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Homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the Paschal Vigil
The Church Sings the Song of Thanksgiving of the Saved


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Mystery of Resurrection

Saint Mark tells us in his Gospel that as the disciples came down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they were discussing among themselves what "rising from the dead" could mean (cf. Mk 9:10). A little earlier, the Lord had foretold his passion and his resurrection after three days. Peter had protested against this prediction of death. But now, they were wondering what could be meant by the word "resurrection". Could it be that we find ourselves in a similar situation? Christmas, the birth of the divine Infant, we can somehow immediately comprehend. We can love the child, we can imagine that night in Bethlehem, Mary's joy, the joy of Saint Joseph and the shepherds, the exultation of the angels. But what is resurrection? It does not form part of our experience, and so the message often remains to some degree beyond our understanding, a thing of the past. The Church tries to help us understand it, by expressing this mysterious event in the language of symbols in which we can somehow contemplate this astonishing event. During the Easter Vigil, the Church points out the significance of this day principally through three symbols: light, water, and the new song - the Alleluia.

Light

First of all, there is light. God's creation - which has just been proclaimed to us in the Biblical narrative - begins with the command: "Let there be light!" (Gen 1:3). Where there is light, life is born, chaos can be transformed into cosmos. In the Biblical message, light is the most immediate image of God: He is total Radiance, Life, Truth, Light. During the Easter Vigil, the Church reads the account of creation as a prophecy. In the resurrection, we see the most sublime fulfilment of what this text describes as the beginning of all things. God says once again: "Let there be light!" The resurrection of Jesus is an eruption of light. Death is conquered, the tomb is thrown open. The Risen One himself is Light, the Light of the world. With the resurrection, the Lord's day enters the nights of history. Beginning with the resurrection, God's light spreads throughout the world and throughout history. Day dawns. This Light alone - Jesus Christ - is the true light, something more than the physical phenomenon of light. He is pure Light: God himself, who causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old, transforming chaos into cosmos.

Lumen Christi

Let us try to understand this a little better. Why is Christ Light? In the Old Testament, the Torah was considered to be like the light coming from God for the world and for humanity. The Torah separates light from darkness within creation, that is to say, good from evil. It points out to humanity the right path to true life. It points out the good, it demonstrates the truth and it leads us towards love, which is the deepest meaning contained in the Torah. It is a "lamp" for our steps and a "light" for our path (cf. Ps 119:105). Christians, then, knew that in Christ, the Torah is present, the Word of God is present in him as Person. The Word of God is the true light that humanity needs. This Word is present in him, in the Son. Psalm 19 had compared the Torah to the sun which manifests God's glory as it rises, for all the world to see. Christians understand: yes indeed, in the resurrection, the Son of God has emerged as the Light of the world. Christ is the great Light from which all life originates. He enables us to recognize the glory of God from one end of the earth to the other. He points out our path. He is the Lord's day which, as it grows, is gradually spreading throughout the earth. Now, living with him and for him, we can live in the light.

Fire

At the Easter Vigil, the Church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the Paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat. The symbolism of light is connected with that of fire: radiance and heat, radiance and the transforming energy contained in the fire - truth and love go together. The Paschal candle burns, and is thereby consumed: Cross and resurrection are inseparable. From the Cross, from the Son's self-giving, light is born, true radiance comes into the world. From the Paschal candle we all light our own candles, especially the newly baptized, for whom the light of Christ enters deeply into their hearts in this Sacrament. The early Church described Baptism as fotismos, as the Sacrament of illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the resurrection of Christ. In Baptism, God says to the candidate: "Let there be light!" The candidate is brought into the light of Christ. Christ now divides the light from the darkness. In him we recognize what is true and what is false, what is radiance and what is darkness. With him, there wells up within us the light of truth, and we begin to understand. On one occasion when Christ looked upon the people who had come to listen to him, seeking some guidance from him, he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mk 6:34). Amid the contradictory messages of that time, they did not know which way to turn. What great compassion he must feel in our own time too - on account of all the endless talk that people hide behind, while in reality they are totally confused. Where must we go? What are the values by which we can order our lives? The values by which we can educate our young, without giving them norms they may be unable to resist, or demanding of them things that perhaps should not be imposed upon them? He is the Light. The baptismal candle is the symbol of enlightenment that is given to us in Baptism. Thus at this hour, Saint Paul speaks to us with great immediacy. In the Letter to the Philippians, he says that, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, Christians should shine as lights in the world (cf. Phil 2:15). Let us pray to the Lord that the fragile flame of the candle he has lit in us, the delicate light of his word and his love amid the confusions of this age, will not be extinguished in us, but will become ever stronger and brighter, so that we, with him, can be people of the day, bright stars lighting up our time.

Water

The second symbol of the Easter Vigil - the night of Baptism - is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God's new world, the sea will be no more (cf. 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus' death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob's well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. Jn 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side - from his pierced heart - there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezek 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. In a discourse during the Feast of Tabernacles, though, Jesus prophesied something still greater: "Whoever believes in me out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!

The Alleluia

The third great symbol of the Easter Vigil is something rather different; it has to do with man himself. It is the singing of the new song - the alleluia. When a person experiences great joy, he cannot keep it to himself. He has to express it, to pass it on. But what happens when a person is touched by the light of the resurrection, and thus comes into contact with Life itself, with Truth and Love? He cannot merely speak about it. Speech is no longer adequate. He has to sing. The first reference to singing in the Bible comes after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has risen out of slavery. It has climbed up from the threatening depths of the sea. It is as it were reborn. It lives and it is free. The Bible describes the people's reaction to this great event of salvation with the verse: "The people believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant" (Ex 14:31). Then comes the second reaction which, with a kind of inner necessity, follows from the first one: "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord " At the Easter Vigil, year after year, we Christians intone this song after the third reading, we sing it as our song, because we too, through God's power, have been drawn forth from the water and liberated for true life.

There is a surprising parallel to the story of Moses' song after Israel's liberation from Egypt upon emerging from the Red Sea, namely in the Book of Revelation of Saint John. Before the beginning of the seven last plagues imposed upon the earth, the seer has a vision of something "like a sea of glass mingled with fire; and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb " (Rev 15:2f.). This image describes the situation of the disciples of Jesus Christ in every age, the situation of the Church in the history of this world. Humanly speaking, it is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the community is located at the Exodus, in the midst of the Red Sea, in a sea which is paradoxically ice and fire at the same time. And must not the Church, so to speak, always walk on the sea, through the fire and the cold? Humanly speaking, she ought to sink. But while she is still walking in the midst of this Red Sea, she sings - she intones the song of praise of the just: the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the Old and New Covenants blend into harmony. While, strictly speaking, she ought to be sinking, the Church sings the song of thanksgiving of the saved. She is standing on history's waters of death and yet she has already risen. Singing, she grasps at the Lord's hand, which holds her above the waters. And she knows that she is thereby raised outside the force of gravity of death and evil - a force from which otherwise there would be no way of escape - raised and drawn into the new gravitational force of God, of truth and of love. At present she is still between the two gravitational fields. But once Christ is risen, the gravitational pull of love is stronger than that of hatred; the force of gravity of life is stronger than that of death. Perhaps this is actually the situation of the Church in every age? It always seems as if she ought to be sinking, and yet she is always already saved. Saint Paul illustrated this situation with the words: "We are as dying, and behold we live" (2 Cor 6:9). The Lord's saving hand holds us up, and thus we can already sing the song of the saved, the new song of the risen ones: alleluia! Amen.

[Translation distributed by the Holy See]

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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I preached this homily at the Day Mass of Holy Pascha in 2004 and thought I might share it with you today.

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

We have in past years,
at this morning sacrifice of Pascha,
lingered over the chants of the Church,
taking each one in turn,
to hold them over in our hearts
and so sing them with understanding
-- Psallite sapienter! -- says the psalmist.

Sing so as to taste each word, sing so as to melt each syllable
in the warmth of a believing heart.
There is wild honey in the chants of the Church,
a honey made by holy bees buzzing in the garden of the Scriptures.
Sing with understanding!
The taste of each word will surprise and delight
the palate of your soul.
If it is our vocation to savour the chants of the Church at all times,
it is our surpassing joy to do so today,
for Christ is risen.

This morning, however,
I thought we might turn our hearts' attention to the Collect of the Mass,
to that ascending word of the Church:
fruit of the Word welcomed, and heard, and repeated in the night.
By means of the Collect
we, being collected together in one place,
pass over all together with Christ to the Father.

Our many prayers, prayers secret and hidden,
our groanings and our tears,
our supplications and our praises,
are collected and bound like a spring bouquet with a single band
to be lifted before the throne of grace
that we might find help in time of need (cf. Heb 4:16),
for Christ is risen!

Our hearts are set on heavenly things (cf. Col 3:2)
and fixed, already, here and now
in "the sanctuary not made by hands" (Heb 9:24) ,
in the holy place beyond the veil (cf. Heb 6:19)
"where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf,
having become a High Priest forever
after the order of Melchisedech" (Heb 6:19).
Christ is risen!

"O God, on this day,
through Your only-begotten Son,
You over overcame death
and opened for us the gate of eternal life;
Grant, we pray,
that in celebrating the solemn feast of the resurrection of the Lord,
we may, by the newness that comes from Your Spirit,
rise again in the light of life."

God has done two things in the resurrection of his only-begotten Son.
He has overcome death.
"Christ is risen from the dead,"
sings the Eastern Church,
"trampling on death by death,
and on those in the tombs bestowing life."
This, Saint John Chrysostom, made clear for us at Lauds
in words unparalleled power and jubilation.
Christ is risen!

He has also opened for us the gate of eternal life.
The gate closed to Father Adam and Mother Eve
is thrown open by Christ.
The garden of God's delight is given back to us
and at the gate stands the Gardener "all radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;
His locks are wavy, black as raven.
His eyes are like doves
beside springs of water. . . .
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
His speech is most sweet,
and He is altogether desirable" (Ct 5:10-12, 16).
Christ is risen!

Today is the festival of the open gate,
the solemnity of the open tomb,
the epiphany of the open heart,
for Christ is risen!

What does the Church,
moved, as always, by the Spirit, ask today?
"Grant, we pray,
that in celebrating the solemn feast of the resurrection of the Lord,
we may, by the newness that comes from your Spirit,
rise again in the light of life."

The newness that comes from the Holy Spirit!
There is no place here for anything old.
"Cleanse out the old leaven, " says the Apostle,
"so that you may be a new lump" (1 Cor 5:7).
No place today for the sagging, the creaky,
the stinking, and the wilted!
No place for the decrepitude of sin!
New hearts and new minds!
And in your mouths a new song -- praise to our God,
for Christ is risen!

"If anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has passsed away,
behold the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17),
for Christ is risen!

The second part of the petition,
" . . . that we may rise again in the light of life,"
lifts us up, projects us from our tombs,
sends us out of darkness into light,
out of death into life,
out of loneliness into communion,
out of death's dark bands into the arms of the Father!
Rise again! Not tomorrow -- today!
Rise again! Not in another place -- but here!
Rise again! Even as He rose before us and rises in us,
and will call us on his Day to rise to glory!
Christ is risen!

Let the prayer of the one Bride
become today the prayer of each.
Let the prayer of the Mother Church of us all
become today the prayer of those born anew of water and the Spirit!
Pass into the prayer of the Church,
holding nothing back,
and Christ will pass into you, holding nothing back,
for Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

Christ is risen!

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The Resurrection of the Lord
The Paschal Vigil of the Holy Night

April 11, 2009
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

This is the night Eucharistic above all others!
This is the night of the Great Thanksgiving,
the Eucharist of glory,
for Christ is risen!

Wrapped in light as in a robe (Ps 103:2),
He has gone into the sanctuary, passed beyond the veil (cf. Heb 6:19).
Christ is risen!

Enveloped now in the bright cloud of the Spirit,
He stands, our priest before the Father,
forever alive, forever life-giving,
"holy, blameless, unstained,
separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens!" (Heb 7:26)
Christ is risen!

This is of all Eucharists the brightest:
the nocturnal Eucharist by which every night is claimed for the light.
This is night of burning hearts and broken bread,
the night of the cup that overflows!
Christ is risen!

David sings the mystery
and the Church takes up his song!
This is the night foretold in prophecy:
"And the night shall be enlightened as the day;
and the night is my light and my delight" (Ps 138:12),
for Christ is risen!

1. In the beginning the heavens were splayed across the void
and the fabric of creation was woven by His hands:
a veil translucent upon the face of the earth,
finely woven that through it we might glimpse His glory!
Christ is risen!

In the beginning He made man in His image, in His likeness.
From the dust Adam emerged, facing the splendour of His glory:
the creature reflecting as in a mirror
the Uncreated Beauty from which all beauty springs.

Great was Adam's grief,
terrible the laments of Eve,
when before their darkened eyes
descended the veil opaque and heavy,
the veil that they, by their sin, had pulled down hard and fast
like a window shade in time of war!
But now the long blackout of history is ended,
for Christ is risen!

"Look, my darling Eve," says ancient Adam
in a creaking voice that has forgotten how to sing,
"is that the light of God I see?"
Behold, the peace of paradise,
for Christ is risen!
Shredded are the shades of night!
Sprung from their hinges the gates of the netherworld!
Unchained the chains, unbolted the bolts!
Christ is risen!

Eve, all bent earthward, stooped with the weight of the ages,
lifts her old gray head as if to examine the fruit on a branch,
then, leaning on her walking stick older than time
-- Adam had cut it for her from the tree --
straightens her crooked back,
and opens her mouth to say:
Christ is risen!

He enters, the Warrior returned from battle,
the King covered with victory,
the Bridegroom "all radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand" (Ct 5:10),
for Christ is risen!

2. Behold, the Ram caught in a thicket of thorns!
Behold, the gentle Lamb bound and laid upon the wood!
Behold, the Victim for the Altar!
Behold, the Offering in Love's Undying Flame consumed!
Christ is risen!

Isaac, wide-eyed, looking on,
remembers well the day he was bound fast
and laid upon the altar
by his father's trembling and tender hand.
He remembers the flash of the blade above his head
and, out of heaven, the voice:
"Abraham! Abraham! You have not withheld your son,
your only-begotten son from me!" (cf. Gen 22: 11-12).
"Oh, Father, now I see!
It is as you said:
'God Himself will provide the Lamb, my son,'
for Christ is risen!"

3. Moses, wakened from his sleep,
shuffles out to see the sight,
brooding, grumbling as he goes.
"After forty years of leading them,
the stiff-necked, fickle, dull-witted lot,
could they not at least let a man retired take his rest!
And why that ringing of bells and tambourines?
Would not a slap of the clapper do?"
Not for a minute, my Lord Moses,
for Christ is risen!"

"Could they not have called on Joshua
to see whatever this marvel may be?
I, after all, have seen it all:
the plagues and the parting of the sea,
the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire,
the rush of the waters, the fright of the steeds,
chariots sinking in the mud and Egyptians dead upon the shore!"
(He does not yet know that -- Christ is risen!)

Then he sees Him whom once he knew,
the Friend with whom he spoke face to face (cf. Ex 33:11),
the Glory whose trail of splendour
he spied from the cleft of the rock (cf. Ex 33:22),
the Beloved Son who woke him briefly not so long ago
to converse with Him and with Elijah
of another exodus, His! (cf. Lk 28:31).
Christ is risen!

Behold Him now, more beautiful than on the heights of Thabor!
Then, "His face shone like the sun,
and his garments became white as light" (Mt 17:2),
but now, there are no words to describe him,
for Christ is risen!

4. He comes, the Lover back from combat,
with shining shards of ruby brightness
slashing through his hands and feet!
"His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven" (Ct 5:11),
and across his forehead
a ring of cut diamonds, an incision of stars!
Christ is risen!

"Your Maker is your Husband,
the Lord of Hosts is His Name!"
Christ is risen!
"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed" (Is 54:4),
for Christ is risen!

"'I hid my Face from you' (Is 54:8), it is true,
shroud and veil covered me,
a stone, the seal upon my tomb,
but now my Face unveiled would be your feast,
your tabernacle, your paradise.
Christ is risen!

There is but a lattice of hope between us,
or the membrane of a living faith stretched taut
and wholly penetrable to love.
Christ is risen!

5. If you are parched, come to the waters!
If you have no money, come all the same!
Tonight is the festival of the destitute,
the homecoming of the wanderer,
the hospitality of the heavens thrown open to the earth!
For Christ is risen!

Tonight there is water in abundance,
for feet and hands and face and head!
A cascade of jewels for the Bride of Christ,
Splashing wetness on the pavement,
bringing a thrill to every thirsting heart,
for Christ is risen!

Tonight, for our lips, there is something sweeter than honey!
Tonight there is a Chalice brimming with the fruit of the vine!
Tonight there is Bread from heaven to strengthen every heart,
supersubstantial, and having within it all delight,
for Christ is risen!

"Ah," I hear you say, "my fasting was not all it could have been,
and, often, from abstinence I abstained!
My penitence was paltry,
and my prayer-time bound to the miserly measure of the clock!
In giving alms I was stiff-necked and stingy,
and when I tried to bend my mind to the Scriptures
it was my feeble head that bent in sleep!
This feast, I fear, is not for me!"
Nonsense! For Christ is risen!

Tonight all is given away:
pardon for sinners,
healing for the sick,
laughter for weepers,
a song for the sullen,
and for those who have nothing -- everything!
Christ is risen!

Tonight no one gets what he deserves!
Each one gets what he has not earned:
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9),
for Christ is risen!

6. Tonight the stars shine in their watches and are glad (Bar 3:34),
sparks of fire hurled into the murky vastness,
an incandescent train for the King of Glory!
Christ is risen!

Tonight, for the foolish there is wisdom!
Tonight, for the weak there is strength!
Tonight, for the simple there is understanding!
Christ is risen!

Tonight, for the uncertain there is discernment!
Tonight, for the anxious there is length of days and life!
Tonight, for the blind there is light!
Tonight, for the battle-scarred and weary there is peace,
for Christ is risen!

7. Tonight, there is a bath to wash away every defilement!
Tonight, there is a cleansing from every uncleanness!
Tonight, every idol comes crashing down!
Tonight, there is a mystical infusion of purity in our inmost parts,
for Christ is risen!

This is the night of the new heart.
This is the night of the new spirit.
This is the night of hearts of stone
exchanged for hearts of flesh (cf. Ez 36:26),
for Christ is risen!

Tonight the panting deer arrives at flowing streams!
Tonight she who puts no limits on her desire
is held fast in the embrace of a Love without limits!
Christ is risen!

Tonight he who has followed his heart's whispering,
-- "Seek His Face" --
feasts, like Simon, on the Face of His Lord,
for Christ is risen!

8. After Moses, after David and the Prophets,
the Apostle draws a breath and speaks:
"Consider yourselves," he said, "dead to sin" (Rom 6:11).
"Dead?" you say, fearful and astonished.
"Dead," he says. "No other way.
-- And alive to God in Christ Jesus" (cf. Rom 6:11).
Christ is risen!

Die then, tonight, die dead to all that is old,
die dead to all that is decayed,
die dead to all that will not rise to join the dance,
for Christ is risen!

9. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
ran before us to the tomb!
The earth shook and shifted, jumped and heaved!
"What cosmic dance is this?" they asked,
as over rocks and rills they sped,
while beneath their feet the road to His tomb
cracked like the shells of Easter eggs!
Christ is risen!

And then they saw it all:
the gracious Angel seated on the stone,
dazzling brightness,
blinding whiteness,
guards, first shaking like leaves in the breeze,
and then stiff as dead men for fear!

"Do not be afraid;
for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here, for he has risen as he said.
Come see the place where he lay" (Mt 28:6).
Christ is risen!

To them it was announced, yes,
but the Mother . . . the Mother already knew!
She, the first in this night, as in the night of Bethlehem,
to behold the Human Face of God!
Christ is risen!

Christ is risen that we, going to the altar in this most holy night,
might see His Face shining beneath the sacramental veils!
Christ is risen that we, like so many mirrors lifted high to catch the light,
might dispel the darkness within and without!
Christ is risen that hope may triumph in every heart, in every place!

Christ is risen to go before us:
our Brother to the Father,
our Priest to the Altar.
our Saviour to the world!

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

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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