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Awake, and Christ Shall Give You Light!

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    On Holy Saturday evening, March 26, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, representing the Pope, presided at the Mass of the Easter Vigil at the Altar of the Confessio in St Peter's Basilica. This is a translation of the Cardinal's homily, given in Italian.
  • Larger Work:
    L'Osservatore Romano
  • Pages: 7
  • Publisher & Date:
    Vatican, March 30, 2005

The liturgy of the holy night of Easter — after the blessing of the paschal candle — begins with a procession behind the light and towards the light. This procession symbolically sums up the entire catechumenal and penitential journey of Lent, but also calls to mind Israel's long journey through the desert towards the Promised Land, and lastly, it symbolizes the journey of humanity, which in the night of history was seeking light, seeking paradise, seeking true life, reconciliation between the peoples, between heaven and earth, universal peace.

Thus, the procession involves the whole of history, as the words of the blessing of the paschal candle proclaim: "Christ yesterday and today. The beginning and the end.... All time belongs to him. To him be glory and power through every age for ever...".

But the liturgy does not founder in general ideas; it is not content with vague utopias, but offers us very concrete instructions about the way to take and the destination of our journey.

Israel was guided in the desert at night by a column of fire and during the day by a cloud. Our column of fire, our sacred cloud, is the Risen Christ, symbolized by the lighted paschal candle.

Christ is light; Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; in following Christ, by keeping our hearts' gaze fixed on Christ, we find the right way. The whole pedagogy of the Lenten liturgy makes this fundamental imperative concrete.

Following Christ means first of all being attentive to his words. Participation in the Sunday liturgy week after week is necessary for every Christian, precisely to enable the person to be truly familiar with the divine word; the human being does not live on bread alone, nor on money or career; we live on the Word of God that corrects us, renews us, shows us the true structural values of the world and of society: God's Word is the true manna, the bread from heaven that teaches us life and how to be properly human.

Following Christ entails being attentive to his commandments - summed up in the twofold commandment to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. Following Christ means having compassion on the suffering, of having a heart for the poor; it also means having the courage to defend the faith against ideologies; it means trusting in the Church and in her interpretation and concretization of the divine word for our current circumstances.

Following Christ means loving his Church, his Mystical Body. By moving in this direction we light tiny lights in this world, we dispel the darkness of history.

Anticipating the 'new world'

Israel was journeying to the Promised Land. The whole of humanity is seeking something like the Promised Land. The Easter liturgy is very specific on this point. Its goals are the sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist.

The Church thus tells us that these sacraments are the anticipation of the new world, its presence anticipated in our lives.

In the ancient Church the Catechumenate was a journey step by step to Baptism: a journey of the opening of the senses, heart and mind to God, the learning of a new lifestyle, a transformation of personal existence into growing friendship with Christ in the company of all believers.

Thus, after the various stages of purification, openness and new awareness, the sacramental act of Baptism was the definitive gift of new life. It was a death and resurrection, as St Paul says in a sort of spiritual autobiography: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

The Resurrection of Christ is not merely the memory of a past event. On Easter night, in the sacrament of Baptism, resurrection, the victory over death, is truly achieved.

Therefore, Jesus said: "[H]e who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life... he... has passed from death to life" (Jn 5:24). And on the same topic he told Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life..." (Jn 11:25). Jesus is the Resurrection and eternal life; to the extent that we are united with Christ we have today "passed from death to life", we are already living eternal life, which is not only a reality that comes after death but also begins today, in our communion with Christ.

Passing from death to life: this, together with the sacrament of Baptism, is the real core of the liturgy of this holy night. Passing from death to life: this is the way by which Christ opened the door, the way the celebrations of the Easter festivities invite us to take.

Making the gift our own

Dear faithful, most of us received Baptism as children, unlike these five catechumens who are now preparing to receive it as adults. They are here ready to proclaim their faith in a loud voice.

But for most of us, it was our parents who anticipated our faith. They gave us biological life without being able to ask us whether or not we wanted to live, rightly convinced that it is good to be alive and that life is a gift.

They were equally convinced, however, that biological life is a fragile gift; indeed, in a world marked by so many evils, it is an ambiguous gift that becomes a true gift only if, at the same time, it is possible to administer the antidote to death, communion with invincible life, with Christ.

Together with the fragile gift of biological life our parents gave us the guarantee of true life in Baptism. It is now up to us to make this gift our own, entering more and more radically into the truth of our Baptism.

Every year the Easter Vigil invites us once again to immerse ourselves in the waters of Baptism, to pass from death to life, to become true Christians.

"Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light", says an ancient baptismal hymn that St Paul cited in his Letter to the Ephesians (5:14). "Awake, O sleeper... and Christ shall give you light", the Church says to all of us today. Let us awaken from our weary Christianity that lacks dynamism; let us stand and follow Christ the true light and the true life. Amen.

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