Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
"Rejoice, O Queen of heaven, He is risen as He said. Alleluia" —Antiphon for Easter Day.
"After the Sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the next day, which was the first day of the week, behold there was a great earthquake.
" An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone from the sepulchre, and sat upon it: and his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror and became as dead men. And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose and came out of their tombs, and came into the holy city, and appeared to many." (Histoire de Jesus Christ, par M. Foisset,)
Alleluia ! Behold the great day is beginning, the great day of the Resurrection which is to enlighten the elect of God on the earth, as long as the earth shall last, until it gives place to the great day of their ascension into heaven.
Our Saviour is come back, come back to leave us no more; even when He goes to His Father, His light will continue to enlighten us; even in our exile the Shepherd will be ever with His flock, invisible, but living: His faithful sheep will ever know where to find Him, and henceforth if we shut our eyes to the light which that Easter day has brought us, we must needs be either senseless or faithless.
At the earliest dawn of this great day, the earth trembled, the angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled away the stone from the sepulchre, and sat upon it. The bonds of death were unable to hold the Son of the Eternal God; and who are the first witnesses of these tremendous mysteries ? Not the friends of the Crucified, whose interest it would have been to proclaim His resurrection, but the guards, no doubt well chosen by the Pharisees, who were thunderstruck at the sight of the angel, and whom, when they came to themselves, only recovered to fly to make known the strange news to their masters. Who could deny their testimony, or doubt the dread felt throughout guilty Jerusalem, when the earth shook to its foundations, the graves of the saints opened, and their liberated souls came to announce to the living the resurrection of the Saviour ? The Jews could only oppose to such miracles the most miserable lies. Infidels of all ages being unable to discuss them, have passed them over in silence or simply denied them.—In order to believe, we must merit the gift of Faith. The heart must be opened to the truth, before the understanding, and this alone explains why the great light of the resurrection shone into so few souls. When in the days of the captivity of Israel, Pharao and his people had filled up the measure of their iniquities, before sending among them the destroying angel, God covered the whole land of Egypt with thick darkness; and the land of Gessen alone in which dwelt the children of Israel, was gladdened by the light of heaven.
So is it with the light of Faith. God gives it to those who, having an upright heart and corresponding to the inspirations of grace, shew themselves worthy of it, while darkness is the well-deserved punishment of the unbeliever.
Let us now continue the account of this great day; we shall see that even earnest souls receive Faith and understanding from God alone. Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Salome, had, as we have seen, brought spices to embalm the Body of Jesus. They started separately and very early in the morning.
Mary Magdalen reached the sepulchre before the others, while it was yet dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away; so without entering in, she ran to Simon Peter and that other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them: " They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him." Peter went out immediately with that other disciple, and they both ran to the sepulchre. John, who was younger than Peter, and who ran more quickly, came first to the sepulchre, and when he stooped down, he saw the linen cloths lying, but yet he went not in. Peter, who had followed him closely, went into the sepulchre, and saw the linen cloths lying; and the napkin which had been about the Head of Jesus, wrapped up and lying apart. Then John also went in; he saw and believed that He had been taken away, not that He was risen; for as he says himself, the apostles did not as yet understand the scriptures ; they did not understand that Jesus must rise again from the dead. They therefore departed again to their home, Peter wondering at what had happened.
Mary Magdalen had returned to the sepulchre with Peter and John. She could not leave the place, and she stood outside the sepulchre weeping.
All of a sudden she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre: and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been laid. One of these angels said to her, Woman, why weepest thou? She cried out once more in her sorrow: Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. After these words, seeing nothing, and thinking of nothing save that the Body of Jesus was not there, not even noticing that they were angels who were speaking to her, she turned on the other side to see if they had not hidden the Body of Jesus in any other place, till they could carry Him away more conveniently. Then she saw through the trees a man whom she knew not. This man said to her, Woman, why weepest thou ? She thought that it was the gardener; and with the same thought still in her mind, she said: Sir, if thou hast taken Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus (for it was He who was speaking to her,) said to her with that voice she knew so well: Mary. She recognized His voice, and immediately forgetting the crucifixion, His death and His burial, she turned quickly towards Him, and cried out as of old: Rabboni, Master. (Histoire de Jesus Christ, par M. Foisset)
Now Mary recognized Him, for Jesus had spoken. In a transport of unspeakable joy she prostrated herself before her Lord, and clung around His feet. He had been lost to her, and now was found. She feared lest if she let Him go, her Saviour would again disappear. Jesus spoke to her as a father who smiles at the vehemence of his child: " Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father." Thus He promised to His servant that she should see Him yet a few days on the earth; then He sent her to bear to the apostles the good tidings of His resurrection. Mary Magdalen hastened to the disciples whom she found in tears: "I have seen the Lord," she cried out, "and these things He said to me. I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and your God." But in vain did she tell them that Jesus was living, and that she had seen Him^ they did not believe her.
In the meantime, Mary mother of James and Salome, with Joanna the wife of Chusa, and other holy women of Galilee, who had ministered to Jesus, came in their turn to the sepulchre, the sun being already risen. And as they walked they said one to another, Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre ? But when they drew near they saw that the stone was rolled back. For it was very great. And going in, they found not the Body of the Lord Jesus. And as they were astonished in their minds at this, behold two men stood by them in shining apparel, and as they were afraid and bowed down their countenance towards the ground, one of them said to them: Be not affrighted, you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. Why seek you the living among the dead ? He is not here, He is risen as He said. Remember how He spoke unto you, when He was yet in Galilee, saying: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men,, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. Come and see the place where the Lord was laid. Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is risen: and behold He will go before you into Galilee, there you shall see Him, as He told you. Then they remembered the words of Jesus. And they went out of tie sepulchre with fear and great joy, running to tell His disciples. And on the road they said nothing to any man, for a trembling and fear had seized them. And behold Jesus met them,. saying : All hail. Immediately they came up and took hold of His Feet, and adored Him. Then Jesus said to them: Fear not: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, there they shall see me. And going back from the sepulchre they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest, and Magdalen also. And these words seemed to them as idle tales: and they believed them not. (Histoire de Jesus Chist, par M. Foisset.)
We have seen that the words of the angel left a great fear in the souls of these holy women, and uncertainty was mixed with their joy, until the beloved voice of Jesus spoke that joyful word: Avete. All hail! Jesus greets His servants before they greet their Master. How often is it still the same! The mere knowledge of the truth would lead but few souls to God, if in God's own good time they did not hear within them that voice of sweetness, power, and tenderness, the voice of Jesus.
But once more, in order to hear the voice of Jesus, the ears of our heart must be opened, and we must correspond to the first movements of grace. The holy women found their Master in the way, because they had been with devotion to His tomb; and Faith is a gift of God which none can possess without His grace, but which He grants above all to souls of good will.
But whilst the holy women are returning so full of joy and from henceforth so strong in faith, where is the holy mother of the Risen Jesus ? Why was she not there to recognize her Son before Magdalen ? Why was she not there to animate the wavering faith of the disciples ? How comes it that the Gospel does not mention her first on this day of joy, as it did on the days of sorrow ?
Let us not complain; everything in the Gospel is eloquent, even its silence, and we shall see that this silence sings the praises of our mother better than any canticle. Let us consider once more the account we have just read, and compare what passed in Mary's soul on this great Easter morning with what passed in the hearts even of the most fervent of the first friends of Jesus.
What was the feeling which led Magdalen and her companions to the sepulchre in the early morning ? The third day had dawned, and the Saviour had solemnly predicted that the third day would see His glorious resurrection. J Is it then the hope of this resurrection which guides them ? No; for they carry in their hands precious spices, having no other desire or hope than that of honouring the death of their beloved Master. The stone being rolled back, and the guards having fled, suggest but one idea to Magdalen; they have taken away her Lord, and she goes in tears to tell His disciples. Peter and John run to the tomb and find it empty, and the cloths and the napkin laid on the ground. They also, like Magdalen, believe that He has been carried away, and return downcast. The very thought of the resurrection does not occur to them. Magdalen remains behind them, weeping and sighing near the sepulchre. The angels appear to her, but she is so blinded by her grief that she does not see in them the messengers of good tidings, and tells them with tears that they have carried away her Lord. Jesus Himself appears to her; she does not recognize Him, and cries out: "If thou hast taken Him away, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." Nothing less than the voice of the Master Himself could open this sorrowful heart to faith in His resurrection. He says to her : "Mary!" and then she throws herself on her knees, and clasps His Feet, which she once more covers with kisses and tears.
Her companions also, when they afterwards came to the sepulchre, did not recognize Him until greeted by His voice. The disciples, when they heard their message, thought that their joy proceeded from some dream of the imagination, and did not believe them.
"When the two disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus they told Him their sorrow, and their disbelief in the women's account of the resurrection. In vain did that divine voice reply to them: " O foolish and slow of heart, ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so enter into His glory ?" They did not recognize Him until the breaking of the bread, when their Saviour opened their eyes by repeating the miracle of the Last Supper. Peter did not recognize his Master till He visited him in his sorrow. When He appeared in the midst of His disciples in the upper chamber, they were seized with fear, and took Him for a spirit. When He shewed them His Hands and His Feet, pierced with the bleeding wounds of the Crucifixion, beside themselves with fear and joy, they did not believe till Jesus eat with them, and the miracle of the breaking of the bread opened their eyes, as it did those of the disciples of Emmaus. They are all alike; filled with love for Jesus, but a love that was full of fear, human, and as yet without understanding. St. Thomas was absent when our Saviour appeared in the midst of His disciples; his brethren announced to him the resurrection of the Saviour, but He refused to believe it: " Except I shall see in His Hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His Side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. Then He said to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see My Hands, and bring hither thy hand, and put it into My side; and be not faithless but believing. Thomas answered, and said to Him: My Lord and My God. Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen, Thomas, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed."
Can we imagine that Mary's love and faith in any way resembled the love and faith of these slow of heart? Can we believe that it was necessary that Jesus should appear to her, as to Peter, Thomas, and Magdalen ? No. Mary's soul was in a higher region, in which she saw her Son and held intercourse with Him; and as we have seen her standing at the foot of the cross, supported by an unconquerable faith, placed by her knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation, and by her share in all the sufferings of her Son, far above the holy women and John, who only loved Jesus with a human love, so we find her here in the presence of her Son; and if He does not appear to her, as to the disciples, at appointed times, it is that He never ceases to be with her. How can we doubt that the first moments of this great day were for her; it was only just that the first at the foot of the cross should be the first in the glory of Easter day, and that the voice of the risen Jesus should speak more tenderly and sweetly to the heart of His Mother than to Magdalen. But, as a devout author of our own time (M. Auguste Nicholas.) says, " She was in the secret, and had no need that it should be explained to her." She saw with the eyes of the soul, she needed not to see with the eyes of a perishable body. St. Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, said: " Blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord." The Risen Lord seems to fulfil these wonderful words in praise of His Mother, when He says to the unbelieving disciple: " Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed."
Yes, blessed are they who believe with Mary, who trust in the word of God, and place all their strength and all their hope in the Saviour who died on Calvary to expiate their sins, and who rose again to wait for them in His heavenly kingdom, and to conduct them thither by His grace. Blessed are they that believe and have not seen, who, fastening themselves to the cross of Jesus, suffer with Him through the days of trial with a generous heart and without a doubt, confident that either on earth or in heaven the day of consolation will come, as the bright dawn of Easter Sunday comes after the mourning of Good Friday. "I know that my Redeemer liveth," said holy Job in the midst of his sufferings, " and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth." Let this certainty be our strength also. Let us seek Mary at the foot of the cross, that, like her, we may keep our faith in the midst of tears. Let us seek Mary after the resurrection, to rejoice with her, and to believe with her that our Redeemer liveth. Then one day, if we have been faithful, we also shall rise out of the earth, to join them in a life which will never end.
And as each year once more brings to us the beautiful feast of Easter, let us repeat with our whole hearts this joyful chant of the Church: "This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad therein." God loves our joy. Let us lay down the burden of our human sorrows and cares, and greet with joy this great day. There are days of joy in families, and days of glory for nations, the memories of which are preserved, and which are celebrated with rejoicing as long as the nation or the family exist. Can there be on the earth an anniversary like to that of the resurrection of our Saviour, a greater day than Easter Sunday ? It is the anniversary of the deliverance of the souls of all. In all families, and in all countries, let every voice cry, "Alleluia, Glory be to God. Glory to Jesus Risen." The country puts off its mourning clothing; the buds are everywhere opening; the fields and woods are bursting into new life; and under the green hedges, the primroses and daisies, to which our fathers have given names suggesting holy thoughts, are springing up.(The author here refers to the French name for early flowers, Paquettes or Paquerettes, taken from the French word for Easter.) Thus is the beautiful word Easter applied to the early flowers, that the resurrection of nature may remind us of the resurrection of our Saviour.
And shall not we also be born again, when everything is springing up afresh ?
And shall not we unite all the feelings of our hearts, and all the emotions of our souls, to those voices which seem to sing from all parts of the earth: Glory be to Jesus Risen! What must we do that we may take part in this great paschal joy ? We must lay down the clothing of our sins as nature rises from a winding sheet of snow, and as the Risen Saviour leaves His winding sheet in the sepulchre. It was of this clothing that the apostle spoke, when he said to the first Christians at Ephesus: " Put off the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error, and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth." (Ephes. iv. 22-24.)
The old man is man such as original sin has made him, corrupted by his evil desires, and the foolish errors of his mind. The new man is man such as the death and resurrection of our Saviour have made him. To put off the old man, and to put on the new man, is to cease from sin, and to lead the life of a Christian. It is to have made a confession of our sins, with the dispositions necessary for obtaining forgiveness, with a true and deep sorrow for having committed them, and a firm resolution not to fall into them again; it is to have done penance during the holy days of Lent fully and sincerely, that we may appear before God on Easter Day in festal garments with a soul purified by repentance and adorned with good desires, and full of joy at its resurrection.
And as a father gathers all his children round his table on days of joy, so will God receive all His children at "this great feast, the paschal feast. There it is that the true Lamb is sacrificed, that it nourishes the true sons of Israel, and that Its Divine Blood marks them with the sign of the elect, and distinguishes them from the wicked. And though the munificence of our God daily renews this precious Feast, we know that it was on the eve of His Death, and on those great days of the Christian Passover, that this Feast was instituted by our Saviour, and that the Victim was sacrificed. We know that from these holy days every other day of rejoicing which God has given us is counted. We know that when, through weakness of faith many Christians began to shrink from that holy table to which their fathers approached daily, the Church made the paschal communion a positive command, wishing that the Feast of Easter at least should unite, as the beautiful word communion implies, all the children of God at the table of their Father.
There are some Catholic countries in which the name of Easter is extended to all the great feasts of the year; they say the Easter of the Resurrection, Easter of the Holy Ghost, Easter of the Nativity, as we say : Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, thus showing a great reverence for the word Easter.
Let us always feel a great reverence for this great day, and. that it may be still more bright and joyous let us prepare ourselves for it long beforehand, if possible, the whole year. Let us die to all our evil inclinations, and rise again to holiness, then with what joy shall we sing the paschal Alleluia. But our true blessedness will be to raise our thoughts higher still to the Easter which shall never end, and to spend our lives in preparation for the dawning of that Easter; that so on the day of our departure hence, we may be able to cry in the words of the Easter Anthem: " This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad."
And now that we may share in the joy of the Holy Mother of Jesus, let us come to her with those words with which the Church greets her at the Easter season.
Rejoice, O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia.
For He whom thou wast meet to bear, Alleluia.
Hath arisen as He promised, Alleluia.
Pray for us to God, Alleluia.
To think often of Easter, as the anniversary of our deliverance, and of the resurrection of our Saviour as the pledge of our eternal resurrection. To resolve daily to put off the death of sin, and to rise to grace.