The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB.

The Fifth Sunday after Easter

Yet four days and our risen Jesus, Whose company has been so dear and precious to us, will have disappeared from the earth. This Fifth Sunday after Easter seems to prepare us for the separation. In a week's time, we shall begin the long series of Sundays which are to pass before He returns to judge the world. This is a grief to the Christian; for he knows that he will not see his Savior in bodily form until after this life, and he feels something of the sorrow the Apostles had at the Last Supper, when Jesus said to them; Yet a little while, and you shall not see Me (John 16: 16).

But after His Resurrection, what must these privileged men have felt, when they perceived, as we do, that this beloved Master was soon to leave them! They had, so to speak, been living with Jesus glorified; they had experienced the effects of His divine condescension and intimacy; they had received from His lips every instruction they needed for the fulfillment of His will, that is, for founding on earth the Church He had chosen as His spouse. These happy forty days are fast drawing to a close. The Apostles will then be deprived of Jesus' visible presence, even to the end of their lives.

Communion of Mary We too shall feel something of their sadness, if we have kept ourselves united to our Holy Mother the Church. From the very first day, when She recommended, for our sakes, the ecclesiastical year, during which all the mysteries of our redemption, from the Birth of our Emmanuel even to His triumphant Ascension into Heaven, were to be celebrated—have not we also been living in company with Her Jesus, our Redeemer? And now that He is about to close the sweet intercourse which these seasons and feasts have kept up between Himself and us, are not our feelings very much like those of the Apostles?

But there is one creature on earth, whom Jesus is leaving, and whose feelings at the approaching separation we cannot attempt to describe. Never had there been a heart so submissive to the will of Her Creator; but, at the same time, there never was any creature so severely tried as She had been. Jesus would have His Mother’s love still increase; He therefore subjects Her to the separation from Himself. Moreover, He wishes Her to co-operate in the formation of the Church, for He has declared that the great work shall not be achieved without Her. In all this, Jesus shows how tenderly He loves His Blessed Mother: He wishes Her merit to be so great, that He may justly give Her the brightest possible crown, when the day of Her own assumption into Heaven comes.

The heart of this incomparable Queen is not, indeed, to be again transfixed with a sword of sorrow: it is to be consumed by a love so intense that no language could describe it. Under the sweet, yet wearying, fire of this love, Mary is at length to give way, just as fruit falls from the tree, when its ripeness is complete, and the tree has nothing more to give it. But, during these last hours of Jesus' presence, what must such a Mother have felt, who has had but forty days to enjoy the occasional sight and caresses of Her glorified and divine Son? It is Mary's last trial; and when Her Jesus tells Her of His wish that She should remain in exile, She is ready with Her favorite answer: Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Be it done to me according to Thy word! Her whole life has been spent in doing God's will; it was this that made Her so great in His eyes, and so dear to His Heart. A holy servant of God, who lived in the 17th century, and was favored with the most sublime revelations, tells us that it was left to Mary's choice, either to accompany Her divine Son to Heaven, or to remain some years longer upon the earth to assist the infant Church; and that She chose to defer Her entrance into eternal bliss, in order to labor, as long as it was God's good pleasure, in the great work which was so closely connected with the glory of Her Son, and so essential to the salvation of us Her adopted children.

If this generous devotedness raised the co-operatrix of our salvation to the highest degree of sanctity, by giving completeness to Her mission on earth, we may be sure that Jesus' love for His Mother was increased by the new proof She thus gave Him of Her uniformity with every wish of His Sacred Heart. He repaid Her, as He well knew how to do, for this heroic self-sacrifice, this prompt submission to His designs which destined Her to be, here on earth, as the Church calls Her, Queen of the Apostles, and a sharer in their labors.

During these His last few hours on earth, Our Lord’s affection for His Apostles and disciples seemed to be redoubled. For several of them, the separation was to be a long one. The beloved disciple, St. John, was not to enjoy the company of his divine Master till more than fifty years had elapsed. It was to be thirty before the cross would carry St. Peter to Him Who had entrusted to his keeping the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. St. Mary Magdalene, the fervent Magdalene, would have to wait the same length of time. But no one murmured at the divine appointment: they all felt how just it was that Jesus, now that He had so fully established the faith of His Resurrection, should enter into His glory (Luke 24: 26).

Apparition in Galilee On the very day of His Resurrection, our Savior bade the disciples go into Galilee, for that there He would meet them. As we have already seen, they obeyed the order, and seven among them were favored by Jesus' appearing to them on the banks of Lake Genesareth: it is the eighth of the manifestations mentioned in the Gospel. The ninth also took place in Galilee. Our Lord loved Galilee: it gave Him the greater number of His disciples, it was Mary and Joseph’s country, and it was there that He Himself passed so many years of His hidden life. Its people were simpler and better than those of Judea; and this was another attraction. St. Matthew tells us that the most public of all Jesus' manifestations after His Resurrection—the tenth in reality, and the ninth mentioned by the evangelists—took place on a hill in this same district (Matt. 28: 16).

According to St. Bonaventure, and the learned and pious Denis the Carthusian, this hill was Mount Tabor, the same that was honored by the mystery of the Transfiguration. Upwards of five hundred of Jesus' disciples were assembled there, as we learn from St. Paul (1 Cor. 15: 6): they were mostly inhabitants of Galilee, had believed in Our Lord during His three years of public life, and merited to be witnesses of this new triumph of the Nazarene. Jesus showed Himself to them, and gave them such certitude with regard to His Resurrection, that the Apostle appeals to their testimony in support of this fundamental mystery of our Faith.

Further than this, we know of no other manifestations made by our Savior after His Resurrection. We know that He gave order to His disciples to repair to Jerusalem, where they were to see Him once more before His Ascension. Let us, during these few days, follow the disciples to Jerusalem. Faithless city! How often has Jesus sought to gather together her children, as the hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, and she would not (Matt. 23: 37)! He is about to re-enter her walls; but she is not to know it. He will not show Himself to her, but only to those that love Him; and after this He will depart in silence, never to return until He comes to judge them that have not known the time of their visitation.

In the Greek church, the Fifth Sunday after Easter is called the Sunday of the man born blind, because her Gospel for the day contains the history of that miracle of our Divine Lord. She also calls it Episozomene, which is one of the names given by the Greeks to the mystery of the Ascension, the Feast of which is kept with them, as with us, during the course of this week.

In the Latin Liturgy, the Introit is taken from Isaias, the most sublime of the prophets. It sweetly invites all the earth to celebrate the victory won by Jesus—a victory which has purchased our deliverance:

Declare the voice of joy, and let it be heard, alleluia: declare it even to the ends of the earth; the Lord has delivered His people; alleluia, alleluia (Isa. 48: 20). Shout with joy to God, all the earth: sing ye a psalm to His Name, give glory to His praise (Ps. 65). Glory be to the Father...

In the Collect, Holy Church teaches us that our thoughts and actions, to be made deserving of eternal life, stand in need of grace—the former, that we may have the inspiration; the latter, that we may have the will to do them:

O God, from Whom all good things proceed, grant unto Thy suppliants, that by Thy inspiration we may think those things that are right, and under Thy guidance perform them. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ...

The Epistle is taken from the First Chapter of St. James:

Dearly beloved: Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass (mirror). For he beheld himself and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was. But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work: this man shall be blessed in his deed. And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion pure and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one's self unspotted from this world.

The holy Apostle, whose instructions these are, had received them from our Risen Jesus: hence the authoritative tone wherewith he speaks. Our Savior, as we have already seen, honored him with a special visit (...After that He was seen by James, then by all the Apostles… 1 Cor. 15: 7). This proves that he was particularly dear to his Divine Master, to Whom he was related by the tie of consanguinity on his mother's side, whose name was Mary. This holy woman went on Easter morning to the sepulcher, in company with her sister Salome, and Mary Magdalene. St. James the Less is indeed the Apostle of Paschal Time, wherein everything speaks to us of the new life we should lead with our Risen Lord. He is the Apostle of good works, for it is from him that we have received this fundamental maxim of Christianity—that though faith be the first essential of a Christian, yet without works it is a dead faith, and will not save us.

He also lays great stress on our being attentive to the truths we have been taught, and on our guarding against that culpable forgetfulness, which plays such havoc with thoughtless souls. Many of those who have this year received the grace of the Easter mystery will not persevere; and the reason is, that they will allow the world to take up all their time and thoughts, whereas they should use the world as though they did not use it (1 Cor. 7: 31). Let us never forget that we must now walk in newness of life, in imitation of our Risen Jesus, Who dieth now no more.

The two Alleluia versicles celebrate the glory of the Resurrection; but they also contain an allusion to the approaching Ascension. Jesus was born eternally from the Father; He came down to us; but now, in a few days, He is to return to His Father:

Alleluia, alleluia. V. Christ is risen, and has shone upon us, whom He redeemed with His Blood. Alleluia. V. I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world. Again I leave the world, and go to the Father (John 16: 28). Alleluia.

Last Supper The Gospel is from the same 16th chapter of St. John:

At that time: Jesus said to His disciples: Amen, amen, I say to you; if you ask the Father anything in My Name, He will give it to you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My Name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in parables. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in parables, but will speak to you plainly of the Father. In that day you shall ask in My Name; and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father for you, for the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father. His disciples said to Him, Behold, now Thou speakest plainly, and utterest no parable. Now we know that Thou knowest all things, and dost not need that anyone should question Thee. For this reason we believe that Thou camest forth from God.

When at His Last Supper, our Savior thus warned His Apostles of His having soon to leave them, they were far from knowing Him thoroughly. True, they knew that He came forth from God; but their faith was weak, and they soon lost it. Now that they are enjoying His company after His Resurrection, now that they have received such light from His instructions, they know Him better. He no longer speaks to them in parables; He teaches them everything they need to know in order to become the teachers of the whole world. It is now they might truly say to Him: ...we believe that Thou camest forth from God! So much the more, then, do they understand what they are going to lose by His leaving them.

Our Lord begins now to reap the fruit of the word He has sown in their hearts: oh, how patiently He waited for it! If he praised them for their faith, when they were with Him on the night of the Last Supper, He may surely do so now that they have seen Him in the splendor of His Resurrection, and have been receiving such teachings from His lips. He said to them, at the Last Supper: ...the Father loves you, because you have loved Me; how much more must the Father love them now, when their love for Jesus is so much increased! Let us be consoled by these words. Before Easter our love of Jesus was weak, and we were tepid in His service; but now that we have been enlightened and nourished by His mysteries, we may well hope that the Father loves us, for we love Jesus better than we did before.

This dear Redeemer urges us to ask the Father, in His Name, for everything we need. Our first want is perseverance in the spirit of Eastertide; let it be our most earnest prayer; let it be our intention during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This call to prayer reminds us vividly of the coming Rogation Days—indeed, this day is sometimes referred to as Rogation Sunday.

The Offertory is taken from Psalm 65; it is an act of thanksgiving which the Christian, united with his Risen Jesus, offers to God for having brought him to the new life, and made him the object of His choicest graces:

O bless the Lord our God, ye Gentiles, and make the voice of His praise to be heard: Who has set my soul to live, and has not suffered my feet to be moved: blessed be the Lord. Who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me: alleluia.

In the Secret, the Church prays that this our earthly Pasch may introduce us to the feast of heavenly glory. The end of all the mysteries achieved by God in this world is, that we may be sanctified by them, and fitted for the eternal vision and possession of our Creator: it is this that the Church, adopting the style of the sacred Scriptures, calls glory:

Receive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the prayers of the faithful with this offering of sacrifice; that by these acts of a pious devotion we may pass to the glory of Heaven. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son...

The Communion Verse, composed of the words of the royal prophet, is a canticle of gladness, expressive of the ceaseless joy of our Easter:

Sing to the Lord, alleluia: sing ye to the Lord and bless His Name: show forth His salvation from day to day, alleluia, alleluia (Ps. 95: 2).

Holy Church teaches us, in Her Postcommunion, how we should pray to God. We must desire the right thing; let us pray to have this desire, and then continue our prayer till the right thing is granted. Grace will then be given us: it will be our own fault if it be unproductive:

Do Thou, O Lord, grant unto us, who have been satisfied with the strength of the heavenly table, both to desire those things which are right, and to obtain what we desire. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son...

We will close our Sunday with the admonition wherewith the Gothic Church of Spain warned the faithful during Paschal Time. It is a season of joy; and yet we need to be cautious, for our enemy is sure to lay snares for us in the new life we have received:

Dearly beloved brethren: let there be caution in your devotion, watchfulness in your festivity, modesty in your gladness. We should rejoice in that we have risen; but we should fear lest we may fall. We have been rescued from the death of old, and it behooves us to know how evil it was; we have been gifted with the new life, and we must cling to it as worthy of our love. To commit the sin we have been admonished to shun is not an error, but contempt. They that have been pardoned and relapsed, deserve the greater punishment; nor is there excuse for them that have been once ransomed if they again become slaves. The mercy of God implies power; and power, fear; and fear, chastisement. He would not have been merciful to man, unless He had first been angry with the devil. He strengthens us with His gratuitous gifts, that we may not be corrupted by our evil inclinations. No one spares another but with a hope of correction. Forgiveness can do no harm, when the offence is not repeated. He that pardoned us our sins, thereby admonished us to sin no more. Mercy has not been lost on us, if our conduct is what it should be. Grace has, indeed, made man the adopted child of God; but the devil is not yet shut up in Hell. Sin, not nature, has been defeated. What we have gained is the power of fighting, not the privilege of inaction. Our enemy has been despoiled, not slain. His anger must be greatest against those who were once subject to his tyranny, but now are disenthralled. Faith has given us bulwarks; the Cross, armor; the Flesh (of Christ), a standard; and His Blood, a banner: the battle then is to be fought. The God Who willed us to have the battle, willed us to have the hope of victory. We have already received the gift of adoption; our conduct is to decide what sentence is to be passed upon us in judgment. In this world we have the promise of reward; in the next, our lot will be decided according to our works. Let us, therefore, be mindful of the tender mercy of Our Lord, Who, as the price of our ransom, gave not sums of silver or gold, nor granted princely favors, but subjected Himself to the infamy of the Cross, and suffered His Body to be humbled even to being buried in a tomb. He could give nothing greater or better. So that the more it cost Him to redeem us, the more diligently should we serve Him; and it is this He demands of us. Therefore, in order that the work of His Redemption be perfected in us, it behooves us to pray with constancy and perseverance.

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