Tuesday 13th April 2021

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The Easter Glory Of Our Lord In The Holy Eucharist

April 8, 2021 Frontpage No Comments


When our Lord asked the apostles, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15), it was clear that He was not looking for an answer saying that He was just a great teacher or prophet, or just a man like the rest of us. The apostles had already mentioned to Him how others saw Him in this merely human way — “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:14). It is only Peter’s answer that suffices: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
The grandeur, splendor, and glory with which the Church celebrates the sacred liturgy, the precious gold and silver, the jewels and brocades, with which she encompasses our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament are her living reply to this same question of Christ, her reiteration of Peter’s answer. For as our Lord says elsewhere, “. . . behold, something greater than Jonah is here . . . something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:41-42).
The inauguration of this age of the public solemn worship of Christ as the Son of the living God came with His Passion, death, and Resurrection: “Now is the Son of man glorified . . . Father, the hour has come . . . glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 13:31; 17:1, 5). The visual manifestation of this glory which Christ revealed beforehand to Peter, James, and John in His Transfiguration was not to be publicly unveiled until His Resurrection:
“Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9). It is therefore a false notion of our Lord and a false piety to think that He eschews the glory that the Church so lovingly pours upon Him like the precious aromatic nard with which Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus anointed His feet, a scandal only to those who like Judas fail to understand Him.
In the Church’s annual celebration of the Resurrection, the Holy Eucharist stands at the center, for “It is the Lord!,” as the Apostle St. John exclaimed upon recognizing the Risen Christ standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:7). After abstaining for two days from the celebration of Mass, out of grief for the death of Christ, the Church, on that “blessed night that alone merited to know the time and the hour at which Christ rose from the dead” (Exsultet), resumes this “Sacrum Convivium” in a blaze of glory.
For centuries, this sacred drama of the mournful cessation and jubilant resumption of the Mass that liturgically denotes the Easter Triduum has been vividly expressed in the Holy Week rites of Spain. Late medieval Spanish missals, including that of Toledo, speak of putting away on Holy Thursday one or more of the implements of Mass — an altar missal, a sacring bell, the cruets, a thurible, an incense boat — enclosing them with the reserved Blessed Sacrament within the special tabernacle of the Repository that was seen as representing the Tomb of the Lord.
Everywhere in the Roman Rite, there has been since ancient times a stripping of the altars following the Mass of Holy Thursday, an action that for most of its history has been carried out as a solemn liturgical ceremony accompanied by prayer and symbolic gestures denoting the Passion of Christ and in particular the stripping of His garments at the crucifixion.
Yet this action has also expressed the cessation of Mass, the altars denuded of their “Mass vestments,” as it were. Thus during the hours from Holy Thursday night through Holy Saturday the Church confronts us with the stark vision of what a world without Christ and a world without the Holy Eucharist would be — an empty and death-filled void.
Yet the Church is no less eloquent in manifesting the return of the Mass throughout the world that Easter brings. During the Easter Vigil, a liturgical rite brimming with evocative words and actions, there comes the moment that perhaps more than anything else expresses the Church’s ecstasy in returning to the altar of God. It is when the Gloria is to be sung that in an instant everything is transformed, as vividly described in a ceremonial for the Portuguese Benedictine monastery of Tibaes dating from 1820:
“All the litanies having been concluded, the cantors, standing up, will sing three times Accendite [i.e., “Light everything”] with the tone of the lesson of Matins, raising their voice a degree each time, and this having been sung, the convent [the monastic community] rises, the sacristan gives the branch [a “large and beautiful” branch] to the abbot, and the other sacristan tosses flowers to the convent, and the people; the monks kiss the hand of the Abbot, and congratulate the others, all the bells ring, and at the end, three tolling peals of the greater Mass bell in the tower; the organ plays, the acolytes remove the purple frontal from the main altar, leaving the white one, the retables are uncovered, the main altar thus, as well as all the others, and if the small windows are covered with little bands of cloth, they are also uncovered, so that the Church is bright, and unshaded, the candles of the altar are lit, and all the others that will burn at the Mass, but not those of the candlesticks of the candle-bearers, nor are these taken away from the top of the credence table. All of this is done simultaneously, and not successively….” (Ceremonial Monastico Reformado da Congregacao de S. Bento de Portugal, Congregation of Tibaes, Lisbon, 1820, p. 313).
From the tenth century onward, there has been a tradition of marking the arrival of Easter Sunday with a Eucharistic procession. We find this for the very first time in a biography of the bishop of Augsburg, Germany, St. Ulrich (+973):
“The most holy and very much longed-for day of Easter arriving, after Prime he [Ulrich] entered the Church of Saint Ambrose, where on Good Friday he had placed the Body of Christ with a stone superimposed, and there with a few clerics he finished the Mass of the Holy Trinity. Whereupon the Mass having been completed, the clergy, having gathered in the meantime on the porch situated next to the same church, vested in the most solemn vestments, went before him, he having carried with him the Body of Christ and the Gospel book, with both candles and incense; and with the fitting salutation of verses sung by choirboys by the vestibule, he proceeded to the Church of St. John the Baptist, and there sang Terce” (Vita S. Udalrici Augustani episcopi, chapter 4, PL 135, columns 1020-1021).
As can be seen in the above text, this solemn bringing forth of the Blessed Sacrament for a procession with candles and incense most often came as the sequel to a symbolic “burial” of the Holy Eucharist in a representation of the Holy Sepulcher on Good Friday.
During the centuries that followed, this Easter custom spread far and wide in northern and central Europe. In a 1722 ritual for the Polish Diocese of Wroclaw, the priest upon arriving before the Blessed Sacrament enshrined in the “Holy Sepulcher” would kneel and pray:
“Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, humble in Thy Passion, mighty in Thy resurrection, destroyer of death and Hell, this day you have accomplished what you promised long ago through Thy prophets in the Scriptures, having conquered by rising from the dead; by reason of which all the heavenly armies of the [Holy] Spirit, and all the earth with profuse joy of mind, adore and glorify Thee rising, with exultation. Truly too, the powers of Hell tremble and quake. But behold, we by Thy condescension Thy humble servants stand together, most devoutly celebrating the memorial of Thy glorious resurrection in united prayer, and mindful of Thy overflowing love for us, cannot contain our tears of devotion. Regard and receive our humble homages, we beseech Thee, that with the defilements of our sins wiped away, we may merit to rise again unto Thee, and be fit for the fruits of Thy most holy Passion and Resurrection. Who live and reign, God, unto ages of ages. Amen.”
In the procession that followed, the priest would carry the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance in a procession that would circle the interior of the church three times, with the laity following, as small hand bells carried by altar boys and the large bells in the church steeple were sounded continually, “festively resonating” (Rituale Wratislaviense, Wroclaw, Poland, Caspar Rudolph Muller, 1722, pp. 495-499).

The Lord Upon His Throne

By the sixteenth century, the custom of an Easter Eucharistic procession had also been established in Spain and Portugal, and in the lands of the New World and the Far East to which their missionaries brought the Gospel. A manual of liturgical rites for the Discalced Carmelites of Portugal published in 1778 provides extremely detailed rubrics regarding the preparations for this ceremony, celebrated at dawn on Easter Sunday, which climax when the procession begins:
“Then the celebrant rises, and with the ministers changing in their place, he stands himself with them on the top step of the altar turned toward the people, they [the ministers] with the fringes of his cope, and . . . supporting his arms. Then the following antiphons are sung by the choir, still kneeling:
“Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place; thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified. Alleluia. Alleluia” (Ps 131:8 Vulgate). “Arise, O my glory; arise psaltery and harp. Alleluia” (Ps 56:9 Vulgate). Cantors: “I will arise early” (Ps 56:9 Vulgate). Choir: “Alleluia, alleluia.” Another [chant]: “Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia. . . .
“The antiphons having been completed, and the following hymn [Aurora Coelum purpurat] having been intoned by the cantors, all rise, and the celebrant with his ministers go under the baldachin, and the procession is begun. The crucifer with the cross between the acolytes with lighted candles; then the community by their order with lit candles in their outermost hand [i.e., the right hand for those on the right side of the procession, the left hand for those on the left], and their manuals in their innermost hand. Then the thurifers, continually and tenderly swaying their thuribles with incense; lastly the celebrant between the sacred ministers, elevating the fringes of his cope, and reciting with him the hymns, or psalms….” (Manuale ad usum Fratrum Discalceatorum Beatae Mariae Virginis de Monte Carmelo Congregationis Lusitanae, volume 1, Lisbon, 1778, pp. 121-124).
May Our Lord this Easter arise and take again in our churches His throne upon the Cherubim in our Tabernacles and reign over us forever.

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