Wednesday, April 3, 2013
THE EASTER SEQUENCE
At Easter and during the Octave, we add a hymn to the Mass, said or sung just before the Gospel. A hymn before the Gospel is called a sequence. The sequence for Easter is known by its Latin first lines : Victimae Paschali Laudes.
Let's have a look at the words and their meanings.
Victimae paschali laudes immolent Christiani (Let Christians offer up praises as a sacrifice to the Paschal victim). Christ is the victim, like the lamb at Passover in Exodus 12, whose blood saved the Hebrews from the Angel of Death. The Old Testament Passover gives way to a perfect one, the sacrifice of Jesus. But Christians must also sacrifice themselves to One who sacrificed Himself for them. Our response to the One who gave us His all is to give Him our all. Our own sacrifice for love of Him is the greatest praise we can give Him. This kind of praise is not empty; not mere words. (Matthew 15:8) This we do in the best and most perfect way in the Mass, where bread and wine, representing our self-sacrifice, are called "haec sancta sacrificia illibata," "these holy, unblemished sacrifices." In Mass, our sacrifice is united with the Sacrifice that truly counts. His sacrifice will not have its full effect on us until we return sacrifice for sacrifice. In fact, it is His sacrifice that gives us the grace to want to offer Him our lives, our works and our sufferings as our gifts to Him.
Agnus redemit oves (The lamb redeems the sheep). Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, but what makes Him good is that He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). Thus, our Shepherd is also a lamb, a lamb that is sacrificed so that the sheep will be defended against the wolf who comes to destroy the sheep.
Christus innocens Patri reconciliavit peccatores (The innocent Christ reconciles sinners to the Father). The Old Testament lamb of sacrifice had to be spotless, without defect. All that was merely physical purity. But, in Christ, the perfectly sinless dies for the salvation of the sinful!
Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando (Death and life contended in a wondrous battle). The real battle on Good Friday was not just between a Messiah and His natural enemies. It was a cosmic battle between Good and Evil, Life and Death; between God who is all Good, and the devil who is behind the kingdom of sin and death. Who will win? Death? And man will never see salvation? Or Life?
Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus (The Prince of Life, dead, reigns alive). And the winner is : Life! But here is the paradox. He alone can lay claim to being the Prince of Life, meaning the One able to have dominion over life itself, and the power to bestow life on whomever He wishes, precisely because He died and rose again! Both His dying and His rising were His doing alone. "I lay down my life and I take it up again." (John 10:17) No one took His life away; He gave it up of His own accord. And He took it up again. He is truly is the Lord over life itself. The one who can best say he has power over something is he who can give it up and take it back again.
Dic nobis Maria, quid vidisti in via? (Tell us Mary, what did you see on the way?) And now we turn to a witness. The Mary spoken of here is Mary Magdalene, not the Blessed Mother. Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb, and then Jesus Himself. She answers the question in the next line :
Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis (I saw the tomb of the living Christ, and the glory of His rising). She saw a tomb, but it was empty, because the former occupant she now sees alive. But she also saw the glory of His rising, meaning, the glory of a dead man raised to life. This glory prevented her at first from recognizing Him. It is the same Lord, but something is different about Him now. It is His glorified body.
Angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes (The angels attest, and the napkin and clothing). Mary herself had witnesses, the angels and the burial cloths of Jesus laid aside. The body was here; here are the clothes which wrapped it. Why take the body, and not the shroud? Unless, He has risen and has no need of burial clothing anymore!
Surrexit Christus spes mea (Christ my hope has risen). Christ has risen from the dead, but we are not there yet. We still have to die, and then rise. But had Christ not done this before us, how can we expect to follow? Thus, His resurrection gives us hope. As St. Paul said, "If Christ had not risen from the dead, our faith is useless." (1 Corinthians 15:14)
Praecedet vos in Galilaeam (He goes before you to Galilee). The Apostles, with the exception of Judas, were Galileans. So after the Lord had died and risen again, they returned to their native place. It was also the homeland of Jesus, after His birth in Bethlehem in Judea. Here is where the Lord started His ministry in Israel; here He will send His Apostles to the ends of the world. He goes before us; we do not blaze trails alone. The Lord goes before us, leading the way. This verse already opens the door to the permanent, missionary call of the Church. Easter is not just for our own benefit. We are to go out to all nations and tell them the Good News.
Scimus Christum surrexisse, a mortuis vere (We know that Christ is truly risen from the dead). This is the core of the Christian message. If Christ had died and remained dead, death would have won. But Christ has won the battle, and so can we if we are united with Him. Thus, Easter has to be lived, not just believed. In fact, it is not saving faith until it is lived. We must live the new life, and die to the old. We are only united with Jesus if we do what He commands us. (Matthew 7:21)
Tu nobis victor Rex miserere (To us, victor King, have mercy). We turn now and address the Lord Himself. We turn from singing about Him, to speaking to Him, and we ask for His mercy. It is really a plea. We address Him as the King who won; would He please, in His mercy, give us the grace to win as He did?
Amen. Alleluia. "So be it." But also the cry of Easter joy - Alleluia!. The firmness of our prayer (Amen) is followed by joy that He who rose from the dead will give the grace of resurrection to those who do not abandon Him.