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No other Psalm is sung at these Vespers. There is no Capitulum, Hymn, or Versicle; but the Magnificat follows at once, with this as its Antiphon:
ANTIPHON OF THE Magnificat.
In the evening of the Sabbath which dawns on the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, to see the sepulchre, alleluia.
Vespere autem Sabbati, quæ lucescit in prima Sabbati, venit Maria Magdalene, et altera Maria videre sepulcrum, alleluia.
During the Magnificat, (see page 88,) the Celebrant censes the Altar; and as soon as the Antiphon has been repeated, he sings, at the Altar, the following Prayer:
Pour forth on us, O Lord, the spirit of thy love; that those whom thou hast filled with the Paschal sacrament, may, by thy goodness, live in perfect concord. Through, &c.
Spiritum nobis, Domine, tuæ charitatis infunde: ut quos sacramentis Paschalibus satiasti, tua facias pietate concordes. Per Dominum.
When the Deacon turns to the people, to give them the signal for departure, he adds two Alleluias to the usual formula. The same is observed in every Mass till the following Saturday inclusively.
V. Ite Missa est, alleluia, alleluia.
R. Deo gratias, alleluia, alleluia.
V. Go, the Mass is finished, alleluia, alleluia.
R. Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.
The Mass concludes, as usual, with the Blessing of the Celebrant, and the Gospel of St. John.
Such is the Service of this great Saturday. The Prayers and Ceremonies are precisely the same as in former times but its being celebrated so early in the day, and the Baptism of Catechumens having ceased to be a part of the function, rendered it almost a necessity that we should have embodied in our explanation the ancient ceremonial, otherwise the Faithful would lose much of the meaning and grandeur of to-day's Service.
During the day, the Priest visits the houses of his parishioners, and sprinkles them with the Baptismal Water, taken from the Font before the Holy Oils were put into it. This pious practice is an allusion to the Command given by God to his people, on occasion of the first Passover,-that they should mark their houses with the blood of the Lamb, as a protection against the destroying Angel. In a country like our own, it may be difficult to observe this holy custom; but where it can be done, the Faithful should eagerly avail themselves of it, as it brings a special blessing upon our houses.
The description we have been giving of the magnificent ceremonies of Baptism, has made us forget the Sepulchre wherein reposes the Body of our Crucified Jesus. Let us return thither in thought, for the hour of his Resurrection is not yet come. Let us devote a few moments in meditating on the mystery of the three days, during which the Soul of our Redeemer was separated from his Body. We
went, this morning, to visit the Tomb, where lies our buried Jesus; we adored that sacred Body, which Magdalene and her companions are preparing to honour, by anointing it early on the morrow. Now let us offer the tribute of our profound adoration to the Soul of our Divine Master. It is not in the Tomb, where his Body is :-let us follow it to the place where it lives during these hours of separation.
In the centre of the earth, there are four immense regions, into which no one living can ever enter: it is only by divine revelation that we know of their existence. The farthest from us is the Hell of the damned, the frightful abode where Satan and his angels and the reprobate are suffering eternal torments. It is here that the Prince of darkness is ever forming his plots against God and his creatures. Nearer to us, is the Limbo wherein are detained the souls of children, who departed this world before being regenerated. The opinion which has met most favour from the Church, is that these souls suffer no torment; and that although they can never enjoy the beatific vision, yet are they enjoying a natural happiness, and one that is proportionate to their desires. Above the abode of these children, is the place of expiation, where souls, that have departed this life in the state of grace, cleanse themselves from any stains of lesser sins, or satisfy for the debt of temporal punishment still due to divine justice. And lastly, still nearer to us, is the Limbo where are kept from heaven the saints who died under the Old Law. Here are our First Parents, Abel, Noe, Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets; the just Gentiles, such as that great Saint of Arabia, Job; and those holy personages who were closely connected with our Lord, such as Joachim and Anne, the parents of his Blessed Mother, Joseph, her Spouse and his own foster-father, and John, his Precursor, together with his holy parents, Zachary and Elizabeth.
Until such time as the gate of heaven shall have been opened by the Blood of the Redeemer, none of the Just can ascend thither. How holy soever they might have been during this life, they must descend into Limbo after death. We meet with innumerable passages of the Old Testament, where mention is made of hell, (that is, that portion of the regions in the centre of the earth, which we call Limbo,) as being the abode of even the holiest of God's Servants: it is only in the New Testament that Heaven is spoken of as being the abode of men. The Limbo of the Just is not one of torment, beyond that of expectation and captivity. The souls that dwell there are confirmed in grace, and are sure of enjoying, at some future period, an infinite happiness; they resignedly bear this long banishment, which is a consequence of Adam's Sin; and, as they saw the time drawing nigh for their deliverance, their joy was beyond all we can imagine.
The Son of God has subjected himself to every thing, (save sin,) that our human nature has to suffer or undergo: it is by his Resurrection that he is to triumph, it is by his Ascension alone that he is to open the gates of heaven :-hence, his Soul, having been separated from his Body by Death, was to descend into the depths of the earth, and become a companion with the holy exiles there. He had said of himself: The Son of Man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.1 What must have been the joy of these countless Saints! and how majestic must not have been the entrance of our Emmanuel into their abode! No sooner did our Jesus breathe his last upon the Cross, than the Limbo of the Saints was illumined with heavenly splendour. The Soul of the Redeemer, united to the Divinity of the Word, descended thither, and changed it, from a
1 St. Matth. xii. 40.
place of banishment, into a very Paradise. Thus did he fulfil the promise he had made to the Good Thief: This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
The happy hour, so long expected by these Saints, is come! What tongue could tell their joy, their admiration, and their love, as they beheld the Soul of Jesus, who thus comes among them, to share and close their exile! He looks complacently on this countless number of his Elect,-this fruit of four thousand years of his grace, this portion of his Church purchased by his Blood, and to which the merits of his Blood were applied by the mercy of his Eternal Father, even before it was shed on Calvary! Let us who hope, on our departure from this world, to ascend to Him, who has gone to prepare a place for us in Heaven,1-let us joyfully congratulate these our holy ancestors. Let us also adore the condescension of our Emmanuel, who deigns to spend these three days in the heart of the earth, that so he might sanctify every condition of our Nature, and take upon himself even what was but a transient state of our existence.
But, the Son of God would have this his visit to the regions beneath our earth to be a manifestation of his sovereign power. His Soul does not, it is true, descend into the Hell of Satan, but he makes his power be felt there. The Prince of this world is now forced to bend his knee and humble himself. In this Jesus, whom he has instigated the Jews to crucify, he now recognises the Son of God. Man is saved, Death is conquered, Sin is effaced. Henceforth, it is not to the Bosom of Abraham, but to Heaven itself, that the souls of the Just made perfect shall ascend, there to reign, together with the faithful Angels, with Christ their Divine Head. The reign of Idolatry is to be at an end: the altars, 2 Philipp. ii. 10.
1 St. John, xiv. 2.