We have come to the high point of the Church’s liturgical year. Each year Holy Church sacramentally re-presents the history of our salvation from creation to Second Coming together with the earthly life of the Lord from conception and birth to death, resurrection and ascension.
Our baptism makes us capable of participating at Mass with active receptivity for everything being done for us by Christ, the true principal actor in the in Holy Mass.
Lent prepared us. The Sacred Triduum was observed: the priesthood was celebrated, the Eucharistic Christ was reposed and the altar stripped, the Passion was sung and the Cross kissed. Our liturgical death was complete.
Then in the evening, in some places even at midnight, the solemn Vigil began. Flowers, instrumental music, white and gold vestments return after a long drought of ornamentation. The Exsultet rang out next to the Christ-like Paschal candle, burning bright in the shadows. Baptismal water was blessed. We sang Alleluia once again. Catechumens are received or baptized, some also confirmed. They received Christ for the first time in the Eucharist.
After the Gloria, resurrected the night before, we move to today’s Collect, an adaptation of a prayer in the “Gelasian Sacramentary” now more commonly and accurately called the Liber Sacramentorum Romane Ecclesiae or Aeclesiae and the 8th c. L.S. Engolismensis. The Novus Ordo version actually returns to the more ancient text.
COLLECT – LATIN TEXT (1962MR):
Deus, qui hodierna die per Unigenitum tuum
aeternitatis nobis aditum, devicta morte, reserasti:
vota nostra, quae praeveniendo aspiras,
etiam adiuvando prosequere.
The repetition of the –er– sound is very pleasant to sing: hodierna… per… aeternitatis… reserasti.
Consult your dependable Lewis & Short Dictionary. Aditus, -us is “an approach” or “going to” in the sense of movement, but it is also leave or permission to approach as well as the place through which one approaches. Reserasti is a shortened form for reseravisti. That -a- tells us that this is not resero, -sevi (“to sow or plant again”) but is rather from resero, -avi, -atum meaning “to unlock, open, disclose, reveal”. My version of “unbar the gate” is a bit more poetic than “open the way” but this is a rather solemn moment. A votum is, in classical Latin, “a solemn promise made to some deity, a vow.” Aspiro is “to breathe or blow upon; to breathe or blow upon, to infuse, instill”. Praevenio is “to come before, precede” and thus it is “anticipate”.
Prosequor is deponent and means “to follow” or “to accompany”. It can also be “to follow up”. The form we have in our prayer, prosequor, looks like an infinitive, but it is really an imperative.
O God, who today, death having been conquered,
unbarred for us the gateway of eternity through Your Only-begotten,
follow up upon our prayers which You instill in us by anticipating them.
The word praevenio (prae – “before” + venio “to come”) reminds us of a distinction made when speaking about grace. God gives us habitual grace, also called sanctifying grace, which is in us in a stable and abiding manner. Actual graces are given according to our needs here and now, in this or that circumstance. Among the actual graces is gratia praeveniens, or “prevenient grace”, called sometimes “preventing grace” (cf. Council of Trent, Session VI, ch. 5). When we fall into habitual sin and our will has little strength to extricate ourselves, God gives an actual grace that “comes before” other graces we can then receive. God helps us even to repent, before we take the action of confessing our sins.
This prayer reminds us that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He perfectly anticipates our needs from all eternity. He crowns His own merits within us in such a way that He makes what is truly His become also truly ours. So it is too with the Resurrection.
There is a very short reading from 1st Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. It underscores a unifying theme for the whole Mass formulary: Christ is the paschal Lamb, slain and risen. Pascha and its various forms concerns all things “Easter”: the first Passover and passage of the Jews from slavery to freedom, the Jewish rites of the sacrificing the lambs at Passover or, in the Christian sense, the Passion and Resurrection of the Lamb of God, and the subsequent renewal of these mysteries both in Holy Mass and each year in the Triduum and Easter.
In the Gradual we sing “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad!” The Alleluia, which has also risen from its Lenten tomb, echos the theme of the pascha. We hear the Sequence Victimae paschali laudes about Christ the “Victor King” and His duel with Death. It is contains the famous dialogue between St. Mary Magdalene and the Apostles. In the Medieval period this sequence led to the performance of mystery plays. The first Alleluia of the season and the Gospel proclaimed in the usual way. The people renewed their vows at Vigil Mass. For the Mass of Easter Sunday we say the Creed. The Offertory reminds us of the material repercussions of the Passion and Resurrection, but also the eschatological consequence, namely, that the Just Judge will come at the end of the world. “Terra tremuit… the earth shock and then was still, when God arose in judgment. Alleluia!”
When the Eucharistic part of the Mass begins, wreathed in incense the priest quietly says the
Suscipe, quaesumus, Domine, preces populi tui
cum oblationibus hostiarum:
ut paschalibus initiata mysteriis,
ad aeternitatis nobis medelam, te operante, proficient.
This is identical to the corresponding prayer in the ancient L.S Romane Ecclesiae It survived the cutters and gluers of Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium to live on as the Super Oblata for the Vigil of Easter in the Novus Ordo editions.
Receive, O Lord, we beg you, the prayers of Your people
with offerings of sacrifices:
so that the things initiated in the paschal mysteries,
may, You causing it, avail for us unto the remedy of eternity.
Holy Mass continues as normal to the consecration, and thence to the most perfect form of active participation, the distribution and reception of Holy Communion.
Spiritum nobis, Domine, tuae caritatis infunde:
ut, quos sacramentis paschalibus satiasti,
tua facias pietate concordes.
You can locate this prayer in your own trusty edition of the ancient Veronese Sacramentary called once the “Leonine Sacramentary” which E.A. Lowe dated to the first part of the 7th century. It is in the collection of orations for the month of September, though it has uno caelesti pane rather than sacramentis paschalibus. It is also in the 9th c. Liber Sacramentorum Augustodunensis as well as the 8th c. Gellonensis. It survived the liturgical experts assigned by Fr. Bugnini and his chief Card. Lercaro, to live on as the Post Communion of the Vigil of Easter.
Infuse in us, O Lord, the Spirit of Your charity,
so that in Your mercy You make one in mind and heart
those whom you have satiated with the mysterious paschal sacraments.
Please accept my prayerful best wishes to you and yours for a fruitful and holy Easter season.