The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark (16:1-7)
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulcher, the sun being now risen. And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulcher? And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished. Who said to them: Be not afraid; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, behold the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you.
Easter-day has dawned; and, my brethren, I address to you the salutation which the Church uses at this joyful season: "I announce to you a great joy, which is Alleluia. For this, indeed, is the day which the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice therein." (Ps. CXVII; 24.) The Church has put off her robes of mourning and arrayed herself in white apparel, like that of the angel of whom you have heard in the gospel. The fasting and lamentation have ceased; and she rejoices in the presence of her beloved Spouse, now restored to life. "Can the children of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast." (Matt. IX; 15.) But now the spouse is once more united to her Beloved, and all is joy and peace. "Behold my Beloved speaketh to me. Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. The flowers have appeared in our land; arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come." (Cant. II; 10, 13.) Such are the tender words with which the Church greets her Divine Spouse as He rises from the tomb triumphant over sin and death, in all the glory of His risen Majesty. Well may the children of the Bridegroom, the faithful, feast on this occasion, not indeed with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
And you, my brethren, have come to share in this feast of joy and triumph; such of you at least, as have fulfilled the precept of Easter Communion. For not all who present themselves are found worthy to partake of the great King's supper. How, indeed, can he who has not fulfilled the precept of Easter Communion, presume to share in the general exultation with which the Church entertains our risen Lord? Can he join the rest of the faithful in their festivity, who has deliberately cut himself off from the body of the faithful by not complying with this essential duty? Can he worthily celebrate the mysteries of that glorified Body which was immolated for our sins and rose again for our justification (Rom. IV; 25); of that Soul which illuminated the prison house of the deported saints; of that Divinity which dwelt in Jesus Christ corporally (Col. II; 9); who has not received Body and Soul and Divinity in the Sacrament of the holy Eucharist?
There may, perhaps, be some here present, who have not complied with the loving invitation which our Lord has addressed to them from the beginning of Lent, an invitation full of sweetness, an invitation to partake of that precious Body and Blood which we have so lately seen immolated for us on the altar of the cross; and which He bestows upon us to strengthen and cheer us in this world’s weary pilgrimage, as the manna was spread for the Israelites in the desert. If, then, there be any such here present, let me implore them to seek without delay, reconciliation with God, in the sacrament of Penance; and then let them come and offer their gift on the altar (Matt. V; 24), that priceless Gift which Jesus Christ enables us to offer to His Father Himself, by the participation of the blessed sacrament of His Body and Blood, and thereby unite themselves to the rest of the faithful, and so become partakers of all the merits and graces which Jesus Christ diffuses through all the members of His Body, the Church. For this is the object of this holy sacrament; by incorporating us with Jesus Christ, to make us partakers of His merits and graces.
But, my brethren, even if you have fulfilled the precept of Easter Communion, be not satisfied with merely this, but try to enter deeper into the spirit of this great Festival, in order to enrich your souls with the graces which superabound on this the greatest solemnity of the year. What generosity, or love, or gratitude, or Christian feeling, can there be in one who thinks he has done enough by just avoiding the censure of the Church, and approaching once a year, to that banquet which is spread every day in the Church, by Him Who gives us that daily bread which we pray for. (Luke XI; 3.) "Wherefore," in the words of St. Paul: "leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on to things more perfect; not laying again the foundation of penance, from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms and imposition of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. For it is impossible for those who were once illuminated, have tasted also the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, have, moreover, tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and are fallen away, to be renewed again to penance, crucifying again to themselves the Son of God, and making Him a mockery." (Hebr. VI; 1, 6.) "But," the apostle continues, "we trust better things of you and nearer to salvation; though we speak thus." In these words of the apostle, my dear brethren, we are taught with what feelings we ought to approach this festival. Though we may have been reconciled to God through the holy sacraments, yet our joy ought to be tempered by a holy fear, lest we relapse into our former sins, and so crucify afresh the Son of God, making a mockery of Him. For this is the great lesson we are to derive from this day’s festival that our Lord's resurrection is to be to us the sign and the cause of our own resurrection from the spiritual death of sin, as it is the earnest of our future resurrection from the grave, and participation in His Glory.
But if we hope to share in that Glory, and if our Lords resurrection is to be a pledge of our own, we must take care to rise with Him now from sin, that we should walk in newness of life, of the life which our Lord this day makes us partakers of. For as it is most true that He, having risen from the dead, dieth now no more; death hath no more dominion over Him; so also ought it to be equally true that we, having risen from our sins, should now die no more by relapsing into them, that sin should no more have dominion over us. This is what the apostle exhorts us to, when he says: "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies." However difficult the task may seem, there is still no reason why we should be in the least disheartened or downcast; for, after all, it is not so difficult as it appears. Our enemies, the devil, the world and the flesh, may indeed terrify us, and represent to us in the most vivid light the difficulty, nay, the impossibility of renouncing our evil habits, and of following our Lord Jesus Christ, saying: "there is a lion in the way, and a lioness in the roads." (Prov. XXVI; 13.) But, my brethren, it is abundantly possible, and even easy, with the grace of our Lord; otherwise, His death and resurrection would be in vain, which it would be blasphemous to assert.
Moreover, the gospel of this Festival affords us consolation and encouragement. The devout women were rewarded by receiving the first graces of the Resurrection; and we shall participate in the same, if we imitate their dispositions and conduct. Let us consider the gospel narrative. These holy women had followed our Lord from Galilee, ministering unto Him. They stood beneath His Cross, and were witnesses of His Passion and Death; and now, as soon as the Sabbath was over, they went to purchase the most precious ointments and spices, wherewith to anoint the Body of their Lord. They came to execute their pious purpose in the early morning, whilst it was still dark, as St. John tells us. (John XX; 1.) And well was their diligent love re warded, according to that saying:"I love them that love Me; and they that in the morning early watch for Me, shall find Me." (Prov. VIII; 17.) Such ought to be our conduct. As often as we receive our blessed Lord in Holy Communion, our hearts become His sepulcher. Are we as careful as these devout women to purify ourselves from all taint of corruption and defilement?
Do we take care to purchase the sweet spices of virtues and good works? Prepare yourselves, therefore, for our Lord's visitation, by the bitter herbs of humility, of mortification, by the incense of prayer, and the fragrant odor of charity, chastity and all other virtues; that it may be true of us, as the apostle says: "We are the good odor of Christ in every place." (II Cor. II; 15.) And, again: "Draw me; we will run after thee to the odor of Thy ointments." (Cant. I; 3.) Our Lord longs to abide with us; and He is attracted by the sweet odor of virtue; whilst He is repelled by our vicious habits and self-indulgence. These evil habits and propensities are signified by the stone which was at the door of the sepulcher. If, then, we feel disheartened at the heaviness of that load which shuts our hearts against Divine grace, let us take courage from this gospel. The devout women were dismayed at the difficulty, and they said to each other: "Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulcher? For it was very great." But they persevered notwithstanding; and their perseverance and loving confidence in God were rewarded. For, "looking, they saw the stone rolled back." And so it will be with us. If only we persevere, by prayer and good works seeking to make our election sure, however insurmountable the obstacles may be, however violent the temptations, however inveterate the force of evil habits; yet we shall find the stone rolled back, not, indeed, by our own strength, but by the grace of Him Who strengthens us; Who will reward our perseverance, our confidence in Him, and our love, by manifesting Himself to us in the Glory of His Resurrection, both in this world, by the renewed life which He will bestow upon us; and in the next, by the transformation of soul and body into the likeness of His Own Glory.