WDTPRS: Mercy Sunday, Low Sunday, Quasimodo Sunday

In the post-Conciliar calendar this is the “Second Sunday of Easter.” It is sometimes called “Thomas Sunday” because of the Gospel reading about the doubting Apostle. It is called “Quasimodo Sunday” for the first word of the opening chant, the Introit (cf. 1 Peter 2:2-3).

Now it is often called “Mercy Sunday” because of the emphasis on the dimension of the mercy of God’s redemptive act celebrated at Easter.

The new Collect for this Sunday (based on a prayer in the Missale Gothicum) for the 1970 and subsequent editions of the Roman Missal begins by calling God merciful. The newest, third edition of the Missale Romanum of 2002 specifically labels this Sunday: Dominica II Paschae seu de divina Misericordia.

Since ancient times this Sunday is called “Dominica in albis” or also “in albis depositis”… the Sunday of the “white robes having been taken off.” 1 Peter 2:2-3 says: “Like (Sicut modo – Vulgate) newborn babes (infantes), long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Quasimodo and Sicut modo are interchangeable. Quasimodo reflects a Latin Scripture version predating what became the Vulgate. So, today’s Mass begins by exhorting the newly baptized.

In the ancient Church the newly baptized were called infantes. They wore their white baptismal robes for “octave” period after Easter during which they received special instruction from the bishop about the sacred mysteries and Christian life to which they were not admitted before the Vigil rites. On this Sunday they removed their robes, which were deposited in the cathedral treasury as a perpetual witness to their vows. They were then “out of the nest” of the bishop, as it were, on their own in living their Catholic lives daily. St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) using the imagery of spring compares the newly baptized to little birds trying to fly from the nest while the parent birds flap around them and chirp noisily to encourage them (s. 376a).

Deus misericordiae sempiternae,
qui in ipso paschalis festi recursu
fidem sacratae tibi plebis accendis,
auge gratiam quam dedisti,
ut digna omnes intellegentia comprehendant,
quo lavacro abluti, quo spiritu regenerati,
quo sanguine sunt redempti.

The use of those clauses starting with quo, having no conjunctions (a trope called asyndeton) gives this prayer a very forceful feeling. I very much like that sole sunt (that goes with abluti…regenerati…redempti) imbedded elegantly in the last phrase.

Recursus is “a running back, return, a returning path.” In reference to sight it is something that has power to bring back an image. Recursus harks to the cyclical, “recurring” nature of the Paschal observance.

We have the opportunity to experience the Paschal mysteries each year. This is more than a memorial or re-enactment. By baptism we participate in mysterious events completed once and for all time, but for us in the liturgical year they sacramentally take place again.

According to the hardly mysterious Lewis & Short Dictionary, accendo means “to kindle anything above so that it burns downward” (the opposite of succendo or sub-cendo – to kindle from “below”, like the English “burn up” and “burn down”). You kindle a candle from above. Accendo is also “to set on fire, to kindle, light to light up, illuminate, to inflame a person or thing, to incite, to round up.” This word delivers the fiery liturgical imagery of the Vigil: when Christians are baptized the Holy Spirit (depicted as fire) comes to dwell in them. Intellegentia is “the power of discerning or understanding, discernment.” The vast verb comprehendo is too complex to treat comprehensively. Literally it involves, “to lay hold of something on all sides.” Think of … well… “comprehensive”. Comprehendo also means, “take hold, grasp, seize” or negatively “attack, arrest.” It is also “to perceive with the senses, observe.” Especially it is to grasp with the mind, but in a thorough way (on all sides). In the Collect we want to “grasp with a worthy power of understanding.” This is a profoundly interiorized “grasping” in the sense of true possession.

A lavacrum is a bath. In Titus 3:5 we have, “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy (misericordiam), by the washing of regeneration (lavacrum regenerationis) and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life (vv. 5-7, RSV).” This refers to both the process and effects of baptism, worked in us by the mercy of God.

In our Collect is abluo, “to wash off, wash away, cleanse, purify.” In classical Latin, abluo is used by Cicero (+43 BC) to describe a calming of the passions coming from a religious rite of washing away of sin (Tusc 4, 28, 60) and even by the poet philosopher Lucretius (+ AD 55) in De rerum natura to describe the removal of darkness by the bringing in of light (4, 378). Early Latin speaking Christians lacked vocabulary to express their faith. Abluo was ready made to be adapted to describe the effects of baptism.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of mercy,
you wash away our sins in water,
you give us new birth in the Spirit,
and redeem us in the blood of Christ.
As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection
increase our awareness of these blessings,
and renew your gift of life within us

Do you want to know what the Latin prayer really says?

O God of eternal mercy,
who on this recurrence of the paschal feast
do kindle the faith of a people sanctified for Yourself,
increase the grace which You have given,
so that all may comprehend with worthy understanding
by what laver they were washed,
by what Spirit they were regenerated,
by what Blood they were redeemed

God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed

In today’s Collect we pray that by the recurring sacred mysteries we veteran Christians and neophytes together as a People will be continually renewed and that our grasp of how we have been redeemed and the effects of that redemption will continually deepen. We who were once set on fire with the indwelling of the Spirit, should want each day for God to rekindle us, burn us up again from above. We want an increase of grace, faith that seeks to grasp, comprehend, understand ever more fully who He is, who we have become in Him. Grace and faith come first, of course. As the ancient adage goes: Nisi credideritis non intellegetis… Unless you will have first believed, you will not understand. We can only go so far on our own. Faith then brings to completion what reason begins to explore.

In a sermon addressed to the catechumens before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, St. Augustine used the imagery of light to help them understand who they were to become (cf. s. 223 and s. 260c):

“Keep the night Vigil humbly. Pray humbly with devoted faith, solid hope, brightly burning charity, pondering what kind of day our splendor will be if our humility can turn night into day. Thus, may God who ordered the light to blaze out of the dark make our hearts blaze brightly, that we may do on the inside something akin to what we have done with the lamps kindled within this house of prayer. Let us furnish the true dwelling place of God, our consciences, with lamps of justice”.

Augustine (and our Church) wants Christians truly to “possess” these mysteries in a way that made a concrete difference. The newly baptized infantes eventually put off their white robes and get to the business of living as Catholics.

We who have done this already, perhaps long ago, must continue to wear them in our hearts.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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12 Responses to WDTPRS: Mercy Sunday, Low Sunday, Quasimodo Sunday

  1. skull kid says:

    ”St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) using the imagery of spring compares the newly baptized to little birds trying to fly from the nest while the parent birds flap around them and chirp noisily to encourage them (s. 376a).”

    I love the bird imagery.

  2. Charivari Rob says:

    Thank you for mentioning Low Sunday, Father. That’s an aspect of this Sunday which is often unknown or forgotten.

  3. joecct77 says:

    Following up on skull kid’s comments…..

    Does this make the Church and Christ the bird feeder?? :)

  4. wanda says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z. I love the bird imagery. St. Augustine, pray for us as we try to keep our garments white and our candle burning brightly.

  5. Fr. Basil says:

    \\It is sometimes called “Thomas Sunday” because of the Gospel reading about the doubting Apostle.\\

    It’s ALWAYS called Thomas Sunday on the Byzantine Calendar.

  6. fieldsparrow says:

    St. Augustine is following me around again! (I chose him as my patron saint and every day since confirmation I have come across something related to him. Kinda weird.) I really, really love the bird imagery here. I was baptized 21 years ago, but just confirmed in the Church at Easter Vigil, and it is still like whoa (forgive the terminology) to go up and receive communion.

  7. skull kid says:

    I do too, fieldsparrow, but I can’t help but feel nervous and a bit afraid. I’ve seen the little birds that leave the nest! They are so fragile and naive and alone! Of course the Father in heaven sees the littlest sparrow, and since we are worth more than sparrows (no offense =p), He will look after us. But still, the fear remains, even as we are told, ‘Do not be afraid.’

  8. wanda says:

    fieldsparrow, Congratulations and welcome home! May it always be ‘like whoa’ each time you receive Holy Communion. May it be ‘like whoa’ for all Catholics! Myself included.

  9. Rich says:

    Don’t forget Whit Sunday!

  10. Blackfriar says:

    Whitsunday is Pentecost, not “Dominica in Albis [Depositis]”

    The Collect in the Liturgy of the Hours used in the Commonwealth countries (mainly) – which is and has been an approved translation in those countries since 1972) – captures the force of the repeated “quo” clauses better than the 1970 ICEL:

    God of eternal compassion,
    each Easter you rekindle the faith of your consecrated people.
    Give them still greater grace,
    so that all may truly understand
    the waters in which they were cleansed,
    the Spirit by which they were reborn,
    the blood by which they were redeemed.

    So too, by the way, does the current Pidgin English version in Papua New Guinea. I quote only the relevant part of the prayer:

    Strongim mipela bai mipela i ken save gut
    wanem kain wara i bin wasim mipela,
    na warem kain spirit i bin kirapim mipela,
    na warem kain blut i bin oraitim mipela.

    – The Black Friar

  11. MAJ Tony says:

    The Germans still call it “White Sunday.” I attended High Mass yesterday in the Koelner Dom. What a magificent Domus Dei. I’ve been in now 6 of the classic German Doms (Mainzer, Speyerer, Wormser, Freiburger, Strassburger (Strasbourg, France), and Koelner Doms the last three weeks.

  12. Alice says:

    Charivari Rob,
    What exactly is the aspect of which you speak? I’ve heard people say this before but when asked what exactly “Low Sunday” tells us that Thomas Sunday or Quasimodo Sunday does not, they just answer “it’s not Mercy Sunday, it’s Low Sunday.” The only explanation I’ve ever heard for the importance of the name is the quip about Low Sunday being short for Low Attendance Sunday. :P