At the Solemn Mass on Easter Sunday at the FSSP parish in Philadelphia, the transitional deacon made a fascinating observation in his homily. The paschal joy, he said, too often remains on the level of emotion without apprehending the mystery of the Resurrection in its integrity. While it is true that there was a Baroque custom of the risus paschalis (cf. Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One), nevertheless this emotional joy received its raison d’etre from its being a sacramental expression of a deeper, more spiritual joy. Indeed, much attention has been paid to the fact that Christ’s wounds remain even after the glorification of his body—specifically in conjunction with the Apostle Thomas’ episode of doubt, and the vision of the ”Lamb that was slain” in the Apocalypse.
This deacon recounted his childhood custom of putting himself into a “sugar coma” on Easter after a candy-less Lent in order to illustrate the (spiritually) unhealthy custom of leaving behind the toil of the fast for the joy of the Resurrection. This is where Christ’s wounds enter the picture—they remain, yet they do not bleed. Since “the life is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11), wounds represent the rapid deterioration of life. Christ’s blood is indeed poured out for us unto the remission of our sins, yet this shedding of blood is a shedding unto life, and not death. Christ’s wounds are thus a symbol of the Christian life: we suffer the ancestral wound of original sin and the wounds of our personal sins and those of others against us, and these wounds do indeed bleed out unto death. It is only by the “infusion” of Christ’s own blood into our body and soul that these wounds cease to bleed and become the source of true life. This can happen because these wounds, the chasms in our flesh that is suffering, are no longer an occasion of our life bleeding out, but now become a conduit of grace when we offer our own sufferings in union with the glorified wounds of Christ.
This gives expression to an impression that I have long had with the paschal gradual Haec dies – “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy is unto eternity.” This chant, one of the most beautiful in the Church’s repertoire, is in a familiar melodic blueprint in the second Gregorian mode, traditionally called tristis. This characteristic sadness seems at first glance to be somewhat unfitting for the highest point of the liturgical year and used throughout most of the Easter Octave (the double-alleluia form of the interlectionary chants does not begin until Sabbato in albis). Yet upon further reflection, this “discordant” pairing of the joyous paschal text with a melody virtually identical with the Requiem gradual expresses in a most sublime way the “exegetical” nature of sacred music. Christ himself testified to the “necessity” of his sufferings so as to enter into his glory (Luke 24:26), and in this connection Joseph Ratzinger illustrates the intrinsic unity between Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday as logically distinct “parts” of a single reality. In other words, the “content” of the gradual is that of paschal joy, whereas the “form” is that of sadness and suffering. The Resurrection is cruciform. The wounds remain. Along these lines, when I was a student at Franciscan University, I was privileged to lead a small men’s schola, composed of both students and faculty, on Easter Sunday at a local parish that offers the usus antiquior. Being somewhat emboldened by the Resurrection, I arranged two verses from the ancient Good Friday veneration hymn Crux fidelis to be sung after the consecration, with an added alleluia, in order to highlight the inner unity of the paschal mystery.
This cruciform mode of expression is not without its moments of sheer joy: the high note on the first quoniam approaches utter perfection. Yet it should be clear that this is no inconsistency in the chant, any more than there is any inconsistency in the Regina coeli who nevertheless remains for us the Mater dolorosa. This sublime mystery caused the earth to tremble and be still, dum resurgeret in judicio Deus. How much more, then, should we tremble in awe during this Octave, that we are made partakers of such a mystery, not only as spectators, but as “active participants,” since true participation consists in letting Christ lead us into a holy death in the laver of regeneration, so as to rise again as a new creation on the “Eighth Day.” Just as the liturgical calendar mirrors our life on this side of death—the sighing expectation of our Lord, the joy at his presence, our sufferings and mortifications, and the joy of redemption—we ought not to leave our own resurrection as a mental postulate, and still less exult in joy to the exclusion of suffering, but may we indeed enter into this sacred time with the willingness to expose our wounds to the Risen One so that he may stop our bleeding and transform them into channels of grace.
Image: The Resurrection Of Christ by Carl Heinrich Bloch.