Paschaltide

The Glory of Paschal Time
by
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

      Editor's Note: Because of the spiritual importance of the Liturgical Season, we continue to bring you excerpts for this Time of Paschaltide below taken from Volume 7, Pascal Time, pages 1-24 of Book 7. We have thus turned to the most traditional and practical Catholic source available, none other than the inspired and motivating words of the esteemed Abbot of Solesmes Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger, renowned for his masterful work The Liturgical Year, which is often considered the Summa for the Church's Liturgy in History, Mystery and Practice. It is in those areas that we feel it is important to address in order to help readers live as better Catholics in knowing, living, and applying their Faith to the fullest and giving to Christ and His Blessed Mother all that they can. Few capture the essence as this humble but brilliant abbot who is known simply as "the Gardener of the Canticles of Eternity."

    "The fifty days between Easter and Pentecost have ever been considered by the Church as most holy...During these fifty days the Church observes no fast,nor does she on any Sunday, for it is the day on which our Lord rose; and all these fifty days are like so many Sundays."

The History of Paschal Time

    We give the name of Paschal Time to the period between Easter Sunday and the Saturday following Pentecost Sunday. It is the most sacred portion of the liturgical year, and the one towards which the whole cycle converges. We shall easily understand how this is, if we reflect upon the greatness of Easter, which is called the Feast of feasts, in the same manner, says St. Gregory, as the most sacred part of the Temple was called the Holy of holies. It is on this day that the mission of the Word Incarnate attains the object towards which it has hitherto been tending: man is raised up from his fall and regains what he had lost by Adam's sin.

    Christmas gave us a Man-God; three days have scarcely passed since we witnessed His infinitely Precious Blood shed for our ransom; but now, on the day of Easter, our Jesus is no longer the victim of death: He is a conqueror, who destroys death, the child of sin, and proclaims life, that undying life which He has purchased for us. The humiliation of His swaddling clothes, the sufferings of His agony and Cross, these are passed; all is now glory - for Himself and also for us...

    The anniversary of this Resurrection is, therefore, the great day, the day of joy, the day of par excellence;... since it opens to us the gates of Heaven, into which we shall enter because we have risen together with Christ - the Church wishes us to come to it well prepared by bodily mortification and by compunction of heart. It was for this that She instituted the fast of Lent, and that She bade us, during Septuagesima, to look forward to the joy of Easter, and be filled with sentiments suitable to the approach of so grand a solemnity. We obeyed; we have gone through the period of preparation; and now the Easter Sun has risen upon us!

    But it was not enough to solemnize the great day when Jesus, our Light, rose from the darkness of the tomb: there was another anniversary which claimed our grateful celebration. The Incarnate Word rose on the first day of the week - that same day whereon, four thousand years before, He, the uncreated Word of the Father, had begun the work of creation, by calling forth light, and separating it from darkness. The first day was thus ennobled by the creation of light. It received a second consecration by the Resurrection of Jesus; and from that time forward Sunday, not Saturday, was to be the Lord's Day. Yes, our Resurrection in Jesus, which took place on Sunday, gave this first day a pre-eminence above the others of the week: the Divine precept of the Sabbath was abrogated together with the other ordinances of the Mosaic Law, and the Apostles instructed the faithful to keep holy the first day of the week, which God had dignified with that twofold glory - the creation and regeneration of the world. Sunday, then, being the day of Jesus' Resurrection, the Church chose that day, in preference to every other, for its yearly commemoration. The Passover of the Jews, in consequence of its being fixed on the fourteenth of the moon of March (the anniversary of the going out of Egypt), fell by turns on each day of the week. The Jewish Pasch was but a figure; ours is the reality, and puts an end to the figure. The Church, therefore, broke this last tie with the Synagogue; and proclaimed her emancipation, by fixing the most solemn of her feasts on a day which should never agree with the now meaningless Passover. The Apostles decreed that the Christian Pasch should never be celebrated on the fourteenth of the moon of March, even were that day to be a Sunday; but that it should be kept on the Sunday following the day on which the obsolete calendar of the Synagogue still marks it...

    There was, however, one province of the Church which for a long time stood out against the universal practice: it was Asia Minor. The Apostle St. John, who lived for many years at Ephesus, had thought it prudent to tolerate, in those parts, the Jewish custom of celebrating the Pasch; for many of the converts had been Jews. But the Gentiles themselves, who later on formed the majority of the faithful, were strenuous upholders of this custom. In the course of time, this anomaly became a source of scandal: it savored of Judaism, and it prevented unity of religious observance, which is always desirable, but particularly so in what regards Lent and Easter.

    Pope St. Victor, who governed the Church from the year 193, endeavored to put a stop to this abuse; he thought the time had come for establishing unity in so essential a point of Christian worship. Earlier negotiations under Pope St. Anicetus had failed to overcome the prejudice of the church in Asia Minor. St. Victor therefore gave orders that councils should be convened in the several countries where the Gospel had been preached, and that the question of Easter should be examined. Everywhere else there was perfect uniformity of practice; and the historian Eusebius, who lived 150 years later, assures us that the people of his day used to quote the decisions of the Councils of Rome, Gaul, Achaia, Pontus, Palestine and Mesopotamia. The Council of Ephesus (not to be confused with the General Council held centuries later in that city) was the only one that opposed the Pope, and disregarded the practice of the Universal Church...

    Deeming it unwise to give further toleration to the opposition, Victor separated from communion with the Holy See the refractory Churches of Asia Minor. This severe penalty, which was not inflicted until Rome had exhausted every other means of removing the evil, excited the commisseration of several bishops. St. Irenaeus, who was then governing the see of Lyons, pleaded for these Churches, which, so it seemed to him, had sinned only through a want of light; and he obtained from the Pope the revocation of a measure which seemed too severe. This indulgence produced the desired effect...and in the following century the Churches of Asia Minor had then, for some time past, conformed to the Roman practice.

    About the same time, by a strange coincidence, the churches of Syria, Cilicia and Mesopotamia gave scandal by again leaveing the Christian and Apostolic observatoin of Easter, and returning to the Jewish rite of the fourteenth of the March moon. This schism in the Liturgy grieved the Church; and one of the points to which the Council of Nicea directed its first attention was the promulgation of the universal obligation to celebrate Easter on a Sunday. The decree was unanimously passed and the Fathers of the Council ordained that "all controversy being laid aside, the brethren in the East should solemnize the Pasch on the same day as the Romans and Alexandrians and the rest of the faithful."...

    This custom, however, was not kept up for any length of time after the Council of Nicea. The want of precision in astronomical calculations occasioned confusion in the method of fixing the day of Easter. It is true, this great festival was always kept on a Sunday; but since there was no uniform understanding as to the exact time of the vernal equinox, it happened some years, that the feast of Easter was not kept, in all places, on the same day as the Jews...

    By degrees, there crept in a deviation from the rule laid down by the Council, of taking March 21st as the legal day of the equinox. A reform in the Calendar was needed, and no one seemed competent to undertake it. Finally, science was sufficiently advanced in the 16th century for Pope Gregory XIII to do so. The equinox was restored to its legal day by a Papal Bull, dated February 24, 1581, in which the Pope ordered that ten days of the following year - from October 4th to the 15th - should be suppressed. He thus restored the work of Julius Caesar, who had, in his day, turned his attention to the rectification of the year. Easter was the great object of the reform, or, as it is called, the New Style, achieved by Gregory XIII. The principles and regulations of the Nicene Council were again brought to bear on this the capital question of the liturgical year; and the Roman Pontiff thus gave to the whole world the intimation of Easter, not for one year only, but for centuries. Heretical nations were forced to acknowledge the divine power of the Church in this solemn act which interested both religion and society. They protested against the Calendar [The Gregorian Calendar], as they had protested against the Rule of Faith. England and the Luteran States of Germany preferred following, for many a years, a Calendar which was evidently at fault, rather than accept the New Style, which they acknowledged to be indispensable, because it was the work of a Pope...

    The Church imposes upon all her children the obligation of receiving Holy Communion at Easter time. This precept is based upon the words of our Redeemer, Who left it to His Church to determine the time of the year when Christians should receive the Blessed Sacrament. In the early ages Communion was frequent, and in some places daily. By degrees the fervor of the faithful grew cold towards this august mystery...

    It was in the year 1215, in the 4th General Council of the Lateran, that the Church, seeing the ever-growing indifference of her children, decreed with regret that Christians should be strictly bound to Communion only once a year, at Easter. In order to show the faithful that this is the uttermost limit of her condescension, she declares in the same Council that he that shall presume to break this law may be forbidden to enter a church during life, and be deprived of Christian burial after death, as he would be if he had, of his own accord, separated himself from the exterior link of Catholic unity. These regulations show how important is the duty of the Easter Communion; but, at the same time, they make us shudder at the thought of those who brave each year the threats of the Church, by refusing to comply with a duty, which would both bring life to their souls and serve as a profession of their faith. And when we again reflect upon how many even of those who make their Easter Communion have paid no more attention to the Lenten penance than if there were no such obligation in existence, we cannot help but wonder how long God will bear with such infringements of the Christian Law.

    The fifty days between Easter and Pentecost have ever been considered by the Church as most holy...During these fifty days the Church observes no fast,nor does she on any Sunday, for it is the day on which our Lord rose; and all these fifty days are like so many Sundays.

The Mystery of Paschal Time

    Of all the seasons of the liturgical year Eastertide is by far the richest in mystery. We might even say that Easter is the summit of the Mystery of the Sacred Liturgy. The Christian who is happy enough to enter with his whole mind and heart into the knowledge and love of the Paschal Mystery, has reached the very center of the supernatural life...

    During these days, then, we have brought before us the two great manifestations of God's goodness towards mankind – the Pasch of Israel and the Christian Pasch; the Pentecost of Sinai and the Pentecost of the Church. We shall have occasion to show how the ancient figures were fulfilled in the realities of the new Easter and Pentecost, and how the twilight of the Mosaic Law made way for the full daylight of the Gospel; but we cannot resist the feeling of holy reverence, at the bare thought that the solemnities we have now to celebrate are more than 3,000 years old, and that they are to be renewed every year till the voice of the angel shall be heard proclaiming: "Time shall be no more!" (Apoc. 10: 6)...

    Eternity in Heaven is the true Pasch: hence, our Pasch on earth is the Feast of feasts, the solemnity of solemnities... The holy Fathers bid us look on these fifty days of Easter as the image of our eternal happiness. They are days devoted exclusively to joy; every sort of sadness is forbidden; and the Church cannot speak to her divine Spouse without joining to her words that glorious cry of Heaven, the Alleluia, wherewith, as the holy Liturgy says, the streets and squares of the heavenly Jerusalem resound without ceasing...

    ...We explained why our Savior chose Sunday for His Resurrection...it was on this favored day of the week that He had created the light; by selecting it now for the commencement of the new life which He graciously imparts to man, He would show us that Easter is the renewal of the entire creation. ...Every Sunday throughout the year is to be a sort of Easter, a holy and sacred day. The Synagogue, by God's command, kept holy the Sabbath in honor of God's resting after the six days of creation; but the Church, the Spouse of Christ, is commanded to honor the work of her Lord. She allows Saturday to pass – it is the day on which Her Jesus rested in the sepulchre: but now that she is illuminated with the brightness of the Resurrection, She devotes to the contemplation of His work the first day of the week; it is the day of light, for on it He called forth material light, and on the same, He that is the 'Brightness of the Father' and the 'Light of the world,' rose from the darkness of the tomb.

    Let then the week with its Sabbath pass by; what we Christians want is the eighth day, the day that is beyond the measure of time, the day of eternity, the day whose light is not intermittent or partial, but endless and unlimited. Thus speak the holy Fathers, when explaining the substitution of Sunday for Saturday... "Let us," says the pious Abbot Rupert, "leave the Jews to enjoy the ancient Sabbath, which is a memorial of the visible creation... They would not recognize this world's Creator as their king, because He said, 'Blessed are the poor!' and 'Woe to the rich!' But our Sabbath has been transferred from the seventh to the eighth day, and the eighth is the first. And rightly was the seventh changed into the eighth, because we Christians put our joy in a better work than the creation of the world..."

    The mystery of the seventh followed by an eighth day, as the holy one, is again brought before us by the number of weeks which form Paschal tide. These weeks are seven; they form a week of weeks, and their morrow is again a Sunday, the glorious feast of Pentecost. These mysterious numbers - which God Himself fixed when He instituted the first Pentecost after the first Passover - were adopted by the Apostles when they regulated the Christian Easter... Another figure of our Eastertide was the year of Jubilee, which God bade Moses prescribe to his people. Each fiftieth year the houses and lands that had been alienated during the preceding 49 had to be returned to their original owners; and those Israelites who had been compelled by poverty to sell themselves as slaves recovered their liberty. This year, which was properly called the sabbatical year, was the sequel of the preceding seven weeks of years, and was thus the image of our eighth day, whereon the Son of Mary, by His Resurrection, redeemed us from the slavery of the tomb, and restored us to the inheritance of our immortality.

    The rites peculiar to Eastertide, in the present discipline of the Church, are two: the unceasing repetition of the Alleluia, of which we have already spoken, and the color of the vestments used for its two great solemnities. White is appropriate to the Resurrection: it is the mystery of eternal light, which knows neither spot nor shadow; it is the mystery that produces in a faithful soul the sentiment of purity and joy. Pentecost, which gives us the Holy Ghost, the consuming Fire (Hebr. 12: 29), is symbolized by the red vestments, which express the mystery of the Divine Paraclete coming down in the form of fiery tongues upon them that were assembled in the Cenacle...

The Practice During Paschal Time

    The practice for this holy season mainly consists in the spiritual joy which it should produce in every soul that is risen with Jesus. This joy is a foretaste of eternal happiness, and the Christian ought to consider it a duty to keep it up within him, by ardently seeking after that life which is in our Divine Head, and by carefully shunning sin which causes death. During the last nine weeks we have mourned for our sins and done penance for them; we have followed Jesus to Calvary; but now, our Holy Mother the Church is urgent in bidding us rejoice. She Herself has laid aside all sorrow; the voice of Her weeping is changed into the song of a delighted Spouse...

    The great liturgist of the twelfth century, Rupert, Abbot of Deutz, thus speaks of the pious artifice used by the Church to infuse the spirit of Easter into all: "There are certain carnal minds that seem unable to open their eyes to spiritual things, unless roused by some unusual excitement; and for this reason the Church makes use of such means. Thus, the Lenten fast, which we offer up to God as our yearly tithe, goes on till the most sacred night of Easter; then follow 50 days without so much as one single fast. Hence...that holy night is eagerly looked forward to even by the carnal-minded... Thus the sacred solemnity is sweet to all, dear to all, and desired by all, as light is to them that walk in darkness, as a fount of living water is to them that thirst, and as a tent which the Lord hath pitched for wearied wayfarers."

    What a happy time it was when, as St. Bernard expresses it, there was not one in the whole Christian army that neglected his Easter duty, and when all, both just and sinners, walked together in the path of the Lenten observances! Alas! those days are gone, and Easter has not the same effect on the people of our generation! The reason is that a love of ease and a false conscience lead so many "Christians" to treat the law of Lent with as much indifference as if there were no such law existing. Hence, Easter comes upon them as a feast – it may be a great feast – but that is all; they experience little of that thrilling joy which fills the heart of the Church during this season, and which She evinces in everything She does. And if this be their case even on the glorious day itself, how can it be expected that they should keep up, for the whole fifty, the spirit of gladness, which is the very essence of Easter? They have not observed the fast or the abstinence of Lent: the mitigated form in which the Church now presents them to her children, in consideration of their weakness, was too severe for them! They excused themselves from Lenten mortification without regret or remorse. The Alleluia returns, and it finds no response in their souls: how could it? Penance has not done its work of purification; it has not spiritualized them; how then could they follow their Risen Jesus, Whose life is henceforth more of Heaven than of earth?

    But these reflections are too sad for such a season as this: let us beseech our risen Jesus to enlighten these souls with the rays of His victory over the world and the flesh, and to raise them up to Himself. No, nothing can distract us from joy. "Can the children of the Bridegroom mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them?" (Matt. 9: 15) Jesus is to be with us for forty days; He is to suffer no more, and die no more; let our feelings be in keeping with His now endless glory and bliss. True, He is to leave us, He is to ascend to the right hand of His Father; but He will not leave us orphans; He will send us the divine Comforter, Who will abide with us forever. These sweet and consoling words must be our Easter text: "The children of the Bridegroom cannot mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them." They are the key to the whole Liturgy of this Holy Season. We must have them ever before us, and we shall find by experience that the joy of Easter is as salutary as the contrition and penance of Lent...

    But this Easter of ours will have an end; the bright vision of our Risen Jesus will pass away; and all that will be left to us is the recollection of His ineffable glory, and of the wonderful familiarity wherewith He treated us. What shall we do, when He Who was our very life and light leaves us and ascends to Heaven? Be of good heart, Christians! You must look forward to another Easter. Each year will give you a repetition of what you now enjoy. Easter will follow Easter, and bring you at last to that Easter in Heaven which is never to have an end, and of which these happy ones of earth are a mere foretaste. Nor is this all. Listen to the Church. In one of Her prayers She reveals to us the great secret, how we may perpetuate our Easters even here in our banishment - "Grant to Thy servants, O God, that they may keep up, by their manner of living, the Mystery they have received by believing" (Collect for Tuesday in Easter Week). So then, the Mystery of Easter is to be ever visible on this earth; our Risen Jesus ascends to Heaven, but He leaves upon us the impress of His Resurrection, and we must retain it within us until He again visits us.

    And how could it be that we should not retain this divine impress within us? Are not all the mysteries of our Divine Master ours also? From His very first coming in the Flesh, He has made us sharers in everything He has done. He was born in Bethlehem: we were born together with Him. He was crucified: our "old man was crucified with Him" (Rom. 6: 6). He was buried: "we were buried with Him" (Rom 6: 4). And therefore, when He rose from the grave, we also received the grace that we should "walk in the newness of life"... To die again by sin would be to renounce Him, to separate ourselves from Him, to forfeit that Death and Resurrection of His which He mercifully willed should be ours. Let us therefore preserve within us that life, which is the life of our Jesus, and which yet belongs to us as our own treasure; for He wond it by conquering death, and then gave it to us, with all His other merits. Yes, then, who before Easter were sinners, but have now returned to the life of grace see that you die no more; but let your actions bespeak your resurrection. And you to whom the Paschal solemnity has brought growth in grace, show this increase of more aboundant life by your principles and your conduct. 'Tis thus all will "walk in the newness of life"...

    Editor's Note: Space does not permit the full scope of all that Abbe Gueranger wrote for Paschaltide in three books: Book 1 (Volume 7 where the above is taken from pages 1-8, 10-11, 13-24; and Book II (Volume 8) and Book III (Volume 9)and we would hope this would serve as an impetus to also encourage you to invest in The Liturgical Year from St. Bonaventure Publications for your own edification, education and spiritual inspiration year in and year out.





Dom Prosper Gueranger's Reflections for Paschaltide