their God. They sing together the psalms and canticles: and if there be any rivalry between them, it is which of them shall best sing the praises of God. Oh! these are the marriages which gladden the eyes and ears of Christ. These are the marriages to which he imparts his blessing of peace. He has said, that he would be where two are united together; therefore, he is in such a house as the one we are describing; and the enemy of man is not there.’[12]

What a picture! and how great must be the sacrament which can bring about such results as this! Here is the secret of the world’s regeneration: it was our Lord Jesus Christ himself who created the beautiful existence of a Christian family, and implanted it on our earth. Long ages passed, and this was the type which, in spite of human frailty, was the only one acknowledged either by the conscience of individuals or by the public laws of nations. But the pagan element, which may be repressed, but which never dies, strove to regain what it had lost; and at length the time came when it succeeded in falsifying, in the majority of Christian countries, the notion of marriage. Faith teaches us, that this contract, now become a sacrament, comes under the jurisdiction of the Church, in what regards the bond, which constitutes its very essence: but the modem world looks on the Church as a power incompatible with the progress of liberty and enlightenment; and therefore the State takes the Church’s place, as often as it is deemed good for society! and marriage has been debased into a civil act. The immediate consequence of this has been, that the State can legalize divorce, and therefore paganize Society. The influence exercised over the world by the long predominance of the Christian spirit has not been entirely removed by this iniquitous secularization of marriage; still, from the principles laid down by our modem Governments we have this logical and practical result: that a marriage may be indissoluble and sacramental in the eyes of the Church, and null in the eyes of the civil power; and again, a marriage held to be legal by the State may be counted as invalid by the Church, and therefore not binding on the conscience. The rupture between Church and State is, therefore, consummated.

And yet that which Christ has appointed cannot be effaced by man. What Jesus has instituted is to last to the end of time. Therefore let Christians fear not: let them continue to receive from their mother, the Church, the doctrine of the sacraments; let them continue to look upon marriage as a divine institution, such as we have been describing it to be; and thus, they may save Society and re-Christianize it, or, if that cannot be, they will save their own and their children's souls.

The close of this week, and these reflections upon the divine sacrament of matrimony, lead us to think of thee, dear Mother of Jesus! The marriage feast at Cana, which was honoured by thy presence and blessing, is one of the great facts of the holy Gospel. Why, O thou purest of Virgins, who wouldst have refused the dignity of being Mother of God had it called for the sacrifice of the treasure already conferred on thee—why wast thou present at these nuptials, if not to teach a sublime lesson? This lesson is that holy and perfect continency is a state far superior to that of marriage. It is a lesson which exercises an immense influence upon the married life, inasmuch as it secures to it its Christian dignity and happiness. Who, then, could have been more appropriately chosen by God than thou, to bless a union which is so holy in itself, and instituted for so sublime an end? Shield it with thy protection now more than ever, for the world's laws have legislated for its ruin, and sensualism has destroyed in thousands of Christians the sense of right and wrong. There are exceptions: there are some who receive this sacrament with the holiest of dispositions: upon these, O Mary, lavish thy blessing. They are the inheritance of thy divine Son; they are the salt of the earth, to keep it from universal corruption; they are the pledge of a better future. They are thy children, sweet Mother! then watch over them, add to their number, that so the world may not perish.

To Mary, the Virgin of virgins, and Protectress of Christian Marriage: to Mary, who was the Spouse of the Eternal Word before she became his Mother by the Incarnation: let us, to-day, offer this beautiful sequence of the Catholic Germany of the Middle Ages; let us devoutly present it to her as the ring of her chaste nuptials.

Sequence

Ave Virgo nobilis,
Desponsari habilis
Summo Regi, annulum,
Arrhabonis titulum, Suscipe, Maria.

Novum florem virgula,
Paranympho credula,
Concipis, quam Jaspidis
Color monstrat viridis plenam fide pia.

Virtus spei stabilis,
Numquam in te labilis
Fuit neque veritas,
Signat ut serenitas cœlica Sapphiri.

Lucens Chalcedonius,
Sed sub divo pulchrius,
Pandit te eximio
Charitatis radio fervide igniri.

Ut Smaragdi claritas
Monstrat et viriditas,
Mente cunctis purior
Es, et elegantior actu virtuali.

Sardonyx inturbidus
Ruber, niger, candidus,
Te designat limpide
Conversatam placide gestu virginali.

Bene rubens Sardius
Indicat apertius,
Mortis Christi gladium
Sauciasse nimium spiritum Mariae.

Exprimit Chrysolithus,
Præ fulgore inclytus,
Flammeis scintillulis,
Claram te miraculis ac dono sophiæ.

A Beryllo pallido,
Sed nitenti fulgido,
Humilis in animo,
Et benigna proximo rite comprobaris.

Tandem pretiosior,
Cunctis gemmis gratior,
Asserit Topazius,
Cunctis quod limpidius Deum contemplaris.

Ecce nunc, qui rubeas
Guttas jacit aureas
Chrysoprasus, nimii
Æstu desiderii refert te fervere.

Ut Hyacinthus celeri
Se conformat aetheri,
Sic fers opem anxiis,
Tuis quos auxiliis cernis indigere.

Insuper te omnibus,
Deo et hominibus,
Prædilectam, roseus
Color et purpureus probat Amethysti.

Recte evangelica
Margarita cœlica
Es mercantum omnium;
Felix qui commercium consequitur Christi!

Grandis niger dicitur,
Venis albis cingitur.
Qui te vere humilem
Hinc et acceptabilem reseret Achates.

Illico Onychinus
Mixtus fert, quod
Dominus Piis te virtutibus
Adornavit omnibus, quam optarunt vates.

Nunc te prodit largiter
Adamas, qui firmiter
Cunctis obstat ictibus,
In adversis omnibus fortem, patientem.

Indicat perlucida
Te Crystallus frigida
Mente, carne virginem,
Nostræque originem spei existentem.

Sic te temperantia,
Ac timoris gratia
Ornant, ut egregius
Aperit Ligurius similis Electro.

Magnes ferrum propius
Attrahit celerius:
Virgo pœnitentium
Chordas tangit mentium pietatis plectro.

Approbat Carbunculus,
Lucens nocte oculus,
Longe, late, largiter
Laudis tuae jugiter famam dilatari.

Regnans in coelestibus,
Ornata virtutibus,
Munda nos a vitiis,
Et de tuis nuptiis facias laetari.

Insuper in copia
Exsultat Arabia,
Ophir, Saba pariter,
Tharsis dat similiter aurum affluenter.

Ex quo praesens parvulus
Sit gemmatus annulus,
Quem oblatum hodie
Per nos, sponsa gloriae suscipe clementer.

Amen.
Hail, O noble Virgin!
called to be the Spouse of the great King!
Receive, O Mary, this ring
as the expression of our loving congratulation.

Tender branch! thou didst believe
the angel’s word and conceive
Jesus, the fresh Flower.
The green-coloured Jasper shows thy fervent faith.

Thy hope, like thy truth,
was changeless and unwavering.
Its emblem is the Sapphire,
with its heavenly blue.

The bright Chalcedony,
whose beauty doubles in the light of day,
signifies the burning flame of charity
that glowed within thy heart.

The pure green Emerald
tells us that thou surpassest all creatures
in the purity of thy soul
and in the loveliness of thy holy deeds.

The limpid Sardonyx,
with its veins of red and black and white,
bespeaks thy innocent
and peaceful and modest bearing.

The deep red Sardius
plainly tells us that thy soul, O Mary,
was wounded through and through
by the sword of the death of Christ.

The Chrysolite,
with its sparkling golden rays,
denotes thy admirable miracles,
and the wisdom wherewith thou wast gifted.

The pale yet shining
Beryl reminds us
aptly of thy humility,
and of thy love of thy neighbour.

The Topaz,
that richest and loveliest of gems,
tells us that no creature enjoyed so clearly as thou
the contemplation of our God.

See, now, the Chrysoprasus!
What say its red golden drops,
but that thy soul burned
with exceeding love?

As the Hyacinth,
which adapts its colour to the air around it,
thou helpest them
that are in trouble and need thy aid.

The Amethyst,
with its ruddy and purple colour,
symbolizes thy being beloved
by God and Man.

Truly art thou the spiritual Pearl of the Gospel,
after which all are in search.
Oh! happy they that find
the merchandise of Christ!

The Agate,
a large black stone with white veins,
speaks to us of thy humility, which
makes thee so dear to God.

The very sight of the manycoloured Onyx
tells us that God enriched
thee with every virtue,
O thou whom the prophets longed to behold!

The Diamond,
which is proof against every blow,
loudly proclaims thy courage
and patience in all adversities.

The cool transparent Crystal
makes us think of thee,
who wast a Virgin in mind and body,
and the commencement of our hope.

The beautiful amber-like Ligurius
reminds us of the grace
of temperance and fear
that beautified thy soul.

The Lodestone
attracts iron to itself;
so thou, O Virgin! touchest with the wand of devotion
the heart-strings of them that repent.

The Carbuncle,
like a bright eye glistening in the gloom,
tells us that, far and wide,
thy praise is loudly and ever proclaimed.

O Queen of heaven!
O rich in every virtue!
cleanse us from vice,
and give us to rejoice in thy nuptials.

Arabia and Ophir,
Saba and Tharsis,
yield an abundance
of gold.

From which we form this our humble gift,
this jewelled ring.
O glorious Spouse of Jesus!
deign to accept the offering we this day present unto thee.

Amen.

[1] St John ii 1.
[2] Missale Romanum: Prœfatio super Sponsam.
[3] Gen. vi 12.
[4] St Matt. ix 15.
[5] Cant. vi 8.
[6] Eph. v 32.
[7] St Matt. xix 5. Gen. ii 24.
[8] St Matt. xix 6.
[9] Ibid. 8.
[10] Eph. v 32.
[11] Cant. viii 6, 7.
[12] Tertullian, Ad uxorem, lib. il, cap. ix.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra lætentur, alleluia.

℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.


WE have reverently followed our Redeemer in his institution of the sacramental helps, whereby man is placed and kept in the state of sanctifying grace, from his first entrance into this life to his leaving it for the eternal enjoyment of the beatific vision. We must now speak of that sublime sacrament, which was instituted by Jesus as the source whence mankind is to receive the other sacraments.

This sacrament is Holy Orders, and it is so called because of its being conferred in several distinct degrees upon those who receive it. As in heaven the angels are arranged in different ranks according as they have been endowed with a greater or less degree of light and power, in such wise that they who are higher act upon those that are lower; so it is in the sacrament of Holy Orders; there is order in the several ranks, and the higher act upon the lower by the communication of light and power. It is this that constitutes the hierarchy of the Church. Hierarchy means Sacred Government. It comprises three degrees: the episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate, in which last are included the Orders below it. This is called the hierarchy of Order, to distinguish it from the hierarchy of Jurisdiction. This second, which is entrusted with the government of the Church, is composed of the Pope, of the bishops, and of the inferior clergy to whom the Pope and bishops delegate a part of their power of government. We have already seen how this hierarchy takes its origin from that sovereign act whereby our Lord Jesus, the shepherd of men, gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom of God. The hierarchy of Order is intimately connected with the second, and its object is the sanctification of men by the administration of the treasures of grace confided to its keeping.

As we have already said, Jesus appeared to his Apostles on the day of his Resurrection, and said to them: As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.[1] Now the Father sent his Son that he might be the Shepherd of men; and we have heard Jesus bidding Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep. The Father sent his Son that he might be the Teacher of men; and we have seen Jesus entrusting to his Apostles the truths which were to be proposed to us as the object of our faith. But the Father sent the Son that he might also be the High Priest of men; Jesus must, therefore, leave this same priesthood on earth, that it may be continued among us to the end of time. Now what is a priest? He is the mediator between heaven and earth; he reconciles man to his God, by offering a sacrifice that gives infinite honour to God and atones for man's sin; he cleanses the sinner's conscience, and makes him a just man; he, in a word, unites man to his God by the mysteries of which he is the dispenser.

Jesus exercised all these functions of a priest agreeably to the mission given him by the Father; but the Father would have them to be continued, even after his Son should have ascended into heaven. For this it was necessary that Jesus should communicate his priestly character, by a special sacrament, to a few chosen men, just as by baptism he conferred upon all his faithful the dignity of being his members. Here again, it will be the Holy Ghost that will act, in each stage or degree of the sacrament. It was by his divine operation that the Incarnate Word entered into Mary's womb; it is his action that will imprint on the souls of them that are presented the priestly character of this same Jesus our Lord. Hence, after using the words just cited, Jesus breathed on his Apostles, and said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost! hereby showing that it is by a special infusion of him who is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, that men are fitted for being sent by the Sonas the Son was sent by the Father.

And yet the Apostles and their successors are to confer this sacrament, not by a breath—that is the prerogative of the Word, the author of life—but by the imposition of hands. It is at the solemn moment of the imposition of the bishop's hands over them who are to be ordained, that the Holy Ghost comes down upon them. Thus will be transmitted the heavenly gift from generation to generation. It will be conferred in its several degrees, according to the will of the hierarch, by and with whom the Holy Ghost acts. So that when Jesus comes on the last day to judge the world, he will find on earth the sacred character which he conferred upon his Apostles when he gave them the Holy Ghost.

Let us attentively and devoutly contemplate the mystic ladder of the hierarchy, established by our Jesus, whereby we might ascend to heaven. At the very summit is the bishop, having in himself the plenitude of Holy Orders and the power to produce other pontiffs, and priests, and deacons. He has the power of offering up the Holy Sacrifice; he holds the keys whereof our Lord speaks, when he says: Whatsoever ye shall bind upon earthshall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose upon earthshall be loosed also in heaven;[2] he can administer all the sacraments; the consecration of the Chrism and Holy Oils belongs to his office; he can not only bless, he can also consecrate.

Next comes the priest, who truly looks upon the bishop as his spiritual father, seeing that it was by the imposition of the bishop’s hands that he received the dignity and character of priesthood. The priest, however, does not possess the plenitude of Jesus’ priesthood. His hands, though most holy, have not the power to produce other priests; he blesses, but he does not consecrate;[3] he must look to the bishop for holy Chrism, for he himself cannot make it. Notwithstanding this, his dignity is great, for he has power to offer the Holy Sacrifice, and his offering is the same as that of the bishop. He forgives the sins of those whom the bishop has put under his care. The solemn administration of baptism is entrusted to him, when the bishop himself does not perform it: and as to extreme unction, it is essentially a priest’s function.

The next lower order is that of deacon, who is, as the Greek name implies, the servant of the priest. Not having the priesthood, he cannot offer sacrifice, nor remit sins, nor give extreme unction to the dying: but he assists and serves the priest at the Altar, and stands by his side during the solemn moment of consecration. He reads the holy Gospel, from the ambo, to the people. The Blessed Sacrament is entrusted to his care, and, failing a priest, he is allowed to distribute it to the faithful. In similar circumstances, he could solemnly administer baptism. He has also the power of preaching the word of God to the people.

These are the three degrees of the hierarchy of Order. They correspond, as the great St Denis teaches, with the three degrees whereby man attains to union with God: namely, purification, illumination, and perfection. The deacon prepares the catechumen and the sinner, by instructing them in the word of God, which will purify their minds from error, and incite them to the repentance of their sins and to a desire of being freed from them. The priest enlightens these same by the illumination of holy baptism, by the remission of their sins, and by admitting them to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. The bishop pours out upon them the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and raises them, by their seeing his own supereminent prerogatives, to union with Christ. Such is the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is the essential means established for the salvation of mankind, the channel through which God has ordained that the infinite graces of the Incarnation should flow upon the earth, and the medium whereby is perpetuated among us the presence and action of our Redeemer.

Let us give thanks to our Jesus for this unspeakable blessing. Let us honour the priesthood of the New Law; it is Jesus who inaugurated it in his own person, and who afterwards entrusted it to men, chosen by him for continuing the mission given to him by his Father. The sacraments are the true life of the world; but who are the ministers of these sacraments? The priests of the Church. Let us pray for those who are in Holy Orders; for their responsibilities are great, their dignity is divine, and yet they themselves are but men. They are not a tribe or a caste, as were the priests in the Old Law; but they are taken from every race and family. Finally, a priest, though inferior to the angels by nature, is, by the office he holds, superior to these blessed spirits.

Let us celebrate, to-day, the Resurrection of our eternal High Priest, by this joyous canticle of the ancient Missal of Liége:

Sequence

Eia dic nobis
Quibus e terris

Nova cuncto mundo
Nuncias gaudia,

Nostram rursus
Visitans patriam.

Respondens placido vultu,
Dulci voce dixit: Alleluia.

Angelus mihi de Christo indicavit
Pia miracula.

Resurrexisse Dominum
Cecinit voce laudanda.

Mox ergo pennas
Volucris vacuas

Dirigens laeta per auras:
Redii famulis,

Ut dicam vacuatum legem veterem,
Et novam regnare gratiam.

Itaque plaudite, famuli, voce clara:
Christus hodie redemit nos a morte dira.

Pater Filium tradidit servis,
Ut interimerent pro salute nostra.

Sponte subiit Filius mortem,
Ut nos redimeret morte ab aeterna.

Nunc requiem capere licet ovibus,
Et frui vita perpetua.

Hunc colite pariter mecum famuli
Celebri laude sanctum Pascha.

Christus est Pax nostra.

Alleluia.
Tell us, O Magdalen!
from what land comest thou,

announcing new joy
to the whole world.

And visiting once
more our country?

She answered with a placid look,
and sweet voice, saying: ‘Alleluia!

‘An angel hath told me of the
dear prodigies wrought by Christ:

‘He sang forth with a voice of praise,
that the Lord hath risen from the tomb.

‘Whereupon, I swiftly took wing,
and joyfully sped my way through the thin air:

‘I have returned to you,
servants of God!

that I may tell you that the Old Law is made void,
and the New Law of grace hath begun its reign.’

Sing then, O servants of God! sweetly sing:
‘This day hath Christ delivered us from cruel death.

‘The Father hath delivered up his Son to his creatures,
that they might slay him for the sake of our salvation.

‘The Son, of his own free will, suffered death,
that he might redeem us from eternal death.’

Now may the sheep take their rest,
and enjoy never-ending life.

O ye servants of God! unite with me in celebrating
the praise of this holy Pasch.

Christ is our Peace.

Alleluia.

[1] St John xx 21.
[2] St Matt. xviii 18.
[3] The exception of the act of Consecration in the Mass is, of course, understood. —Tr.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra lætentur, alleluia.

℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.


BY the first four sacraments, our Saviour provided for the several spiritual necessities of man during this mortal life. Baptism gives him spiritual birth, Confirmation arms him for the battle, the Eucharist is his food, Penance is his cure. But the last moment of life—that most important and terrible of all, on which depends eternity—does it not seem to require a special sacramental aid? Could it be that our Redeemer, after so lovingly supplying us with a sacrament to meet our other wants, would leave us unprovided when we are dying, that is, when we are passing from this to another life, and are weighed down with bodily and mental sufferings? No: he has provided a sacrament for the dying; the grace of redemption puts on a new form, that it may visit and fortify us in our last struggle.

Even before his Passion, he gave us some idea of the sacrament he intended to institute for the help of the dying. When he sent his disciples before him, that they might prepare the people for his preaching, he commanded them to anoint the sick with oil: they did so, and the result was the cure of them that were thus anointed.[1] But after his Resurrection, when our Redeemer was preparing the dowry of his Church, he gave her a sacrament wherewith this Mother was to administer special grace and consolation to her children when in danger of death.

Oil is the symbol of strength; hence, the wrestlers of old used it as a means for acquiring activity and nerve. Our Saviour chose it as the matter of the sacrament of confirmation, whereby our souls, after being regenerated by baptism, are strengthened for their future combats. The hour of death is a combat, but one so terrible that it stands apart by itself. It is then that Satan, seeing how the long-coveted prey is soon to be beyond his reach, redoubles his efforts to make it his own for ever. The dying Christian, standing as he does on the brink of eternity, is exposed to two temptations: presumption and despair. In a few moments he will be before the Judge, whose sentence is irrevocable. The remnants of sin are still upon him, and clog his soul. How will he comport himself in that last combat, on which depends the final success of all the previous ones of his life? Is not this an occasion for a special sacrament, whereby our Jesus may provide his combatant with the help so urgently needed? Yes; and here again it is oil. The first anointing was that of confirmation, and it gave strength; and the last, or as it is called, extreme unction, is equally rich in power: it is the last application made to mankind of the Redeemer’s blood,’which flows in such abundance with this holy oil.’[2]

Let us consider the effects of extreme unction, of which the Apostle St James speaks to us in his Epistle. What he there tells us, he had received from Jesus’ own lips. First of all, this sacrament brings forgiveness of sins;[3] forgiveness of those sins which the conscience, however diligent it may have been in its examination, had overlooked; but which, nevertheless, injure the soul: and forgiveness of those remnants of sin, which continue after the guilt of sin has been remitted; like wounds which, though cured, are not quite closed, and keep the patient weak. The holy oil anoints each of the senses; each has been the source of sin; each now receives its special purification. These doors, which up to this moment had been open to the world, are now closed; so that the soul can be all intent upon eternal things. Let the enemy come now, if he will; his attacks can do no harm. He expected to find his adversary the poor earthly-minded creature of old, on whom he had inflicted hundreds of wounds; but lo! he finds a soldier of Christ, vigorous and brave. It is extreme unction that has worked the change.

But the effects of this sacrament do not stop here. Though primarily instituted for imparting strength to the soul, yet it has the power of restoring health to the body too. We learn this from the Apostle St James. His words are these: Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Churchand let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up.[4] The sacred formula, which accompanies each anointing in this sacrament, has therefore the power of restoring bodily health, at the same time that it drives away the remnants of sin, which is the chief cause of all man's miseries, whether of soul or body. Such is the interpretation put by the Church on the words of St James; and we have continual proofs that our divine Master has not forgotten the promise of twofold efficacy which he gave to this sacrament. Hence it is, that after having anointed the several senses of the sick person, the priest addresses God in earnest prayer, that he would restore strength of body to him or her whose soul has received the efficacy of the heavenly remedy. Nay, the Church looks upon the restoration to bodily health as so truly a sacramental effect of extreme unction, that she does not consider as miracles, properly so called, the cures produced by its administration.

Let us, then, offer to the conqueror of death the homage of our thanks for this fresh proof of his compassionate love. He would himself experience all our miseries, not excepting even death or the agony that precedes it. When on his Cross, and enduring every anguish, as though he were a poor dying sinner, and not the Saint of saints, he thought of our deaths, and mercifully blessed our last agony with an outpouring of his precious Blood. This was the origin of the beautiful sacrament of extreme unction, which he gave to his Church, after his Resurrection, and for which we offer him to-day our humble thanks.

The following hymn—composed by St Ambrose, and used during Paschal Time in the Church of Milan—celebrates with the Saint's characteristic vigour of style the thoroughness of the salvation wrought by the Death of Christ, as was made evident in the conversion of the Good Thief.

 

Hymn

Hic est dies verus Dei,
Sanctus sereno lumine,
Quo diluit sanguis sacer
Probrosa mundi crimina.

Fidem refundens perditis,
Cæcosque visu illuminans:
Quem non gravi solvet metu
Latronis absolutio?

Qui præmio mutans crucem,
Jesum brevi acquirit fide,
Justusque praevio gradu
Pervenit in regnum Dei.

Opus stupent et angeli,
Pænam videntes corporis,
Christoque adhaerentem reum
Vitam beatam carpere.

Mysterium mirabile,
Ut abluat mundi luem,
Peccata tollit omnium,
Camis vitia mundans caro.

Quid hoc potest sublimius,
Ut culpa quærat gratiam,
Metumque solvat charitas,
Reddatque mors vitam novam?

Hamum sibi mors devoret,
Suisque se nodis liget:
Moriatur vita omnium,
Resurgat ut vita omnium.

Cum mors per omnes transeat,
Omnes resurgunt mortui:
Consumpta mors ictu suo
Perisse se solam gemit.

Gloria tibi Domine,
Qui surrexisti a mortuis,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu,
In sempiterna sæcula.

Amen.
This is indeed God's own day,
holy with its unclouded light,
whereon the sacred Blood washed away
the world’s infamous crimes.

It enkindles confidence in the hopeless;
it gives sight to the blind.
Oh! who would not cease to despair at the thought
of the pardon granted to the Thief?

His cross was changed into a crown;
he gained Jesus by a brief act of faith;
and, being justified, was the first
to enter into the kingdom of God.

The very angels are bewildered at the change:
they behold the criminal suffering bodily tortures,
yet united with Christ, and culling
the flower of life everlasting.

O wondrous mystery!
Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world,
that he may cleanse it from its filth:
Flesh washes away the sins of flesh.

What more sublime than this?
—sin seeking for grace,
love expelling fear,
and death giving a new life.

Let death swallow the hook he throws out to others;
let him be caught in his own net!
Let him but die, who is the Life of all,
and all will rise to life.

All men pass through death,
and all the dead rise again to life:
death’s blow falls on himself,
and none die but he.

Glory be to thee, O Lord,
who didst rise again from the dead!
and to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost,
for everlasting ages.

Amen.

[1] St Mark vi 13.
[2] Bossuet, Oraison funebre de Madame Henriette.
[3] St James v 15.
[4] St James v 14, 15.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra lætentur, alleluia.

℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.


WE now come to the fourth sacrament, which may be justly called the sacrament of mercy. Jesus knew the weakness of man. He knew that the great majority of Christians would not persevere in the grace they received at baptism; and that sin would in most cases spoil the beautiful plant which had been watered by the dew of heaven, and which, after growing and flowering, was to be transplanted into the garden of eternal life. Like grass that lies withered on the field, so would be this once fair plant. How could it ever revive, unless he that made it gave it life again? Thanks to his infinite mercy, this is what he has the will to do. Consulting the sinner's salvation rather than his own glory, he prepared, as the holy Fathers express it, a second plank after shipwreck. The first was baptism; but mortal sin came, and the soul was again plunged into the wild abyss. She had fallen once more into the hands of her enemy; she was fettered by chains which it was out of her power to break.

During his mortal life on earth, Jesus, who came not to judge the worldhut to save it,[1] declared that these fetters, forged by the sinner’s malice, should be broken by a power which he would one day establish in his Church. Speaking to his Apostles, he told them that whatsoever they should loosen upon earthshould he loosed also in heaven.[2] Since making that solemn promise, our Redeemer has offered his sacrifice on the Cross; his infinitely precious Blood has been shed for the superabundant expiation of the sins of the world. He that loved us to such a degree as this could never forget the promise he had made. On the contrary, he was most anxious to keep it, for he knew the fearful dangers to which our salvation is exposed. On the very day of his Resurrection, he appears to his Apostles, and his first words evince his eagerness to fulfil the promise he had previously made. It seems as though his mercy were impatient to break asunder the humiliating and terrible bonds of sin, which held us captives. No sooner has he breathed the Holy Ghost upon his Apostles, than he adds these words: Whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven them.[3] Observe here, as the holy Fathers have done, the strength of the words spoken by our Lord: They are forgiven. He says not, ‘they shall be forgiven;’ it is no longer the promise of a gift, but the gift itself. Before the Apostles have exercised the divine power conferred on them by Jesus, every absolution which they and their successors in this sacred ministry shall pronounce, even to the end of time, is already confirmed.

Glory, then, be to our Risen Jesus, who has removed the barriers of his justice, that his mercy might inundate the world! Let mankind unite and sing to him the sublime canticle of David, wherein, foreseeing the wondrous events that were to take place under the New Law, this royal psalmist prophesied the forgiveness of sins, which the Apostles were afterwards to teach us as an Article of our Creed.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! and let all that is within thee bless his holy Name. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction.

Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle's. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. He will not always be angry. He hath not dealt with us according to our sins. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our iniquities from us.

As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear him; for he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. Man's days are as grass; as the flower of the field, so shall he flourish; for the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be, and he shall know his place no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from eternity and unto eternity upon them that fear him. O my soul! bless thou the Lord.[4]

And yet we, the children of the promise, know even better than David did the greatness of God’s mercy. Jesus was not content with giving us his assurance that if, after having sinned, we have recourse with humble repentance to the divine Majesty, we shall obtain pardon: as the sentence of God’s mercy would thus be without any outward sign, a cruel anxiety would have ever been upon us, leaving us in doubt of our forgiveness. Therefore did this loving Saviour ordain that men should give us pardon, in his name. That we might know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins,[5] he gave power to his delegates to pronounce over us a sentence of absolution which our very ears might hear, and which would convey to our souls the sweet confidence of pardon.

O ineffable sacrament, by whose means heaven is peopled by countless numbers who else had been lost, and who will for ever sing the mercies of the Lord![6] O irresistible power of the words of absolution, which, deriving their efficacy from the Blood of our Redeemer, take away all our iniquities, and plunge them into the abyss of divine mercy! The eternity of torments due to these iniquities would never have expiated them; and yet these few words of the priest: I absolve thee, have utterly annihilated them.

Such is the sacrament of penance. In return for the humble confession of our sins and the sincere sorrow for having committed them, we receive pardon, and this not once or twice only, but as often as we approach the sacred tribunal; not for this or that kind of sin only, but for every sin whatsoever. It is not to be wondered at that Satan should envy man this gift, and strive to throw such doubts and difficulties in the way as to prevent his profiting by it. What has not heresy said against this sacrament? It began by teaching that it takes from the glory of holy baptism; whereas on the contrary, it honours that first sacrament, by repairing the injuries done to it by sin. Later on, it exacted, as absolutely necessary for the sacraments, such perfect dispositions, that absolution would find the soul already reconciled with God. It was by this dangerous snare of Jansenism that so many were ruined, either by pride or by discouragement. And lastly, it has set up that Protestant dictum:’I confess my sins to God just as though God had not the right to lay down the conditions for pardon.

The sacraments being, as they are, such divine institutions, demand our faith; without faith they are simply impossibilities. Though this be true of all the seven, yet the sacrament of penance is especially welcome to a man of faith, because it so thoroughly humbles human pride. It sends man to ask of his fellow-man what God could have given directly himself. Jesus said to the lepers, whom he wished to cure: Go, show yourselves to the priests![7] Surely he has a right to act in the same manner when there is a question of spiritual leprosy.

Let us, as a homage to our generous Redeemer, offer him this Easter hymn; it is the one used by the Church in her Ferial Matins of Paschal Time.

Hymn

Rex sempiterne cœlitum,
Rerum creator omnium,
Æqualis ante sæcula
Semper Parenti Filius.

Nascente qui mundo faber
Imaginem vultus tui
Tradens Adamo, nobilem
Limo jugasti spiritum.

Cum livor et fraus dæmonis
Fædasset humanum genus,
Tu carne amictus perditam
Formam reformas artifex.

Qui natus olim e Virgine,
Nunc e sepulchro nasceris,
Tecumque nos a mortuis
Jubes sepultos surgere.

Qui pastor æternus gregem
Aqua lavis baptismatis:
Hæc est lavacrum mentium,
Hæc est sepulcrum criminum.

Nobis diu qui debitae
Redemptor affixus cruci,
Nostræ dedisti prodigus
Pretium salutis sanguinem.

Ut sis perenne mentibus
Paschale, Jesu, gaudium,
A morte dira criminum
Vitæ renatos libera.

Deo Patri sit gloria,
Et Filio, qui a mortuis
Surrexit, ac Paraclito,
In sempiterna saecula.

Amen.
O King Eternal of the heavenly citizens!
Creator of all things!
Son co-equal with the Father,
before all ages!

When this world first sprang up at thy creating word,
thou gavest to Adam a resemblance to thine own divine Face;
and, to his body formed from slime,
thou joinedst a noble soul.

When the envy and craft of Satan
brought degradation upon mankind,
thou, our Maker, didst clothe thyself with flesh
and reform our lost race.

Thou, that once wast bom of a Virgin,
art now born from the sepulchre,
and biddest us rise with thee
from our death and burial.

Thou art the Eternal Shepherd,
who washest thy sheep in the waters of baptism:
it is the laver of our souls,
it is the grave of our sins.

Thou, our Redeemer, didst long hang
upon the Cross that was due to us;
thou generously gavest us thy Blood,
as the ransom of our salvation.

That thou, O Jesus, mayst be an endless
Paschal joy to our hearts, free us,
who have been regenerated unto life,
from the dread death of sin.

Glory be to God the Father,
and to the Son who rose
from the dead, and to the Paraclete,
for everlasting ages.

Amen.

[1] St John xii 47.
[2] St Matt. xviii 18.
[3] St John xx 23.
[4] Ps. cii.
[5] St Luke v 24.
[6] Ps. lxxxviii 2.
[7] St Luke xvii 14.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra laetentur, alleluia.
℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.

THE third sacrament—the Holy Eucharist—is so intimately connected with our Redeemer's Passion that its institution could not be deferred till the Resurrection had taken place. On Maundy Thursday, we honoured the solemn act whereby our Jesus prepared for the morrow’s sacrifice, by instituting the mystery of his Body and Blood, which are really immolated in the Eucharistic Supper. The Apostles were not only admitted, as all future generations were to be, to partake of the divine Food, which giveth life to the world,[1] but they moreover received power from Jesus, the Priest for ever,[2] to do what he himself had just done. The great Mystery was inaugurated; the new priesthood was instituted: and now that Jesus is risen from the dead, he makes known to his Apostles the whole importance of the gift bestowed upon mankind at the Last Supper; he bids them begin the exercise of the sublime power conferred on them, as soon as the Holy Ghost, by descending upon the earth, shall give to the Church the signal for her using the prerogatives wherewith she has been endowed; and, finally, he teaches how they are to perform this special function of their Priesthood.

At the Last Supper, the Apostles were still carnal-minded men. They were taken up with the sad event that was about to happen, and overcome with grief at their divine Master telling them that that was the last Pasch he was to keep with them. They were not, therefore, in a fit state to appreciate what it was that Jesus had done for them, when he uttered those words: Take ye and eat; this is my Body. Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood. Still less did they understand the greatness of the power they received, of doing what their Lord himself had just done in their presence. Now that Jesus is risen from the grave, he unfolds all these mysteries to them. The sacrament of the Eucharist was not instituted during these days, but it was made known, explained, and glorified by its divine institutor: and this circumstance gives a fresh lustre to the sacred season we are now going through.

Of all the sacraments, there is not one that can be compared in dignity to that of the Eucharist. The others give grace; this gives us the very Author of grace. The others are only sacraments; this is both a sacrament and a sacrifice. We will endeavour to explain it in all its magnificence, when we come to the bright feast of Corpus Christi. Let us for the present pay the tribute of our loving adoration to our Jesus, the Living Bread, that giveth life to the world.[3] Let us acknowledge his immense love for his sheep. He seems to be on the point of leaving them that he may return to his Father, and yet his love retains him amongst them by means of this august mystery, wherein he is truly though invisibly present.

Be thou blessed, then, O Son of the Eternal Father! who, even in the days of the ancient covenant, didst assure us that thy delights are to be with the children of men.[4] Thou provest it now by this wonderful sacrament, which reconciles thy two announcements, apparently so contradictory: thy leaving us, and thy abiding ever in our midst.

Be thou blessed for having provided for the nourishment of our souls as well as for that of our bodies. At Christmas we welcomed thy birth at Bethlehem, which signifies a House of Bread. Thou wast both the Saviour who was born for us, and the Food that came down from heaven to nourish our souls.

Be thou blessed, who, not satisfied with working the greatest of wonders at the Last Supper, by changing bread into thy Body and wine into thy Blood, hast also willed that this same miracle should be renewed, everywhere and to the end of time, for the support and consolation of our souls.

Be thou blessed in that thou hast put no limits to our longing after this Bread of Life. On the contrary, thou biddest us make it our daily Bread, and this in order that we may not faint in the way of this our exile.

Be thou blessed for the generosity wherewith, out of thy desire to communicate thyself unto us, thou hast exposed thyself to the blasphemies of heretics, to the sacrileges of bad Christians, and to the indifference of the tepid.

Be thou blessed, O divine Lamb, who enrichest the new Pasch by the shedding of thy Blood, and invitest the new Israel to a banquet where thy sacred Body is offered as nourishment to thy faithful; there do they receive life at its very source, and share in the ineffable joys of thy Resurrection.

Be thou blessed, O Jesus, for having instituted, in the Holy Eucharist, not only the greatest of the sacraments, but also a sacrifice which surpasses all others; a sacrifice whereby we are enabled to offer to the divine Majesty the only homage that is worthy of him, give him thanks in keeping with his favours to us, make him a superabundant atonement for our sins, and finally beg and obtain from him all the graces of which we stand in need.

Be thou blessed, O Emmanuel, who, having promised to give us this heavenly Food, didst fulfil thy promise on the eve of thy Passion, and gavest us this adorable sacrament as the testament of thy love. In the interval between thy Resurrection and Ascension, thou didst reveal to thine Apostles the excellency of thy gift, that so we might receive it with becoming faith.

We offer thee, dear Jesus, this homage of our faith. We confess that in this august Mystery the bread is changed into thy Body, and the wine into thy Blood: and we believe it, because thou hast said it, and because thou canst do all things.

In praise of our Paschal Lamb, who gives himself to us to be our nourishment, let us recite the following beautiful canticle, composed by Notker for the Church of Saint Gall.

Sequence

Agni paschalis
Esu potuque dignas,

Moribus sinceris
Praebeant omnes se Christianae animae.

Pro quibus se Deo hostiam obtulit
Ipse summus Pontifex.

Quarum frons, in postis est modum
Ejus illita sacrosancto cruore, tuta a clade Canopica,

Qua crudeles hostes
In mari rubro sunt obruti.

Renes constringant ad pudicitiam:
Pedes tutentur adversus viperas;

Baculosque spirituales
Contra canes jugiter manu bajulent;

Ut Pascha Jesu mereantur sequi,
Quo de barathro victor rediit.

En redivivus mundus,
Ornatibus Christo consurgens, fideles admonet,

Post mortem melius
Cum eo victuros.

Amen.
That they may be worthy
to partake of the Paschal Lamb,

Let Christians fit themselves
by holy lives.

Jesus, the High Priest, offered himself,
for their sakes, as an oblation to the Father.

They are signed, as were the doors of the Israelite houses, with the most holy Blood
of the Lamb; they are protected from the slaughter that fell upon Egypt,

When the cruel enemies
were engulfed in the Red Sea.

Let the faithful gird their loins with purity;
let them protect their feet against vipers;

And let them ever carry spiritual staves in their hands,
to defend themselves against dogs;

That thus they may deserve to follow Jesus' Pasch,
whereby he rose again victorious from the tomb.

Lo! the earth is come once more to life, and, by her loveliness,
rises together with Christ. She teaches us,

That we, after death,
are to share in Jesus’ victory.

Amen.

[1] St John vi 33.
[2] Ps. cix 4.
[3] St John vi 33, 41.
[4] Prov. viii 31.