e a s t e r 2 0 0 6 n o. 2 2 5
p a g e o n e
Chapter 15 of the Rule of Benedict is a short chapter that is easily
overlooked. Today we take the exclamation "Alleluia" so much for granted
that we think nothing of the chapter's title, "The Seasons for Alleluia." The
chapter, if read, is forgettable. There is nothing here but a laundry list of
the times when Alleluia should be said or sung at the Divine Office. Yet
this seemingly insignificant chapter has a hidden treasure of wisdom. In his
commentary on the Rule, Terence Kardong tells us that the use of the
exclamation Alleluia outside the Easter season seems not to have been a
universal custom in the Western Church in Benedict's time. Inclusion of
this word throughout the year outside of Lent must have been important
to Benedict, and it gives us an important clue to Benedict's spirituality.
Psalms that make up much of the Divine Office take us through the pain
of struggles with other people, with oneself, and with God. Benedict
would have us answer this pain with the hope of Christ's Resurrection.
Alleluia is used in the celestial liturgy in Revelation 19, and so its use in
the Divine Office reminds us that our prayer together on earth is meant
to be an anticipation of our prayer together in Heaven.
Darkness & Light
The literary critics say that in his plays, Shakespeare frequently followed his tragic scenes with humorous ones. They say that the contrast makes the serious seem more tragic and the comic more humorous. I don't know if any of that is true it never seemed to please English teachers or creative writing professors when I tried it, but it is interesting that in the Church's traditional celebration of the mystery of Easter she juxtaposes darkness and light as images of our dark and sinful need for the glorious light of Christ.
In the course of three days we participate in the greatest of cosmic dramas, moving from the celebration of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, to the lynching of the Messiah by nailing him to the cross, through the longest day of waiting, to the glorious triumph of the saving love of the resurrection that blessed, intimate touch, "Mary!", "Rabbouni!"
Sin has done its utmost. The divine response was healing through a forgiving love that conquered sin, death and darkness, and will conquer us, too, if only we will let it. Because we see here not only the contrast of light and darkness, but the contrast of time and eternity transitory time and immediate presence of eternity. Because we really see it, we are not just going through the motions of remembering past events that we have been told about by others; we are witnesses of these things. More than that we are participants. We are involved because it is our own sins that are put to death and it is we ourselves who are raised to life.
This is not a repetition of Calvary that we play act each year; there is only one death and rising. No, these events transcend time and are always present in God's eternal now. As we move through these events, we are privileged to share in that now. Momentarily we move from time to taste eternity, from (chronos) to à (kairos). According to Dom Gregory Dix, this is true of every Eucharist, but Christ's resurrection is the living inception of our faith.
At St. Gregory's we don't use the Apostle's Creed in the Divine Office, but I ask you to remember the words from the Prayer Book Office, "He descended to the dead." (For those of us who better remember the words of the 1928 Prayer Book it was, "He descended into hell.") The wording is different, but in spite of the complaints of the disaffected, the Church is not claiming that the truth has changed, but it does acknowledge that the meaning of words does change. "Hell" once meant "Sheol," or "Hades," which simply meant the place where the dead people were. It did not mean the "hell" of eternal damnation. It meant the place where Christ descended to bring all of humanity into his glorious kingdom, as recounted in the First Letter of St. Peter
In John's Gospel we read that God enlightens everyone who comes into the world. When that light is heeded, when people try to do the best they can with what they have (as Erasmus would have put it), their life has integrity that is completed by Christ's coming to them to rescue them from the dark powers of the evil one. The icon is called, "The Harrowing of Hell." The words may have changed their meanings, but the truth that is expressed is that God is claiming Satan's victims for himself, both now and for ever. This is a most beautiful truth where time is lost in eternity, as darkness is overwhelmed by light, and sin and death overcome in the merciful redeeming love of our Savior who has risen from the dead to save us for ever and ever. -- Prior Aelred