This Sunday has many nicknames. In the post-Conciliar calendar it is the “Second Sunday of Easter (or of Divine Mercy)”. It is also called “Thomas Sunday” (because of the Gospel reading about the doubting Apostle), and “Quasimodo Sunday” (from the first word of the Introit), and “Low Sunday”.
This is also the conclusion of the Octave of Easter, during which we halted our liturgical clocks and contemplated the mysteries we celebrated from different points of view.
Since ancient times this Sunday has been called “Dominica in albis” or “in albis depositis”, the Sunday of the “white robes having been taken off.” 1 Peter 2:2-3 says:
“Like (Quasimodo – from a Latin Scripture translation that pre-dated the Vulgate by St Jerome) 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.”
Holy Mass on “Low Sunday” begins with an exhortation of the newly baptized, who were called infantes. The infantes wore their white baptismal robes for the “octave” period following Easter during which they received special instruction from the bishop about the sacred mysteries and about the Christian life. Today they put off their robes and, in some places, left them in the cathedral treasury as a perpetual witness to their baptismal vows.
Today’s Collect, based on a prayer in the Missale Gothicum, begins by calling God merciful:
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.
Accendo means “to kindle anything above so that it burns downward” and also “to illuminate, to inflame a person or thing”. It recalls the fiery liturgical imagery of the Vigil. Comprehendo, a vast verb, is “to lay hold of something on all sides.” Think of “comprehensive”. It concerns grasping something with the mind in a thorough way (on all sides). A lavacrum is “a bath”. In Titus 3:5 we read, “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)…”. Abluo, “to wash off, wash away, cleanse, purify”, is used by Cicero (d 43 BC) to describe a calming of the passions through a religious rite of washing away sin (Tusc 4, 28, 60) and also by the poet philosopher Lucretius (d AD 55) to describe the removal of darkness by the bringing in of light (De rerum natura 4, 378). Early Latin speaking Christians adapted and “baptized” existing religious vocabulary to express their faith as it grew over time with new theological insights. Abluo was ready made to be adapted to describe the effects of baptism.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
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.
The priest prays that, by the recurring sacred mysteries we veteran Christians and neophytes, together as a people, will be always renewed and that our grasp of how we have been redeemed and our comprehension of the effects of that redemption will continually deepen.
We who were once set on fire with the indwelling of the Spirit, should each day ask God to rekindle us, burn us up again from above. We should pray daily for an increase of a faith that seeks to grasp, comprehend, understand ever more fully who Our Lord is and who we have become in Him. Grace and faith precede and prepare our fuller comprehension. On our own we can grasp only so much. Faith brings to completion what reason begins to explore. As the ancient adage goes: “Nisi credideritis non intellegetis… Unless you will have first believed, you will not understand.”
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) preached to his infantes with the imagery of spring, and compared the newly baptized to little birds trying to fly from the nest while the parent bird (Augustine himself) flapped around them chirping noisily to encourage them (s. 376a). Then they were then out of the nest of the bishop, as it were, on their own in living their Catholic lives.
Holy Church wants us to comprehend these mysteries in a way that makes a concrete difference. The infantes had to get to the business of living as Catholics after they put off their white robes. Those of us who were baptized long ago must remember always to continue wearing our baptismal garments in our hearts and to live outwardly the Catholic faith we put on within.