Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! (Alithós Anésti!)
My wife and joked last night that, while Christ rose from death last night, we’d have to wait until this morning to do so. Handling two infants under three years old for the entire Easter vigil, a time when they would normally be in bed, was by far the most taxing workout I’ve done in a while, and I’ve been training pretty seriously for a while now. It was grueling at times, but I am aware how privileged I am to be able to celebrate the precious Mysteries with my family. The vigil is an irreplaceable liturgical treasure, and I hope all of you were renewed in your faith. (The Sunday morning Mass is good, too, if the vigil is not for you!) I thank God that He brought this foul, weak sinner through yet another year of my life, drawing me ever deeper into His own.
Having said that, I realized again this year that Maundy Thursday may be my “favorite” liturgical celebration of the year. The solemn intimacy of entering the shadows of our Lord’s Passion–a passage lit only by the light of His love, signified by the washing of the disciples’ feet–brings all of Lent into focus for me. (Verily, at one point in that service, I prayed, mournfully, “O Lord, all the things I’ve put You through–!”) I am thankful that the priests at the Mass at which I assisted were free from the canonical adventurism which so commonly obscures and violates the significance of the foot washing. Free from the spirit of lawlessness, only the feet of Catholic men were washed, and only by the pastor.
As I prayed with them, I had an insight about why the ritual is as important as it is violated: “The sacraments are only for those in the Church… but the Church is for everyone.” All are called into Her bosom, but only those who have been delivered into the kingdom of light may enjoy the graces given therein. A prevalent error, by contrast, is to exploit the ritual (as but the primary example among others) in order to say, “Since everyone can enter the Church, therefore we should show how everyone can enjoy the sacraments, and therefore everyone can enjoy salvation, inside or outside the Church.” It’s a subtle but important difference. Certainly, once a person enters through the gate of Baptism into the Church, as the Ark of Salvation, he can enjoy the graces promised therein. Unless he enters, however, it is worse than incoherent to convey the idea that anyone and everyone can partake of the Eucharist as mediated by the priesthood–which is to say, that anyone and everyone will enter Heaven, regardless of his response to the Gospel. In any case, as I say, I didn’t have to deal with such spiritual lawlessness at Mass, and I hope you didn’t either. If a pastor does try to pull one over on you, though, this video from a couple years ago, sets the record straight, and puts things into perspective:
Which brings us back to the great vigil.
While the readings are enriching in their own right–especially the passage from Ezekiel 36:17 ff!–, I believe the high point is the initiation of the candidates. Before our very eyes we see the Body of Christ grow, and we ourselves embrace new siblings in the Faith! The intimacy signed on Maundy Thursday is made manifest on Good Friday, shrouded in silent defeat on Holy Saturday, but then shown victorious in the passage from darkness to light, from death to life, in the great Easter vigil. The sacrificial love which Christ gave to His disciples (on Maundy Thursday) is shown to persist in the sacrificial gifts given by the hands of His priests, when former strangers from God are welcomed to the eternal banquet (on the Easter Vigil). The unity of the Triduum, like the integrity of Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity, must never be sundered. To shroud His love in the “exclusive” cloak of the Church is but to make it habitable for mere mortals, much like God protected Moses from His unmitigated glory by hiding him in a rock. On Maundy Thursday we are reminded by signs and words that those whose feet are washed have been baptized, and (in other words) that those who have been baptized have had their feet lovingly washed by the Master and Servant of all. Mere days later we see this reminder of love actualized in whole, by the sacrament of Baptism, at the hands of a washed priest, and only a little later do we see these spiritual infants fed by the same hands which just washed them from all sin.
Sadly, none of the above applies to those outside the Church. We are still hoping for their conversion, for their restoration, for their homecoming, for their salvation. Let us never trivialize the great difference there is between living in the Church and living in the world, between being a creature of God lost in the world and a true child of God redeemed in the Church! Let us never dilute the saving difference between being inside and outside the Ark of Salvation! Let us always rejoice in the unique and total triumph which Christ has wrought over apathy, absurdity, death, and evil! Meanwhile, let us pray for and beckon those who have not yet had their feet washed in the waters of life, that they may enjoy the graces promised only to those reborn in the Church. Easter is not a single day (sorry, Protestants), but an entire season. May we commit ourselves this season to drawing in new disciples this year, so that by the next Easter vigil, we can see even more souls given seats at the eternal banquet.
On that high note, I leave you with portions of a too little know movie, The Ninth Configuration, written by William Peter “The Exorcist” Blatty. The premise of the film is that a military psychiatrist, himself a practicing Catholic, is trying cure some shell-shocked veterans by engaging in a large-scale role-play. Imagine The Brothers Karamazov meets Catch-22. I learned of the movie a few years ago from a Greek Orthodox blogger, so I claim no originality in citing it. While the clips that follow do contain some harsh language, I think they convey Blatty’s deep insight into how Christ’s Death and Resurrection are the only things which can make sense of and restore the world as we know it. The bad news is that the world is not perfect, on a horrid scale; but the good news is that Christ is perfect, He is irreversibly and inescapably in the world, and He’s not done with the world yet. In other words, Easter is the only thing which can and will redeem our universal Lent.
The key exchange begins at about 5:20 in the first clip, and extends to about 3:20 in the second clip. Enjoy.