Light from the Altar – Eastertide

detail of the painting 'The Three Marys in the Sepulcher' by Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz, 1841; Convent of San Pascual, Aranjuez, Spain; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsBefore the sun of Good Friday should set, there was much to be done on the mount of Calvary. The three bodies could not remain there to shock the gaze of devout worshippers at the solemn festival. They must be taken down and buried. Leave was obtained from Pilate and soldiers were sent to see that life was extinct. The legs of the thieves were broken, the side of the middle Figure was pierced. Now any one might possess themselves of the bodies. A request to Pilate as a matter of form was all that was necessary.

Eager hearts were waiting longing eyes were gazing on the middle Figure. Mary was seated on the little knoll beneath the Cross. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and John were loosening the nails in hands and feet. At last the Body was lowered and laid in the arms of the Mother. With Magdalen’s help she disentangled the crown and smoothed back the hair from the white forehead. The face had regained all its beauty; it was pale but not livid; the swellings had died down; the thorn marks formed a sort of crown around the brow. There was still that wonderful look of love in the half-closed eyes. We kneel to adore, for that lifeless Body is divine, being hypostatically united to the Person of God the Son.

Jesus was embalmed and the rich Joseph – once a timid follower – confesses himself a disciple and lays our Lord in his own new sepulchre in the garden near at hand. The stone is rolled to the door and the little company goes back to Jerusalem, making for a second time that day the Way of the Cross.

Holy Saturday dawns, the Sabbath day of rest. A solemn awe seems to be everywhere. Yesterday’s earthquake and darkness have sobered the people and there is a hush in the streets of the city. The chief priests, the Scribes and Ancients are enjoying the fleeting security of the wicked. The Apostles, afraid of the Jews are with Mary and the holy women comforted by Mary’s calm. And Jesus our Savior, where is He? “His Soul went down into that part of Hell called Limbo,” and there He is working still, still devising joy and happiness for mankind. What a meeting must that have been! Think of the expectation of thousands of souls think of its realization! There were our Lord’s own forefathers – Abrabam, Isaac, Jacob – and David, the man after God’s own heart; all the prophets of the Old Law, and the new-comers in Limbo, Zachary and Elizabeth, John the Baptist and Joseph, the foster-father. The mysteries of the past were made clear to them in that happy hour – the weary waiting the dread punishments, the words of prophecy, the unlooked-for redemption – all was clear by the very presence of our Lord in their midst.

At dawn of Easter Sunday, the first day of a new week, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven and rolled back the stone from, the door of the sepulchre. “And his face was as lightning and his raiment as snow, and for fear of him the guards became as dead men.” But the tomb was empty even at that early hour. Jesus bad arisen, glorious and beautiful, and there were none to witness His rising but the angels and the “captive train led captive.” Then was there joy upon earth and fear was driven away. For our Lord visited His own, and brought comfort to their stricken hearts.

Saint Mark tells us that Mary Magdalen, the sinner, was the first to be visited. Before the Blessed Mother I we ask. No, surely not. If we go by the Gospel narrative only we should infer that our Lord did not appear to His Mother at all. So we must suppose with Saint Ignatius that the Evangelists give us credit for common sense to know that first before all “the Child was with Mary, His Mother.”

Jesus, risen and glorious, came with His hands full of gifts – peace and joy and gladness: Peace – “Peace be with you, it is I, fear not.” Joy – The holy women were filled “with great joy”; the disciples in the upper room “wondered for joy”; they went back to Jerusalem “with great joy.” Gladness – “The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord.” In our Lord’s company after His resurrection, all was brightness. Suffering was over, fear was banished, peace bad come, and tbe past was forgiven and forgotten.

Forty days our Lord spends upon earth to preach the new Gospel and to convince men that God is to be served with happiness and love. Oh, draw near to this dear risen Lord. Draw near, you who have hearts weighed down with care. Look up into the glorious risen face of Him we love so much. Look at the hands with the wounds shining bright; kiss the sacred feet adorned with the red marks of triumph. Open out your heart and let your Lord fill it with peace and gladness. We have such need of brightness here below. The toiling for a living. the subduing of passions, the bearing of trials would sap all our natural and supernatural life if we had not our risen Lord to whom to go for light and refreshment. But we have Him! “This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice therein.” See what the Lord does. He makes a day and it is one of joy and gladness. And a day of joy and gladness to us. He has arisen, but “He is still with us” to share all that is His. Oh, how glad should we have been had we been in our Lord’s place to rest, to have done with all baseness and ingratitude. But the first words of the Easter Sunday Mass proclaim quite other things. “I arose and am still with thee, Alleluia.” With me and with you! Let us be with Him in peace and joy and gladness.

“Which of us has not at some time or other felt a painful wonder about the next life? As children when we lost some one we dearly loved, was not the change we thought would come over him the saddest part of our loss? He would be father with his tender love, his playfulness, with the little human ways we knew and understood so well, no longer. And the great pain of an irretrievable loss came upon us. The stories of the Resurrection bring wonderful comfort to hearts aching with such like thoughts. Our dead have gone from us, but they may still be all we loved. For we know One risen from the dead, and only One. He returned to His dear ones, and He was not changed in heart, and mind, and ways. His own knew Him just by His manner, by the sound of His voice, by the touch of His hand Then, if the One risen from the dead, upon whose Resurrection our own is modelled, was so like Himself, will not our dear ones keep their own personal charm?

But this is only a child’s comfort. The great, overpowering joy in the Resurrection is that our Lord in eternity is the same dear Lord the Evangelists paint Him on earth. All the glory of Heaven, the splendor of His eternal endowments, could not alter the loving humility of Jesus, who came to be all to all men.

To prove this let us recall one of the beautiful Resurrection stories:

“Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. And He showed Himself after this manner,” says Saint John. Eight of the disciples were together in Galilee. Night was drawing on, and Peter said: “I go a fishing.” “We also come with thee,” say the other seven. So Thomas and Nathaniel and James and John the Beloved and two others gird themselves, gather up their fishing tackle and step out into the dark night. Peter, energetic and active, strides on in front, talking to Saint John, his friend. They loosen the boat, wait for their companions, and then push off. But they catch nothing. This is serious, because their own living and that of their families depend upon their fortune at sea. They stay out all night trying first the one side of the ship, then the other, but to no purpose. Day is dawning, and they give up the attempt and steer for land. “Children, have you any meat?” says a voice from out of the darkness. The sound was startling in the still morning air. “No,” they answer. “Cast the net on the right side of the ship and you will find.” They east, therefore, and now they are not able to draw it for the multitude of the fishes.

John was standing erect in the boat, looking over the water at the landsman on the shore. His hand was on the net but his mind was intent on the stranger. “It is the Lord,” he said to Saint Peter. Peter dropped the net, wrapped his cloak around him, and leaped into the sea, his great heart bounding with love and eagerness. Slowly the heavily-laden ship came to land and the fishermen, wet and weary, clustered around their Lord. Oh, that Lord knew His children! They were full of love of Him, but they were only human; they must be warmed and fed and made comfortable. See! hot coals are piled up on the shore and a miraculous fish is broiling upon them, and there is bread in plenty. “Bring hither of the fishes which you have now caught,” Jesus says. And Peter, willing to do double duty now, sets off and lands the one hundred and fifty great fishes the Master has provided.

Our Lord is Host and gives the invitation to come to table. “Come and dine,” He says. Not “Go and dine,” but come, for He is going to be of the party, as One that serveth. “And Jesus cometh and taketh bread and giveth them; and fish in like manner.” Would they not know Him by this, the waiting at table, the breaking of the bread, the blessing of the food? Has He altered at all from the Jesus of Nazareth they knew so well?

When they had dined, Jesus called Peter apart. “Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me more than these?” Poor Peter! Nathaniel, the man without guile, James, of austere life, John, the beloved disciple, were there. “Yea Lord Thou knowest that I love Thee,” he answers. The comparison with others he prudently drops. “Feed My lambs,” was our Lord’s prayer. A second time and then a third he was asked, and the third time Peter is grieved. A triple confession reminds him of a triple denial. Still he dares to answer: “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Jesus said to him: “Feed My sheep.” Jesus is the Shepherd and He is going to leave His sheep and lambs, but He will not leave them without a protector. The young and the tender and the more mature must both be cared for alike. People and pastors must have a guardian, and He chooses Peter, impetuous, daring, but loving Saint Peter – Peter for whom He prayed that his faith might not fail. And it did not fail, it only flickered a brief space, to burn more brightly and steadily for ever after.

Does not this scene on the seashore show us Jesus as He always was? And do not the Apostles seem as at home with Him as during His mortal life, and as happy and trustful? In the tabernacle we have the risen Lord – He who kindled the fire on the sands, who broiled the fish and distributed the bread to the famished Apostles. “Who would be afraid of One so homely. One so kind? Oh, let us trust Him and love Him and come to Him with such a lively faith as Peter had when he knelt at his Master’s side and worshipped Him in the early morning on Galilee’s shore.

MLA Citation

  • Father James J McGovern. “Eastertide”. Light from the Altar, 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 October 2019. Web. 17 January 2022. <http://catholicsaints.info/book-of-saints-/>