by Dom Gueranger, 1908
And when Moses had stretched forth his hand towards the sea, it returned at the first break of day to the former place: and as the Egyptians were fleeing away, the waters came upon them, and the Lord shut them up in the middle of the waves.--Exodus 14: 27
This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.
The Hebrew word Pasch signifies passage, and we explained yesterday how this great day first became sacred by reason of the Lord's Passover. But there is another meaning which attaches to the word, as we learn from the early Fathers, and the Jewish rabbins. The Pasch is, moreover, the passage of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. These three great facts really happened on one and the same night:--the banquet of the lamb, the death of the first-born of the Egyptians, and the departure from Egypt. Let us, today, consider how this third figure is a further development of our Easter mystery.
The day of Israel's setting forth from Egypt for his predestined country of the Promised Land, is the most important in his whole history; but, both the departure itself, and the circumstances that attended it, were types of future realities to be fulfilled in the Christian Pasch. The people of God was delivered from an idolatrous and tyrannical country: in our Pasch, they who are now our neophytes have courageously emancipated themselves from the slavish sway of satan, and have solemnly renounced the pomps and works of this haughty Pharaoh.
On their road to the Promised Land, the Israelites had to pass through a sea of water; their doing so was a necessity, both for their protection against Pharaoh's army, which was pursuing them, and for their entrance into the land of milk and honey. Our neophytes too, after renouncing the tyrant who had enslaved them, had to go through that same saving element of water, in order to escape their fierce enemies; it carried them safe into the land of their hopes, and stood as a rampart to defend them against invasion.
By the goodness of God, that water, which is an obstacle to man's pursuing his way, was turned into an ally for Israel's march; the laws it had from nature were suspended, and it became the savior of God's people. In like manner, the sacred font,--which, as the Church told us on the Feast of the Epiphany, is made an instrument of divine grace,--has become the refuge and fortress of our happy neophytes; their passing through its waters has put them out of reach of the tyrant's grasp. Having reached the opposite shore, the Israelites see Pharaoh and his army, their shields and their chariots, buried in the sea. When our neophytes looked at the holy font, from which they had risen to the life of grace, they rejoiced to see the tomb where their sins, enemies worse than Pharaoh and his minions, lay buried for ever.
Then did the Israelites march cheerfully on towards the land that God had promised to give them. During the journey, they will have God as their teacher and lawgiver; they will have their thirst quenched by fountains springing up from a rock in the desert; they will be fed on manna sent each day from heaven. Our neophytes, too, will run on unfettered to the heavenly country, their Promised Land. They will go through the desert of this world, uninjured by its miseries and dangers, for the divine lawgiver will teach them, not amidst thunder and lightning, as He did when He gave His law to the Israelites, but with persuasive words of gentlest love, spoken with that sweet manner which set on fire the hearts of the two disciples of Emmaus. Springs of water shall refresh them at every turn, yea of that living water which Jesus, a few weeks back, told the Samaritan woman should be given to them that adore Him in spirit and in truth. And lastly, a heavenly Manna shall be their food, strengthening and delighting them--a Manna far better than that of old, for it will give them immortality.
So that our Pasch means all this: it is a passing through water to the Land of Promise, but with a reality and truth which the Israelites had only under the veil of types, sublime indeed and divine, but mere types. Let then our Passover from the death of original sin to the life of grace, by holy Baptism, be a great feast-day with us. This may not be the anniversary of our Baptism: it matters not; let us fervently celebrate our exodus from the Egypt of the world into the Christian Church; let us, with glad and grateful hearts, renew our baptismal vows, which made our God so liberal in His gifts to us: let us renounce satan, and all his works, and all his pomps.
The Apostle of the Gentiles tells us of another mystery of the waters of Baptism; it gives completion to all we have been saying, and equally forms part of our Pasch. He teaches us, that we were hidden beneath this water, as was Christ in His tomb; and that we then died, and were buried, together with Him (1 Rom. vi. 4). It was the death of our life of sin: that we might live to God, we had to die to sin. When we think of the holy font where we were regenerated, let us call it the tomb, wherein we buried the Old Man, who was to have no resurrection. Baptism by immersion,--which was the ancient mode of administering the Sacrament, and is still used in some countries,--was expressive of this spiritual. burial: the neophyte was made to disappear beneath the water: he was dead to his former life, as our buried Jesus was to His mortal life. But, as our Redeemer did not remain in the tomb, but rose again to a new life, so likewise, says the Apostle (Coloss. ii. 12), they who are baptized, rise again with Him when they come from the font; they bear on them the pledges of immortality and glory, and are the true and living members of that Head, who dieth now no more. Here, again, is our Pasch, our passage from death to life.
At Rome, the Station is in the basilica of Saint Laurence outside the Walls. It is looked upon as the most important of the many churches built by Rome in honor of her favorite Martyr, whose body lies under the high altar. Hither were the neophytes led today, that they might learn, from the example of so brave and generous a soldier of Christ, how courageous they should be in confessing their faith, and how faithful in living up to their baptismal vows. For several centuries, the reception of Baptism was a preparation for martyrdom; but, at all times, it is an enlisting in the service of Christ, which we cannot leave without incurring the guilt and penalty of traitors.