Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Station Churches of the Easter Octave (Part 2)

The Introit of Tuesday’s Mass also clearly refers to the Saint at whose church the station is kept. As the Pope comes to the tomb of St. Paul, the “vessel of election, to carry (Jesus’) name before the gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel”, the Church sings “He gave them the water of wisdom to drink, alleluia; he shall be made strong in them, and he shall not be moved, alleluia: he shall exalt them forever, alleluia, alleluia.”

In the Epistle from Acts 13, St. Paul preaches the Resurrection in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia.
And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of Him, taking Him down from the tree, they laid Him in a sepulcher. But God raised Him up from the dead the third day: Who was seen for many days, by them who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who to this present (day) are His witnesses to the people. And we declare unto you, that the promise which was made to our fathers, this same God hath fulfilled to our children, raising up Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Each day of the Easter octave, the first part of the Gradual is the same verse of Psalm 117, “This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.” The verse, however, changes daily, and on this day is taken from Psalm 106: “Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the countries.” St. Paul himself was such a one, redeemed from the hand of the enemy whose purposes he served when he persecuted the Church; and by his work, many were gathered from the nations of the world.

The Alleluia verse that follows looks back to the first words of the Epistle cited above, “The Lord hath risen from the sepulcher, even He who for us hung upon the tree.”

The Communion antiphon then cites the Epistle of St. Paul which is sung at the Mass of the Easter vigil: “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, alleluia: mind the things that are above, alleluia.” (Colossians 3, 1-2)

Detail of Michelangelo’s Conversion of Saul in the Capella Farnese, Vatican City (1542-5)
In the Mass of Wednesday at the tomb of St. Lawrence, the Introit is taken from the Old Latin version of the Gospel of the first Monday of Lent, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive ye the kingdom, alleluia, which was prepared for you from the beginning of the world, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

These words are spoken by Christ in Matthew 25 to those who practice the corporal works of mercy, doing to Him whatever they do to even the least of His brethren. This was indeed the work of St. Lawrence, who was placed in charge of the Roman church’s charitable funds by Pope St. Sixtus II in the mid-3rd century. When ordered to hand over to the Romans the riches of the Church, Lawrence distributed everything at his disposal to the poor, whom he then brought to the house of the city prefect, saying, “These are the riches of the Church.”

Detail of Fra Angelico’s St. Lawrence Distributing Alms in the Capella Niccolina, Vatican City (1447-9)
In this same Mass, St. Peter also figures prominently once again. The Epistle is taken from the speech which he makes to the crowds after healing the paralytic at the Beautiful Gate, (Acts 3, 13-15 and 17-19), the Alleluia repeats the words of the Communion antiphon of Monday, cited above, and the Gospel, John 21, 1-14, tells of the appearance of the Lord to Peter and several of the other Apostles at the sea of Tiberias. The liturgy appropriately celebrates the witness of the first Pope to the Resurrection at the tomb of a martyr who served so nobly under a successor of Peter in the see of Rome.

On Thursday, the church commemorates the whole of the “glorious choir of the Apostles” at the basilica dedicated to them, also the station church of the four Ember Fridays. It was originally dedicated only to Ss. Philip and James, whose relics are kept in the large crypt beneath the main altar. The Apostle Philip was often confused with the deacon Philip (Acts 6, 5) who evangelized Samaria and converted the eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia, (Acts 8, 5-14 and 26-40); as we find, for example, in book 3, 31 of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. This is certainly part of the reason why the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is read at this Mass. It is also a reminder that the Apostles instituted the diaconate under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to help their evangelizing mission, and that the true preachers of the Gospel are those sent by them and their successors, the bishops of the Catholic Church.

Philip the Deacon Catechizes the Ethiopian Eunuch, from a illustrated Bible by Jean de Tournes père, Lyons, 1558. Image courtesy of the Pitts Theological Library, Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
The Introit of this Mass is taken from the tenth chapter of the book of Wisdom, commenting on the Exodus: “They praised with one accord thy victorious hand, o Lord, alleluia; for wisdom opened the mouth of the dumb, and made the tongues of infants eloquent, alleluia, alleluia.”
On Monday, the Church has sung of Baptism as the new Exodus, and Peter as the new Moses; today, she celebrates the unified witness to the Resurrection of all the Apostles together, whose “sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Psalm 18) The “tongues of the dumb” here are those of the Apostles, which at the time of His Passion kept silent and betrayed Him, though they swore they would die with Him; in the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, they are made eloquent before all nations in their fearless preaching, for the sake of which they were all eventually martyred. The Offertory of this Mass also looks back to the Mass of Monday, partly repeating the words of its Introit, “On the day of your solemnity, sayeth the Lord, I will being you into the land that floweth with milk and honey, alleluia.”
In a number of early Christian sarcophagi, the Apostles are shown standing together around the Chi-Rho monogram, the symbol of Christ’s victory, and offering crowns in homage; the two soldiers kneeling before it are the symbol of His triumph over death and the devil. (Arles, later 4th century)

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