The Station is at St. John Lateran, the mother church of the Christian world, and it is here that the Church celebrated the First Mass of Easter and that formerly she received into her bosom the many catechumens who were baptized on this day. First dedicated to our blessed Saviour, this basilica was subsequently consecrated to St. John the Baptist with the baptistry attached to it.
In former times the Church held no special service on this morning. Apart from any gathering for the Station, a meeting was held in the course of the afternoon for the seventh and last scrutiny which almost immediately preceded the baptism. It was at this gathering that the rite of exorcism took place, and the rite of Ephpheta, which recalls the miracles worked by Jesus when He cured the deaf and dumb, and the renunciation of Satan pronounced by the catechumen after being anointed with the oil for catechumens. He then recited the Symbol, a proceeding known as "the rendering of the Symbol." We discover these rites again in the present ceremonies of baptism following those that took place at the third scrutiny.
At night was held the Watch or solemn Vigil of Easter, towards the end of which, before daybreak, the catechumens plunged in the water of the baptistry were, so to speak, buried with Jesus; and at the very hour at which Christ rose triumphantly from the sepulchre, they were born to the life of grace.
Later the great ceremonies were anticipated, being held first in the evening, and subsequently in the morning of Holy Saturday. They reveal a sudden change from sorrow to joy, and disclose certain anomalies which this notice helps to explain.
THE BLESSING OF THE NEW FIRE
The Church, blessing as she does all elements of which she makes use for divine worship, made a practice of blessing every evening the new fire that was to provide the light for the office of Vespers. The liturgy of Holy Saturday maintains this custom. She also blesses the five grains of incense which are to be fixed in the Paschal candle, the offering of which to God will thenceforward be accepted as a sweet savour.
At a convenient hour the altars are covered with linen cloths, but the candles are not lighted until the beginning of Mass. Meanwhile fire is struck from a flint outside the church and the coals are kindled. At the end of None, the priest vested in amice, alb, girdle, and stole to which he adds, if possible, a violet cope, accompanied by his ministers with processional cross, holy water and incense, goes outside the church door, if it can be conveniently done, or stands in the entrance of the church and blesses the new fire.
Deus, qui per Filium tuum, angularem scilicet lapidem, claritatis tuae ignem fidelibus contulisti: productum e silice, nostris profuturum usibus, novum hunc ignem sanctifica: et concede nobis, ita per haec festa paschalia caelestibus desideriis inflammari; ut ad perpetuae claritatis, puris mentibus, valeamus festa pertingere.
O God, who through Thy Son, the corner stone, hast bestowed on the faithful the fire of Thy glory, sanctify this new fire produced from a flint that it may be profitable to us: and grant that by this paschal festival we may be so inflamed with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may come to the feast of perpetual light.
He then blesses the five grains of incense which will presently be set in the Pascal candle. During the blessing of the grains of incense an acolyte, taking some of the blessed coals, places them in the thurible. Having finished the foregoing prayer, the priest takes some incense from the incense boat and puts it in the thurible, blessing it in the usual manner. He then sprinkles the grains of incense and the new fire three times with holy water, reciting the antiphon Asperges me without the psalm, afterwards incensing them thrice.
Then the deacon, in a white dalmatic, takes a reed with a triple candle fixed on the top, symbolical of the three Divine Persons in whose name the catechumens are this day baptized.
The thurifer goes with an acolyte carrying in a vessel the five grains of incense; next comes the subdeacon bearing the cross, followed by the clergy in order; then the deacon with the reed, and finally the celebrant. As soon as the deacon has entered the church he lowers the reed, and the acolyte carrying the candle lighted from the new fire lights one of the three candles set on the top. Then the deacon, raising the reed, genuflects as do all the rest with the exception of the subdeacon who carries the cross, and sings:
Lumen Christi. R. Deo gratias.
The light of Christ, R. Thanks be to God.
On arriving at the middle of the church the deacon lights the second branch candle, and again genuflecting sings on a higher tone:
Lumen Christi. R. Deo gratias.
The light of Christ, R. Thanks be to God.
He then advances to the foot of the altar, where the third candle is lighted, and once more genuflecting he sings on a still higher tone:
Lumen Christi. R. Deo gratias.
The light of Christ, R. Thanks be to God.
The celebrant then goes up to the Epistle side of the altar, and the deacon, giving the reed to an acolyte, takes the book, asks a blessing of the priest as at the Gospel.
The deacon goes to the lectern, puts down the book and incenses it. At his right stand the subdeacon with the cross and the thurifer; at his left the two acolytes, one holding the reed and the other the vessel containing the five blessed grains of incense to be set in the Paschal candle. All rise and stand as at the Gospel, and the deacon sings the Exsultet, in which the Church expounds the beautiful symbolic meaning of the Paschal candle. He sings of the night of happy memory which witnessed the escape of the children of Israel from Egypt, conducted by a pillar of a fire illumined with the splendour of Christ.
Exsultet jam Angelica turba caelorum: exsultent divina mysteria: et pro tanti Regis victoria, tuba insonet salutaris. Gaudeat et tellus tantis irradiata fulgoribus: et aeterni Regis splendore illustrata, totius orbis se sentiat amisisse caliginem. Laetetur et mater Ecclesia, tanti luminis adornata fulgoribus: et magnis populorum vocibus haec aula resultet. Quapropter adstantes vos, fratres carissimi, ad tam miram hujus sancti luminis claritatem, una mecum, quaeso, Dei omnipotentis misericordiam invocate. Ut qui me non meis meritis intra Levitarum numerum dignatus est aggregare: luminis sui claritatem infundens, Cerei hujus laudem implere perficiat. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium suum: qui cum eo vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. R. Amen.
Let the angelic choir of heaven now rejoice; let the divine mysteries be celebrated with joy; and let the trumpet of salvation resound for the victory of so great a King. Let the earth also rejoice, illumined with such resplendent rays; and enlightened with the brightness of the eternal King, let it feel that the darkness of the whole world is dispersed. Let also our mother the Church rejoice, adorned with the brightness of so great a light; and may this temple resound with the joyful voices of the people. Wherefore I beseech you, most dear brethren, who are here present in the wonderful brightness of this holy light, to invoke with me the mercy of almighty God. That He who has vouchsafed to number me, without any merits of mine, among the Levites, would pour forth His brightness upon me, and enable me to celebrate the praise of this light. Through our Lord Jesus Christ His Son, who with and reigneth one God, world without end. R. Amen.
After the blessing of the Paschal candle the deacon lays aside his white dalmatic and puts on a violet stole and maniple. He then goes to the celebrant, who after laying aside his cope puts on a violet maniple and chasuble. The Prophecies are then chanted without any introduction, while the priest standing on the Epistle side of the altar reads them in a low voice.
The reading of the twelve Prophecies served the object formerly of a final initiation of the catechumens.
1) Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-2
Through baptism the souls of men will recover the rights which they enjoyed in Eden before the fall of Adam.
2) Genesis 5; 6; 7; 8 passim
God, through baptism, brings souls into the Church, which is the Ark of Salvation. As after the flood, so now the world is renewed, by the saving waters of baptism.
3) Genesis 22:1-19
Through baptism and their faith in Jesus Christ, the converts were enrolled among the children promised by God to Abraham. On Quinquagesima Sunday, when the liturgy was concerned with the history of this patriarch, no mention was made of his sacrifice because, to follow St Augustine, this type of our Lord's sacrifice is held over until Passiontide, when it is fulfilled.
4) Exodus 14: 24-31; 15
By baptism Christ rescues the catechumens from the yoke of Satan as Moses freed the Israelites from the captivity of Egypt.
5) Isaias 54:17;55:1-11
Through baptism souls are incorporated in the new nation with which God enters into a covenant immeasurably superior to the covenant of Sinai.
6) Baruch 3:9-38
The souls of the baptised will enjoy eternal peace if they observe the lessons of life and of wisdom which the Church teaches them on behalf of God.
7) Ezechiel 37:1-14
Baptism infuses new life into our souls. This is what is meant by the dry bones which at the command of Ezechiel stood up unto their feet, put on flesh and became a mighty army.
8) Isaias 4:1-6
Christ, after purifying our souls in baptism, will take them under His protection.
9) Exodus 12: 1-11
All who have been baptized shall eat the flesh of the Lamb of God of which the Paschal Lamb is the figure.
10) Jonas 3:1-10
Like the Ninevites of old, our souls in baptism will obtain mercy from God.
11) Deuteronomy 31:22-30
The souls of those that have been baptized must bear in mind, like the people led by Moses, the law of God and His munificence.
12) Daniel 3:1-24
The souls of those who have been baptized are shielded by God in the midst of all danger, as were the three young men in the furnace.
THE BLESSING OF THE FONT
(In churches where there is no baptismal font all the following is omitted as far as the Litany.)
In earlier times the clergy at this point went to the baptistry of the Lateran, where the Sovereign Pontiff blessed, by virtue of the Cross, the water that was to be used for the baptism. The Paschal candle, which he dipped three several times in it, recalled to mind the incident of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, whereby He sanctified the water and imparted to it the power of regeneration. The catechumens were then questioned for the last time on the Creed, were baptized and then confirmed, and the white garments in which they were then clothed became the mystical robe which entitled them to sit at the holy table and make their first communion.
The rites which were then observed are still found in the ceremonies for the administration of baptism. The priest changes his violet stole for a white one, as baptism was administered during the night, when the Paschal festivities began. He asks the three questions which summarize the whole of the Creed, he baptizes, anoints with the holy chrism, puts a white linen cloth upon the person baptized and gives him a lighted candle.
At the end of the reading of the Prophecies, if there is a baptismal font in the church the priest who is about to bless it puts on a violet cope and, preceded by the processional cross, the candelabra and the lighted blessed candle, goes to the font with his ministers and the clergy, while the following Tract is sung:
Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum: ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. V. Sitivit anima mea ad Deum vivum: quando veniam, et apparebo ante faciem Dei? V. Fuerunt mihi lacrimae meae panes die ac nocte, dum dicitur mihi per singulos dies: Ubi est Deus tuus?
As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God. V. My soul hath thirsted for the living God: when shall I come and appear before the face of God? V. My tears have been my bread day and night, while they say to me daily: Where is thy God?
Having blessed the font, if there are any to be baptized he baptizes them in the usual way. Then, while the priest and his ministers return to the altar, two cantors begin the Litany.
THE LITANY OF THE SAINTS
The celebrant puts aside his chasuble, and with his ministers prostrates himself before the altar. All the rest kneel and two cantors in the middle of the choir sing the Litany, both sides repeating each invocation.
At the invocation Peccatores, te rogamus, audi nos the priest and his ministers rise and go into the sacristy, where they put on white vestments for the solemn celebration of Mass. Meanwhile the candles are lighted on the altar.
MASS AND VESPERS
During the singing of the Litany the neophytes re-entered the church, and the Mass was begun which inaugurated the solemn services of Easter (Secret). This celebrates the glory of the risen Christ (Gospel), and that of the souls who, through baptism, have entered on a new life, a pledge of their future resurrection (Epistle, Collect, Hanc igitur). Hence the joyful Alleluia that is sung, the pealing of the organ and the ringing of the bells.
The Vespers, which follow the Communion, remind us of the holy women who were the first to realize the great mystery of the Resurrection.
Let us show our gratitude to God for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, which have made it possible for us to pass with Jesus from the death of sin to the life of grace.
At the end of the Litany the cantors sing the solemn Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, each invocation being repeated thrice. Meanwhile the priest attended by his ministers, all in white vestments, goes to the altar, recites the Judica me adding the Gloria Patri, and makes the confession in the usual way? Then, ascending the steps, he kisses the altar, incenses it as usual, and as soon as the choir has finished the Kyrie eleison, he intones the Gloria in excelsis Deo; the organ is played and the bells are rung.
Deus, qui hanc sacratissimam noctem gloria Dominicae Resurrectionis illustras: conserva in nova familiae tuae progenie adoptionis spiritum, quem dedisti; ut corpore et mente renovati, puram tibi exhibeant servitutem.
O God, who makest this most sacred night illustrious by the glory of the resurrection of our Lord : preserve in the new children of Thy family the spirit of adoption which Thou hast given, that renewed in body and soul, they may give Thee a pure service.
Lesson from the Epistle of blessed Paul the Apostle to the Colossians.
Brethren : If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God : mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory.
At the end of the Epistle the celebrant begins the Alleluia. He sings it three times, each time upon a higher tone, and the choir repeats it in the same manner. The choir proceeds:
V. Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus: quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus.
V. Give praise to the Lord, for He is good : for His mercy endureth for ever.
(Verse Psalm 107:1)
Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes: et collaudate eum, omnes populi. V. Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus: et Veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
O praise the Lord, all ye nations: and praise Him, all ye people, V. For His mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.
(Tract Psalm 116:1-2)
At the Gospel, lights are not carried but only incense and everything else is done as usual.
Continuation of the holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew.
And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone and sat upon it: and his countenance was as lightning and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him the guards were struck with terror and became as dead men. And the angel answering, said to the women : Fear not you: for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified : He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come and see the place where the Lord was laid. And going quickly, tell ye His disciples that He is risen: and behold He will go before you into Galilee: there you shall see Him. Lo, I have foretold it to you.
(St. Matthew 28:1-7)
Suscipe, quaesumus, Domine, preces populi tui, cum oblationibus hostiarum: ut paschalibus initiata mysteriis, ad aeternitatis nobis medelam, te operante, proficiant.
Receive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the prayers of Thy people with the offering of this sacrifice; that what we have begun at these Easter mysteries, may, through Thy power, profit us as a saving remedy unto life everlasting.
The Pax Domini is said, but the kiss of peace is not given. The Agnus Dei is omitted, but the three prayers before Communion are said as usual. Holy Communion may be distributed to the faithful.
Instead of a Communion antiphon, the choir sings Vespers as follows:
Antiphon : Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes, * laudate eum, omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus: * et Veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
Gloria Patri, etc.
O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise Him, all ye people.
For His mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.
Glory be to the Father, etc.
Repeat the antiphon.
The chapter, hymn and verse are omitted, the celebrant at once intoning the antiphon at the Magnificat:
Vespere autem sabbati * quae lucescit in prima sabbati: venit Maria Magdalene, et altera Maria, videre sepulcrum, alleluia.
And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre, alleluia.
(Antiphon at the Magnificat: Matthew 28:1)
During the Magnificat the altar is incensed as at Solemn Vespers. The antiphon is then repeated, and the priest says the final Collect of the Vespers and Postcommunion of the Mass:
Spiritum nobis, Domine, tuae caritatis infunde: ut, quos sacramentis Paschalibus satiasti, tua facias pietate concordes.
Pour forth upon us, O Lord, the spirit of Thy love, that by Thy loving kindness Thou mayest make to be of one mind, those whom Thou hast fed with these paschal sacraments.