Easter Vigil – March 28-29, 1964 – Santa Susanna, Rome
If you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you shall appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).
These words of St. Paul are the Epistle of this evening’s Mass.
“This night has made us greater than we know” (Newman). What we have become this night only God’s Spirit fully knows; but “this is the Spirit we have received from God” (1 Cor 2:12), and he will help us understand what God has done for us this night.
Jesus Christ took up man’s condition before God: in “a form like that of our sinful nature” (Rom 8:3), in “the form of a. slave” (Ph 2:7). Living our life, he showed us both how great is God’s love for us and how we are to return it. In him we learn both what God is like and what man is like (Pascal), for they are one and the same in him. He became a slave, though he was Son, and underwent the slave’s most terrible bondage, death. And this night we discover that he has taken that bondage away, or rather transformed it, so that it is now the way to the freedom only God’s children possess. “This is the night,” as the Deacon sang, “Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave.” “And all the Christians of the world, this night sets free from earthly vice and sinful gloom, restoring them to grace, uniting them to holiness.”
For Christ’s “purpose in dying for all was that men, while still in life, should cease to live for themselves, and should live for him who for their sake died and was raised to life (2 Cor 5:15-16).” That is what Christ’s victory over sin and death means; that is what our rising with Christ means: Living for him, no longer for ourselves, so that he is the new center of gravity of all that we are and all that we do. That is why we seek, that is why we set our minds and hearts on the things that are above; for that is where Christ is and in him our real life is now hidden. We are different men because Christ has risen tonight. We see all of reality in a different light, because Jesus has risen tonight. We stand before God, we stand before man, different men tonight, because Jesus has risen and taken us with himself to the Father.
It is very real, what God has done for us tonight. For tonight he has raised his Son to full glory; and with him he has raised each one of us, who throughout the weeks of Lent said no a little more totally to all in us that did not resemble Jesus Christ. Only a few minutes ago, before God and our brothers here, each of us repeated our Baptismal promises. We renounced Satan, and all his works and vanities; but there was more, just as there was more to Christ’s saving work than his death. Three times also we professed our belief: in God our Father; in Jesus Christ, his Son and our Brother; in the Holy Spirit, living in our very selves. Dead to sin, we proclaimed our life to God, and dared to pray to him in the way Jesus prayed to his Father. There is our death and resurrection with Christ–very real things–saying no to ourselves, saying yes to God, saying “Father” to God. It is exactly what Christ’s death and resurrection were: saying no to himself, yes to God’s will; living eternal life with the Father.
“This night has indeed made us greater than we know.” No longer is Jesus God’s only Son. Tonight he has become “the eldest of a large family of brothers” (Rom 8:29)–all God’s sons. For tonight we have been made like Jesus. Tonight Christ’s work is accomplished: slaves have been set free, children have been born to his Father. We are those freed men; we are God’s new children.
We turn now to speak our thanks to God, for that is what the Mass is. No longer do we thank him only for the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. “Whenever you do these things,” Jesus told us, “it is in memory of me that you shall do them.” The great events for which we give thanks are the death and resurrection of Christ; and tonight as we recall them, they take place again in us. Children of God, let us now go before him to thank him for his Son and for this night, which makes us able to say to him with Jesus, “Our Father.”
This is the first sermon I ever preached to an actual congregation (as distinct from the audience of my classmates in homiletics class). I was the celebrant at the Easter Vigil in the church of Santa Susanna, the “American church” in Rome.