Fourth Sunday after Easter
Our Jesus has organized his Church, and confided to his Apostles the sacred deposit of the truths which are to form the object of our faith. We must now follow him in another work, of equal importance to the world, and to which he gives his divine attention during these forty days: it is the institution of the Sacraments. It is not enough that we believe; we must, moreover, be made just, that is, we must bear upon us the likeness of God’s holiness; we must receive, we must have incorporated within us, that great fruit of the Redemption, which is called Grace; that thus being made living members of our divine Head, we may be made joint-heirs with him of the Kingdom of heaven. Now, it is by means of the Sacraments, that Jesus is to produce in us this wondrous work of our justification; he applies to us the merits of his Incarnation and Sacrifice but he applies them by certain means, which he himself, in his power and wisdom, has instituted.
Being the sovereign Master of his own gifts, he can select what means he pleases whereby to convey Grace to us; all we have to do is to conform to his wishes. Thus, each of the Sacraments is a law; so that it is in vain that we hope for a Sacrament to produce its effects, unless we fulfill the conditions specified by our Redeemer. And here, at once, we cannot but admire that infinite goodness, which has so mercifully blended two such widely distinct operations in one and the same act—namely, on the one side, the humble submission of man and, on the other, the munificent generosity of God.
We were showing, a few days back, how the Church, though a spiritual society, is also visible and exterior, because man, for whose sake the Church was formed, is a being composed of body and soul. When instituting the Sacraments, our Lord assigned to each an essential rite; and this rite is outward and sensible. He made the Flesh, which he had united to his Divine Person, become the instrument of our salvation by his Passion and Death on the Cross; he redeemed us by shedding his Blood for us:—so is it in the Sacraments; he follows the same mysterious plan, taking physical things as his auxiliaries in effecting the work of our justification. He raises them to a supernatural state, and makes them the faithful and all-powerful conductors of his grace, even to the most intimate depths of our soul. It is the continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation, the object of which is to raise us, by visible things, to the knowledge of things invisible. Thus is broken the pride of Satan; he despised man because he is not purely a spirit, but is spirit and matter unitedly; and he refused to pay adoration to the Word made Flesh.
Moreover, the Sacraments, being visible signs, are an additional bond of union between the members of the Church: we say additional, because these members have the two other strong links of union—submission to Peter and to the Pastors sent by him, and profession of the same faith. The Holy Ghost tells us, in the Sacred Volume, that a threefold cord is not easily broken. Now we have such a one; and it keeps us in the glorious unity of the Church—Hierarchy, Dogma, and Sacraments, all contribute to make us One Body. Everywhere, from north to south, and from east to west, the Sacraments testify to the fraternity that exists among us; by them, we know each other, no matter in what part of the globe we may be, and by the same we are known by heretics and infidels. These divine Sacraments are the same in every country, how much soever the liturgical formulæ of their administration may differ; they are the same in the graces they produce, they are the same in the signs whereby grace is produced, in a word, they are the same in all the essentials.
Our Risen Jesus would have the Sacraments be Seven. As at the beginning he stamped the Creation of the visible world with this sacred number—giving six days to work and one to rest—so too would he mark the great spiritual creation. He tells us, in the Old Testament, that Wisdom (that is, himself—for he is the Eternal Wisdom of the Father) will build to himself a House, which is the Church; and he adds that he will make it rest on seven pillars. He gives us a type of this same Church in the Tabernacle built by Moses, and he orders a superb Candlestick, to be provided for the giving light, by day and night, to the holy place; but there were to be seven branches to the Candlestick, and on each branch were to be graven flowers and fruits. When he raises his beloved Disciple to heaven, he shows himself to him surrounded by seven candlesticks, and holding seven stars in his right hand. He appears to him as a Lamb, bearing seven horns (which are the symbol of strength), and having seven eyes (which signify his infinite wisdom). Near him lies a Book, in which is written the future of the world; the Book is sealed with seven seals, and none but the Lamb is able to loose them. The Disciple sees seven Spirits, burning like lamps, before the throne of God, ready to do his biddings, and carry his word to the extremities of the earth.
Turning our eyes to the kingdom of Satan, we see him mimicking God’s work, and setting up a seven of his own. Seven capital and deadly sins are the instruments whereby he makes man his slave; and our Savior tells us that when Satan has been defeated, and would regain a soul, he brings with him seven of the wickedest spirits of hell. We read in the Gospel that Jesus drove seven devils out of Mary Magdalene. When God’s anger bursts upon the world, immediately before the coming of the dread Judge, he will announce the approach of his chastisements by seven trumpets, sounded by seven Angels; and seven other Angels will then pour out upon the guilty earth seven vials filled with the wrath of God.
We, therefore, who are resolved to make sure our election; who desire to possess the grace of our Risen Jesus in this life, and to enjoy his vision in the next; oh! let us reverence and love this merciful Seven-fold, these admirable Sacraments! Under this sacred number, he has included all the varied riches of his grace. There is not a want or necessity, either of souls individually, or of society at large, for which our Redeemer has not provided by these seven sources of regeneration and life. He calls us from death to life by Baptism and Penance; he strengthens us in that supernatural life by Confirmation, the Eucharist, and Extreme Unction; he secures to his Church both Ministry and increase by Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven Sacraments supply everything needed; take one away, and you destroy the harmony. The Churches of the East—though severed, now for long ages, from Catholic unity—retain all seven: and when Protestantism broke the sacred number, it showed in this, as in all its other pretended reformations, that it was estranging itself from the spirit of the Christian Religion. No: the doctrine of the Sacraments is one that cannot be denied without denying the true Faith. If we would be members of God’s Church, we must receive this doctrine as coming from Him who has a right to insist on our humble submission to his every word. It is to the soul which thus believes, that the Sacraments appear in all their divine beauty and power: we understand, because we believe. Credite, et intelligetis! It is the fulfillment of the text from Isaias, as rendered by the Septuagint (vii. 9): Unless ye believe, ye shall not understand!
Let us confine our considerations, for today, to the first of the Sacraments—Baptism. It is during Paschal Time that we have it brought before us in all its glory. We remember how, on Holy Saturday, it filled the hearts of the Catechumens with joy, giving them a right to heaven. But the great Sacrament had had its preparations. On the feast of the Epiphany, we adored our Emmanuel as we beheld him descending into the river Jordan and, by this contact with his sacred Body, communicating to the element of Water the power of purifying men’s souls from sin. The Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, rested on Jesus’ head and, by his divine influence, gave fecundity to the life-giving element. The voice of the Eternal Father was heard in a cloud, announcing his adoption of all such as should receive Baptism; he adopted them in Jesus, his eternally well-beloved Son.
During his sojourn on earth, our Redeemer thus explained the mystery of Baptism to Nicodemus, who was a ruler among the Jews, and a master in Israel: Unless a man be born again of Water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. Here, as in so many other instances, he foretells what he intends to do at a future time: he prepares us for the mystery by telling us that as our first birth was not pure, he is preparing a second for us; that this second birth will be holy, and that Water is to be the instrument of so great a grace.
But after his Resurrection, our Emmanuel openly announced his having given to Water the power of producing the sublime adoption to which mankind was invited by the Eternal Father. Speaking to his Apostles, he thus gives them the fundamental law of the Kingdom he had come from heaven to establish: Going, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This is the master-gift bestowed on the world by its Redeemer—salvation by Water and the invocation of the Blessed Trinity; for he adds: He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. What a revelation was here! It told us of the infinite mercy, wherewith our Creator loved us: it was the inauguration of the Sacraments by the announcements of the first of the Seven—of that one which, according to the expression of the Holy Father, is the Gate to the rest.
Let us love this august mystery of Baptism, to which we are indebted for the life of our souls, and for the indelible character which makes us members of our divine Head, Jesus. The holy King of France, St. Louis, who was baptized in the humble village of Poissy, loved to sign him “Louis of Poissy.” He looked upon the baptismal font as the mother who had given him a life incomparably superior to that which made him the son of an earthly monarch:—she gave him to be the child of God, and heir to the kingdom of Heaven. We should imitate this saintly King.
But observe the exceeding considerateness of our Risen Jesus, when he instituted this the most indispensable of the Sacraments. He chose for its matter the commonest that could be, and the most easily to be had. Bread, Wine and Oil are not so plentiful as Water, which is to be found in every place: God made it thus plentiful, that, when the appointed time came, the fount of regeneration might be within everyone’s reach.
In his other Sacraments, our Savior would have Priests alone to be the ministers: not so with Baptism. Any one of the Faithful, whatever may be his or her condition, may administer Baptism. Nay more; an Infidel can, by Water and the invocation of the Blessed Trinity, confer upon others the Baptismal Grace, which he or she themselves do not possess, provided only that they really intend to do what holy Church does, when she administers the sacrament of Baptism.
Nor is this all. An unbaptized man or woman may be dying, and no one near them to administer this Sacrament; they are on the brink of eternity, and there is no hand nigh them to pour the Water of regeneration upon them—our Savior has lovingly provided for this necessity. Let this man or woman believe in Baptism; let them desire it in all the sincerity of their souls; let them entertain sentiments of compunction and love, such as are required of an adult when receiving Baptism—they are Baptized in desire, and heaven is open to them.
But what if it be a child that has not come to the use of reason? Our Savior’s words are plain: He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. How, then, can this child be saved? the guilt of original sin is upon it, and it is incapable of making an act of faith? Fear not: the power of holy Baptism extends even so far as this. The faith of the Church will be imputed to this Child, which the Church is about to adopt as her own: let Water be but poured on the Child, in the name of the three Divine Persons—and it is a Christian forever. Baptized in the faith of the Church, this Child now possesses (and, as we say, personally) Faith, Hope and Charity: the sacramental Water has achieved this wondrous work. If the little innocent die, it goes straight to heaven.
These, O Jesus! are the admirable effects of the first of thy Sacraments. How truly does the Apostle say of thee, that thou willest all men to be saved! If this thy will be in some without its fulfillment, so that some children die without Baptism, it is because of the consequences which sin produces in the parents, and which thy Justice is not bound to prevent. And yet, how frequently does not thy mercy intervene, and procure the grace of Regeneration for children who, naturally, would have been excluded! Thus, the water of Baptism has been poured upon countless Babes, who were dying in the arms of their pagan parents, and the Angels received these little ones into their choirs. Knowing this, dear Savior, we are forced to exclaim with the Psalmist: Let us that live bless the Lord!
In the Greek Church, the fourth Sunday after Easter is called the Sunday of the Samaritan, because there is then read the passage of the Gospel, which relates the conversion of this woman.
The Roman Church begins, in her Night Office of this Sunday, the Canonical Epistles; and continues them till Pentecost Sunday.
In the Introit, the Church makes use of one of the finest canticles of the Royal Prophet, in order to celebrate the wonderful graces bestowed upon her by her Divine Spouse: she also rejoices at the thought that the Gentiles have been called to the knowledge of God, to justification and salvation.
|Cantate Domino canticum novum, alleluia: quia mirabilia fecit Dominus, alleluia: ante conspectum gentium revelavit justitiam suam. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.||Sing to the Lord a new canticle, alleluia: because the Lord hath done wonderful things, alleluia: he hath revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.|
|Ps. Salvavit sibi dextera ejus: et brachium sanctum ejus.||Ps. His right hand, and his holy arm hath saved us.|
|℣. Gloria Patri. Cantate.||℣. Glory, &c. Sing, &c.|
Laden with the blessings of God, who, by his divine Sacraments, has made them to be one people, the Faithful should not be satisfied with observing the commandments—they should love them; they should also long after the Heaven that is promised them. The Church prays, in the Collect, that her children may receive the grace to do all this.
|Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis: da populis tuis id amare quod præcipis, id desiderare quod promittis; ut inter mundanas varietates ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia. Per Dominum.||O God, who makest the faithful to be of one mind: grant that thy people may love what thou commandest, and desire what thou promisest: that, amidst the uncertainties of this world, we may place our affections where there are true joys. Through, &c.|
To this are added two of the Collects given at Second Sunday After Easter.
|Lectio Epistolæ beati Jacobi Apostoli.||Lesson of the Epistle of Saint James the Apostle.|
|Cap. I.||Ch. I.|
|Charissimi, omne datum optimum, et omne donum perfectum desursum est, descendens a Patre luminum, apud quem non est transmutatio, nec vicissitudinis obumbratio. Voluntarie enim genuit nos verbo veritatis, ut simus initium aliquod creaturæ ejus. Scitis, fratres mei dilectissimi. Sit autem omnis homo velox ad audiendum: tardus autem ad loquendum, et tardus ad iram. Ira enim viri justitiam Dei non operatur. Propter quod abjicientes omnem immunditiam, et abundantiam malitiæ, in mansuetudine suscipite insitum verbum, quod potest salvare animas vestras.||Dearly beloved: Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration. For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creatures. You know, my dearest brethren. And let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God. Wherefore casting away all uncleanness, and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.|
The favors bestowed upon the Christian people proceed from the goodness of our Heavenly Father. He is the source of everything in the order of nature; and if, in the order of grace, we are become his Children, it is because he sent us his Consubstantial Word—the Word of Truth—whereby, by means of Baptism, we were made Children of God. Hence, we ought to imitate, as far as our weakness will permit, the divine calm of our Father who is in heaven; we ought to avoid that state of passionate excitement which savors of a terrestrial life, whereas ours should be of the heaven whither God calls us. The Apostle bids us receive, with meekness, the Word, which makes us what we are. He tells us that this Word is a germ of salvation grafted into our souls: only let us put no obstacle to its growth, and we shall be saved.
In the first Alleluia-Versicle, our Risen Jesus extols, in the words of the Royal Psalmist, the power of his Father, who gave him the victory of his Resurrection. In the second, we ourselves proclaim the praise of the immortal life of our divine Master; we proclaim it in the words of St. Paul.
|Alleluia, alleluia.||Alleluia, alleluia.|
|℣. Dextera Domin fecit virtutem: dextera Domini exaltavit me.||℣. The right hand of the Lord hath displayed power: the right hand of the Lord hath raised me up.|
|℣. Vhristus resurgens ex mortuis, jam non moritur: mors illi ultra non dominabitur, alleluia.||℣. Christ rising from the dead, dieth now no more: death shall no longer have dominion over him, alleluia.|
|Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem.||Sequel of the holy Gospel according to John.|
|Cap. XVI.||Ch. XVI.|
|In illo tempore: Dixit Jesus discipulis suis: Vado ad eum qui misit me; et nemo ex vobis interrogat me: Quo vadis? sed quia hæc locutus sum vobis, tristitia implevit cor vestrum. Sed ego veritatem dico vobis: expedit vobis ut ego vadam: si enim non abiero, Paraclitus non veniet ad vos; si autem abiero, mittam eum ad vos. Et cum venerit ille, arguet mundum de peccato, et de justitia, et de judicio. De peccato quidem, quia non crediderunt in me. De justitia vero, quia ad Patrem vado, et jam non videbitis me. De judicio autem, quia princeps hujus mundi jam judicatus est. Adhuc multa habeo vobis dicere, sed non potestis portare modo. Cum autem venerit ille Spiritus veritatis, docebit vos omnem veritatem: non enim loquetur a semetipso, sed quæcumque audiet loquetur, et quæ ventura sunt annuntiabit vobis. Ille me clarificabit, quia de meo accipiet, et annuntiabit vobis.||At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: I go to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me: Whither goest thou? But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart. But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. Of sin: because they believed not in me. And of justice: because I go to the Father; and you shall see me no longer. And of judgment: because the prince of this world is already judged. I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you.|
The Apostles were sad at hearing Jesus say to them: I go. Are not we so, too? we who, thanks to the sacred Liturgy, have been in such close company with him, ever since the day of his Birth at Bethlehem. Yet a few days, and he is to ascend into heaven, and our Year is to lose the charm it possessed of following, day by day, the actions and words of our Emmanuel. Still, he would have us moderate our sadness. He tells us that, in his stead, the Paraclete, the Comforter, is about to descend upon the earth, and abide with us to the end of time, in order that he may give us light and strength. Let us make good use of these last hours with our Jesus: we shall soon have to be preparing for the Divine Guest, who is to take his place.
By these words, which were spoken shortly before his passion, our Savior does more than tell us of the coming of the Holy Ghost; he also shows us how terrible this coming will be to them that have rejected the Messias. His words are unusually mysterious: let us listen to the explanation given of them by St. Augustine, the Doctor of Doctors—When the Holy Ghost is come, says our Lord, he will convince the world of Sin, because they believed not in me. How great must, indeed, be the responsibility of them that have been witnesses of Jesus’ wonderful works, and yet will not receive his teaching! Jerusalem will be told that the Holy Ghost has come down upon the Disciples; and she will receive the news with the same indifference as she did the miracles which proved Jesus to be her Messias. The coming of the Holy Ghost will serve as a sort of signal of the destruction of the Deicide City. Jesus adds: The Paraclete will convince the world of Justice, because I go to the Father, and ye shall see me no longer. The Apostles, and they that believe their word, shall be just and holy by faith: they will believe in Him that is gone to the Father,—in Him whom they are to see no longer in this world. Jerusalem, on the contrary, will remember him only to blaspheme him: the holiness, the faith, the justice of them that shall believe will be her condemnation, and the Holy Ghost will leave her to her fate. Jesus continues: The Paraclete will convince the world of Judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged. They that follow not Christ Jesus, follow Satan: he is their prince, but his judgment is already pronounced. The Holy Ghost warns the followers of the world that their leader is already in eternal torments. Let them reflect well upon this; for, as St. Augustine observes, “the pride of man has no right to recken upon indulgence; let it but think of the hell into which even the angels were cast because they were proud.”
In the Offertory, the Christian makes use of the Psalmist’s words, to celebrate the favors bestowed by God upon his soul. He invites the whole earth to join him in his gratitude, and he does well; for the favors received by this Christian are offered to the whole of mankind; Jesus has invited all men to share by means of the Sacraments, in the graces of the Redemption.
|Jubilate Deo universa terra, psalmum dicite nomini ejus: venite et audite, et narrabo vobis, omnes qui timetis Deum, quanta fecit Dominus animæ meæ, alleluia.||Sing to the Lord all the earth, sing a psalm to his name: come and hear, and I will relate to you, all you who fear God, what great things the Lord hath done for my soul, alleluia.|
Holy Church delights on the contemplation of divine truth, so profusely communicated to her by our Risen Lord; she prays, in the following Prayer, that her children may lead such good lives in this world, as to merit the eternal enjoyment of the God of all truth.
|Deus, qui nos per juhus sacrificii veneranda commercia, unius summæ divinitatis participes effecisti: præsta quæsumus; ut sicut tuam cognoscimus veritatem, sic eam dignis moribus assequamur. Per Dominum.||O God, who madest us partakers of the one Supreme Divinity, by the frequent celebration and participation of this holy sacrifice: grant, we beseech thee, that as we know thy truth, so we may live up to it by a worthy conduct of life. Through, &c.|
To this are added two of the Secrets given at Second Sunday After Easter.
The Communion-Anthem repeats the mysterious words of the Gospel, which we have already explained; they remind us that the coming of the Holy Ghost may be either a reward or a punishment, according to the dispositions of men.
|Cum venerit Paraclitus, Spiritus veritatis, ille arguet mundum de peccato, et de justitia, et de judicio. Alleluia, alleluia.||When the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, shall come, he will convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. Alleluia, alleluia.|
While giving thanks for the divine mystery just received, the Church, in the Postcommunion, teaches us that the Eucharist has the power of cleansing us from our sins, and preserving us from the dangers to which we are exposed.
|Adesto nobis, Domine Deus noster: ut per hæc quæ fideliter sumpsimus, et purgemur a vitiis, et a periculis omnibus eruamur. Per Dominum.||Help us, O Lord, our God, that our sins may be forgiven, and that we may be delivered from all dangers by the sacrament, which we have received with faith. Through, &c.|
To this are added two of the Postcommunions given at Second Sunday After Easter.
We will close the day with the following fine Preface given in the ancient Gothic Missal, which was published by Dom Mabillon, and was formerly used in many of the Churches of Gaul.
|Dignum et justum est; æquum et salutare est: nos tibi hic et ubique semper gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus. Sed in hac die Resurrectionis Domini nostri Jesu Christi Filii tui gratulatio major exsultat in cordibus nostris. Hic est enim dies, in quo nobis exorta est perpetuæ causa lætitiæ. Hic est dies resurrectionis humanæ, et vitæ natalis æternæ. Hic est dies, in quo satiati sumus mane misericordia tua: quo nobis ille Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domine, Deus noster inluxit nobis. Hic enim Dominus noster Jesus Christus Filius tuus adimplens Prophetias temporibus præstitutis visitavit nos post biduum, die tertia resurrexit. Hic est enim dies tanti muneris benedictione signatus: qui hodierna festivitate gaudentibus in toto orbe mortalibus frequentatur. Quia omnium mors perempta est in cruce Christi; et in Resurrectione ejus omnium vita surrexit.||It is meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should, here and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God: but, on this day of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, thy Son, a greater gladness is excited within our hearts. For this is the Day, on which there sprang up unto us the cause of perpetual joy. This is the Day of man’s resurrection, the birth-day of life everlasting. This is the Day, on which we were filled, in the morning, with thy mercy; the Day on which he who cometh in the name of the Lord, the Blessed One, our God, shone upon us. For this our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, fulfilling the prophecies in their appointed time, visited us after two days, and rose again on the third. This is the Day enriched with so great a blessing, that it is celebrated with joy by the whole of mankind; for the death of all men was put to death on the Cross of Christ, and the life of all men had its resurrection in his Resurrection.|
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)