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Pascha Est Cor Liturgiae

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The Pasch of the Lord: Heart of the Liturgy

The heart of the liturgy is the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death, Resurrection and Ascension, accomplished once and for all in Christ the Head and extended by means of the liturgy to all His members throughout history. All Christian worship is but a continuous celebration of the Pasch of the Lord: the sun, dawning each day, draws in its course an uninterrupted train of Eucharists; every celebration of Holy Mass makes present the Paschal Sacrifice of the Lamb. Each day of the liturgical year, and within each day, every instant of the Church's sleepless vigil, continues and renews the Pasch of Christ.

The Heart of Theology and of Piety

In repeating the enactment of the liturgy, the Church has access to the "unique, unrepeatable mystery of Christ"; day after day, week after week and year after year, the Church is caught up in the transforming glory of the Paschal Mystery. Through the sacred liturgy, the Paschal Mystery irrigates and transforms all of human life, healing those who partake of the sacraments and drawing the Church, already here and now, into the communion of the risen and ascended Christ with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Because it is the heart of the liturgy, the Pasch of the Lord is the heart of theology, and the heart of Christian piety as well.

The Sacred Triduum

The annual celebration of "the most sacred Triduum of the crucified, buried and risen Lord" is the liturgical, theological and spiritual center of the Church's life and "the culmination of the entire liturgical year." The Paschal Triduum begins with the Vesperal Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday, continues through the Friday of the Lord's Passion, reaches its summit in the Solemn Paschal Vigil, and comes to a close with Sunday Vespers of the Lord's Resurrection.

Gregorian Chant

As an integral element of the Sacred Triduum, Gregorian Chant takes its place in the complexus of sacred signs by which the Paschal Mystery is rendered present to the Church, and the Church drawn into the Paschal Mystery. The chant of the Church is thus essentially related to the Paschal Mystery and to the new life which it imparts. The transcendent value of liturgical chant, especially during the annual celebration of the Paschal Triduum, is properly theological and spiritual. The chants of the Paschal Triduum constitute therefore a point of reconciliation and unity "between theology and liturgy, liturgy and spirituality." What Father Alexander Schmemann wrote concerning the Paschal Triduum of the Byzantine liturgy and its hymnography is also true, mutatis mutandis, of the liturgy of the Roman Rite and of its proper chants:

The liturgy of the Paschal Triduum -- Holy Friday, Great and Holy Saturday and Sunday -- reveals more about the "doctrines" of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Death and Resurrection than all the other "loci theologici" together; and, let me stress it, not merely in the texts, in the magnificent Byzantine hymnography, but precisely by the very "experience" -- ineffable yet illuminating -- given during these days in their inner interdependence, in their nature; indeed as epiphany and revelation. Truly if the word mystery can still have any meaning today, be experienced and not merely "explained," it is here, in this unique celebration which reveals and communicates before it "explains"; which makes us witnesses and participants of one all-embracing Event from which stems everything else: understanding and power, knowledge and joy, contemplation and communion.

The Whole Person in the Whole Church

Participation in the sacred liturgy makes "witnesses and participants" of those who thus experience the Paschal Mystery as something revealed and communicated, men and women capable of saying, "We have seen the Lord" (Jn 20:24). Paradoxically, while each worshiper must enter personally into the Paschal Mystery, making a personal profession of faith at Baptism, and uttering a personal Amen to the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the effect of such a personal engagement is participation in the Body of Christ and the unity of the Holy Spirit. The saving mystery of Christ's death and Resurrection embraces and sanctifies the integral human person within the communion of the Church. The symbolic language of the liturgy therefore engages the human person bodily, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.

The Power of the Paschal Liturgy

A Holy Week entry from the 1910 diary of Pieter van der Meer de Walcheren, written while the author was yet an unbeliever, attests to the experiential impact of the Paschal liturgy as epiphany and revelation, and to one person's passage out of isolation into the communion of faith in the Church.

The liturgy is a holy magnificence. I am well aware that it is absurd to speak words of admiration. All too evident is the beauty of this worship that expresses the inexpressible and causes the pure splendor of a flame to burn upright and bright in life’s blackness. Art is so superficial and poor; it appears so empty next to these sublime chants, next to these biblical words chanted, next to these holy texts, next to these prayers of mourning, these poems of extreme joy! I still hear the chant of the end of Lauds: Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis"; to which is added on the third night; "propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum et dedit illi nomen quod est super omne nomen. The music of it, the slow plaintive, desperate music laden with every sorrow and with every mystery! How shall I ever forget the Lamentations of Jeremiah at the first Nocturn of Tenebrae? And the Ecce lignum crucis of Friday . . . ? And the Reproaches, divine reproaches of a crucified God to his people?
On Holy Saturday the new fire is kindled. The priest, advancing slowly towards the altar, sings the thrice-repeated words at equal intervals: Lumen Christi, each time on a higher tone; and the light increases until it becomes an immense interior fire. One senses in one's soul a tangible deliverance. Where can one find a thing more lovely, more sublime than the chant of the Exultet jam angelica turba caelorum, in which, by the words and by the music, the desire of an incommensurable joy lifts itself up and erects a kind of rainbow stretching from earth to heaven? And the Preface that follows, with its sublime cries: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum! . . . O felix culpa! . . . Oh, to be able to believe, to be unshakably certain that this is not an empty spectacle, not a beautiful dream, but signs and symbols which are but the reflection of an inexpressible divine reality. I am shaken in the very depths of my soul. Illusion and appearance could never make me weep like this. I sense that behind all that I see and hear are luminous roads leading towards God.

Such is the power of the liturgy of the Paschal Triduum over the human heart. The chants of the Paschal Triduum do not disclose their theological significance as isolated fragments, separately analyzed and removed from their context. The Mystery is one, and its radiance suffuses the Paschal liturgy in all its parts.

Maundy Thursday

Beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday, the liturgy sings of the glorious Cross of Christ and of the effects of Christ's priestly sacrifice, mediated by the sacraments of the Church, and translated into lives of sacrificial love and humble service. The chants sing of ancient types and shadows, fulfilled in the Pasch of Christ, preparing the mystery of the Eucharist, and pointing already to the eschatological "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Apoc 19:9).

Good Friday

In the chants of Good Friday, Christ, the immolated Lamb and the Bridegroom of the Church, prays and offers himself to the Father, drawing the Church into his prayer, into his sacrifice and into his glorious exaltation. The chants of the adoratio Crucis reveal the Cross as the locus of Christ's glorification and the throne of mercy towards which the Church addresses bold supplication for her own needs and for those of all people. The Cross is the Tree of Life planted in the midst of the Church, the abiding sign of the Father's mercy, of the Son's crucified love, and of the Holy Spirit's lifegiving action.

The Paschal Vigil

In the celebration of the Paschal Vigil, the cantica, or intervenient chants of the Liturgy of the Word, interact with the readings and orations, evoking a vast array of figures and types that in the Pasch of Christ and the sacraments of the Church find their ultimate theological meaning and fulfillment. Readings, chants and orations function together as a final preparation for the sacramenta paschalia. With the Alleluia and the intonation of Psalm 117 emerges a current of joy that overflows into the Mass of Easter Day.

Holy Pascha

On Easter Day, the Church's liturgy is quiet and contemplative. The risen Christ introduces into his ineffable conversation with the Father all those who, by means of the sacraments, share in his death and Resurrection. The shadowy images of Exodus 12, introduced at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, are brought into the morning light of Christ's Paschal sacrifice in the Alleluia Pascha nostrum and in the Communion antiphon. The circle is thus completed, demonstrating that the Paschal Mystery is indeed "a single celebration in which the individual parts . . . make the whole visible both in its parts and as a whole."

Dominicis Passionis Sacramenta

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Tuesday of Holy Week

The Collect for Holy Tuesday merits special attention. The dominicis passionis sacramenta are the sacred signs and rites by which the mystery of the Lord's Passion is made present in an efficacious manner. The Collect uses the word peragere, which means, among other things, to carry out, to enact, or to perform. It is by worthily carrying out the sacred liturgy that the fruit of the Passion of Christ is communicated to our souls, that is, the pardon of our sins.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
da nobis ita dominicae passionis sacramenta peragere,
ut indulgentiam percipere mereamur.
Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum,
qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti,
Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.

The Marquess of Bute gives this:

O Almighty and everlasting God,
give us grace so to use the solemn and mysterious memorial
of the Lord's Suffering,
that the same may be unto us
a means whereby worthily to win Thy forgiveness.
Through the Same our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.

Note that he renders "dominicis passionis sacramenta" as "the solemn and mysterious memorial of the Lord's Passion."

Monsignor Knox offers a translation that is, at once, succinct and poetic. For "dominicis passionis sacramenta" he gives, "this showing forth of the Lord's Passion."

So pass we, O God eternal,
through this showing forth of our Lord's Passion,
that we may win his gift of pardon.
Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,
who is God, living and reigning with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

And here is my own attempt:

Almighty and eternal God,
grant that we may so carry out
the sacred rites of the Passion of the Lord
as to be found worthy of your gracious pardon.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.


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A Word Out of Silence

The chant of the Passion plunges us into silence. The Word has been silenced. Only a fool would dare to speak. Anything less than a word out of silence is unworthy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; anything more is superfluous. If I am so foolish as to preach today, it is for the sake of silence: a word out of silence, a word into silence. Like Saint Paul, “I am with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). If I offer you words, their only purpose is to guide you into the harbour of an immense and solemn stillness.

Pierced by the Passion

Dr. Sutton, an English divine of the sixteenth century imagined a dialogue between the soul pierced by hearing the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Lord, wherefore diddest thou suffer thyself to be sold?
That I might deliver thee from servitude. . .
Wherefore diddest thou sweat blood?
To wash away the spots of thy sin. . .
Why wouldest thou be bound?
To loose the bands of thy sins. . .
Why wert thou denied of Peter?
To confess thee before my Father. . .
Why wouldest thou be accused?
To absolve thee. . .
Why wouldest thou be spitted on?
To wipe away thy foulness. . .
Why wouldest thou be whipped?
That thou mightest be freed from stripes. . .
Why wouldest thou be lifted up upon the Cross?
That thou mightest be lifted up to heaven. . .
Why were thine arms stretched out?
To imbrace thee, O fainting soul. . .
Why was thy side opened?
To receive thee in. . .
Why didst thou die amidst two thieves?
That thou mightest live in the midst of angels.

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What a glorious depiction of the Precious Blood of Christ pouring forth from His five wounds into the chalices held by four saints! I recognize Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, a cardinal who may be Saint Charles Borromeo and, on the extreme right, a figure who appears to be in a Cistercian habit. Saint Bernard? The painting is by an unknown Spanish artist of the XVIIth or XVIIIth century.

I will be leaving in a few hours to spend the Sacred Triduum with my friend, Father Jacob, O.P. at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Buffalo, N.Y. This will allow me to have a more restful Triduum than in the past. Father Jacob and I will alternate officiating at the various solemn Offices. Father Peter John, O.P. will be replacing me for the Sacred Triduum at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, CT.

I don't know if there will be an internet connection in Buffalo. Readers of Vultus Christi can always go to the archives for Sacred Paschal Triduum 2007. If at all possible, I will try to post something from Buffalo.

My choice for the best reading during the Sacred Triduum remains The Great Week, by Dame Aemiliana Löhr, O.S.B. I know of no better commentary on the Holy Week Liturgy.

In another vein, László Dobszay offers a compelling critique of the present reformed rites of the Paschal Triduum in The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform. It may be better not to read this during the Triduum. Save it for another time.

His Excellency, Bishop Allen H. Vigneron of the Diocese of Oakland wrote a splendid pastoral letter on the Precious Blood of Christ. Be sure to read it here.

Nos autem

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Tuesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 49:1–6
Psalm 34:13, 1–2
John 13:21–33, 36–38

The Eucharist and the Cross

Today’s Introit is the very one that we will sing on Maundy Thursday on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum: “It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free” (cf. Gal 6:14). We are given it today in a kind of contemplative rehearsal of the mysteries that will unfold. We are to sing it, and to hear it, in a Eucharistic key. We glory in the Eucharist as we glory in the Cross because the Eucharist is the sacramental demonstration of the Cross. Is this not what the Apostle teaches? “For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord, until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). The Eucharist makes present the Cross. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Cross set before the eyes of faith, not as something dim and ineffectual, but as an astonishing inbreaking, here and now, of “the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor 1:24). This is the source of our “Eucharistic amazement.” This is this realization that leaves us, together with the saints of every age, “lost, all lost in wonder.”

O Great Passion

The Eucharist is the awful reality of the Christus passus. The mystery of the suffering Christ is made present to us and for us. For our healing, his wounds are pressed against ours. For our cleansing, his Blood flows impetuous like a torrent. For our life, his breath is given over in death. The Eucharist is the Crucified “lifted up and drawing all men to himself”(cf. Jn 12:32). It is the Eucharist that causes us to cry out, “O great Passion! O deep wounds! O outpouring of Blood! O death suffered in every bitterness, give us life.”

Tell Me Where You Were

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Abba Joseph related that Abba Isaac said, 'I was sitting with Abba Poemen one day and I saw him in ecstasy and I was on terms of great freedom of speech with him, I prostrated myself before him and begged him, saying, 'Tell me where you were." He was forced to answer and he said, "My thought was with Saint Mary, the Mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the Saviour. I wish I could always weep like that."

Grant Us Breathing Space

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Monday of Holy Week

Today's Collect is, without any doubt, one of the most poignant of the whole liturgical year. Here it is in the original Latin, and in three different English translations:

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut, qui ex nostra infirmitate deficimus,
intercedente unigeniti Filii tui passione, respiremus.
Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti,
Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.

The Marquess of Bute renders it thus:

O Almighty God,
Which knowest that we be in such straits
that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves,
we pray Thee mercifully to relieve us
for whom continually pleadeth the Suffering of Thine Only-Begotten Son.
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.

Monsignor Knox gives this:

Fainting, thou seest us, Almighty God;
so many perils about us, and we so frail!
Let but the Passion of thy only-begotten Son come between,
to grant us breathing space:
who with thee in the bond of the Holy Spirit
liveth and reigneth and is God,
world without end.

And here is my translation:

Grant, we beseech you, almighty God,
that we who, out of the infirmity that is ours, falter and fail,
may once again breathe freely
through the intercession of the Passion of your only-begotten Son,
who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

Spes Mea

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Monday of Holy Week

Isaiah 42:1-7
Psalm 26:1, 2, 3, 13-14 (R. v. 1a)
John12:1-11

But After I Shall Be Risen

The bright eighth mode intervals of last evening’s Magnificat Antiphon still echo in our hearts: “It is therefore written: I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed; but after I shall be risen, I will go before you into Galilee. There you shall see me, says Lord.” Over the words, postquam autem resurrexero — “but after I shall be risen” the melody leaped upward in an uncontainable burst of paschal triumph, ringing out an irrepressible joy.

You Shall See Me

Yesterday, we were in Jerusalem, the holy city of the sufferings of Christ, but the Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers already promised us a reunion with the risen Lord in Galilee. “There you shall see me.” Through the text and melody of the antiphon one hears that other promise of the Lord in Saint John’s gospel: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).

Says the Lord

The cadence over the words, dicit Dominus — “says the Lord,” is strong and full of hope, leaving us utterly certain of the outcome of this Great Week’s bitter agony and sufferings. “This is our comfort,” writes Dame Aemiliana, “we shall see Him again. First Judea and Jerusalem, judgment, death, the tomb. Then Galilee, life and sight. . . . Life hangs on the issue of death; whoever goes with the Lord to die, goes with Him to live and rule; whoever dares to go the way to Jerusalem will not miss the way to Galilee.”

The Most Precious Blood

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One cannot enter into Holy Week without contemplating the adorable mystery of the Precious Blood. I am completely smitten by Bernini's little known depiction of the Blood of Christ. The Eternal Father contemplates the outpouring of the Blood of the Son. The Angels are awestruck by what they see. Blood pours out of the hands, and feet, and open side of the Crucified.

The Mother of Jesus, she who is the perfect image of the Church, raises her hands to receive the crimson torrent gushing from the inner sanctuary of His Sacred Heart. Beneath the Cross there is an ocean of Blood: Blood to cleanse the world of every stain of sin, of every crime, of every defilement. If you would know the value of the Precious Blood, ask the Mother of the Lamb.

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Priests and the Precious Blood

"My maternal heart yearns to lead all my priest sons into the presence of my Jesus, the Lamb by Whose Blood the world is saved and purified of sin. My priest sons must be the first to experience the healing power of the Blood of the Lamb of God. I ask all my priest sons to bear witness to the Precious Blood of Jesus. They are the ministers of His Blood. His Blood is in their hands to purify and refresh the living and the dead.

Apply It to Your Wounds

I desire that all priests should become aware of the infinite value and power of but a single drop of the Blood of my Son. . . . Adore His Precious Blood in the Sacrament of His Love. His Blood mixed with water flows ceaselessly from His Eucharistic Heart, His Heart pierced by the soldier’s lance to purify and vivify the whole Church, but in the first place, to purify and vivify His priests. When you come into His Eucharistic presence, be aware of His Precious Blood streaming from His Open Heart. Adore His Blood and apply it to your wounds and to the wounds of souls.

Purity Wherever It Flows

The Blood of my Son brings purity and healing and new life wherever it flows. Implore the power of the Precious Blood over yourself and over all priests. Whenever you are asked to intercede for souls, invoke the power of the Precious Blood over them, and present them to the Father covered with the Blood of the Lamb."

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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