Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christ is Risen! Hades is Embittered!

Christ raises Adam and Eve from their tombs in Hades, trampling on the fallen gates of the house of Death

 If any be pious and a lover of God, let him rejoice in this fair and radiant festival. If any be a faithful servant let him enter into the joy of his Lord. If any be weary with fasting,
let him now enjoy his payment. If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him receive today his just reward. If anyone has come after the third hour, let him now be thankful that the feast is at hand. If anyone has waited until after the sixth hour, let him not be anxious, no loss shall be his own.
If anyone has tarried until the ninth hour, let him draw near also, shedding all his doubts.If anyone has come only at the eleventh hour, let him not be fearful because of his delay.For the Master is bountiful and receives the last even as the first. He gives repose to him who came at the eleventh hour just as to one who labored from the first. The tardy are shown mercy and the timely are made whole.
To the one he gives, on the other he bestows. He honors the deed and praises the intention. Let all therefore enter into the joy of our Lord, (let both the first and those who came later receive their wages) let rich and poor dance with one another. You sober and you heedless celebrate the day.
You who have fasted and you who have not rejoice in this occasion. The table is full-laden let all enjoy the feast. The calf is fatted, let no one go forth hungry. Let all partake of the banquet of faith, let all partake of the riches of goodness. Let none mourn his poverty, for the kingdom stands before us.
Let none lament his failings, forgiveness has risen from the tomb.
Let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free. He quenched death when it had tasted his flesh. He despoiled Hades when he descended thereto foreseeing this, Isaiah cried:
'Hades was embittered when it met you face to face.’
It was embittered for it was made void,It was embittered for it was mocked,It was embittered for it was slain,It was embittered for it was despoiled. It was embittered for it was led off in chains.It received a body and encountered God,It received earth and came face to face with heaven.It received what it saw and fell where it could not see.
Death where is thy sting,Hades where is thy victory?
Christ is risen and you are cast down,Christ is risen and the demons are fallen,Christ is risen and the angels rejoice,Christ is risen and life is made free.Christ is risen and there is none dead in the tomb.For Christ is risen from the dead as the first fruits of those that fell asleep.To him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Surrexit Christus Hodie!

Dearly beloved brethren, ye have heard the deed of the holy women which had followed the Lord; how that they brought sweet spices to His sepulchre, and, now that He was dead, having loved Him while He was yet alive, they followed Him with careful tenderness still. But the deed of these holy women doth point to somewhat which must needs be done in the holy Church. And it behoveth us well to give ear to what they did, that we may afterward consider with ourselves what we must do likewise after their ensample. We also, who believe in Him That was dead, do come to His sepulchre bearing sweet spices, when we seek the Lord with the savour of good living, and the fragrant report of good works. Those women, when they brought their spices, saw a vision of Angels, and, in sooth, those souls whose godly desires do move them to seek the Lord with the savour of good lives, do see the countrymen of our Fatherland which is above.
It behoveth us to mark what this meaneth, that they saw the Angel sitting on the right side. For what signifieth the left, but this life which now is? or the right, but life everlasting? Whence also it is written in the Song of Songs : His left hand is under my head, and His right hand doth embrace me. Since, therefore, our Redeemer had passed from the corruption of this life which now is, the Angel which told that His undying life was come, sat, as became him, on the right side. They saw him clothed in a white garment, for he was herald of the joy of this our great solemnity, and the glistering whiteness of his raiment told of the brightness of this holy Festival of ours. Of ours, said I? or of his? But if we will speak the truth, we must acknowledge that it is both his and ours. The Again-rising of our Redeemer is a Festival of gladness for us, for us it biddeth know that we shall not die for ever; and for Angels also it is a festival of gladness, for it biddeth them know that we are called to fulfill their number in heaven.
See this glad Festival then, which is both his and ours, the Angel appeared in white raiment. For as the Lord, rising again from the dead, leadeth us unto the mansions above, He. repaireth the breaches of the heavenly Fatherland. But what meaneth this, that the Angel said unto the women which came to the sepulchre : Fear not? Is it not as though he had said openly : Let them fear which love not the coming of the heavenly countrymen; let them be afraid who are so laden by fleshly lusts, that they have lost all hope ever to be joined to their company. But as for you, why fear ye, who, when ye see us, see but your fellow - countrymen? Hence also Matthew, writing of the guise of the Angel, saith : His countenance was like lightning, and His raiment white as snow. The lightning speaketh of fear and great dread, the snow of the soft brilliancy of rejoicing.
From Sermon 21 of Pope St. Gregory the Great

Happy Pascha!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Saturday: Anticipation

First, let me say that contrary to many contemporary opinions the old Holy Saturday liturgy was not at the wrong time. It was at a distorted time, morning, rather than when it once would have been, around 3:00 pm or 4:00 pm, but it was never a night time liturgy. Also, it is not Easter's Mass done the day before, nor is it a midnight Mass, as at Christmas. It is a Mass and liturgy meant to help us anticipate the Resurrection. Let us see what the Church has given us.

The liturgy begins after None, the last "little hour" of the afternoon. The deacon and subdeacon still wear the folded chasubles, their penitential vestments. The clergy and laity gather outside the church, where, hopefully, someone has lit a fire. The priest, vested in violet, sings three luminously themed prayers: the first referring to the "brightness of Your Son," the second calling God the "Creator of all lights," and the third an actual blessing. This is very reminiscent of the Eastern blessing at the end of Divine Liturgy, which quotes St. James in calling God the "Father of Lights," of all that is perfect, luminous, and good.

A server ignites coals and the priest imposes and blesses incense. He sparges the Holy Fire with blessed water and then incenses it. He also blesses five grains of incense which he be inserted into the Pascal Candle, representing the light of Christ throughout Easter season, inside the church.

The deacon then changes his penitential folded chasuble for a white dalmatic and maniple. He takes a large, triple-branched candle and, lighting a new wick from the Holy Fire, enters the church exclaiming Lumen Christi—"The Light of Christ." This happens twice more until we are in the church proper.

A deacon with the triple-candle preparing to enter the church.

The deacon then petitions the priest for a blessing, approaches the Paschal Candle, which is off to the Gospel side of the altar, and sings the Exsultet, a long blessing. The Exsultet is rich with imagery of light in the night and the deliverance from Egypt. This day is the deliverance from our spiritual Egypt: Sin and Death. Part way through, the deacon inserts the five grains of incense, calling them an "evening sacrifice," and lights the Paschal Candle. The video to the left is a singing of the Exsultet at St. Peter's Basilica two years ago. I find the continued use of the prayer in the newer rites odd, given that none of the actions mentioned in the text are performed, nor is the intention any longer to bless! The prayer concludes with a petition for the Pope and the, no longer extant, Holy Roman Emperor. The lights of the church go on at the words Vere beata nox—"Oh, truly blessed night!" In the middle ages, when this ceremony took place in day light, the windows of the church would be covered in dark cloth, which would be removed at those words, washing the church in God's light after a spiritual slumber.

The deacon returns to his penitential folded-chasuble and, along with the priest and subdeacon, read twelve prophecies, which are chanted by lectors in the middle of the choir. The prophecies together form the story of salvation, both in anticipation and in prediction of Christ:
  1. Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-2: The creation of the world by God, the ruler of all things. He sees that it is good.
  2. Genesis chapters 5-8: The Great Flood and God's commissioning of Noah to build an ark. The ark is a foreshadowing of the Church, which God gives us to protect us from the Flood of Sin.
  3. Genesis 22:1-9: Abram is about to offer his son, Isaac, but an angel intervenes. For his love of God, the Lord makes a covenant with him and renames the man Abraham.
  4. Exodus 14:24-15:1: God lets the Israelites pass through Egypt unto freedom through the Red Sea, which drowns the pursuing forces of the Pharoah. Baptism will be our watery means of passing unto freedom.
  5. Isaiah 54:17, 55:1-11: God has heard the cry of His people and will honor the promises to David.
  6. Baruch 3:9-38: God has absolute knowledge and dominion over His creation.
  7. Ezekiel 37:1-14: The bones of the fallen will rise again under the spirit of the Lord.
  8. Isaiah 4:1-6: The Lord will wash away the "filth of Jerusalem" and build a covenant.
  9. Exodus 12:1-11: God prescribes the Passover sacrifice of a lamb to the Jews, which will deliver them from God's plague over the first-borns of Egypt. They will be free. Christ is the perfect, spotless Lamb, the perfect sacrifice. He will intercede for us before the Father.
  10. Jonah 3:1-10: The prophet Jonah convinces the city of Nineveh to repent of their sins and do penance, averting their impending destruction. Penance is necessary to pay the debt of sin, not just to be forgiven.
  11. Deuteronomy 31:22-30: Moses provides for his death and the continuation of the Israelites into the promised land. This succession of leaders will continue until Christ.
  12. Daniel 3:1-24: King Nabuchodonosor attempts to kill three Jewish children for not worshiping his idols. They are thrown into a fire, but angels guard them.
In between these readings are sung various prayers and sung psalms. A procession forms and heads to the baptismal font. The priest blesses the empty font and the water in it by plunging the Paschal Candle three times. He sprinkles water towards the four points of the compass and then the faithful with Holy Water from the font, and then infuses Holy Oils into it. He proceeds to baptize and confirm any converts present in the normal manner. The procession then returns to the altar as the choir sings the Litany of Saints, doubling the invocations and answers (ex: choir: Pater de caelis, Deus, Miserere nobis people: Pater de caelis, Deus, Miserere nobis). If there is no font, everything until the Litany is excluded.

Everyone kneels for the duration of the Litany, which takes the place of the Introit of the Mass. The intention of the Litany is mainly to pray for converts, but also for the Church as a whole, as She enters the Paschal mystery. The priest, deacon, and subdeacon remove their outer vestments and prostrate themselves.

Towards the end of the Litany the priest and his ministers rise and head to the sacristy to vest in white vestments for Mass. Servers prepare the altar with the missal and put on the best, most festive frontal.

The altar candles are lit from the Paschal Candle. The ministers of Mass return and sing a normal solemn high Mass. The Gloria is the lovely Lux et Origo setting. The Epistle is from St. Paul's letter to the Colassians, in which the Apostles tells us that if we are dead with Christ, Christ will rise and us with Him.

The priest sings Alleluia for the first time in two months. Absorbed in joy, he sings it three times, each higher and each repeated by the choir. The Gospel, taken from St. Matthew's account of the myrrh-bearing women finding the empty tomb, is accented by the fact that candles are not carried in the procession, emphasizing that the Resurrection has not yet happened for us, but that we are anticipating it. 

The celebrant reads the Gospel before the deacon sings it.

As this is a vigil, the Creed is not sung. There is no verse or chant prescribed for the offertory, so the organ  is played or Latin hymns are sung.

The preface is of Easter. During the Canon of the Mass, the Communicantes prayer is unique: "Communicating, and keeping this most holy night of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh; and also reverencing the memory...." The Pax is not given and the Agnus Dei is omitted. This may be for two reasons: (1) the Lamb is not yet risen and with us or (2) this liturgy is so old that it pre-dates the eighth century introduction of the Agnus Dei

After communion and the cleansing of the vessels, a short Holy Saturday Vespers is sung rather than a communion chant. It is psalm 116, surrounded by a triple Alleluia. The priest begins the antiphon on the Mangificat: Vespere autem sabati....  During the Magnificat everyone is incensed as usual. The priest sings the post-communion prayer, which I have given below:
Pour forth, O Lord, we beseech thee, the Spirit of thy love into our hearts, and by thy mercy make all them to be of one mind to whom Thou hast given to eat of thy mystic Passover. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God for ever and ever. Amen.

The dismissal is Ite, missa est, alleluia! Alleluia. The Deo gratias response is also given a double alleluia. The priest says the Placeat, gives the blessing, and recites the Last Gospel as normal. It is traditional to end the liturgy with the Regina Coeli.
Queen of Heaven, rejoice! Alleluia!
For He Who you did merit to bear, Alleluia!
Has risen as He said, Alleluia!
Pray for us to God, Alleluia! 
These rites would end about four hours after they started. The main point of celebrating this liturgy early was so that Paschal Mattins and Lauds could start at a reasonable time. The twentieth century de-emphasis of the Divine Office saddens me. Paschal Mattins and Lauds are the most important liturgical event of the entire week, more so than any Mass or office. In these offices we formally begin the celebration of the Resurrection. In Eastern Churches the people wander the church looking for Christ, but not finding Him! He is risen! They then sing Mattins and Lauds at midnight, followed by Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is of Easter Sunday, it is not a vigil nor is it a midnight Mass, as we have on Christmas. The reformers lost this critical difference and canned the most important office of the year in the process.

In the West there would be a Resurrection ceremony, which would find the sepulcher created on Good Friday empty, the crucifix would be adored again as on Good Friday, and Mattins and Lauds would be sung. Mattins has one nocturn, with lesson from a sermon of Pope St. Gregory the Great, in which the saintly pontiff says we, the Church, must come to Christ's tomb bearing gifts like the women if we are to be surprised and rejoice. The Te Deum is sung de tempore for the first time in two months. At Lauds, the first antiphon declares that an angel descended from heaven to roll back the stone. The antiphons for this Lauds are among the most beautiful of the year. There is no hymn at Mattins or Lauds. The dismissal has a double Alleluia, as at Mass. The office ends with the Regina Coeli again. Easter has begun at this point.

Good Friday: Mass of the Pre-Sanctified

I will endeavor to give a very brief explanation of the old, pre-1956, Good Friday "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified." The name is such because the structure, vestments, music, and prayers of this services, particularly towards the end, follow the structure of a Mass, although using a Host consecrated at yesterday's Mandy Thursday Mass.

The priest and his two deacons, who wear folded chasubles rather than dalmatics, prostrate themselves before the altar for enough time to pray psalm 50, the Miserere, in silence, while servers spread a cloth on the altar. Like at Mass, the crucifix and candles remain on the altar, though unlit.

A lector sings a prophecy of the prophet Osee (or Hosea, in the Hebrew spelling), which foretells the suffering, burial, and third day rising of Christ. Then the subdeacon sings chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, which recounts the manner in which the finest lambs were killed during the first Passover in Egypt. This sacrifice liberated the Israelites from the bondage of the Pharoah. The sacrifice of the perfect victim, Christ, liberated the world from the bondage of death. God does not want a sacrifice because He wants things to be destroyed. A true sacrifice is the gift of what is precious to one's self unto another. This was the intent of the Israelites in Egypt, and more so on the Cross. A tract, psalm 139, is sung: Eripe me Domine ab homine malo—"Deliver me, Oh Lord, from the wicked man!"

Three deacons then sing the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John, beginning with His arrest in the Garden and ending just after His death on the Cross. The deacon of the "Mass" removes his folded chasuble, as at Mass, and sings the burial of Christ as the Gospel, suggesting that this, not the general narrative, is the most important text of the day.

Priest and subdeacon listen to the Passion.

Then deacon, now wearing the "broad stole," returns to the other ministers. Returning to the epistle corner, the priest sings the Solemn Collects, some of the oldest continuously used prayers in the Church. Moreover, these prayers give us some indication as to what the structure of the Mass was like in the mid-first millennium and for what those Christians prayed. There is a preface to announce the prayer intention, followed by Oremus—"let us pray," Flectamus genua—"Let us kneel," and Levate—"Let us stand" before the actual prayer itself.

The prayer intentions were:
  • For the welfare of the Church universal
  • For the Pope
  • For the clergy, people in religious life, virgins, and widows
  • For the enlightenment of the catechumens and the remission of their sins
  • For the cleansing of the world of errors
  • For the rescue of heretics and schismatics
  • For the conversion of the Jews
  • For the end of idolatry and conversion of the pagans
No genuflection was made during the prayer for the Jews. A genuflection was added by Pope John XXIII in the revised rite of Holy Week in 1959, although John XXIII seems to have continued to celebrate the old Good Friday in the Sistine Chapel!

The ministers, probably for mobility in ancient times, remove their outer-most vestments and the deacon retrieves the veiled crucifix from the altar and gives it to the priest. The priest, beginning at the bottom of the epistle side, steps higher and towards the center of the altar, unveiling part of the crucifix and singing Ecce lignum crucis—"Behold the wood of the cross"—as he rises. The people respond In quo salus mundi pependit. Venite, adoremus!—"On which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore!"

This happens three times, after which the entire crucifix is visible. It is then laid upon a pillow or cloth and adored by the people. First the priest, then the ministers of the service, then any other present clergy, and the servers. They all adore barefoot. Then the congregation adores, making three prostrations before their kiss of the cross.

Although the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified supposedly died in 1956 under Pope Pius XII, John XXIII continued to use it in the Sistine Chapel, as seen in this 1959 celebration.

Ecce lingum crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit.

Venite, adoremus!

Whilst the laity make their adoration, the altar is prepared for the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified and the choir sings the Reproaches, which includes the Trisagion.

The crucifix is then placed upon the altar, where it would normally go, and is reverenced with a genuflection for the rest of the day.

The clergy, and laity if they wish, process to the altar of repose, where the Blessed Sacrament has been over night.

The Sacrament is then incensed by the priest, who assumes the hummeral veil and takes the Sacrament back to the main altar.

This is a full Blessed Sacrament procession, with incense and the processional cross carried before the priest and the Sacrament. The great hymn Vexilla Regis is sung.

The procession returns to the main altar.

The deacon arranges the chalice and its veil, containing the Sacrament, as it would be at Mass.

The Blessed Sacrament is then incensed by the celebrant.

The subdeacon prepares the chalice with wine and water, as he would at Mass and the "Gifts" are incensed in the same way they would have been at a regular Mass. The priest turns to the people and says the Orate, fratres... ("Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours....) as at Mass.

One English friend of mine always insisted that the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified is indeed an actual Mass. He had something of a point. Its prayers are those of a Mass. It is not a simple communion service. Although there is no consecration of the Host, the actions imitate those of a Mass in order to emphasize the relation between the Mass and Calvary, that they are one and the same sacrifice of Christ.

The celebrant then sings the Pater Noster, "Our Father," and elevates the Host for public adoration as he would after consecration at Mass. He then fractures the Host as at Mass and mingles a fragment of the Blessed Sacrament with wine. Liturgical reformers particularly disliked the pious medieval belief that the fragment consecrated the wine into the blood of Christ (which Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox still believe).

The priest then says the communion prayers of Mass and consumes the Host as normal. He consumes the chalice's contents saying nothing, leaving some mystery as to whether consecration occurred or not!

The priest purifies his fingers and the subdeacon cleans the chalice as normal at Mass.

Vespers, the same as yesterday except for the addition of mortem autem crucis ("even unto death on a cross") to versicle, are chanted in a monotone immediately.

The clergy then leave in silence.

This marvelous rite was replaced with a general communion services. The revised rites, from 1956 until 1969, involved a maddening three changes of vestments. Prayers and readings, in both the 1956 rite and the Pauline rite, take place at the chair, the altar, at a podium, and any where else you can find. Odd.

A blessed Good Friday to you all.

Good Friday: The Last Hours and Last Words

Sermon of St. John Chrysostom on Matt. XXVII. 45-48.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, and said, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, my God my God, why have you forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that said, this man calls for Elias. And straight way one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink.

This is the sign which before He had promised to give them when they asked it, saying, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas; Matthew 12:39 meaning His cross, and His death, His burial, and His resurrection. And again, declaring in another way thevirtue of the cross, He said, When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am He. John 8:28 And what He says is to this purport: When you have crucified me, and think you have overcome me, then, above all, shall you know my might.

For after the crucifixion, the city was destroyed, and the Jewish state came to an end, they fell away from their polity and their freedom, the gospel flourished, the word was spread abroad to the ends of the world; both sea and land, both the inhabited earth and the desert perpetually proclaim its power. These things then He means, and those which took place at the very time of the crucifixion. For indeed it was much more marvellous that these things should be done, when He was nailed to the cross, than when He was walking on earth. And not in this respect only was the wonder, but because from heaven also was that done which they had sought, and it was over all the world, which had never before happened, but in Egypt only, when the passover was to be fulfilled. For indeed those events were a type of these.

And observe when it took place. At midday, that all that dwell on the earth may know it, when it was day all over the world; which was enough to convert them, not by the greatness of the miracle only, but also by its taking place in due season. For after all their insulting, and their lawless derision, this is done, when they had let go theiranger, when they had ceased mocking, when they were satiated with their jeerings, and had spoken all that they were minded; then He shows the darkness, in order that at least so (having vented their anger) they may profit by the miracle. For this was more marvellous than to come down from the cross, that being on the cross He should work these things. For whether they thought He Himself had done it, they ought to have believed and to have feared; or whether not He, but the Father, yet thereby ought they to have been moved to compunction, for that darkness was a token of His anger at their crime. For that it was not an eclipse, but both wrath and indignation, is not hence alone manifest, but also by the time, for it continued three hours, but an eclipse takes place in one moment of time, and they know it, who have seen this; and indeed it has taken place even in our generation.

And how, you may say, did not all marvel, and account Him to be God? Because the race of man was then held in a state of great carelessness and vice. And this miraclewas but one, and when it had taken place, immediately passed away; and no one was concerned to inquire into the cause of it, and great was the prejudice and the habitof ungodliness. And they knew not what was the cause of that which took place, and they thought perhaps this happened so, in the way of an eclipse or some naturaleffect. And why do you marvel about them that are without, that knew nothing, neither inquired by reason of great indifference, when even those that were in Judæaitself, after so many miracles, yet continued using Him despitefully, although He plainly showed them that He Himself wrought this thing.

And for this reason, even after this He speaks, that they might learn that He was still alive, and that He Himself did this, and that they might become by this also more gentle, and He says,  Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? Matthew 27:46 that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. Wherefore also He uttered a certain cry from the prophet, even to His last hour bearing witness to the Old Testament, and not simply a cry from the prophet, but also in Hebrew, so as to be plain and intelligible to them, and by all things He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begot Him.
But mark herein also their wantonness, and intemperance, and folly. They thought (it is said) that it was Elias whom He called, and straightway they gave Him vinegar to drink. Matthew 27:48 But another came unto Him, and pierced His side with a spear. What could be more lawless, what more brutal, than these men; who carried theirmadness to so great a length, offering insult at last even to a dead body?

But mark thou, I pray you, how He made use of their wickednesses for our salvation. For after the blow the fountains of our salvation gushed forth from thence.

And Jesus, when He had cried with a loud voice, yielded up the Ghost. This is what He said, I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again, and,I lay it down of myself. John 10:18 So for this cause He cried with the voice, that it might be shown that the act is done by power. Mark at any rate says, that Pilatemarvelled if He were already dead: Mark 15:44 and that the centurion for this cause above all believed, because He died with power. Mark 15:39

This cry rent the veil, and opened the tombs, and made the house desolate. And He did this, not as offering insult to the temple (for how should He, who says, Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise), John 2:16 but declaring them to be unworthy even of His abiding there; like as also when He delivered it over to theBabylonians. But not for this only were these things done, but what took place was a prophecy of the coming desolation, and of the change into the greater and higher state; and a sign of His might.

And together with these things He showed Himself also by what followed after these things, by the raising of the dead. For in the instance of Elisha; one on touching a dead body rose again, but now by a voice He raised them, His body continuing up there, on the cross. And besides, those things were a type of this. For that this might be believed, therefore is that all done. And they are not merely raised, but also rocks are rent, and the earth shaken, that they might learn, that He was able to strike themselves blind, and to rend them in pieces. For He that cleft rocks asunder, and darkened the world, much more could have done these things to them, had it been Hiswill. But He would not, but having discharged His wrath upon the elements, them it was His will to save by clemency. But they abated not their madness. Such is envy, such is jealousy, it is not easily stayed. At that time then they were impudent in setting themselves against the actual appearances; and afterwards even against the things themselves, when a seal being put upon Him, and soldiers watching Him, He rose again, and they heard these things from the very guards; they even gave money, in order both to corrupt others, and to steal away the history of the resurrection.

Marvel not therefore if at this time also they were perverse, being thus altogether prepared to set themselves impudently against all things; but observe this other point, how great signs He had wrought, some from Heaven, some on earth, some in the very temple, at once marking His indignation, and at the same time showing that what were unapproachable are now to be entered, and that Heaven shall be opened; and the work removed to the true Holy of Holies. And they indeed said, If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross, Matthew 27:42 but He shows that He is King of all the world. And whereas those men said, Thou that destroyest thistemple, and buildest it in three days, Matthew 27:40 He shows that it shall be made forever desolate. Again they said, He saved others, Himself He cannot save,Matthew 27:42 but He while abiding on the cross proved this most abundantly on the bodies of His servants. For if for Lazarus to rise on the fourth day was a great thing, how much more for all those who had long ago fallen asleep, at once to appear alive, which was a sign of the future resurrection. For, many bodies of the saints which slept, arose, it is said, and went into the holy city, and appeared to many. For in order that what was done might not be accounted to be an imagination, they appear, even to many, in the city. And the Centurion too then glorified God, saying, Truly this was a righteous man. And the multitudes that came together to that sight, returned beating their breasts. Luke 23:47-48 So great was the power of the crucified, that after so many mockings, and scoffs, and jeers, both the centurion was moved to compunction, and the people. And some say that there is also a martyrdom of this centurion, who after these things grew to manhood in the faith.

And many women were there beholding afar off, which had followed Him, ministering unto Him, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.

These things the women see done, these who were most inclined to feel for Him, who were most of all bewailing Him. And mark how great their assiduity. They had followed Him ministering to Him, and were present even unto the time of the dangers. Wherefore also they saw all; how He cried, how He gave up the ghost, how the rocks were rent, and all the rest.

And these first see Jesus; and the sex that was most condemned, this first enjoys the sight of the blessings, this most shows its courage. And when the disciples had fled, these were present. But who were these? His mother, for she is called mother of James, and the rest. But another evangelist Luke 22:48 says, that many also lamented over the things that were done, and smote their breasts, which above all shows the cruelty of the Jews, for that they gloried in things for which others were lamenting, and were neither moved by pity, nor checked by fear. For indeed the things that were done were of great wrath, and were not merely signs, but signs of anger all of them, the darkness, the cloven rocks, the veil rent in the midst, the shaking of the earth, and great was the excess of the indignation.

But Joseph went, and begged the body. This was Joseph, who was concealing his discipleship of late; now however he had become very bold after the death of Christ. For neither was he an obscure person, nor of the unnoticed; but one of the council, and highly distinguished; from which circumstance especially one may see his courage. For he exposed himself to death, taking upon him enmity with all, by his affection to Jesus, both having dared to beg the body, and not having desisted until he obtained it. But not by taking it only, nor by burying it in a costly manner, but also by laying it in his own new tomb, he shows his love, and his courage. And this was not so ordered without purpose, but so there should not be any bare suspicion, that one had risen instead of another.

And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre. 

For what purpose do these wait by it? As yet they knew nothing great, as was meet, and high about Him, wherefore also they had brought ointments, and were waiting at the tomb, so that if the madness of the Jews should relax, they might go and embrace the body. Do you see women's courage? Do you see their affection? Do you see their noble spirit in money? Their noble spirit even unto death?

Let us men imitate the women; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations. For they for Him even dead spent so much and exposed their lives, but we (for again I say the same things) neither feed Him when hungry, nor clothe Him when naked, but seeing Him begging, we pass Him by. And yet if you saw Himself, every one would strip himself of all his goods. But even now it is the same. For He Himself has said, I am he. Wherefore then do you not strip yourself of all? For indeed even now you hear Him say, You do it unto me; and there is no difference whether you give to this man or to Him; you have nothing less than these women that then fed Him, but even much more. But be not perplexed! For it is not so much to have fed Him appearing in His own person, which would be enough to prevail with a heart of stone, as (because of His mere word) to wait upon the poor, the maimed, him that is bent down. For in the former case, the look and the dignity of Him who appears divides with you that which is done; but here the reward is entire for your benevolence; and there is the proof of the greater reverence towards Him, when at His mere word waiting upon your fellow-servant you refresh him in all things. Refresh him, and believe Him, who receives it, and says, You give to me. For unless you had given to Him, He would not have counted you worthy of a kingdom. If you had not turned away from Him, He would not have sent you to hell, if you had overlooked a chance person; but because it is He Himself that is despised, therefore great is the blame.

Thus also Paul persecuted Him, in persecuting them that are His; wherefore too He said, Why do you persecute me? Acts 9:4 Thus therefore let us feel, as bestowing on Christ Himself when we bestow. For indeed His words are more sure than our sight. When therefore you see a poor man, remember His words, by which He declared, that it is He Himself who is fed. For though that which appears be not Christ, yet in this man's form Christ Himself receives and begs.

But are you ashamed to hear that Christ begs? Rather be ashamed when thou dost not give to Him begging of you. For this is shame, this is vengeance and punishment. Since for Him to beg is of His goodness, wherefore we ought even to glory therein; but for you not to give, is of your inhumanity. But if you believe not now, that in passing by a poor man that is a believer, you pass by Him, you will believe it then, when He will bring you into the midst and say, Inasmuch as you did it not to these, you did it not to me. But God forbid that we should so learn it, and grant rather that we may believe now, and bring forth fruit, and hear that most blessed voice that brings us into the kingdom.

But perhaps some one will say, You are every day discoursing to us of almsgiving and humanity. Neither will I cease to speak of this. For if you had attained to it, in the first place, not even so ought I to desist, for fear of making you the more remiss; yet had ye attained, I might have relaxed a little; but if you have not arrived even at the half; say not these things to me, but to yourselves. For indeed you do the same in blaming me, as if a little child, hearing often of the letter alpha, and not learning it, were to blame its teacher, because he is continually and for ever reminding him about it.

For who from these discourses has become more forward in the giving of alms? Who has cast down his money? Who has given the half of his substance? Who the third part? No one. How then should it be other than absurd, when you do not learn, to require us to desist from teaching? You ought to do the contrary. Though we were minded to desist, you ought to stop us and to say, we have not yet learned these things, and how is it you have desisted from reminding us of them? If it befell any one to suffer from his eye, and I happened to be a physician, and then having covered it up and anointed it, and having applied other treatment, I had not benefited it much, and so had desisted; would he not have come to the doors of my surgery and cried out against me, accusing me of great remissness, for that I had of myself withdrawn, while the disease remained; and if, on being blamed, I had said in reply to these things, that I had covered it up, and anointed it; would he have endured it? By no means, but would immediately have said; And what is the advantage, if I still suffer pain. Reason thus also with respect to your soul. But what if after having often fomented a hand that was lifeless and shrunk, I had not succeeded in mollifying it? Should I not have heard the same thing? And even now a hand that is shrunk and withered we bathe, and for this reason, until we can stretch it out perfectly, we will not desist. Would that you too were to discourse of nothing else, at home and at market, at table and at night, and as a dream. For if we were always careful about these things by day, even in our dreams we should be engaged in them.

What do you say? Am I forever speaking of almsgiving? I would wish myself that there were not great need for me to address this advice to you, but that I were to speak of the battle against the Jews, and heathens, and heretics; but when you are not yet sound, how can any one arm you for the fight? How should he lead you to the array, yet having wounds and gashes. Since if indeed I saw you thoroughly sound in health, I should lead you forth to that battle array, and you would see by the grace of Christ ten thousands lying dead, and their heads cast one upon another. In other books at any rate, many discourses have been spoken by us touching these things, but not even so are we able thoroughly to triumph in the victory, because of the remissness of the multitude. For when we conquer them ten thousand times over in doctrines, they reproach us with the lives of the multitude of those who join our congregations, their wounds, their diseases in their soul.

How then shall we with confidence show you in the battle array, when you rather do us mischief, being straightway wounded by our enemies, and made a mock of? For one man's hand is diseased, and shrunk so as not to be able to give away. How then should such a one hold a shield, and thrust it before him, and avoid being wounded by the jeers of cruelty. With others the feet halt, as many as go up to the theatres, and to the resorts of the harlot women. How shall these then be able to stand in the battle, and not to be wounded with the accusation of wantonness? Another suffers and is maimed in his eyes, not looking straight, but being full of lasciviousness, and assailing women's chastity, and overthrowing marriages. How then should this man be able to look in the face of the enemy, and brandish a spear, and throw his dart, being goaded on all sides with jeers. We may see also many suffering with the belly not less than the dropsical, when they are held in subjection by gluttony and drunkenness. How then shall I be able to lead forth these drunken men to war? With others the mouth is rotten; such are the passionate, and revilers, and blasphemers. How then shall this man ever shout in battle, and achieve anything great and noble, he too being drunk with another drunkenness, and affording much laughter to the enemy?

Therefore each day I go about this camp, dressing your wounds, healing your sores. But if you ever rouse yourselves up, and become fit even to wound others, I will both teach you this art of war, and instruct you how to handle these weapons, or rather your works themselves will be weapons to you, and all men will immediately submit, if you would become merciful, if forbearing, if mild and patient, if you would show forth all other virtue. But if any gainsay, then we will also add the proof of what we can show on our part, bringing you forward, since now we rather are hindered (at least as to your part) in this race.

And mark. We say that Christ has done great things, having made angels of men; then, when we are called upon to give account, and required to furnish a proof out of this flock, our mouths are stopped. For I am afraid, lest in the place of angels, I bring forth swine as from a style, and horses mad with lust.
I know you are pained, but not against you all are these things spoken, but against the guilty, or rather not even against them if they awake, but for them. Since now indeed all is lost and ruined, and the church has become nothing better than a stable of oxen, and a fold for asses and camels, and I go round seeking for a sheep, and am not able to see it. So much are all kicking, like horses, and any wild asses, and they fill the place here with much dung, for like this is their discourse. And if indeed one could see the things spoken at each assemblage, by men, by women, you would see their words more unclean than that dung.

Wherefore I entreat you to change this evil custom, that the church may smell of ointment. But now, while we lay up in it perfumes for the senses, the uncleanness of the mind we use no great diligence to purge out, and drive away. What then is the advantage? For we do not so much disgrace the church by bringing dung into it, as we disgrace it by speaking such things one to another, about gains, about merchandise, about petty tradings, about things that are nothing to us, when there ought to be choirs of angels here, and we ought to make the church a heaven, and to know nothing else but earnest prayers, and silence with listening.
This then let us do at any rate, from the present time, that we may both purify our lives, and attain unto the promised blessings, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory world without end. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Great and Holy Thursday: Usque ad Mortem Obediens Factum

Usque ad mortem obediens factum—"obedient unto death," words constantly repeated in the Divine Office today and tomorrow.

There are two ideas that catch our attention today: (1) a sadness over the impending loss of a loved one, the One and (2) the choice of accepting what Christ offers us.

First, the sense of loss is one made in the Roman rite through subtlety, something not well known in the Eastern rites, where dramatic and symbolic gestures dominate the liturgy. At Tenebrae, Mattins and Lauds sung in a progressively darker setting the night before the particular day, we sang the ferial psalms with three sets of lessons. The first set of lessons, taken from the Lamentation of the Prophet Jeremias, begins with the words Quomodo sedet sola civitas, "How sits the lonely city." The Lamentation is full of morose imagery: widows, weeping, tears, gates broken, and "remembering the days of her affliction" (lesson 2). The Prophet is staring at the great city of Jerusalem, where God's chosen people lived, in utter desolation some time after being sacked in the sixth century before Christ, a tragedy which saw the Temple of Solomon destroyed.

At the time of the Last Supper the Crucifixion had not yet taken taken place, but two millennia later It has, and we can look back to it it with the same same fascinated macabre through which Jeremias looked at the "lonely city." More importantly, Jerusalem was not a city with a temple. It was a temple with a city attached to it. Everything about Jerusalem revolved around the temple and the promises God made to the Jews through it. Similarly, Christ likens Himself to a temple, which he challenges the Jewish priests to destroy and which He will rebuild within three days (John ch. 2).

At Mass the finest vestments are worn and the altar is prepared as it would be for the greatest of feasts. The Gloria is sung de tempore for the first time since in two months, with organ and bells blaring. It is  a time for celebration and for joy. Yet, the organ stops and is not heard again. The word "alleluia" is still absent and the Gloria Patri.... ("Glory be to the Father....") prayer is missing from the Mass. What a quiet contrast. If I may be crude, I think of the initial joy followed by liturgical starkness as representative a great party for a friend who you love, but may never see again. You want to sing, dance, eat, and cry with this person, yet your heart and mind still cannot be satisfied because you know your friend will be gone in a few hours and you have no control over his fate. That friend is our Lord today.

The second theme of the day is accepting what Christ gave us. Many in our Roman tradition emphasize the ordination of the Apostles, though the "form" throws the Thomists a real curve, or the institution of the Eucharist. Yet, reading St. John's Gospel from chapter 12 until the Passion begins, one cannot help but notice everything is one continuous discourse. After washing the feet of the Apostles Christ tells them that His commission and His commandment for them is love of one another. He continues to clarify that He is of His Father, and that only through Him and His love will anyone see His Father. The Apostles are humanly confused at the moment, but our Lord promises them the "Paraclete," the Comforter, who will illuminate them and preserve them in Truth at the appropriate time. Yet by the time Jesus says these things Judas has gone, being told "What you must do, do quickly." The Apostles cannot fully understand what is transpiring before them. My own poorly-formed opinion is that their sins and lack of grace impedes them from seeing Christ as He truly is. Yet, Jesus allows them to hear His entire message that night and prays to His Father in heaven for unity among them.

Judas does not hear the message. Is he included in our Lord's prayer? It is unclear.

Caravaggio's Betrayal of Christ
Judas is a case study is turning away from God and losing one's soul to the abyss. We find intimations in the Gospel that Judas had an eye for money, accosting the sinful woman for pouring valuable perfume on Christ's feet (John ch. 12). Perhaps he thought he could start a revolution. Perhaps he was disappointed in the sort of Messiah Jesus was. Perhaps he was simply greedy. Either way, Judas did not lose his soul in any one instant. It was a gradual decay of his faith in Christ. Yet our Lord allows this betrayer to eat at His table and partake in Holy Communion. How welcome are we to approach then! How kind God is! Yet, we must be careful with this kindness and approach it worthily, as Judas also illustrates the compounding effect of sin wrought by an unworthy communion.

For his sins, although He knew Christ in a more human way than anyone who has lived since 33 AD, Judas was excluded from Christ's discourse on union with His Father, on love, and on the comfort God grants. Judas removed himself from all these things.

We cannot gerrymander with God. We must accept what Christ offers us, everything, even if His message, His commands, His actions, and His precepts for living discomfort us, as they should. Judas tried to pick and chose what of Christ he wanted, mainly a miracle-worker who would eventuate some desired effect. But this is wrong, both for Judas and for us.

Christ's love is so complete and so perfect that we lose our souls by not embracing it when it is offered to us. Take it, all of it. Much like the Eucharist....