This book is the revised and enlarged (fourth) edition of Holy Week: A Description of the Services, first published 1945.
The purpose of this book is to explain to the ordinary worshipper, who has no specialized knowledge of liturgy, the meaning of the historic services in which the Church celebrates the story of what St John Chrysostom calls "the Great Week" of the Christian year.
The word "explained" in the subtitle requires definition if the author's aim is to be rightly understood. For there are two essential questions to which the intelligent worshipper will expect an answer. First: "what is the meaning of the rites and ceremonies in precise relation to the events celebrated?" Secondly: "what should be the interior response on the part of those assisting?" To these a third may well be added: "how did the Church come to adopt these forms?"
In his great work L'année Liturgique Abbot Guéranger uses three words to describe these three distinct, though closely related, aspects of the Sacred Liturgy. Corresponding with the questions which I have stated they are--Mystery, Practice, History; to each of which he devotes a separate chapter of his introduction to the several volumes of his commentary.
Father Rowland has skilfully woven these strands into a single tapestry.
PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION
The need for reprinting Holy Week: A description of the services has provided the opportunity for substituting a description of the Restored Vigil of Easter (of Holy Saturday night) for the Liturgy of Holy Saturday morning. The first chapter has also been completely re-written; and some amendments and additions have been made in the other chapters.
The title of the book has been changed to Holy Week and Easter: the services explained. A second book, Holy Week and Easter: the liturgical texts, now published for the first time, contains the texts of the services described in the present book, in a form suitable for the layman. The two books are intended to be complementary.
Easter is rightly called the Queen of Feasts. Like a queen she reigns over every other event in world history. Like a queen she reigns supreme over every other feast in the Christian year. Yet, to understand her greatness, we must see how all that went before is fulfilled in her, and how she is a new beginning for all future time. Easter is the completion of a great mystery: she is the beginning of a mystery as great.
It would be easier for us to remember the true meaning of the feast if its name were derived directly from the Hebrew Pasch, as is the English Passover and the French Pâques. For Easter is the Christian Pasch, or Passover. Let us begin at the beginning.
When man first sinned God promised a Saviour; and this promise he repeated to Abraham, whom he appointed father of the Chosen People through whom the Saviour would come. This Chosen People first came on to the stage of world history when, slaves in Egypt, they escaped through the desert to Palestine. Their escape, the Exodus, was accompanied by many strange happenings, and they always looked back to these happenings as God's seal on their special mission. The Psalmist, St Stephen, St Peter, St Paul, point to these happenings as the credentials of the Jews as the Chosen People of God.
The Passover feast of the Jews commemorated the events which accompanied the "passing over" of their forefathers from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of Palestine. The "passing over" had started with a meal for which a lamb without blemish had been slain without a bone of its body being broken; its blood had been sprinkled on the door-posts of their houses so that the angel of death might pass over them; and the lamb had been eaten. Then had followed many signs of God's special care for them: the safe crossing of the waters of the Red Sea which had drowned Pharaoh and the Egyptians; the light guiding them by night; the manna feeding them in the desert; until they eventually reached the land of promise.
So God brought forth his Chosen People from slavery to freedom. But the events which accompanied the Exodus from Egypt not only sealed the Israelites as the Chosen People of God; they were also a kind of rehearsal for the way in which God would eventually redeem mankind as a whole, and each individual as an individual. It was as if God allowed the shadow to appear centuries before, so that when the reality came it might be recognized. Christ was the reality of which these events were the shadow. He was the true Lamb, slain without a bone of his body being broken. His blood was shed and sprinkled so that the angel of death might pass over his people dying in sin. As the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea from death to life, so Christ passed through the sepulchre from death to life. As the enemies of the Israelites had been drowned in the waters of the Red Sea, so by his death Christ destroyed the enemies of mankind, sin and death. Christ is the true light, lighting man through the darkness of this world. He is the true manna, giving his body and blood to be the food of man in the wilderness of this life.
So we have a second Passover: the passing over of Jesus Christ from death to life, fulfilling the pattern of the ancient passing over of the Jews from Egypt to Palestine. So was the first Easter Day the completion of a great mystery.
But it was the beginning of a mystery as great. For Christ passed over from death to life so that each human soul might pass over from death in sin to eternal life. The events of the Exodus were not only a rehearsal for Christ's passing over; they were also a rehearsal for each individual soul's passing over. Born in captivity to sin, man passes through the waters, not of the Red Sea, but of Baptism, his soul cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God. Christ is the light and the food of his soul, leading him through the wilderness of this life to the promised land of heaven.
Easter is the Christian Passover (or more exactly, Good Friday and Easter together are), for the Passover is a passing over from death to life. As the ancient Passover included the preparation of a lamb for the Passover feast, so the first five days of Holy Week are the preparation of the Lamb of God for his Passover, starting with his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
During Holy Week and Easter the Church employs every device of her Liturgy (that is, of her public, official worship of God) to gather together all three strands of the Passover; taking us back in mind to the Passover of the Jews in Egypt and to the Passover of Christ in Jerusalem, and reminding us of our own Passover. Weaving all the Scriptures into one magnificent tapestry, she shows Christ as the fulfilment of the ancient prophecies, and his Passover as the reality of which the Jewish Passover was the shadow. Nowhere is the unity of the Bible better seen: one is left in no doubt that the one Testament without the other has no meaning. It is significant that during Holy Week, which is the climax of the New Testament, the Old Testament is heard more than the New.
We must pause to consider another way in which Christ fulfills the Old Testament. One of the ways in which God prepared his people for the coming of the Saviour was by scattering clues through the Old Testament, so that when the Saviour came he might be recognizable. Did not Herod ask the priests and scribes where Christ should be born? And they had been able to give him an answer: In Bethlehem, because Micah had foretold it. The four Evangelists, and St Peter and St Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, constantly use these clues to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Saviour. To mention only a few instances: The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is seen as a fulfilment of a prophecy of Isaiah; the betrayal by Judas a fulfilment of the Psalmist; our Lord on the Cross applies to himself the words of the 22nd psalm; St Peter quotes a psalm in support of the Resurrection. In this way the Old Testament is of a truth, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, "a shadow of good things to come".
The Liturgy is much more than a dramatic representation: it is the means whereby the Church unites us to the mysteries of Christ. At Baptism we become members of the Mystical Body of Christ: we are grafted to Christ as a branch is grafted to a tree. And just as a branch grows not only by the action of the sap within it, but also by the action of the sun and rain from without, so we grow by grace both from prayer and sacrament and also by outwardly uniting ourselves to Christ in his mysteries through the Liturgy. And when participation in the Liturgy includes assisting at Mass and receiving Holy Communion, then indeed we are using the means at our disposal for growing in Christ. And nowhere is this truer than in the Passover Liturgy of Holy Week and Easter. A great means of grace is placed at our disposal: it is for us to use it.
So on Palm Sunday once more (some perhaps for the first time) we go up to Jerusalem with our blessed Lord. For three days we shall prepare: on Thursday we shall be with him at the Last Supper and in Gethsemane; on Friday at the foot of the Cross. And, if we are faithful, we shall be prepared for the climax of the whole week, indeed of the whole Christian Liturgy: the Easter Vigil of Saturday night, leading without a break to the Passover itself in the early hours of Easter morning. For this is the Christian Passover, Beginning in the darkness of the tomb, we shall be with Christ (depicted in the Paschal Candle) as he returns to life. We shall see the Candle plunged into the baptismal water--the Risen Christ giving power to the water so that the soul washed in it may die with him to sin and pass over with him to life. Finally, at about the hour when he rose from the tomb, the Church will bring him sacramentally to her altar, so that we may join in offering the one all-sufficient Paschal Lamb, and feed on the true manna of his Body and Blood, before we go out into the world to continue our own Passovers in striving to fulfil the baptismal promises we have just renewed.
What a wealth lies hid in this Liturgy! What gifts God has in store for our soul! Pray earnestly for your own sake and for the sake of your fellow-men that the Holy Spirit may help you to find them and to make them your own.
O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.
LENT AND PASSIONTIDE
Most of the great feasts of the Church are preceded by vigils--days of preparation. But Christmas and Easter have come to have whole seasons of preparation: Christmas the four weeks of Advent; Easter, the forty days of Lent, to which have been added the three preceding weeks beginning with the Sunday called Septuagesima.
The first cycle of the Christian year, Christmastide, ends on the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 2nd. The second cycle from Septuagesima to Easter is a time of penance. From now until Easter, except on feast days of the saints, the colour is purple (technically a red-violet); the Gloria in excelsis is omitted from the Mass; and the joyful Alleluia between the Epistle and the Gospel is replaced by the Tract.
Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima; then Shrove Tuesday, so called because it is usual on this day to be "shriven"--to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Penance. On Ash Wednesday Lent begins, and ashes, made by burning the palms of the previous Palm Sunday, are blessed before Mass and imposed on the forehead with the words "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Each day throughout Lent has its special Mass, and the Lenten Preface used at these Masses explains the purpose of fasting: by it God overcomes vice, raises the mind, and bestows on us virtue and heavenly rewards. From now until Easter, except on feast days and on the fourth Sunday in Lent, the organ is silent; and at High Mass the deacon and subdeacon may wear the curiously shaped "folded chasubles" instead of the festive dalmatic and tunicle generally worn.
So Lent passes on its way, relieved with a burst of colour and music on mid-Lent Sunday (known as Laetare--"rejoice"--from the opening word of the Introit of the Mass) when the colour may be rose. On Passion Sunday the sense of mourning is intensified by the veiling of all crucifixes, devotional statues, and pictures--the Church is hiding her glory as she mourns the price of our salvation. The Stations of the Cross, however, remain uncovered; and well so, for throughout Lent, but more so as the Passion is approached, they are one of the chief forms of devotion both for corporate and for individual acts of worship. During Passiontide, in Masses of the Season, the Glory be is not heard. The Preface of Lent is replaced by that of the Holy Cross which reminds us that the tree of Calvary repaired the damage caused by the tree of Eden: "Who by the tree of the Cross didst give salvation unto mankind; that whence death arose, thence life might rise again: and that he [i.e. the devil] who by a tree overcame, might also by a tree be overcome." The words of the daily Masses reflect the approach of the Passion, the Gospel on Saturday in Passion Week ending with the significant words "These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them." It is he who will regulate the pace of the drama. Tomorrow, but not before, he will go up to Jerusalem; on Friday, but not before, he will ascend the Cross.
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent; create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.
There is a note of expectancy in the air. After long weeks of anticipation and preparation Holy Week has come. Christ is going up to Jerusalem, and we are going with him. The great liturgical drama is about to begin. The threefold Passover is at hand.
As far back as the fourth century (and probably much earlier) on Palm Sunday the bishop, accompanied by the faithful carrying palm branches and singing antiphons and hymns, went from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. Mass was sung before the procession started, and it was at this Mass that the palms were blessed. A second Mass (of the Passion) was sung when the procession had reached Jerusalem.
Today's Mass is the Mass of the Passion and has no reference in it to the ceremony of the palms. But before the principal Mass of the day, after the Asperges, palms are blessed and are carried in procession. The service which accompanies the blessing is the ancient Mass of the palms as far as its Preface and Sanctus. Six prayers follow, and the palms are then distributed, first to the clergy, and then to the faithful, who generally receive them kneeling at the altar-rails, kissing the palm and the celebrant's hand as an act of reverence. The palm is held upright during the procession and during the singing of the Passion, and it is a pious custom to take it home and keep it over a crucifix or sacred picture until the following Lent.
The long prayers which accompany the blessing of the palms tend to overshadow the procession, especially if it has to be a short one. But it is the procession which matters, and though the ministers wear penitential purple it is a joyful procession. Like the great multitude which welcomed Christ outside Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, we welcome him with palms and shouts of joy. And we with better reason. To them he was at the most the Messiah (but an earthly one) and a possible king; few, if any, saw in him more than that. But we welcome him as our Saviour; as our eternal King, riding in triumph to claim his throne, the Cross.
The procession goes outside the church, singing antiphons set to ancient chants, as the church bells ring. But when it returns it finds the doors closed against it. In this we may see a picture of our Lord at his Ascension waiting for the gates of heaven to be opened to him, as the angelic choirs sing "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in." But, before he can enter the heavenly Jerusalem in triumph, he must first enter the earthly Jerusalem to suffer.
Through the closed doors the ancient hymn Gloria, laus et honor (or more commonly its modern version, "All glory, laud and honour to thee, Redeemer, King") is sung, the cantors from within singing the verses, those outside the refrain. The subdeacon, with the foot of the processional cross which he is carrying, strikes the doors, which are flung open. Christ enters Jerusalem.
Let us pause and notice the frequent use of the Old Testament in this morning's Liturgy. The opening antiphon, the very first words uttered by the Church in Holy Week, addresses our Lord with two Old Testament titles, "Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. O King of Israel: Hosanna in the highest." The lesson following, from Exodus, ends with words which are indeed a "shadow" of Good Friday and Easter morning: "At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord." (Many will recognize this as an echo of the Mass of Christmas Eve.) In the Gospel the use of the ass and the colt are seen to be the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy. In the Mass the Introit, Gradual, Tract and Offertory will be from psalms. The Passion will be one long series of fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies: the bread, the new Manna; the blood of the New Testament, in contrast to the blood of the Old Testament; the field of blood in fulfilment of Jeremiah's prophecy; the casting of lots for Christ's raiment in fulfilment of the Psalmist.
The Mass, following immediately on the return of the palm procession, plunges mercilessly into the bitterness of the Passion: "My God, my God, look upon me, why hast thou forsaken me?" These words, heard first in the Introit, occur again in the Tract, and will be heard from the Cross during the singing of the Passion. The Epistle is St Paul's description of God's humility in becoming man: "He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name." This text is one of the great themes of Holy Week, and we shall hear it many times before next Saturday. The Offertory sentence prepares us for Gethsemane: "I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no man."
The unusual feature of today's Mass is the solemn chanting of the Passion which precedes the Gospel. It is sung by three deacons in the sanctuary: one sings the descriptive parts; a second the words spoken by Christ; the third those of the other actors in the drama; and the choir the shouts of the crowd. The music of this chant is very ancient; it is plaintive and piercing, particularly in the verses at the end which are sung as the Gospel of the Mass. Today's Passion is from St Matthew, and it will be found helpful to devotion to follow the text. The Mass proceeds on its usual course and ends on a triumphant note in its Communion sentence: "Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done"--triumphant, that is, for us men and for our salvation. Let us take to ourselves the words of the Collect of the Mass so that we may share the cup and make our own the merits of Christ Crucified.
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the Cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his Resurrection.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday--each day has its own Mass, and the texts of these Masses, drawn so largely from the Old Testament, deserve careful study, especially the Lessons from the Prophets. On Monday there is no Passion. On Tuesday and Wednesday the Passion is sung as on Sunday--Tuesday from St Mark, Wednesday from St Luke. In many churches it is not possible for these Passions to be sung solemnly, nor indeed for many of the ceremonies of the week to be carried out as they are described. Often the spoken word has to be substituted for the chanting, and the celebrant performs many of the parts intended for assistants.
The offering of the Holy Sacrifice is the centre of the Church's worship, and every effort should be made to assist at it day by day during Holy Week. But those who have the time and opportunity should endeavour to attend also the service of Tenebrae on the evenings of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The Liturgy of the Church consists of the worship of God chiefly in the Divine Office and the Mass. The Divine Office consists of eight Hours, from Matins in the very early morning to Compline last thing at night. For convenience the first two Hours, Matins and Lauds, are usually "anticipated", which means that they are recited on the previous evening. Tenebrae consists of Matins and Lauds of Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Holy Week. [If Tenebrae is recited in choir of obligation it is not anticipated.] Tenebrae is the Latin word for darkness and alludes to the darkness that was over all the land from the sixth to the ninth hour on Good Friday.
Matins is divided into three Nocturns, each consisting of three psalms (with their appropriate antiphons) and three lessons. The lessons are followed by Responds, meditations on the themes which run through each evening's Tenebrae. Lauds, which follows Matins, consists of five psalms, the Benedictus, the Miserere (Psalm 51) and the Collect.
During Tenebrae there stands before the altar on the Epistle side a "hearse"--a tall staff supporting a triangle on which are fifteen unbleached candles, lighted before the service begins. At the end of each of the fourteen psalms of Matins and Lauds a server extinguishes one of these candles until only the one at the top of the hearse is left alight During the singing of the Benedictus the six altar candles are extinguished and the lights gradually put out. (At this time on Wednesday all the lamps in the church, except those before the Tabernacle, are extinguished and not lit again until Holy Saturday.) Finally the lighted candle is taken from the top of the hearse and hidden behind the altar. In the darkness an antiphon, the Our Father (silently), the Miserere and the Collect are said. Then a sharp noise is made, the single lighted candle is brought from behind the altar, shown for a moment, put out--and the service is over.
This symbolism is rich in meaning: the deepening gloom of Calvary and the dereliction of our Lord, until Christ, the Light of the world, is alone; the disappearance from this world of the Light amidst the confusion of nature when "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent"; the reappearance of the light reminding us that the powers of darkness had no dominion over the one true Light.
The music of Tenebrae contains some of the Church's finest chants. Especially beautiful are those of the lessons of the first Nocturn and of the Responds which follow the lessons. (The Responds, when sung to certain harmonized settings can be almost distressing in their poignancy--not less so the Miserere when sung to the settings of Vittoria, Allegri or Palestrina.)
Each night's Tenebrae has its particular theme, and tonight's (Matins and Lauds of Maundy Thursday) is the betrayal by Judas--"It had been good for that man if he had not been born." The lessons of the first Nocturn each night are from the book of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and each lesson ends with the plaintive "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God." Those of the second Nocturn each night are from the treatise of St Augustine on the Psalms; Wednesday's lessons of the third Nocturn are from St Paul's account of the Last Supper, the Epistle of the morrow's Mass.
After the Benedictus there is sung what is sometimes called the Great Antiphon of the Triduum Domini ("The three days of the Lord," as Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Holy Week are called)--the familiar words from last Sunday's Epistle to the Philippians, "Christ became obedient for us unto death, even the death of the Cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name." These words constantly recur during the Church's Liturgy of these days but nowhere more dramatically than at Tenebrae where they grow night by night. Today only the opening words will be heard, "Christ became obedient for us unto death." The Collect each night is the same.
As we go out into the night we realize that the Church's Liturgy has a power which no human power has: our souls have been brought face to face with the horror of the Passion with an almost overwhelming brutality. If we have entered in the smallest degree into the desolation of our Lord Tenebrae will have done its work.
Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the Cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
MAUNDY THURSDAY The Mass and Procession
Today the church, in sharp contrast with its bareness at Tenebrae last night, is brightly decorated. The altar cross is veiled in white, and the best vestments are worn. For a short while the Church lays aside her mourning to rejoice in the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. But there are signs that her joy is to be short-lived and that the Passion is close at hand.
A number of themes run through the Mass. The Introit bids us "to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection: by whom we were saved and set free." The Collect calls to mind that both "Judas received the punishment of his guilt, and the thief the reward of his confession." The Epistle is St Paul's account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist sung at Tenebrae last night. The Gradual brings back the Great Antiphon heard in part last night: "Christ became obedient for us unto death, even the death of the Cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name." The Gospel is the account of the washing of the disciples' feet, commemorated in the ceremony of the Maundy of which more will be said later. Bells are rung at the beginning of the Gloria, and then remain silent until the Gloria of the Vigil Mass of Easter. The Kiss of Peace is omitted after the Agnus Dei, a reminder that the kiss, the symbol of love, was on this day the symbol of betrayal. Today only one Mass is said in any church and assisting priests receive Holy Communion from the celebrant, thus emphasizing unity, which is the spirit of the Mass. Pray today for the reunion of Christendom: this day on which Christ gave us the Blessed Sacrament--the sacrament of unity.
The unusual feature of the Maundy Thursday Liturgy cannot be understood apart from Good Friday. On Good Friday, and on Good Friday only, the Church does not offer the Sacrifice of the Altar. Instead, the celebrant on Maundy Thursday consecrates two Hosts, one of which he consumes at the Communion, the other is reserved and consumed on Good Friday during the Mass of the Presanctified. This second Host is reserved on a specially prepared altar, and at the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass it is carried there with all the ceremony which the Church can muster. As the procession moves slowly round the church, the congregation kneeling in adoration, St Thomas Aquinas' hymn Pange lingua is sung, the last two familiar verses (Tantum ergo) after the Host has been placed on the altar.
Special honour is paid to the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar of Repose: instead of genuflecting to it, a prostration is made by kneeling on both knees and slightly bowing the head and shoulders.
The Watch of the Passion
The Altar of Repose, where the Host remains from after Mass on Maundy Thursday until the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, is usually richly decorated with lights and with flowers, and continuous watch is kept before it. Remembering our Lord's sorrowful appeal to his apostles, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?", all Christians will wish to take part in the watch.
Reparation will be uppermost in the minds of those who watch; as, indeed, it will be uppermost in our minds all this solemn time. Reparation is the restoration to a proper state of something that has been damaged. The perfect act of reparation was the restoration of fallen man by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross: by it man was restored to his proper relationship to God. By it man is not saved; he is given the means of being saved. For salvation requires man's co-operation, and that co-operation consists in his reparation by true sorrow for his sins, and by willing acceptance of punishment and suffering for his sins. But reparation is something more than this, for by virtue of his union with Christ in his Mystical Body through Baptism, man is able to do reparation not only for his own sins but also for the sins of others. This is the thought behind St Paul's "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church." Christ, now in glory, can suffer no longer; but he allows the members of his Mystical Body to do so and not least in reparation one for another. All Christians must learn to do this; some are called to this vocation in a special degree, living either in the world or, more frequently, in the religious state in monastery and convent.
The very beauty of the Altar of Repose is an act of reparation for the horrors of that first Maundy Thursday night; the very presence of his loved ones today is an act of reparation for the desertion by his loved ones then. Reparation will be made for that awful night; for the sins of the world from the Fall until today; for the horror of sin in the world today; for all sins of schism; but above all for our own personal sins which so wound his heart.
Many will find it wise to plan in advance how they will use their watch, otherwise the time can easily slip by with little real prayer. Some will need no other help than the sacramental Presence on the altar. Others will be helped by reading the account of the Passion in one of the Gospels, or a book of devotion. Others, again, will use their Rosaries, meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries, or follow our Lord in the Stations of the Cross. Adoration, thanksgiving, acts of contrition for our sins, pleading the need of others and of ourselves--there will be no lack of subjects for prayer. Be generous in giving of your time and in your resolutions.
The Stripping of the Altars
Soon after the procession to the Altar of Repose, the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the Tabernacle of the church and reserved for the sick and dying during the Triduum in a special place. Then a priest strips the altars while the 22nd psalm is recited, reminding us that the altar symbolizes the human Body of Christ--the Body which was stripped of its garments: "They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots." The sanctuary lamps are extinguished, the holy water emptied from the stoups. The church is left bare, in striking contrast with the richness of the Altar of Repose.
The theme of this evening's Tenebrae (Matins and Lauds of Good Friday) is the struggle and conflict of the Passion. "The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed." "The veil of the Temple was rent . . . and the whole earth did quake." The lessons of tonight's third Nocturn are from the Epistle to the Hebrews describing our Lord's High Priesthood. It will be noticed that to the antiphon following the Benedictus are added the significant words "even the death of the Cross"--"Christ became obedient for us unto death, even the death of the Cross."
The Blessing of the Oils and the Maundy
These two ceremonies rarely take place in parish churches and are therefore only described briefly.
The bishop blesses the oils during the Mass, which he celebrates himself. The Church uses three oils: (1) the Oil of the Sick, used in the Sacrament of Holy Unction, last of her seven sacraments, which is administered by a priest to those in sickness to bring strength to the soul, and, if it be God's will, health to the body (2) the Chrism, used in Baptism and Confirmation, in the consecration of bishops, and in the consecration of altars and blessing of church bells (3) the Oil of Catechumens, used in Baptism, Holy Orders, and the blessing of fonts and altars. The Oil of the Sick is blessed just before the end of the great Eucharistic Prayer, after the words "through Christ our Lord, by whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create all these good things." Though "these good things" now refer to the consecrated Bread and Wine on the altar, they used to refer to the objects brought to be blessed at this moment of the Mass, when the Oil of the Sick is blessed today. The other two oils are blessed after the Communion.
The second ceremony is the washing of the feet of thirteen men or boys in imitation of our Lord at the Last Supper. The antiphon sung at the beginning of this ceremony, Mandatum novum do vobis ("A new commandment I give unto you"), gives the name to Maundy Thursday.
GOOD FRIDAY The Liturgy
"Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us", we shall sing the day after tomorrow. Today he is to be sacrificed. Indeed a day of mourning, yet also a day of triumph, for it is the fulfilment of God's purpose. "I have a baptism to be baptized with" our Lord had said, referring to the Cross, "and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." Today, in his last cry from the Cross, he will announce its accomplishment. "It is finished"--yes, it is ended. But only the beginning is ended; the end will begin tomorrow night in the Easter Vigil.
The Divine Liturgy, as we have said, is the Church's official worship of God, chiefly in Mass and Office. Private devotions have a part, though only a part, in our spiritual lives. It is in entering into the Liturgy that we enter into the mind of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on Good Friday when man, left to himself, falters before the enormity of the Cross; but, uniting himself to the Church's Liturgy, is able to give expression to his innermost sentiments and aspirations. Would not man produce an ordered dramatic representation of the Passion? Yet the Church, guided by the Holy Ghost, joins three distinct services together which say and do all we need. For the service we are about to take part in has been described as "an almost perfect specimen of the old Roman synaxis of the second century followed by the fourth-century Syrian rite of the Veneration of the Cross, and the second-century service for Communion from the reserved Sacrament''. [Gregory Dix: The Shape of the Liturgy p. 36]
(1) THE LESSONS, THE PASSION, AND THE PRAYERS
This first part, as we have said, is an almost perfect specimen of the old Roman synaxis of the second century, which is directly derived from the pre-Christian synagogue worship of the Chosen People, consisting of readings from Scripture, psalmody, and prayers. So on this day of days we go back to the Old Testament worship of the Chosen People, only substituting the Passion according to St John for one of the ancient lections. Though with an awful irony, we include in our prayers one for the same ancient Chosen People to whom he came, but who received him not and crucified him.
When the ministers enter in black vestments (used only for death--today, as the Easterns say, for the death of God) the altar and sanctuary are quite bare; not even the candles are alight. The ministers prostrate themselves in prayer and a single cloth is spread on the altar in place of the usual three required when the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. The ministers rise and the service starts with the reading of a lesson from the book of Hosea. Notice the prophecy of God's rejection of the Jews--Ephraim and Judah (it was through the gate of Ephraim that Jesus was led on the way to Calvary); notice too that "the third day he will raise us up." And the third day Christ will be raised up.
The Collect of Maundy Thursday is sung, followed by a lesson from the 12th chapter of the book of Exodus: Moses' instructions for the first passover in Egypt, the prototype of Christ's death, and a reminder that it was at the very time of the offering of the Passover lamb in the Temple at Jerusalem that Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God, offered himself on Calvary. We shall be reminded tonight at Tenebrae that "neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
After a long Tract the 18th and 19th chapters of St John's Gospel are solemnly sung as the Passion.
Next follow a number of prayers of great antiquity. Today the Church, true to her vocation as the Bride of Christ, utters his own prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," including in her public supplications all sorts and conditions of men, her own children and her enemies alike. Each prayer has an introduction explaining its purpose, and before each (except one) the deacon sings "Let us bow the knee," to which the subdeacon replies "Arise." There are eight prayers (the ninth for the emperor is no longer used): for the holy Church of God; for the Pope; for bishops, priests, deacons and those in minor orders; for catechumens preparing for the sacraments; for the suffering; for heretics and schismatics; for the Jews; and for the heathen. Only before the prayer for the Jews is the invitation "Let us bow the knee" omitted--a reminder that this act of homage was, on the first Good Friday, used as an act of derision.
(2) THE VENERATION OF THE CROSS
The Veneration of the Cross which now follows is an act of reparation in which all the faithful will wish to join so far as they are able. The Cross, "unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness", is for Christians the very instrument of their redemption and therefore demands their deepest homage. It may well be asked why the crucifixes, the centre of our devotion as Passiontide progresses, should be hidden from our sight until they are solemnly uncovered during this ceremony. The figure portrayed on early Christian representations of the Cross was always that of the triumphant Christ reigning from the tree, and it was considered incongruous that he should be thus seen on the day of his suffering, so the crucifixes were veiled. But when, in course of time, the triumphant figure was changed to the suffering figure no change was made in the custom, and so our crucifixes are still veiled during Passiontide.
The ceremony of the Veneration finds its origin in the fourth century when the true Cross, discovered in Jerusalem, was exposed on Good Friday for the veneration of the faithful. From this the custom of venerating a representation of the true Cross quickly spread throughout Christendom.
The celebrant, having removed his chasuble, is handed the altar crucifix, today veiled in black. Standing at the side of the altar, he unveils the upper part of the crucifix and sings in a low key (joined in part by the other ministers) "Behold the wood of the Cross, whereon was hung the Saviour of the world", to which the response is made "O come, let us worship" as all genuflect. Moving to the top step of the altar he unveils the right arm, lifts the crucifix higher and sings the words in a higher key. Finally, going to the middle of the altar, he completely uncovers the crucifix, holds it aloft and repeats the words in a still higher key. When the altar crucifix has been unveiled all the crucifixes in the church are uncovered.
The celebrant places the crucifix on a cushion on the floor of the sanctuary and, removing his shoes as an act of humility, venerates it, making three prostrations as he approaches it, and kissing the feet of the figure. The other ministers, the servers, and then all present in church follow; or, if the numbers are too large, the faithful kneel at the altar-rails, and kiss a crucifix which a priest holds in his hands.
During the veneration of the Cross the Reproaches are sung to desolate chants of stark beauty. As their name suggests, they are God's reproaches to his faithless people, recalling how they have repaid his blessings with insults. "Because I brought thee forth from the land of Egypt: thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Saviour." "I opened the sea before thee: and thou hast opened my side with a spear." After each of the first three of these Reproaches the Trisagion is sung in Greek and repeated in English: "Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal, have mercy upon us." To each subsequent Reproach is added the recurrent complaint "O my people, what have I done unto thee, or wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me." When all have venerated the Cross, it is replaced on the altar.
(3) THE MASS OF THE PRESANCTIFIED
Towards the end of the Veneration of the Cross, candles are lighted and preparations made for bringing back the Host from the Altar of Repose to the High Altar for the Mass of the Presanctified--the culmination of today's great act of reparation. The procession is made with all the solemnity of the previous day to the singing of the Passiontide hymn Vexilla Regis. As on Maundy Thursday the Church, by the love and care with which she surrounds our Lord in his sacramental Body, makes reparation for the insults which on the first Good Friday were heaped on his natural Body. On reaching the High Altar the Host is placed on the corporal already spread to receive it.
Today, as has already been said, the Sacrifice of the Mass is not offered, for the Mass of the Presanctified consists of the consuming by the celebrant of the presanctified Host (one of the Hosts consecrated on Maundy Thursday). When the Host has been placed on the altar, wine and a little water are poured into the chalice, and the oblations (the Host and the chalice), the crucifix and the altar are all censed. Only one of the usual silent offertory prayers is recited; the priest then half turns round to say "Pray, brethren", but the response is omitted, and the celebrant passes straight to the Our Father and the prayer "Deliver us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all evils, past, present and to come." The Host is elevated for the adoration of the faithful, broken, and a fragment of it placed in the chalice. Omitting all else, except one prayer, the priest immediately consumes the Host and the wine; and after the cleansing of the vessels the sacred ministers and the servers depart in silence.
The brevity, swiftness and silence of the end of the Mass is, in contrast to the rest, almost breathtaking. Having employed every device of word, action and music, the Church finds this the only way in which she can express the final act of the drama.
The theme of Tenebrae this evening (Matins and Lauds of Holy Saturday) is peace and rest after the agony and strife of battle, and the confidence of hope. "I will lay me down in peace and take my rest." "He shall dwell in thy tabernacle: he shall rest upon thy holy hill." The lessons are again from the book of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, St Augustine's treatise on the Psalms, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Lauds ends with the triumphant 150th psalm. The antiphon at the end is tonight said in full: "Christ became obedient for us unto death, even the death of the Cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name."
This is the climax. This is the Christian Passover. We have come to think of Holy Week historically, following the Passion of our Lord day by day and hour by hour. This has certain devotional advantages, but it makes it more difficult to understand the whole Incarnate Life as a single act of redemption. The early Church had no special commemoration of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion apart from the Resurrection and the Ascension. All these separate historical events were commemorated at the Christian Passover on Holy Saturday night and in the early hours of Easter Day. As a result the theological truth of the Redemption was more clearly shown and understood.
Over the centuries the historical approach grew and the drama spread itself over the whole week. At the same time another factor was interfering with the primitive observance of the Christian Passover. On practical grounds the Liturgy was moved back from Saturday night, first (by the eighth century) to the afternoon, and eventually to Saturday morning. The ceremonies intended for the night became unreal when performed in daylight, and, as only very few of the faithful were able to assist at them, became generally unknown. These two acts tended to divide the Christian Passover into the commemoration of two historical events: the death of Christ on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Day.
The restoration of the ancient Easter Vigil to its right time, and the retention of the other Holy Week liturgies, keep a right balance between the historical events in Palestine and the act of redemption in eternity. Also the moving of the Easter Vigil, from the morning to the night, should enable and encourage the faithful to attend it.
Like the Good Friday morning Liturgy, that of Holy Saturday is made up of a number of different rites joined by a common theme--a remarkable diversity in unity. It consists of an adapted and considerably expanded form of the ancient custom of blessing a candle for the evening service; of the ceremonies connected with Baptism (from earliest times associated with this night); of the preparation of the faithful for the Easter Passover; and of the Mass of the Easter Vigil.
(1) THE BLESSING OF THE NEW FIRE AND THE PASCHAL CANDLE
It has been a time of waiting. Not since Good Friday morning has there been any official Liturgy--at any rate as far as the laity are concerned. Now, when the sacred ministers enter the church in darkness, there is a note of expectancy: not the foreboding expectancy of Palm Sunday, but the triumphant expectancy of Easter.
Our Lord called himself the true Light, and promised that his followers should have light. "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." St John constantly returns to the metaphors of darkness and light: "The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." It is not without significance that at his death "there was darkness over all the land" and that it was "at the rising of the sun" that the tomb was found empty. The Church eagerly takes up the metaphors: the last lamps in church were extinguished on Maundy Thursday; the final candle was extinguished at the end of Tenebrae. Now she will liken his Resurrection to light; and she will give the newly-baptized a lighted candle to remind them that in the sacrament of their initiation the light of Christ comes to dwell in the darkness of the soul.
From very early Christian times (the survival of a Jewish practice) a candle was blessed at the beginning of the evening service to provide light with which to read. This is the origin of the Paschal Candle. But the fire has to be produced with which to light the Candle, and this is done outside the church by striking flint. This new fire is then blessed by the priest, at the back of the church.
The priest then cuts a cross in the wax of the Paschal Candle, and at the top of the cross makes the first letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha, and at the bottom the last letter, Omega, praying "Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, Alpha and Omega." Next he cuts the numbers of the current year in the four angles of the cross: "His are the times and ages; to him be glory and dominion, through all the ages of eternity." Next he fixes in the candle the five grains of incense: "Through his holy and glorious wounds may Christ the Lord guard and preserve us." With a candle lighted from the new fire, he lights the Paschal Candle: "May the light of Christ gloriously rising scatter the darkness of heart and mind." Finally the Candle is blessed.
Look at the Candle in its majestic symbolism. The purity of the wax. The light shining in darkness. Alpha and Omega (the name of God)--Christ's Godhead. The grains of incense (his five wounds)--his humanity. This year's date reminding us that he is the same today as he always was and always will be.
(2) THE EXSULTET
The deacon changes from purple vestments into white: it is his duty to do the next part of the Liturgy--a joyful duty. A procession is formed and, with the deacon carrying the Candle in the middle of it, moves slowly down the church. Soon it stops; the deacon raises the Candle and sings "The light of Christ", at which all genuflect and answer "Thanks be to God." The celebrant lights the candle he is carrying from the Paschal Candle. The procession goes on its way, to stop a second time, and all is repeated, the deacon singing on a higher note. This time those in the procession light their candles from the Paschal Candle. Again the procession goes on its way, and again the deacon sings "The light of Christ" on a still higher note, and now the candles of the people, and the church lamps, are lit. Think back to the ancient People of God led through the desert, by a pillar of fire by night, to the Promised Land. Now look at the procession and see the Risen Christ lead the People of God: now to his sacramental presence on his altar; finally to his very self in heaven.
Having reached the sanctuary the ministers and servers gather round the Candle. What a magnificent scene! The burning Candle, signed with the sign of the cross, Alpha and Omega, and the date, and bearing the five grains of incense. The deacon clothed in white. The faithful holding in their hands the candles lighted from the central Candle. And then holy Church bursts into song!
The Exsultet (so called from its opening word in Latin meaning "rejoice") is a song of superb beauty, going back to the fourth century, and set to a haunting chant. Again and again it summons the whole of creation to rejoice: "Give praise unto the invisible God, the Father almighty, and unto his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who paid for us to the eternal Father the debt of Adam's transgression." So unrestrained is the Church's joy that she praises the very sin which caused our Redemption--"O happy fault (O felix culpa) which was counted worthy to have such and so great a Redeemer!" The theme of the Exsultet is "this night", now overcome by light. It is the night wherein the Israelites were led out of Egypt; the night separating believers in Christ from unbelievers; the night "wherein, breaking the chains of death, Christ ascendeth from hell in triumph." It has become "a night as clear as the day". Notice, most significant of all: "This is the Paschal feast wherein the very Lamb is slain, by whose blood the door-posts of the faithful are made holy."
Throughout Eastertide the Paschal Candle will remain in the sanctuary, until on Ascension Day it is finally extinguished at the end of the Gospel of the principal Mass: "So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."
(3) THE PROPHECIES
The group around the Paschal Candle disperses, the hand candles are extinguished, the deacon puts on the purple dalmatic, and the Prophecies follow, sung by a reader in the middle of the choir.
In the early centuries Lent was the principal time for preparing catechumens for entry into the Church. There are many references to this in the Lenten Masses. The frequent mention of the casting out of devils (as in the Gospel for the third Sunday in Lent) refers to the exorcizing of the catechumens. On the following Wednesday the "Scrutinies" (or tests) of the candidates took place: the Lesson of the Mass contains a warning against worshipping false gods, very necessary when it is remembered that many of the catechumens were converts from pagan religions.
The final preparation of the catechumens took place on Holy Saturday, and during the long watches of the night they were baptized in the newly-blessed waters of the font. They were then confirmed, and received first Communion at the Vigil Mass, which was celebrated at the end of the nightlong ceremonies in the early hours of Easter morning.
The Prophecies were originally read for the instruction of the catechumens soon to be baptized; and for the edification of the faithful, because the Easter Vigil was intended as their preparation for Easter. The last three are followed by a Tract; and all four by a Collect. [Before each collect, as on Good Friday, the deacon bids the faithful "bow the knee" and the subdeacon bids them "arise". The new rite for Holy Saturday restores the purpose of these instructions by instructing all to remain a little while in silent prayer.] The references are given here to enable the Prophecies to be followed in a Bible, and some notes are added to bring out their meaning.
(i) Genesis 1.1--2.2. Goes back to the beginning: "In the beginning God." "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters"--used later tonight in the blessing of the font as a foreshadowing of Baptism. Creation was good--"God saw that it was good." Notice the similarity of the opening words of the Collect to the prayer for the blessing of water at Mass.
(ii) Exodus 14.24--15.1. The historical Passover in Egypt, prefiguring the Passover of Christ, and, soon, the Passover of the catechumens in the waters of Baptism. The Tract continues the Song of Moses started in the last verse of the Prophecy--it can well be applied to the Risen Christ symbolized in the Paschal Candle. Notice how in the Collect the waters of the Red Sea prefigure the waters of Baptism.
(iii) Isaiah 4.2-6. In this passage may be seen a picture of the Church, "beautiful and glorious"; "the washing away of filth" as the effects of Baptism. Notice "the shining of a flaming fire by night". The Tract refers to the Church as a vineyard. The catechumens will soon be grafted to the vine in Baptism--"I am the vine, ye are the branches." Pray, with the Collect, "to bring forth worthy fruit in abundance".
(iv) Deuteronomy 31. 22-30. Moses' promise to Joshua that he will lead the Israelites into the Land of Promise; and a warning that they will fall into sin after his death. A warning that we must not apostasize on our journey to our Promised Land. The Tract continues straight on from the end of the Prophecy. The collect sums up the Prophecy, praying for forgiveness.
(4) BLESSING OF THE BAPTISMAL WATER
With magnificent urgency the Church produces in Baptism the fruits of Christ's Death, even before she celebrates his Resurrection by bringing him sacramentally to the altar in the Mass of Easter. It is as if, anxious that her catechumens may join the faithful at the banquet of the Risen Lamb, she positively hastens to baptize them.
From earliest times the Christian Passover was considered the most appropriate time for conferring the Sacrament of Baptism. In those days the catechumen walked down steps into a pool of water, where he was baptized by triple immersion, walking up steps on the opposite side to be clothed in a white robe. In such circumstances there was no difficulty in seeing Baptism as the fulfilment of the Israelites passing through the waters of the Red Sea, and as dying with Christ and rising with Christ. In modern conditions it is unusual to have a Baptism so late in the night. But fortunate are those who do receive, and those who assist at, the sacrament of rebirth on this holy and blessed night!
The blessing of the baptismal water is preceded by the first part of the Litany of the Saints, all kneeling, and all joining in the responses. Join with great devotion, pleading for those being baptized here or elsewhere. This is no historical parade but a joint act of intercession with the Church triumphant in heaven. Know something of the saints you are speaking to, so that the Litany may be a living thing. The immaculate Mother: my mother since the fourth word from the Cross yesterday. John Baptist withstanding Herod. Peter crucified in Rome. Stephen stoned in Jerusalem. Antony, hermit of the desert. Benedict, father of monks. Francis with the stigmata. Mary Magdalene, the absolved penitent, in the Easter morning garden. All ye holy men and women, saints of God, intercede for us.
The baptismal water is blessed either in the sanctuary or in the font itself. If the former, a vessel containing water is now placed in front of the Paschal Candle. If the latter, a procession goes to the font preceded by the Paschal Candle, while the first part of the Litany is sung.
A short introductory prayer leads into the Sursum Corda, praising God for the work of the sacraments. It recalls that at the creation the Spirit moved over the waters, and that, by the waters of the flood, sin was washed away. The priest, dividing the water in the form of a cross, asks that it may be fruitful in bringing forth all into one childhood by grace. He makes three signs of the cross over it: "Wherefore I bless thee, O creature of water, by the living God, by the true God, by the Holy God; by God who in the beginning through his word divided thee from the dry land: whose Spirit moved upon thee." Then he divides it with his hand and scatters its saving waters towards the four quarters of the world. Next he breathes upon it, and dipping the Paschal Candle into the water invokes the blessing of the Holy Ghost: "May the power of the Holy Ghost descend upon the fulness of this font." This he sings three times in rising pitch, each time dipping the Candle deeper in the water. Some of the water is now taken for sprinkling the faithful, for the blessing of houses, and for the holy water stoups. Finally some of the oil of Catechumens and the Chrism (blessed on Maundy Thursday) are mixed into the water.
If the water has been blessed in the sanctuary it is now carried in solemn procession to the font while are sung the very appropriate words of the 42nd psalm. "As the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God." After the water has been poured into the font, a Collect is said.
The blessing of the baptismal water having been completed, the Baptisms (if any) having taken place, and the procession having returned (in either case) from the font, a new and very vivid ceremony is then introduced: the renewal by the faithful (holding in their hands their candles lighted) of their baptismal promises, a reminder that the faithful are here (as always) not spectators at, but participants in, the Liturgy. Just as the Jews of old renewed their covenant with God on solemn occasions, so do we tonight, journeying towards the Promised Land of heaven. After a short introductory homily the priest asks solemnly "Do you renounce Satan?" To which is answered, "We do renounce him." "And all his works?" "We do renounce them." "And all his pomps?" "We do renounce them." "Do you believe in God the Father almighty?" "We do believe." "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" "We do believe." "Do you also believe in the Holy Ghost?" "We do believe." The Our Father is recited in unison, and the priest says a closing prayer. With what fervour these responses should be made on this night of Christ's triumph over Satan!
Then, all kneeling, the rest of the Litany of the Saints is sung. Meanwhile the sacred ministers go to the sacristy to vest for the Mass.
(5) The Mass
We have reached the climax of the climax! Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us on the Cross. Now we are to offer Christ our Passover in the Mass. All that he then was is to be ours through the Sacrament he gave us on Maundy Thursday at the Last Supper. Then he said "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." Now he says, inviting us to Communion, "With desire I desire to eat this Passover with you."
When the ministers return in white vestments the sanctuary has been completely transformed and has put on her most glorious apparel. Only the statues remain covered.
The Mass seems to start (and very appropriately) with the Gloria in excelsis, for the final Kyries of the Litany of the Saints become the Kyries of the Mass, and both the Preparation and the Introit are omitted. The ministers ascend to the altar, the celebrant intones the Gloria, and the bells ring and the organ is played as on Maundy Thursday. Meanwhile the statues are unveiled--the Church has completely re-clothed herself.
The Collect is a reminder of the intimate connection of the Easter Night Mass with the newly-baptized: it refers to them as "the new offspring of thy family". The Epistle tells them that if they be risen with Christ they are to seek those things which are above. Then the celebrant sings the first thrilling Alleluia of Easter, the first to be heard since before Septuagesima. It is sung thrice (as though the Church, after so much sorrow, were reluctant to pass on from this first characteristic expression of Easter joy)--each time in a higher key, and each time repeated by the choir. The Gospel describes the coming of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to the sepulchre, and gives the Easter message "Go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead." Both the Kiss of Peace and the Agnus Dei are omitted, reminding us that the message of peace which they both bring was not spoken by our Lord until the evening of the first Easter Day.
If there have been Baptisms followed by Confirmations and (as is also provided for on this night) Ordinations, the hour will be well advanced, so the Church goes straight on to sing Lauds of Easter morning in a shortened form. Only one psalm, the short 117th, is sung, with a threefold Alleluia antiphon; next the Benedictus with its lovely antiphon, "And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre, at the rising of the sun, Alleluia"; then the final prayer, the Collect which is used in Eastertide at the giving of Holy Communion outside Mass.
Listen carefully to the Benedictus. Use it as a thanksgiving. For blessed indeed is the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people by performing the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham. With majestic constancy God has worked out his purpose regardless of the waywardness of man. The seed of Abraham, the Chosen People, the Catholic Church--against it the gates of hell never yet did, and never can, prevail!
EASTER DAY AND EASTER WEEK
On Easter day water is not blessed before Mass for the sprinkling of the people; instead, some of the water blessed the previous night is used. The usual chant is, during Eastertide, replaced by the lovely antiphon "I beheld water issuing out from the temple, on the right side, alleluia: and all to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say alleluia."
The Mass is given up wholly to the joyful celebration of the Resurrection and makes no direct reference to the newly-baptized. The opening words of the Gradual are the motif of the whole Liturgy of Easter: "This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will be joyful and glad in it." The Alleluia verse is "Christ our Passover is sacrified for us." Then comes the glad Easter Sequence bidding "Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises." The Postcommunion prayer is the same as the closing prayer last night.
The evening Office Hymn of Easter is heard for the first time on the Saturday following Easter Day (being replaced during Easter Week by the words used as the first part of this morning's Gradual). This Office Hymn is the song of the newly-baptized, cleansed in the waters of the Red Sea, in their "snow-white robes of royal state" awaiting the Lamb's eucharistic banquet.
In early Christian centuries the whole of Easter Week used to be a retreat for the newly-baptized, who attended Mass each day dressed in their white robes: it "will be noticed that the Introit of each Mass refers to them. On the Saturday they attended for the last time in their white robes.
Next day, Low Sunday--low only in comparison with Easter Day, the queen of all feasts--is still known as Dominica in albis depositis, the Sunday when the white robes have been laid aside.
In this short explanation of the services of Holy Week and Easter little mention has been made of the holy Mother of God, yet she will have been our constant companion even as she was his. She is the Queen of Sorrows as he hangs on the Cross. She is the Queen of the Resurrection as he rises from the grave. Let us conclude, then, with the Church's song of joy to her, used in Eastertide for the Angelus:
Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia,
He whom thou wast meet to bear, Alleluia,
As he promised hath arisen, Alleluia,
Pour for us to God thy prayer, Alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia,
For the Lord hath risen indeed, Alleluia.
O God, who through the Resurrection of thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ hast vouchsafed to give joy to the world: grant, we beseech thee, that through his Mother the Virgin Mary we may obtain the joys of everlasting life.