Easter Monday

In the Breviary for Holy Saturday, we find an “Ancient Homily.” I have always loved this reading. It begins: “Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silent because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept since the world began.” The earth turns in stillness. We think of all who “have slept since the world began.” These are the dead who during all these ages have awaited the Resurrection.

In his World of Silence, Max Picard writes: “It is as though behind silence were the absolute word, to which, through silence, human language moves. It is as though the human word were sustained by the absolute word.” “There is a great silence.” Verbum caro factum est. The human word is sustained by the Absolute Word.

Two days later, the mood is strikingly different. The stillness is broken by the “Alleluia, Alleluia.” The refrain becomes: “The Lord is risen!” The response again is “Alleluia.” “This is the Day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad.” Christ appeared first to Mary of Magdala, then Peter and John, and later to the rest of the Apostles. Thomas was not there. He needed proof. Christ no longer “walked” the roads of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem. Rather He “appeared” out of the silence of His death. He was there, truly risen, in the room with the Apostles.

The reading on Easter Monday is from Peter’s First Letter: “This is the salvation which the prophets carefully searched out and examined. They prophesied the divine favor that was destined to be yours. They investigated the times and the circumstances which the Spirit of Christ within them was pointing to, for he predicted the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories that would follow.”

Looking back on the event of the Resurrection, Peter sees that it was anticipated all along, almost as if to say that the Resurrection needed to be understood as the culmination of a preparation, an expectation out of the stillness. The prophets “searched out and examined.” They did not take things for granted. Perhaps the Apostles should have suspected. But they didn’t. Once the fact happened, it is easier to see that this event was prepared for. It was not just a sudden accident with no before or after, meaning or context.

He was there, truly risen, in the room with the Apostles.

Melito of Sardis writes in his homily on Easter Monday: “Both the Law and the Word came first from Zion and Jerusalem, but now the Law has given place to the Word, the old and the new. The commandment has become grace, the type a reality. The lamb has become a Son, the sheep a man, and man, God.” Creation and redemption have an order.

The constant Easter refrain repeats: “This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad.” We add “Alleluia.” “Praise the Lord.” Why do we do this? Why do we praise such a fact?

On Easter Monday, we also read in the Mid-morning Prayer from Hebrews: “I saw the Son of Man who said to me: I am the First and the Last and the One who lives. Once I was dead but now I live – forever and ever.”

In The Tablet of London, for March 31, 1945, Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote a short reflection on Easter. “Immediately after his (Christ’s) death,” Knox wrote, “his followers began to spread through the world, living a life of self-discipline and, where need arose, of heroic self-sacrifice, in the unquestioning hope that they, too, would be counted worthy of this Resurrection which they had seen and handled in his flesh. He did not simply convince men that he had risen; he convinced them that they would rise.” Much of the world, no doubt, is yet to be “convinced.” It is not so much that the fact is not there, but that we are reluctant to “search out and examine.” The obstacles to belief are mostly man-made and man-chosen.

On Easter Sunday, Samuel Johnson was wont to record his annual Easter Prayer. Easter Sunday in 1781 fell on April 15. Johnson said that he “went early to church and before service read the prayer for the Church Militant. I commended my friends, as I have formerly done. I was one of the last that communicated. When I came home I was hindered by Visitants; but found time to pray before dinner. God send thy Blessing upon me.”

On the following day, Easter Monday, Johnson simply adds: “This day I repeated my prayer, and hope to be heard.” It is difficult to do better than that on an Easter Monday.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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