A renewed everyday garment
For Divine Mercy Sunday, Peter Gallagher SJ reflects on what was once called the Mass ‘in which the white robes are hung up.’
A protection against forgetfulness
In the early Church, on the Sunday after Easter, those who had been baptised the previous week returned to normal clothes, having worn for a week the white garments in which they had been christened. The celebration on this day was called the Mass ‘in which the white robes are hung up.’ The theme for the prayer today is that the new Christians will continue to live in the graces of Easter. We are praying that the newly baptised will remember as the Collect puts it: in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn; by whose blood they have been redeemed. This prayer-motif for the Second Sunday of Easter is not only appropriate to the newly-received. We all need the same important help. Whatever stage we are at in our life, we want to remember the source and beginning of our faith in such a way as to live it with full integrity.
The Mass offered this Sunday is a protection against forgetfulness of our spiritual origins. Grant we pray almighty God that our reception of this paschal sacrament may have a continuing effect on our minds and hearts. We are to remember Christ always. We are to think of what he has done for us. We are not be distracted from him by the other matters to which we must give attention, even the important ones. The white garments may be folded up and put away but the Christ whom we have put on should not be out of sight. Nor is Jesus to be ‘kept for best’. He is for every day. The Lord is with us all the time.
Great mercy is the new normal
Divine Mercy Sunday, then, is an occasion for gathering strength to live the life in Christ to which we have recently renewed our baptismal commitment. We are taking care not to forget all that we have learned in our preparation for and celebration of Easter. There is in us also an acknowledgement that there is more to learn. Our best efforts are being focused not only on remembering all that we already knew of Christ but also on learning new things about him. Notwithstanding the thoroughness of the sacraments of initiation, the new believer is still only a beginner and must go into things a lot more deeply. Old-timers must also progress. Their knowledge and experience, although considerable, are far from complete. They too must advance if they are to live. There is no standing still in the Christian life. We are all to grow and mature in our faith.
This Sunday, then, is not a ‘low’ in our spiritual life. It is not so much a return to the everyday after an important holiday as an acknowledgement that Easter’s intensification is now the level of religious and spiritual life which we take to be normal. Our loving God for his great mercy is ‘the new normal’. However, the light of Easter has shown us that we are, most of us, on quite a low rung of the ladder of perfection. We have far to climb. There is a lot of progress still to make. Some of us are still cautiously positioning the ladder against the wall we would like to scale.
Rid yourselves of all malice and all guile
The Introit today is a quotation from the beginning of the second chapter of the First Letter of Peter. Rid yourselves therefore of all malice and all guile, insincerity, envy and all slander. Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow into salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. This counsel is addressed to us all not just to newcomers at Easter. ‘Like babies’ we are to be greedy for milk which is ‘rational’ and ‘without guile’. We are to gulp down a nourishing drink which is spiritual and pure. The spiritual sustenance we receive is thoroughly reasonable and there is nothing in it that is bogus or toxic. ‘Greedy’? ‘gulp down’?: the atmosphere of this prayer is not the serenity of achievement but the anxiety of great need and the urgency of the beginner’s sense of incompletion. The Lord is urging all of us to assimilate the spiritual nourishment which will allow us to ‘grow into salvation’. This unadulterated milk will build us up towards that strength which will permit us to accept the divine life being offered to us.
What exactly is nourishment which is ‘spiritual’ and ‘unadulterated’? The author of the First Letter of Peter was probably thinking of the boost to the spiritual life which is provided by moral transformation: Having got rid of all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and idle talk we will live in Christ in the complete way which was symbolized by the white garment. Not that such progress in virtue is our own work to which the Risen Jesus adds something. No: the divine mercy celebrated today has an impact on the way we live from the very outset of our conversion. We don’t perfect ourselves and then begin worthily to follow Christ. Jesus meets us in the middle of our unworthiness and mercifully enables us to do what would scarcely be thinkable without him.
The goodness of our everyday garment
The milk which we crave is truly ‘spiritual’. We may long to gulp it down but such ambrosia demands that we drink it properly and that having consumed it we digest it and assimilate it deep within our soul. The Christ whom we put on at Easter and whom we make our everyday garment from now on is not some exotic outfit discovered when we put away our white garment. The goodness in which we now intend to live with everyday normality is a virtuous way of life to which all might be attracted. Of malice, guile, insincerity, envy and idle talk everyone would like to be free. We now have Jesus inside and out. We wear him and we consume him. We become him. The Lord shines out of our life.
Peter Gallagher SJ