Scripture in Depth
Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
A rubric in the Roman Missal notes that three principal mysteries are commemorated in this Mass and should be explained in the homily:
the institution of the Eucharist;
the institution of the priesthood;
and Christ’s commandment of brotherly love.
The first is covered by the First and Second Readings; the second, by the Gospel; the third is implicit in all three readings. The readings are the same every year.
Reading I: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Although it is much disputed whether the Last Supper was a Passover (so the synoptic Gospels) or a meal preceding the Passover by twenty-four hours (so John), two things are certain: the original meal of Jesus and his disciples was undoubtedly surrounded by Passover associations, and the accounts of the institution have been impregnated with paschal theology, both in Paul (see the second reading) and in the Synoptists.
Preeminently, too, the Israelite Passover provided the background for the annual Christian feast, and therefore most especially for the Easter Eucharist at the conclusion of the vigil. It is therefore doubly fitting that the triduum should begin with this reading.
Three points may be made here.
(1) The Passover is an (annual) memorial of the great redemptive act of God that constituted his first people. “Memorial” means more than mentally recalling. The devout Jew believed that at the celebration of Passover he/she was actually coming out of Egypt with his/her ancestors. The same realism colors the Christian Eucharist and preeminently the triduum.
(2) The shedding of the blood of the lamb provided an obvious type for the death of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. For the Christian dispensation, the bloodshedding is more than a ritual or cultic act—it is a moral act (Heb 10:5-9) that becomes an event of salvation history. It is the making present of this event that is one of the main meanings of the Eucharist.
(3) The Passover was eaten in great haste and expectation. In the course of centuries, this sense of urgency was transformed into an expectation of the Messiah, who was to come that night. The early Christians likewise began their Passover celebration looking for the coming of Christ, and even when the second coming did not occur, they believed that he came in the Easter Eucharist in anticipation of his final coming (Marana tha!).
Responsorial Psalm: 116:12-13, 15, 16bc, 17, 18
This psalm underlines two aspects of the Eucharist: the sacrifice of thanksgiving and the communion among believers, a sharing of the cup. Some traditions have overemphasized the one to the exclusion of the other. The Eucharist is both together.
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
This is one of the earliest fragments of Christian tradition preserved in the New Testament (see also 1 Cor 15:3-7). Paul says that he “received” it before he “delivered” it to the Corinthians about A.D. 50, and the words for “receive” and “deliver” represent words for the handing on of tradition as in rabbinic practice.
So we are dealing here, not with a vision “received from the Lord,” but with a tradition handed down through human witnesses, though always under the supervision of the exalted Christ.
This is not a complete description of the Last Supper but a liturgically stylized account, selecting and interpreting those features of the meal that were of importance for the Christian Eucharist.
Its mention of the supper between the bread and the cup indicates its primitive character. Only Paul and the long text of Luke mention the command to repeat it in memory of Christ, but the other accounts presume this by their very existence, for they were recorded precisely because the Church was “doing this” as a memorial of the Lord.
Paul also preserves what is more prominent in the synoptic accounts—the anticipation of the second coming. In Paul, as in the Synoptists, the Eucharist looks both backward and forward—backward to the redemptive event of the cross here made present, and forward to the second coming here anticipated.
Gospel: John 13:1-15
The theme of brotherly love is introduced at the footwashing, as the Lord says: “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15). This example is further defined later in the discourse, after the supper: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34, the versicle before the Gospel; the Latin mandatum gave this day its traditional English name of Maundy Thursday).
Modern exegetes find two themes in the footwashing, the first symbolic, the second exemplary. The symbolic meaning asserts that Jesus lays aside his garments as a parable of humiliation. He stooped, first to become incarnate, then to die in order to cleanse humankind of sin; finally he returns in glory to the Father.
The whole incident is an acted parable of the Carmen Christi (see the second reading of Passion Sunday). The symbolic meaning is expressed in John 13:3: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, ...”
The exemplary meaning is expressed in John 13:15: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
Good Friday of the Lord's Passion
Reading I: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The fourth servant song contributed three essential points to the early Church’s understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion: Christ’s suffering was innocent, vicarious, and redemptive; it avails for all persons; and the righteous sufferer will be finally vindicated.
New Testament scholars are divided on whether Jesus himself made use of this chapter for the understanding of his mission, because sayings in which references to Isaiah occur (the ransom saying in Mk 10:45 and the words “for many” in Mk 14:24, the institution narrative) are probably later additions.
Moreover, while some of the passion predictions may echo the language of Isaiah 53 (see especially Mk 9:12), they may well be, in their present form, vaticinia ex eventu.
It is important that we see the cross, not as the mechanical fulfillment of a preconceived dogmatic scheme, but as the culmination of the intensely personal mission of Jesus as a whole.
He identified himself completely with sinners during his ministry, and in so doing he broke through the barrier of sin set up between God and humanity. He stood for God on the side of sinners.
Because the early Church saw the cross in the light of Jesus’ whole ministry, it found in Isaiah 53 an almost perfect prophecy of the passion and used it as a quarry for its own theological statements about the passion.
But these statements are not abstract theologoumena; they are an attempt to capture in words, and to pass on to those who did not have the direct experience of the crucifixion, the meaning of a real flesh-and-blood history as the action of God pro nobis—for us and for our salvation.
Responsorial Psalm: 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
Verse 6 of this Compline psalm provided for Luke the crucified One’s last word, which he substituted for the word from Psalm 22:2 in Mark-Matthew. This word, “Into thy hand I commit my spirit,” lacks the profound theological depth of that other saying; yet it has a point to make.
As well as being God’s act of salvation for human beings, the cross is also the human offering of perfect obedience to God. This thought can be linked with the high priesthood of Christ, which the second reading will bring before us.
Reading II: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
This is the third enunciation of the theme of Hebrews—the priesthood of Christ. His high priesthood is characterized in three ways: sympathy for human weakness as the result of his own earthly experiences; the answer to his prayer for deliverance; and his learning of obedience.
As we said above in commenting on the Responsorial Psalm, the cross, as well as being God’s act of salvation in identifying perfectly with sinners, is also a human offering of perfect obedience to God’s will.
This, in fact, is the quintessential expression of Christ’s high priesthood in Hebrews (see the citation of Ps 40:6-8 in Heb 10:5-10).
The real sacrifice that God demands of human creatures is the perfect offering of themselves in obedience. Because of sin, they were unable to offer this sacrifice.
The Levitical sacrifices of the old covenant could not take away sin, for they were not that perfect sacrifice but a permanent witness to their inadequacy, as the writers of Psalms 40 and 51 knew.
They were destined to last until God provided this perfect sacrifice, which he did in sending his Son.
Thus, through Christ, God does for us what we cannot do, namely, offer the perfect sacrifice required by him.
This does not mean that we are let off scot-free and have nothing to do for our part; rather, it means that we are caught up into Christ’s self-sacrifice and are enabled in him to offer ourselves, our souls, and our bodies in union with his sacrifice, so that the imperfection of our sacrifice is transformed by the perfection of his sacrifice.
Gospel: John 18:1–19:42
As we have seen, each evangelist has his own particular perspective on the passion, and John’s perspective is that the kingship of Jesus constantly shines through his humiliation. All the way through, Jesus is in command of the situation.
He sets his passion in motion by voluntarily coming forward for his arrest. The temple police, awed by his personality, fall back. Peter would stop the arrest, but Jesus intervenes.
On the cross, Jesus makes his last will, bequeathing his mother to the disciple and the disciple to his mother (John may regard Mary as a symbol of the Church).
Finally, it is Jesus who decides on the moment of his death—he gives up his spirit.
The passion narrative is a commentary on the saying: “I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10:17-18).
Although the evangelist has packed most of his theology of the cross into his discourses, especially in the farewell address, at least two points of interpretation are brought out in the narrative. First, Pilate (like Caiaphas earlier, on the atoning death) bears unwitting testimony to Christ’s kingship when he brings Jesus before the people and when he refuses to alter the inscription on the cross.
The second point is that the Baptist had proclaimed Jesus as the true paschal Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin, and now Christ dies as such at the moment when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered.
Then at his death he announces the completion of his sacrifice: “It is accomplished” (Jn 19:30; the RSV translation, “It is finished,” is weak; the Vulgate’s Consummatum est gets the point).
Vigil on the Holy Night of Easter
This is the archetypal liturgy of the whole Church year. It consists of four parts: (1) the service of light with the Easter proclamation; (2) the Liturgy of the Word; (3) the Liturgy of Baptism; (4) the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The origins of the light service are probably pagan, and their Christian meaning is uncertain though strangely moving. It is perhaps well, therefore, that it is recommended that this ceremony be performed outside the church, and suggested that other ceremonies more adapted to the culture of a particular region may be substituted. (Some Anglicans carry out the ceremony of the new fire after the prophecies, so that its kindling marks the transitus of the Messiah.)
The Easter proclamation focuses upon the three main themes of the vigil service: the deliverance of Israel in the Exodus (“This is the night when you first saved our fathers”); the baptismal deliverance of the new Israel (“This is the night when Christians everywhere ... are restored to grace”); the resurrection of Christ (“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains ...”).
Seven readings from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament are assigned to the Easter Vigil. Some may be omitted if circumstances warrant it; however, it is recommended that three selections from the Old Testament be read before the epistle and gospel. The third reading from Exodus about the escape through the Red Sea should always be used, as the rubrics advise.
Reading I: Genesis 1:1 – 2:2 (long form); 1:1, 26-31a (short form)
It is appropriate to read the story of the first creation on the night that celebrates the inauguration of the new creation. The Genesis story is not to be read as historical narration. Its importance is proclamatory: God is the source of the whole creative process; it depends at each moment on God.
Human beings comprise the one species selected by God to bear God’s image, to have an I-thou relationship with the source of all being. The reading of this story further points toward the new creation and restoration of the divine image, which had been defaced by sin.
Responsorial Psalm 104:1-2a, 5-6, 10, 12-14, 24, 35c; or 33:4-7, 12-13, 20, 22
Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to God for his works in creation. The dominant theology of the Spirit in the wisdom literature (“the Spirit of God fills the world”) stresses the work of the Spirit in the created order.
By contrast, the New Testament concentrates almost exclusively on the eschatological work of the Spirit. The pneumatology of the New Testament is conditioned by its Christology.
When the psalmist speaks of the “renewal” of creation through the Spirit, he is probably thinking of no more than the renewal of nature at springtime.
But in Christian use it can be reinterpreted to mean the eschatological renewal of creation, a renewal of which the Church is the first fruits.
Psalm 33 is in part a hymn praising God for his creative activity, a theme that is highlighted in the second stanza of the present selection.
When this stanza speaks of God’s creating the universe by his word, it is thinking of the Genesis story that has just been read: God created the world by saying, “Let there be light,” etc.
In later development the word of God was hypostatized (Wisdom of Solomon, Philo), and finally in the Fourth Gospel it was identified with the Logos, which thus eventually became the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Reading II: Genesis 22:1-18 (long form); 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 (short form)
Special interest attaches to the Genesis 22 reading because already in Jewish tradition the “binding” of Isaac was associated with the Passover. The story was expanded to bring out, among other things, the following points: Isaac freely consented to die as a sacrifice, and his sacrifice was vicarious, available for the sanctification of humankind.
The Isaac story was therefore ready for the early Christians to use as a type of Christ’s sacrifice, which exactly what Paul does in Romans 8:32. There are even suggestions in Judaism that Isaac’s reprieve was a kind of death and resurrection, thus making it eminently fitting for use at the Easter Vigil.
Responsorial Psalm II: 16:5, 8-11
This psalm is used on the thirty-third Sunday of the year in series B, where it is a direct response to the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. Here it is a response to the binding of Isaac, in which the Church Fathers saw a type of Christ’s resurrection.
Reading III: Exodus 14:15 – 15:1
The Exodus reading is the most important reading in the whole series, an importance underlined by the requirement that this passage must invariably be used. It appears that its use on this occasion goes back to the earliest days of Christianity and was probably taken over from the Jewish paschal liturgy.
The crossing of the Red Sea is the supreme type of Christ’s death and resurrection, and of the Christian’s dying and rising again with him in baptism (see 1 Cor 10:11).
Responsorial Psalm III: Exodus 15:1-6, 17-18
This, the Song of Moses, is the most famous of the Old Testament psalms outside the psalter. Opinions have varied as to its antiquity. Earlier critics supposed it to be a much later composition because of its apparent references to later history; but recently it has been thought to have originated not long after the settlement of Canaan (the Song of Miriam, in Ex 15:21, is thought to be actually contemporary with the Exodus).
Perhaps the solution is that there was a primitive nucleus to which stanzas were added later as history unfolded. We can well imagine its being used liturgically in the ancient Passover celebration, all through, it presumes the Canaanite idea of warfare as a sacred function.
Reading IV: Isaiah 54:5-14
The historical situation in which Second Isaiah delivered his prophecies was Israel’s impending return from Exile in Babylon. Much of the language used to describe this return was drawn from the language used to narrate the earlier event of the exodus (see especially Is 40:1-5).
Since the exodus came to be regarded as a type for, and a quarry of language for the description of, the Christ event, it is natural that the language of the return from exile should be similarly used.
Christ’s death and resurrection are the church’s return from Babylonian captivity as well as her exodus from Egyptian bondage.
In this passage the image of YHWH’s marriage with Israel is picked up from the book of Exodus and reapplied to the exile. In the Exodus, God had first taken Israel as a young bride; in the exile, he had cast her off like a “wife of man’s youth.”
But this was only for a brief moment. Now, in his great compassion, YHWH is taking her back. (Note the frequency of the word “compassion,” a key word in the gospel record of Jesus’ deeds.)
Another image appropriated in this passage is that of the Flood. The exile is like the Flood, with Israel as a storm-tossed ark. Again, the Flood and its abatement provide an image for speaking about the Christ event (see 1 Pet 3:20-21).
A third picture is that of the restoration of the city of Jerusalem, rebuilt with precious jewels. This imagery is also taken up in the New Testament and applied to the consummated kingdom, and therefore already mirrored in the life of the earthly Church.
Responsorial Psalm IV: 30:1, 3-5, 10-11a, 12b
In origin, this psalm is the thanksgiving of an individual for deliverance from death (see first stanza and refrain). Already in Israel, when it was taken up into the hymnbook of the temple, this psalm would have acquired a more corporate meaning, and in Christian usage it celebrates the paschal transitus from sorrow to joy: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (second stanza), and “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing” (third stanza).
Reading V: Isaiah 55:1-11
This reading is an invitation to the eschatological banquet anticipated in the paschal Eucharist: “Come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk” (Is 55:1). It is the feast of the new covenant (Is 55:3) with the messianic king (“my steadfast, sure love for David,” Is 55:3).
In this banquet the presence of YHWH is near (Is 55:6) and available for participation—but on one condition: penitence and the reception of pardon for sin (Is 55:6-7).
For this moment all of our Lenten devotions, our going to confession and receiving absolution, have been preparatory; all these exercises are gathered up into this reading. God’s ways transcend all our ways (Is 55:8). God calls into existence things that do not exist, and gives life to the dead (Rom 4:17).
God has raised Jesus from the dead and has raised us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness (see the epistle). In the mission of Christ, God’s word did not return to him empty but truly accomplished that which God had purposed in sending it (Is 55:11).
Responsorial Psalm V: Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Although this passage (the first song of Isaiah, Ecce, Deus) occurs in Proto-Isaiah, its spirit is more akin to Deutero-Isaiah. It celebrates the return from exile as a second Exodus and is a new song, patterned on the original song of Moses, as the close verbal parallelism between the third stanza and Exodus 15:1 shows.
As in the fifth reading, we have here the same fourfold pattern: exodus/return from exile/Christ’s death and resurrection/the foundation of the Church and our initiation into it through baptism and the Eucharist.
Reading VI: Baruch 3:9-15, 32 – 4:4
This passage is typical of the way in which the later Jewish Wisdom literature adapted the earlier prophetic teaching about salvation history. The old language of salvation history survives: “Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies?”—language that is reminiscent of the exile and of the hymns of Deutero-Isaiah.
But the exile is no longer located in a geographical Babylon; it has become exile from the true knowledge of heavenly wisdom. Wisdom is here equated with the Torah, or Jewish Law, and at the same time hypostatized or personified.
The phrase “she appeared upon earth and lived with humankind” (Bar 3:37) is especially interesting for the student of the New Testament, for it shows how the wisdom speculations of pre-Christian Judaism provided the language and thought-patterns in which the New Testament formulated its faith in the Incarnation (see Jn 1:14). The earlier appearances of Wisdom are now consummated in Christ.
The inclusion of such Wisdom literature among the readings for the Easter Vigil is a salutary reminder that the images of Egyptian bondage and Babylonian exile are now to be taken figuratively.
They are descriptions especially applicable to modern men and women, for they speak of alienation from God, a sense of God’s absence. This was one of the elements of truth behind the “death of God” theology that was in vogue in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Responsorial Psalm VI: 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Psalm 19 falls into two distinct halves, perhaps indicating the combination of two different psalms. The first half is a nature psalm and praises God for his gift of sunlight. The second half, beginning with Psalm 6:7, praises God for the gift of the light of his law.
Today’s selection is taken from the second half and follows appropriately upon the reading from Baruch, since wisdom and law (Torah) are closely akin, if not identical.
The refrain highlights the truth that the Lord has the words of everlasting life. The word of God is his self-communication.
This self-communication was present in creation, in Israel’s Torah, but above all in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh, as the Johannine prologue puts it, thereby meaning the whole history of Jesus.
The words of everlasting life are therefore spoken supremely in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is God’s final word to humankind, his final act of self-communication, which is the source of “everlasting life,” authentic existence.
Reading VII: Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
This is another passage that speaks of the return from exile in Babylon (and other countries—see Ezekiel 36:24). Ezekiel, like the earlier prophets, understands the exile as punishment for Israel’s sin (Ezek 36:19).
The return, therefore, must be accompanied by an act of purification: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you ... ” (Ezek 36:25), the gift of a new heart (that is, one that is sensitive to the demands of God’s law), and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26).
Christian faith sees all these purposes fulfilled, not in the return, but in the death and resurrection of Christ, whose benefits are made available by baptism with its accompanying ceremonies (the sprinkling of water and the gift of the Spirit).
Responsorial Psalm VII: Psalm 42:3, 5; 43:3, 4 (baptism);
or Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6; or Psalm 51:10-13, 16-17 (no baptism)
The use of this psalm (Psalms 42 and 43 are really one psalm) at the Easter Vigil is a very ancient tradition. It was originally an individual lament. The psalmist is staying by the springs of the Jordan at the foot of Mount Hermon, lamenting his absence from Jerusalem and from the worship at the temple.
Taken in its liturgical context here (recall the former use of Psalm 43 in the priest’s preparation before Mass), the psalm expresses the worshiper’s sense of God’s absence and his/her longing to participate in the liturgy and to be restored to the presence of God.
Psalm 51 may serve as the Responsorial Psalm when baptism is not celebrated at the Easter Vigil. A different selection of verses from this psalm as used on the first Sunday of Lent (in year A).
The first stanza picks up the reference to the “new heart” of Ezekiel 36:26. The psalm forms a fitting conclusion to our Lenten devotions. Participation in the Eucharist is the supreme moment when we partake in the forgiveness of sins that has been made available by the Christ-event.
Epistle: Romans 6:3-11
This epistle marks the decisive turning point in the vigil service. Here we move from the Old Testament to the New, from type and prophecy to fulfillment (hence the rubric that the altar candles be lit at this point).
The basic significance of the vigil service lies in the experience of this turning point. This is the transitus, the passing from darkness to light, from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from the old age to the age to come.
This transition, accomplished in our baptism, is possible for us because Christ made it first. But it has to be renewed constantly.
Note that the verbs that speak of our dying with Christ are in the past tense (that was accomplished once for all in baptism), while the verbs that speak of our resurrection are hypothetical and future, and depend upon our moral obedience.
Our dying to sin with Christ has to be renewed constantly by a daily decision (see 1 Cor 15:31a).
Responsorial Psalm: 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Selections from this psalm are frequently used in the Easter season. With its reference to the rejection of the stone and its subsequent elevation to be the chief cornerstone, this was perhaps the earliest Old Testament passage that the primitive community applied to the death and resurrection of Christ.
It was the basic Old Testament passage for the “no-yes” interpretation of the death and resurrection: the death of Jesus as Israel’s (and all humanity’s) “no” to Jesus, and the resurrection as God’s vindication of him, his “yes” to all that Jesus had said and done and suffered during his earthly life.
Gospel: Mark 16:1-7
The nucleus of historical fact behind this tradition is that Mary Magdalene (and other women? Their names vary; only Mary Magdalene figures in all accounts) visited the grave of Jesus on Sunday morning, and claimed to have discovered it empty.
We cannot get back behind the women’s testimony. All we can do is to take their report at their word, as the first disciples did.
For the disciples and Peter welcomed their report as congruous with the conviction they had formed (in Galilee, as we should maintain) as a result of the appearances.
The community then shaped the women’s report into a vehicle for the proclamation of the Easter kerygma by means of an angelic message (Mark mentions a “young man,” but his white clothing is generally understood to suggest an angelic figure).
This, of course, is not historical description but theological interpretation. The women’s response was a typical biblical reaction to an epiphany—fear, wonder, and silence.
To this traditional account Mark has added an element (Mk 16:7) that somewhat dislocates the story (cf. Mk 14:28, a complementary addition from the evangelist), but serves to point to the appearances in Galilee, first to Peter and then to the Twelve.
Why does Mark make these additions and yet does not relate the appearances? In my opinion, he could not do so because he had no appearance stories available in his community. All he knew was the tradition that the risen One appeared first to Peter, then to the Twelve (see 1 Cor 15:5), and he indicated this by his addition of Mk 16:7 to the angelic message.
Why did Mark do this? Because it is in the Easter revelation that all the misunderstanding of the disciples, so emphasized by Mark, is cleared up—their forsaking of Jesus and, in the case of Peter, denying him.
The disciples are finally restored and commissioned to proclaim the gospel (Galilee in Mark’s symbolism means the place where the proclamation of the message begins; see Mk 1:14-15).
Resurrection of the Lord
The Easter Sunday Mass is not itself the paschal liturgy. That took place at the culmination of the Easter Vigil. Rather, this is the first of a series of Masses that belong to the great fifty days. In them we reflect upon the post-Easter revelations of the risen Christ and the fruits of our redemption in him. The readings are the same every year.
Reading I: Acts 10:34a, 37-43
New Testament scholars regard the “kerygmatic” speeches of the Acts of the Apostles, not as records of what was actually said by Peter or others on a particular occasion, but as samples of the “kerygma,” or basic message of the earliest Jerusalem church.
While Luke undoubtedly had a hand in giving them their present shape, they enshrine very early Christological patterns. This sermon, for example, contains the following points:
(1) The earthly ministry of Jesus, culminating in his death, met with Israel’s rejection of the proffered salvation. The word “tree” calls attention to the scandalous nature of Christ’s death: “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree” (Dt 21:23; see Gal 3:13)
(2) Christ’s resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus and all that he had stood for, in face of his contemporaries’ rejection of it. This “no-yes” interpretation of Golgotha and Easter is characteristic of the earliest period.
(3) The apostles witness the events from the beginning of the earthly ministry through the post-resurrection appearances.
Note, too, the suggestion, present elsewhere, that the context of the resurrection appearances was, at least sometimes, a meal.
The roots of the Christian Eucharist lie not only in the Last Supper but in the meals that the risen Lord celebrated with his disciples after his resurrection.
Responsorial Psalm: 118:1-2, 16-7, 22-23
Psalm 118, with its reference to the stone rejected and made the headstone of the corner, was perhaps the earliest psalm that the primitive community
applied to the death and resurrection of Christ. It was the basic Old Testament text for the “no-yes” interpretation of the earliest kerygma.
Reading II (First Alternate): Colossians 3:1-41
“If you have been raised with Christ” is a common turn of phrase. It means “If (and of course you are),” Colossians is more positive than Rom 6 (see the Easter Vigil service) that baptism includes both the dying and the rising with Christ.
But it still maintains two reservations: the resurrection with Christ has to be implemented by constant moral effort; it is a hidden reality that is not finally revealed until Christ’s second coming.
Reading II (Second Alternate): 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
As the Jewish housewife spring-cleaned before Passover to make sure that there was not a crumb of leavened bread left in the house, so Paul, in figurative language, urges the Christians of Corinth to purge the leaven of malice and evil so that they may celebrate the festival of Christ’s sacrifice as the true paschal Lamb with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
This is the earliest reference we have to the Christian reinterpretation of the Passover. It may even indicate that 1 Corinthians was written with the feast in view.
Gospel: Luke 22:14 – 23:56 or 23:1-49
This text is a combination of two different traditions.
The one is the well-attested and reliable tradition that Mary Magdalene (other names are added in various forms of the tradition, but there is no consistency here) visited the grave of Jesus on Easter morning, found it empty, and reported the fact to the disciples.
The other, less attested tradition is of Peter’s visit to the grave (see Lk 24:12). (In the earliest and strongly attested tradition, Peter was the recipient of the first appearance.)
To the less attested tradition John has added the race between Peter and the “other disciple,” probably with a symbolic significance. The “other disciple” comes to faith in the resurrection through the mere sight of the empty tomb.
In the earlier tradition, however, the disciples come to faith in the resurrection through seeing the risen Lord.
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
None of the Gospels relates the actual resurrection, that is, the rising (or the raising by God) of Jesus from the dead.
There are two reasons for this: (1) no one was present to witness it; there were witnesses to the empty tomb and to the appearances, but these were the aftermath of the event, not the event itself; (2) resurrection is transformation into an entirely new mode of existence, not mere resuscitation to the old life as in the raisings of Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son at Nain, and Lazarus.
The resurrection takes place at the point of intersection between this age and the age to come, between time and eternity. Only the this-side aspect of it (“He is not here”) is open to this-worldly observation.
Christ can only be revealed by God to the witnesses as already risen. So the gospel of the day gives us, not a narrative of the resurrection, but the witness of the empty tomb. In itself, an empty tomb is susceptible of diverse interpretations.
The true meaning of it—and here lies the real euangelion, the Easter message—is conveyed by the “two men ... in dazzling apparel” (angels, that is, communication from the beyond). “He ... has risen.”
The Church, believing this proclamation, can now proceed to baptize, to renew its baptismal vows, and to celebrate the paschal Eucharist, in all of which the past (Christ’s death and resurrection) is “co-celebrated,” that is, brought from the past into the present, and the future (the second coming of Christ) is anticipated. Marana tha!
For Afternoon or Evening
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
This is the most beautiful of all the appearance stories, and it seems almost blasphemy for the critical scholar to lay hands upon it. Nevertheless, modern New Testament study shows that this story grew up through the years from an original nucleus and became the repository for theological ideas at various stages of development. Finally, Luke, with consummate literary skill, made it into a vivid narrative.
In its present form, the story reflects the pattern of early Christian worship. The self-manifestation of the risen One takes place through the two events of the exposition of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread. These two events take place in every liturgy; word and sacrament are integral parts of a single coming of Christ to his own.
Over thirty years ago, Karl Barth wrote in his Gifford Lectures the following words:
“What we know today as the church service in Roman Catholicism and in Protestantism is a torso. The Roman Catholic Church has a sacramental service without preaching. But I wish to speak at the moment not for or against her, but about our own Protestant Church. We have a service with a sermon but without sacraments. Both types of service are impossible.”
Barth would have to revise his words about Roman Catholicism today, but I wonder parenthetically whether Protestants have paid sufficient heed to his words!
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University