HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER JOHN PAUL II
Holy Saturday, 19 April 2003
1. "Do not be afraid; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here" (Mark 16,6).
At sunrise of the first day after the Sabbath, as recounted in the Gospel, some women go the sepulchre to honour the body of Jesus, who, having been crucified on Friday, was quickly wrapped in linen and placed in the tomb. They look for him, but they do not find him: he is no longer in the place where he was laid. All that remains of him are the signs of the burial: the empty tomb, the bindings, the linen shroud. The women, however, are disturbed by the sight of "a young man, dressed in a white robe", who proclaims to them: "He is risen, he is not here".
This upsetting news, destined to change the course of history, from that moment on continues to resound from generation to generation: an ancient proclamation, yet always new. It resonates once again during this Easter Vigil, mother of all vigils, and it is spreading at this very moment throughout all the earth.
2. O sublime mystery of this Holy Night! The night in which we relive the extraordinary event of the Resurrection. If Christ were to have remained a prisoner of the tomb, humanity and all of creation, in a certain way, would have lost their meaning. But you, Christ, are truly risen.
The Scriptures we have just heard in the Liturgy of the Word find their fulfilment and run through every stage of the entire salvific plan. At the beginning of Creation, "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). To Abraham he had promised: "by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves" (Genesis 22:18). Here is again proposed one of the most ancient themes of the Hebrew tradition which reveals the meaning of the Exodus when "the Lord saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians" (Exodus 14:30). The promises of the Prophets continue to be fulfilled in our time: "I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes..." (Ezekiel 36:27).
3. On this night of Resurrection everything begins anew; creation regains its authentic meaning in the plan of salvation. It is like a new beginning of history and of the cosmos, because Christ is risen, "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christ, the "last Adam", has become "a life-giving spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45).
The same sin of our forefathers is sung in the Easter Proclamation as "felix culpa", "O happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!". Where sin abounded, grace now abounds all the more, and "the stone which the builder rejected has become the corner stone" (Psalm Response) of an indestructible spiritual edifice.
On this Holy Night a new people is born with whom God has sealed an eternal covenant in the blood of the Word made flesh, crucified and risen.
4. One becomes a member of the people of the redeemed through Baptism. As the Apostle Paul has reminded us in Epistle to the Romans: " We are buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (6:4). This exhortation is especially for you, dearest catechumens, to whom, in just a few moments, Mother Church will administer the great gift of divine life. From different countries divine providence has led you here, to the tomb of Saint Peter, to receive the Sacraments of Christian Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. Entering in this way into the house of the Lord, you will be consecrated with the oil of happiness and can feed yourselves with the Bread of Heaven.
Sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will persevere in your faith in Christ, and courageously proclaim his Gospel.
5. Dearest Brothers and Sisters gathered here! In just a few moments we too will be united with the catechumens in renewing our Baptismal promises. We will again renounce Satan and all his works clinging firmly to God and his work of salvation. In this manner, we will make an even firmer commitment to an evangelical life.
Mary, joyful witness of the Resurrection, help us all to live "a new life"; make each of us conscious that, having crucified our "old self" with Christ, we must consider and conduct ourselves as new men, people "alive to God, in Christ Jesus" (cf. Rm 6:4,11).
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER JOHN PAUL II
Holy Saturday, 10 April 2004
1. "This same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord . . . throughout every generation" (cf. Exodus 12:42).
On this holy night we celebrate the Easter Vigil, the first - indeed the "mother" - of all vigils of the liturgical year. On this night, as is sung over and over again in the Preconio, we walk once more the path of humanity from creation to the culminating event of salvation, the death and resurrection of Christ.
The light of him who "has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20) makes this memorable night, which is rightly considered the "heart" of the liturgical year, "bright as the day" (Psalm 139:12). On this night the entire Church keeps watch and recalls, in meditation, the significant stages of God's saving intervention in the universe.
2. "A night of watching kept to the Lord". There is a twofold significance to this solemn Easter Vigil, so rich with symbols accompanied by an extraordinary abundance of biblical texts. On the one hand, it is the prayerful memory of the mirabilia Dei, in the re-presentation of key texts from the Sacred Scriptures, from creation to the sacrifice of Isaac, to the passage through the Red Sea, to the promise of the New Covenant.
On the other hand, this evocative vigil is the trusting expectation of the complete fulfilment of the ancient promises. The memory of God's work reaches its climax in the resurrection of Christ and is projected onto the eschatological event of the parusia. We thus catch a glimpse, on this night of Passover, of the dawning of that day that never ends, the day of the Risen Christ, which inaugurates the new life, the "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13; cf. Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Revelations 21:1).
3. From its very beginnings, the Christian community placed the celebration of Baptism within the context of the Easter Vigil. Here too, on this night, some catechumens will be immersed with Jesus into his death to rise with him to immortal life. Thus the wonder of the mysterious spiritual rebirth, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is renewed; the rebirth that incorporates the newly baptized into the people of the new and final Covenant, sealed by the death and resurrection of Christ.
To each of you, dear Brothers and Sisters who will soon receive the sacraments of Christian initiation, I affectionately offer a special greeting. You come from Italy, Togo and Japan: your origins manifest the universality of the call to salvation and the gratuitousness of the gift of faith. Together with you I greet your relatives, friends and all who have seen to your preparation.
Thanks to the sacrament of Baptism you will come to be a part of the Church, which is an immense people on pilgrimage, without limits of race, language or culture; a people called to the faith starting with Abraham, and destined to become a blessing in the midst of all the nations of the earth (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). Be faithful to him who has chosen you, and to him entrust your entire lives with generous commitment.
4. Together with those who will shortly receive Baptism, the liturgy invites all of us here present to renew the promises of our own Baptism. The Lord asks us to renew the expression of our full obedience to him and of our total dedication to the service of his Gospel.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters! If this mission may sometimes seem difficult, call to mind the words of the Risen Lord: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20). Certain of his presence, you shall fear no difficulty and no obstacle. His word will enlighten you; his Body and his Blood will nourish you and sustain you on your daily journey to eternity.
At the side of each of you there will always be Mary, as she was present among the Apostles, frightened and confused at the time of trial. And with her faith she will show you, beyond the night of the world, the glorious dawn of the resurrection. Amen.
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Blessed Pope John Paul II, so that they could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Basilica
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum – I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me. The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again.
These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God’s omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands. And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos – and what happens to him? “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me’…, even the darkness is not dark to you…; for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 138:8-12).
On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that he descended to the depths of the earth, and that the one who descended is also the one who has risen far above the heavens, that he might fill all things (cf. 4:9ff.). The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light – the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: “Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld for ever by your hands.” But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: “I arose and now I am still with you,” he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.
These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been “grafted” onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ – he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: “For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labour fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart – by being executed – and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account” (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ – there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: “Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me” (Psalm 138 : 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: “No one … lives to himself and no one dies to himself… Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7ff.).
Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives for ever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go – he who is Life itself.
Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Psalm 13812). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.
But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…” Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.
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27 April 2014