This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein (Ps. 117.24)
This is the most excellent day – the day of God – the happiest day in the whole year, because it is the day of triumph of our Crucified Lord. Christmas, too, is a joyous feast, but whereas Christmas vibrates with a characteristic note of sweetness, the Paschal solemnity resounds with the unmistakable note of triumph; it is joy for the triumph of Christ, for His victory. But this exceedingly great Christian joy of triumph we draw from those moments of seeming defeat of Christ when He uttered to the leaders of the Synagogue who came with Judas to apprehend Him: this is your hour, and the power of darkness (Lk. 22.53); and, at the peak of the Cross, repeating the Psalm of David (Ps. 21.2, DRV) which prophetically referred to the Crucified, though written a thousand years before: My God, My God , why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Mt. 27.46).
Let us first examine that hour of darkness. “This darkness,” explains Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “not only signified that men were putting out the Light Who illumined every man coming into this world, but also that He was denying Himself, for the moment, the light and consolation of His Divinity. Suffering now passed from the body [the passion of being crucified] into the mind and soul… : My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me.” Desolation and solitude was, according to the Archbishop, “the signal feature in the sufferings of Our Lord.” “Sin,” continues the Archbishop, “has physical effects, and these He bore by having His hands and feet excruciatingly pierced; sin has mental effects which He poured forth in the Garden of Gethsemane; sin also has spiritual effects such as a sense of abandonment, separation from God, loneliness. This particular moment He willed to take upon Himself that principal effect of sin which was abandonment.
Man rejected God; so now He willed to feel that rejection. Man turned away from God; now He, Who was God united personally with a human nature, willed to feel in that human nature that awful wrench as if He Himself were guilty… In that cry were all the sentiments in human hearts expressive of a Divine nostalgia: the loneliness of the atheist, the skeptic, the pessimist, the sinners who hate themselves for hating virtue, and of all those who have no love above the flesh; for to be without love is hell. It was, therefore, the moment when leaning on nails He stood at the brink of hell in the name of all sinners. As He entered upon the extreme penalty of sin, which is separation from God, it was fitting that His eyes be filled with darkness and His soul with loneliness….
Christ’s cry was of abandonment which He felt standing in a sinner’s place, but it was not of despair. The soul that despairs never cries to God. As the keenest pangs of hunger are felt not by the dying man who is completely exhausted but by the man battling for his life with the last ounce of strength, so abandonment was felt not only by the ungodly and unholy but by the most holy of men, the Lord on the Cross” (in “The Seven Words from the Cross”).
The traditional liturgy of the Mass shows us this Paschal joy under two aspects: joy in truth (today’s Epistle: 1 Cor. 5.7,8) and joy in charity (the Postcommunion). Joy in truth: According to the vibrant admonition of St. Paul, Let us celebrate the feast, not with the old leaven… but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In this world there are many ephemeral joys, based on fragile, insecure foundations; but the Paschal joy is solidly grounded on the knowledge that we are in truth, the truth which Christ brought to the world – the Gospel He entrusted to the Catholic Church – and which He confirmed by His Resurrection. The Resurrection teaches us that our Faith is not in vain, that our hope is not founded on a dead man, but on a living one, the Living One “par excellence”, Whose life is so strong that it vivifies, in time as in eternity, all those who believe in Him (cf., our post “‘We have an altar’ (Heb. 13.10): The Institution of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass“). I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live (Jn. 11.25). Joy in truth: for only sincere and upright souls who seek the truth of Christ, the Faith authored by Him (Heb. 12.2) and has since been already preached in all the creation that is under heaven (Col. 1.23) – the Catholic Faith – and still more, obey the truth (Gal. 3.1) can fully rejoice in the Resurrection. We are sincere when we recognize ourselves for what we truly are before God, with all our sins and faults, imperfection and deficiencies, and need for conversion. From this knowledge of our miseries springs the sincere resolve to purify ourselves and let ourselves be purified (cf., passive suffering in our post “Christian Love: Love of the Cross“) of the old leaven of the passions in order to be renewed completely in the Risen Christ.
The Gospel (Mk. 16.1-7) places before our eyes the faithful holy women who, at the first rays of the Sunday dawn, run to the sepulcher, and on the way, wonder: Who will roll back the stone from the door of the sepulcher for us? This preoccupation, although it is well justified on account of the size and weight of the stone, does not deter them from proceeding with their plans; they are too much taken up with the desire of finding Jesus! And behold! Hardly have they arrived when they see the stone rolled back.
“The greatest mental agony in the world,” points out Archbishop Sheen, “and the cause of many psychic disorders, is that minds and hearts are without God. Such emptiness would never have a consolation, if [Our Crucified Lord] had not felt all of this as His own. From [that] point [last Good Friday] on , no atheist could ever say in his loneliness that He does not know what it is to be without God! This emptiness of humanity through sin, though He felt it as His own, was nevertheless spoken with a loud voice to indicate not despair, but rather hope that the sun would rise again and scatter the darkness” (in the same work quoted above).
Now, we too have a keen desire to find the Lord; perhaps we have been seeking Him for many long years already. Further, this desire may have been accompanied by serious preoccupation with the question of how we might rid ourselves of the obstacles and roll away from our souls the stone which has prevented us thus far from finding the Lord, from giving ourselves entirely to Him – just as He did generously give Himself on the Cross – and from letting Him triumph in us through the Cross. Precisely because we want to find the Lord, we have already overcome many obstacles, sustained by His grace; divine Providence has helped us roll away many stones, overcome many difficulties. Nevertheless, the search for God is progressive, and must be maintained during our whole life. For this reason, following the example of the holy women, we must always have a holy preoccupation about finding the Lord, a preoccupation which will make us industrious and diligent in seeking Him, and at the same time confident of the divine aid, since the Lord will certainly take care that we arrive where our own strength could never bring us, because He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
A blessed Easter to all!