Preparing for the Passover Procession

[written 2/26/20]

Ten Commandments Charlton Heston Red Sea

Moses and Aaron led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The people marched dry-shod across the Red Sea, because the power of God parted the waters for them. They passed over the sea, as a people united in a procession towards their goal.

The Passover. The Passover is a procession. People marching forward together, united by the power of God.

We keep especially-holy the forty days before the celebration of Passover. We do this in order to join in the procession. We want to take part in the liberation that God gives His chosen people.

The Hebrews marched toward the Promised Land of Israel, as a symbol. They represented the entire human race, redeemed from sin by the Christ, marching spiritually towards God. Lent draws us into that procession. For forty days we prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate the ancient Passover of Israel as the great feast of our salvation in Christ.

How? What do we do through these forty days, to prepare ourselves?

1. We pray more. Because to march towards God, we need to pray. The holy procession of Passover is, above all, a prayer–our lifting of our hearts to God. 2. We give things up; we fast. And 3. We give things away. Because marching towards God requires letting go of everything else. The Israelites had to remove all leaven from their homes. Again, a symbol. We must remove from our lives all superfluous attachments to earthly things.

We take part in the great Passover procession by focusing on the true goal that we human beings have in life. God. Nothing less than God.

In Holy Baptism, Jesus initiated us into the divine mystery of His eternal procession to the Father. Lent teaches us that truly living means one thing: marching towards God.

Sabbath, Passover, Mass


Christ reigns over the sabbath day. We keep the sabbath by celebrating Holy Mass, the Passover of Christ.

The ancient Israelites languished in slavery in Egypt. God had compassion on them. He liberated them through the Passover. They marked their doorposts with the blood of the unblemished lamb. They celebrated the feast with their loins girt, sandals on their feet—because the strife of that night would not end with death for them, but rather: freedom.

Holy Mass holds all this drama in its mystery, of course—and more. At the altar, we can rest in the Lord Jesus’ triumph, in His priesthood, in His undying life.

All we need is faith, faith in the whole beautiful unfolding of heaven that God has done, with the Holy Mass of Christ crucified right at the center.

No Seders? But We Must.

passover seder plate

This morning I read something by a rabbi, admonishing Christians not to do Passover Seders during Holy Week. It’s not our ceremony to do. (I came to the same conclusion myself a couple decades ago.)

But… We cannot altogether abide by this. Holy Mass is, after all, a Passover seder. Every Holy Thursday, to commemorate the Last Supper, we solemnly read a part of the Torah instructions which command the annual celebration of the Passover and the Seder.

Inquirers into Catholicism often ask a very good and honest question: How do you explain the transition from the “Old Law” or “Old Alliance” to the New Covenant? How do you know which Old-Testament laws remain in effect, and which do not?

mosesA good question, since at Holy Mass today we hear Lord Jesus declare that He did not come to abolish the Law. But we also will read, in a few weeks’ time, the account of the Apostles determining that you need not undergo circumcision to enter Christ’s Church.

The most basic answer to the transition question is: The moral law expressed in the Ten Commandments remains in effect, since it is not just another written law, for one particular nation. Rather, the laws of the Decalogue pertain to human nature itself. On the other hand, the ancient Israelite ceremonial laws no longer bind us.

Ok. A decent answer. But not complete.

The Old Law requires the annual commemoration of Israel’s liberation from slavery, the Passover. Jews fulfill that fundamental law by ridding the house of leaven and conducting a Seder.

But that same “ceremonial” law binds us Christians, too. Just as much as “I am the Lord your God” binds us, and “Thou shalt not kill.” We must keep Holy Week and Easter. Holy Week and Easter do not constitute some kind of optional ceremonial vestige of ancient Israelite religion.

It was a Passover: Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. And it was His Passover—His suffering, His death, His resurrection from the dead.

This holiest feast will soon be upon us, and we must keep it. Not by pulling out haggadahs and fixing matzoh sandwiches with horseradish and charoset. But by celebrating the Church’s Sacred Liturgy with solemn attention.

Resurrection Known and Unknown

resurrectionThe resurrection—Christ’s and ours—a fact, and a mystery. [Spanish]

What do Sunday’s Scripture readings say? The shepherd of our souls laid down His life in order to take it up again, by rising from the dead, in His body. St. Peter declared the resurrection to the Sanhedrin: Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, whom you crucified–God raised Him from the dead. And St. John applies the mystery of Christ’s resurrection to us: We shall be like Him. But St. John adds a caveat to remind us that we deal here with a mystery of faith: “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Jesus suffered and died. They laid Him in the tomb. A night and a day passed, then the sun set again. At some time during that subsequent night, before full dawn, He rose from the dead.

Many human eyes saw the Lord in the flesh after He rose. He appeared to many witnesses, as we have seen in our readings these past three Sundays. The testimony of these witnesses can leave us in no doubt about the simple fact: the resurrection of Christ did occur. They could not have sat and ate with Him, if he had not risen in the flesh.

But the testimonies all refer to events after the fact. No one actually saw Him rise—that is, no mortal human being saw it. No human being was in the tomb with Him as He rose. Christ’s act of rising from the dead lies shrouded in the mystery of that holiest of nights.

As a man, Jesus passed over from human life as we know it, burdened by a fundamental separation from God, to human life as God intended it, perfectly united with Himself. The true Passover: Christ passing over from a mortal life in the body to an immortal life in the body.

The disciples who saw Christ after the resurrection saw the evidence that the Passover had occurred in His flesh. But they did not see the Passover itself. It is not something that mortal eyes can see. It is a mystery of faith.

passover seder plateIn the same way, our own eventual bodily resurrection from the dead lies shrouded in the deepest clouds of divine mystery. Yes, on the one hand, it is a fact. We can’t really doubt that Christ rose in the body. So we can’t doubt that we, too, will rise. Christ rose from the dead, in the body: fact. All the dead will rise, in the body: fact.

But what our life will be like then: Mystery. We don’t know. It belongs to “the age to come.” Jesus, the Head of the mystical Body, Who passed over to immortal life 1,985 years ago—He will return to the earth with His divinity not hidden, but fully manifest. The Age to come.

The cynical world will say to us Christians: How can you possibly believe in such ethereal mysteries? Do you not know that the body is a chemical machine? It decays after death, unto dust.

To which we reply: It is precisely with reference to the facts of death and dusty graves that we speak. Would you cynics have us believe that the life of man as we know it—which, yes, does involve chemicals and the weight of mortality, but which also involves love and beauty and the longing for heaven—do you expect us to dismiss all the spiritual nobility in human life as some kind of chemical fluke?

After all, what real alternative do we have to faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection, and our own? Should we hope for real happiness from something else? Like facebook surfing, or good wine, or getting a lapel pin after 25 years of service on the job? Or can we hope for some purely spiritual eternity, with no body? What kind of heaven would that be for us, anyway?

No: We flesh-and-bone mortals have one solid hope, the hope that Christ has given us. The bonds of love we form by His grace during this pilgrim life will in fact last forever in His divine kingdom, when all the dead rise.

little last supperWe Christians who believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection and hope for our own, even though we can hardly understand it—we are no credulous fops living in a myth. To the contrary: We confront the reality of our inevitable death as it is, and we deal with it in the most reasonable way possible. By humbly trusting that the Word spoken by Almighty God is true.

We Christians never said that Christ’s bodily resurrection is something that we mortals can altogether understand. But nonetheless it is an intimate reality, which we touch by faith whenever we come to the holy altar of Christ’s Body and Blood. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

The ‘how’ of our bodily resurrection exceeds our imagination and understanding…Yet our participation in the Eucharist gives us a foretaste.

The mystery of immortal bodily life is close, familiar–a friend. Christ, already having passed over to immortal life in the body, does not dwell on some unreachable alien planet. He lives with us right here. He is always with us. He unites us with Himself when we receive Holy Communion.

Passover to Walley World

Walley World

In Exodus, we read the Lord’s instructions to Moses and Aaron about celebrating the Passover. The ceremony involves a sacrifice and a meal. The quintessence of the ritual is: Being in flight, leaving, moving. No time for the bread to rise, because this is a meal for the road. The angel of death will pass over our hovels, marked by the blood of the lamb. Then we will leave. We will pass over the Red Sea as if it were dry land, en route to the country God has given us.

This ritual sense of pilgrimage has passed into the sacrificial meal of the new and eternal covenant, the Holy Mass. The offering of the Body and Precious Blood of the incarnate divine Lamb saves us from slavery to sin and death. We consume Him under the appearance of unleavened bread as food for our journey. We keep our sandals on our feet and our staffs in hand. We keep our loins girt. What does that mean? It means now is no time for lollygagging, for malingering on the sofa. This is not our home. We have a destination to reach.

But wait a minute. Don’t we live here? Don’t we have duties, friends and loved ones, worthy tasks to accomplish here and now? And isn’t our parish-church building our ‘church home?’ Shouldn’t we especially love our parish church, as a home for our souls and spirits?

Good question. To understand this properly, let’s consider how Benedictine monks promise never to leave the monastery without the abbot’s permission. Talk about the opposite of “on the move.” The ancient Israelites celebrating the first Passover seem to occupy the opposite end of a spectrum from the monk confined for life to his cloister.

Except: the two share the same profound spiritual awareness. God has a home for us, and it is not here. No one has loins more securely girt for the great journey than a cloistered monk who lives for fifty or sixty years on one little plot of ground without going anywhere other than the doctor’s office.

passover seder plateOur parish church building counts as a bona fide “home” because it represents heaven. It represents the home we truly have, which is not here on earth.

Some people fantasize endlessly about vacationing in Disneyland, or Wally World, or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’ll admit that I myself have a US map on my wall, marked with all the Civil-War sites I have visited. And my next traveling plan is to visit sites from the Mexican-American War. We’re not cloistered monks, after all; we’re allowed to take vacations sometimes.

But no one can take a vacation from the fact that this world will never make us truly happy, and someday we will all die. Someday soon. So we find happiness by calmly and patiently living out our lives on the little plot of land we occupy, frequenting the parish church, celebrating the holy Passover sacrifice—the Mass—hoping that today the Lord will return in all His glory.

Groundhog Day with No Variables


Our Lady and St. Joseph took the Lord to the Temple on the fortieth day after His birth. They fulfilled an ancient law. “You shall redeem your firstborn by offering sacrifice to the Lord, because He slew the firstborn of the Egyptians to liberate you from slavery.”

The Passover. The angel of death passed over the households marked by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The holy nation marched to freedom. Simeon saw the Lamb, God made man, ready to shed His Blood for His people. So the old man declared our Christian faith: “My own eyes have seen the light of salvation! Peace!”

Whom has God Almighty liberated from slavery? On whose heart has He daubed His own most-precious Blood? Upon whose faces has the undying Light shone?

candlemas…What is Candlemas all about? Why do we light the same little tapers we use only today and at the Easter Vigil? Why does the Easter candlelight fill our temple today?

We are the people. God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, master of times and seasons, governor of history—He has made Himself our kind Father. In the covenant consecrated by the blood shed on the cross, the Precious Blood of our Mass.

Frickin’ Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. But we set no store by such frivolous superstitions. Shadow/no shadow does not concern us.

For us, in our temple, February 2nd has no variables. Light wins. God is light, and His light wins. We are the People God has chosen to be His own. Not because we were good. He has chosen to form His people from the great mass of sinners.

We will march to freedom, because Jesus Christ is our God. In this world we will have troubles. But we rejoice because He has overcome the sin of the world.

Door of Faith, Mercy, Love, and Humility


mezuzah mezuzot

Anyone ever kissed a mezuzah?  Or, to be more precise:  touched the mezuzah, and then kissed your hand?

A mezuzah hangs on the doorpost of a devout Jewish home.  It contains a small paper, with the Shema:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.   You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Deuteronomy commands the people to inscribe the Shema on their doorposts.  But the word mezuzah appears for the first time in the Bible in the passage we read every year on Holy Thursday.  Exodus 12 commands the people:  “Take some of the blood of the Passover lamb, and apply it to your mezuzot, your doorposts.”

Now, a mezuzah can be an exquisite little work of art, adorning the doorway.  Generally, they don’t look at all messy.  But even the most dainty little mezuzah represents the sprinkled blood of the lamb, the blood which moved the angel of death to pass over the house.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us two ways to obtain a jubilee-year indulgence.  First, the old-fashioned way:  to pass through a Holy Door.  Usually, during Jubilee Years, you have to go to Rome to pass through a Holy Door, or at least to a papal basilica.  But this year, Pope Francis extended the prerogative for Holy Doors to every diocese.

Trust me, Fr. Matt and I lobbied to get a holy door at St. Andrew’s.  But the Bishop decided the cathedral in Richmond should have the holy door for our diocese.  Fair enough.  Now that winter has ended, the time has come for everyone to plan a little pilgrimage to Richmond, or to the National Shrine in Washington, to pass through the Jubilee-Year door.

The second way Pope Francis gave us to obtain an indulgence this year:  doing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  Comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.

The Lord liberated our forefathers from slavery during the Passover, because He loves.  He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lamb of the new and eternal covenant, to shed His Blood for us on the cross—because He loves.  He gave us the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church—because He loves.

The events we read about in the Bible unfold the mystery of divine love, and they have brought about this result:  God has opened a door for us.  He has opened the door of faith.  The door of mercy.  The door of divine love.

And one more thing:  the jubilee-year door of faith, mercy, and love must also be the door of humility.  Faith means humility, since believing the Word involves acknowledging that God knows more than we do.  Mercy means humility, since God forgives those who humbly repent.  Above all, divine love means humility, since the love of God works through simple, un-glorious, practically invisible deeds.

Brothers and sisters, let’s step through the door—the door of faith, mercy, love, and humility!  On the other side of this door lies the Kingdom of God!

Pope Francis foot kiss

The Future Sea

Ten Commandments Charlton Heston Red Sea

Which great Old-Testament image shows us what Easter means for us, for the Christians of the world? This event happened originally, many centuries before Christ, in order to show us what Christ’s Passover has accomplished for us…

Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.

You don’t have to watch Charleton Heston’s “Ten Commandments” to perceive the intense drama of the moment. Wind blowing. Hapless Israelites lined up, a cavalcade of refugees, with Moses leading the column, staff in hand. As every second passes, the angry Egyptian charioteers gain ground.

And the Israelites do not have geography on their side. Trying to get to the Promised Land? Good luck! Ain’t no bridge over this here sea! We can imagine that desperate prayers and lamentations burbled anxiously on the lips of Moses and his followers at this moment.

But the Lord impatiently said to His prophet Moses, “Come on, man! Why are you crying out to me? Tell them to stride forward. Lift up your staff. I got you!”

candleMoses, to his credit, did not panic at this. He did not say, “You mean, we should march into the middle of all that water?”

If it were you or me, we might have said, “Look, Lord, I know You made the heavens and the earth, and blew the spirit of life into all the vigorous creatures of the cosmos. But that’s an awful lot of water out there, and I don’t know how to swim.”

Moses, however, said no such thing. He did not panic. “Adelante!” he said. “Vamonos! We are stepping into that ocean, people, for the glory of God Almighty!”

I said that all this happened in order to teach us what Easter means for us. What does that wide sea represent? The windswept water?

I think we can say that the Red Sea represents a uniquely opaque reality. An impenetrably dark reality. A reality of incomprehensible mystery, when it comes to what our churning little minds can grasp.

The sea represents: All that is yet to come. Every moment, subsequent to now. The future.

This could be our last Easter like this. An asteroid could land right here. Or: Our constitutional system of government could unravel completely. Or, on the other hand: Tomorrow, you or I could meet someone with something beautiful to say, that we have never heard before, and our lives could completely change. This spring could turn lovelier than any spring we’ve ever lived through, and the world could start to look different.

Who knows what’s coming down the pike? All we know about it is that we don’t know. The future is the wine-dark sea.

And what about the voice of the Lord, speaking to Moses? God Almighty saying, “Stop whining and stride forward! I will be glorified by getting you Israelites to the other side.”

He is saying to us: “Vayanse! Don’t tell me you can’t swim. Don’t tell me you’d rather have the leeks and melons and cucumbers you had when you served Satan as slaves. Don’t tell me that you’re not sure you can handle walking through a tunnel of water, miraculously suspended to the right and to the left, and teeming with whales and fish. Don’t talk, just walk. Don’t whine, just step forward in line. I got this. I am God, and I am telling you that I got this thing, the future. I got it. Don’t you worry about it.”

Now, the Egyptians never made it through the sea. What undid them? What does the Scripture say? The Egyptians ________ed, and their chariot wheels got mired in the mud. The Egyptians ________ed, and they sounded the retreat. And, next thing they knew, the dark sea washed over them and drowned them instantly. (panicked)

The Easter candle means this: Be not afraid. The only enemy that we really need to fear, Christ has conquered. Christ has conquered our only real foe.

Adelante, entonces! Forward. The future–unknown as it is, nebulous as it is, as choppy as a stormy sea as it may be: the light of Christ’s Passover candle will shine in it.

Halfway to Jerusalem: Remember to Remember!


We find ourselves near the mid-point of Lent. Halfway to Jerusalem, so to speak. It seems like Lent only just began, so that means Holy Week will arrive before we know it: The week of our most intense commemoration, our most intense remembering.

Lent unites us with the ancient Israelites. God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They journeyed home to the land that God had given their father Abraham. During that journey, God gave them their law.

One of the most important precepts of the law was: Don’t forget what happened in Egypt! No matter how settled you may get in the Promised Land, no matter how comfortable: never forget! You were beggarly slaves, living in cruel desperation. God Almighty reached down from heaven and freed you!

The Passover remembrance involved a lot more than just a yearly ritual. It actually gave the ancient Israelites the foundation for all their piety and their morality. By remembering that they owed God everything–that they owed Him their freedom and whatever prosperity they had–by remembering that they, too, had been desperate and poor, they kept compassion for the desperate and poor alive in their hearts. Their commemoration of the Passover taught them not to turn away from the desperate soul in distress. Because they, too, had been desperate souls in distress, and still would be–were it not for God’s gracious mercy to them.

el-grecost-paulAs St. Paul has explained, what happened in Egypt occurred in order to give us an image of what Jesus was to do in Jerusalem. In the days of Moses, God saved one nation from slavery.

Then God came to the earth Himself, and He saved all of us from an even more desperate and poor state. Slaves not just of Pharaoh, but of Satan. Destined to die in misery and languish forever in a hopeless netherworld.

But God did not turn away from us–desperate as we are, helpless as we human beings are, in the face of our own weakness and our inevitable death. He did not turn away. He turned toward us. He offered His face to buffets and spitting. He spread out His arms for the nails. He bowed His Head in death for us, and He overcame our Enemy and rescued us for eternal life.

The precept of precepts in our Gospel law is: that we never forget this! That we live with the constant memory of Christ redeeming us from the most desperate slavery. That we live with the constant memory of Christ giving us an unimaginably wonderful destiny, immeasurably greater than we could ever deserve.

This remembrance gives us the foundation of our piety and our morality, too. Christ laid down all He had for us, when we had nothing. So we have to lay down all we have, to help the brother or the sister who needs something.

h/t Dr. Timothy Gray

Computus and My Brother’s Birthday

full_moon_2Week after next, we will have a full moon.

The Purim moon, which precedes the Passover moon.

Easter always falls on the first _________ after the first _____ _____ after the _________ _________ (March 21).*

If you’re looking for an extra-hard Lenten penance to do… How about: Determine whether or not a period exists during which the dates of Easter repeat exactly. If so, determine what the period is.

Now, I know that Easter occurs with some regularity on March 31, since that’s my dear little brother’s birthday. He had an Easter birthday two years ago, and thirteen years ago.

I know that Easter sometimes occurs on March 23, since Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008, will remain forever etched in my memory as the miserable, cold day when the Georgetown Hoyas got knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Steph Curry and the Davidson Wildcats. It just didn’t seem to me that the good Lord Jesus had risen from the dead so that Roy Hibbert’s college career could come to such an abrupt and painful end.

Painful Easter
Painful Easter
Easter occurs somewhat frequently on March 27, which means that Good Friday and Annunciation Day are the same. I remember that happened in 2005. And it will happen again next year.

The most frequent date of Easter? April 19. But we are living through a 75-year period during which Easter never falls on April 19.

Turns out that the mathematicians of the Middle Ages devised a science called Computus, by which to determine the date of Easter in any given year.

And there is a cycle of Easter dates. They repeat exactly, according to form, in a perfect pattern, very regularly.

Every 5,700,000 years.


* Sunday full moon vernal equinox