Low Sunday / Evening, 22 April 2017 / Church of St John the Evangelist, Agawam
“Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).
This Sunday is variously named: Low Sunday, because compared to the wonderful solemnity of last Sunday, today is a much simpler affair; Dominica in albis, because this would be the last day on which the neophytes would have worn their white garments; Quasimodo Sunday, on account of the first line of today’s introit. In these latter days, we call it Divine Mercy Sunday. Let’s dwell with these latter two designations: Quasimodo and Divine Mercy.
Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles sine dolo lac concupiscite: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. “As newborn infants, without guile desire the rational milk,” that is, spiritual sustenance. In other words, be ultimately satisfied only with divine things. This command applies especially to the newly baptized during this season; but in truth it applies to all of us who are reborn in Baptism. Eastertide is especially suited for us to remember the inestimable gifts contained in that first Sacrament we ever received. (Read all of 1 Peter 2 and you will see.)
When that happened, we entered the waters; we sank. Even if we were mere infants or were not fully submerged into the baptismal font, our whole lives became supernaturally covered by grace. This is why the Crossing of the Red Sea is so important to Catholic theology and therefore to our liturgy: like the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and were freed from their enemies and began a new life, thus our Baptism saved us from the enemy of our souls and gave our lives a supernatural end that they did not nor could not have had before.
On April 16th, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, turned ninety years old. On April 11th, 2009, he preached in very interesting terms about how our baptized lives appear in the world today. Commenting on Revelation 15:2, he says:
And must not the Church, so to speak, always walk on the sea, through the fire and the cold? Humanly speaking, she ought to sink. But while she is still walking in the midst of this Red Sea, she sings – she intones the song of praise of the just: the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the Old and New Covenants blend into harmony. While, strictly speaking, she ought to be sinking, the Church sings the song of thanksgiving of the saved. She is standing on history’s waters of death and yet she has already risen. Singing, she grasps at the Lord’s hand, which holds her above the waters.
And what is this song of which the Holy Father speaks? The song of Divine Mercy. We sing of it because for all our human sinking, the mercy of God still finds us; in all our failures to see, Christ is nevertheless present to us. He enters into the midst of the disciples and issues his Pax vobis. To this day, he is continually speaking this Pax vobis to the Church and to us. Note well the firm gentleness with which Christ treats the frightened, slow disciples. That is the Divine Mercy. The risen Christ passes through locked doors and through the locked heart of Thomas; the Divine Mercy reminds us that we who do not see should throw open the doors of our hearts, as Thomas eventually did.
The truth is, God is approached by low places. Our Baptism inaugurated this sinking motion in our lives, wherein everything that is not of God—everything that is not the spiritual milk we heard from our introit—must be buried. “Humanly speaking,” said Pope Benedict, “she [the Church] ought to sink.” Or, in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This being brought low in life is, mysteriously, part and parcel to our Baptism.—We do not mean that we are to be sad or oppressed or thwarted, but rather humble and trusting and singularly reliant upon divine grace. The process is disorienting and painful at times: for it entails purification, and greater purity is never easy. But the Divine Mercy assures us that this process does not end with oblivion and loss, as we sometimes fear.
No, all manner of thing shall be well. Recall what our Lord said when he set out to raise Lazarus: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” Thus it is with the Divine Mercy, springing from the Most Sacred Heart. The illnesses and lowliness of our nature are not bring about a sinking death in us, but if we are faithful to Mercy, a rising life. To use Pope Benedict’s image again, singing, we grasp the hand of the Master even as the waters threaten us, exactly as Thomas reached into the open Heart of the Savior and discovered mercy.
It had been a custom to pray, as the priest elevated the Sacred Species, to repeat the words of St Thomas, saying silently to oneself, “My Lord and my God.” Now we know why. We grasp the Lord’s hand at the foot of his altars; we reach into his side as we kneel at the Communion rail.