“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (Jn 13,1) This extreme love is that which we commemorate during the Holy Tridium, the center and culmination of the whole liturgical year, making present the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord. We prepare ourselves as such a great event passes through the desert for forty days, in order to present ourselves “less worthy” to participate in these Holy Mysteries.
In this chronical I wanted to share the way our community of contemplatives of the Monastery “Ecce Homo” in Holland prepare ourselves concretely for Easter: by painting Easter Candles. A few years ago, we began this manual work and it has been growing. We have had various requests from parishes here in Holland, in the North and South, not only for our missionaries, but also for other parishes that we know.
The “Exultet” which we sing in the Easter Vigil: “On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands. Providentially, we have begun last year also with another type of manual work: beekeeping in which we admire and learn the art of the bees that produce the wax.
The monastic work manual “serve-as says our Rule- as a way to nurture and conserve the spiritual flavour of the interior things (n. 95) and “as means of contemplation” (n 94). And this we can realize in an excellent way at the same time when we collaborate with our humble work for the celebration of the beautiful and worthy liturgies:
- Painting the A (alpha) and Ω (omega), to signify Christ as the beginning and end, we remember the formula of our vows that begin with the similar words: “For love of the Father, first origin and supreme end of the consecrated life”. Painting the alpha and omega, we also want to remember the souls for which this Paschal candle intended for the “Unum necessarium”, and to offer this work for the conversion of many souls: that the religious you give alone to contemplation, contribute with their prayers to the labor of the missional of the Church ” (Rule n2).
- The cross forms a central part of the Paschal Candle and is the most emphasized. It is a “great sign of contradiction”, “scandal for the Jews…” that returns now the “most noble of the trees” (Crux fidelis inter omnes arbor una nobilis). O adorable cross that we sing in the hymn of Holy Friday “you only were worthy to carry the Victim of the world; you are the ark that leads us to the door of salvation; you were saturated with the Divine blood which gushed from the Body of the Lamb. (Sola digna tu fuisti ferre secli pretium atque portum preparare lauta mundo naufrago, quem sacer cruor perunnxit unus Agnu corpore). The cross is present in the life of all men, but with Christ becomes “yoke that is easy and burden light” and by this we continue singing in the same hymn “Dulce lignum, dulce clavo, dulce pondus sustinent” (Precious tree, blessed nails that carry such sweet burden); knowing also, as our Directory of Spirituality says that “all of our sufferings have entered in the heart of Christ on Calvary. These sufferings offered before-hand by Christ the Priest and Victim were lacking to be completed in our flesh…We are co-redeemers!” (DE 167).
- Around the cross of the Paschal candle is painted the current year. To mark the Paschal of the Holy Night of the Holy Vigil, the priest says: “To Him belongs the time and the eternity. To Him the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen”.
- Finally, we add below a design that relates with the Paschal Mystery. Most times we paint the Lamb, which the majority of parishes request. “Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Is 53, 7). We, spouses of the Lamb want to take part of his meekness and silence in the immolation, already with our lives we want “to contemplate and to live the mystery of the Incarnate Word in the maximum expression of his self-emptying that is the cross and that which will bring us to surrender everything completely, demonstrating as there is no greater love than to give one’s life for his brothers ” (Rule 6). I think the thing most difficult to paint is a face although it could be of a little lamb. It is necessary to have practice so it will be it sweet, tender and meek etc.. All of this makes me think how Christ wanted to hide the beauty of His divinity and apply to Himself what was prophesied by Isaiah: He grew up like a sapling before him, be like a shoot from the parched earth; He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem” (Is 53, 7).
- The light of the Paschal candle will be the first light to appear in the darkness of the Easter Vigil. This light is Christ Resurrected: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” For this in unanimity with the Exultet we say: Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever! The light that exclaims to all the redeemed “Felix culpa, Happy fault, that we merit as noble and great Redeemer! […] Truly blessed night, that in the heaven united with the earth and the divine with the human!”
We want that “all the acts of our lives rise to the Lord in sweet odour of sanctity, burning them as incense in adoration to the Holy one, in action of thanks for all good received, in all loving and acknowledging” (Rule 11), and also for the salvation of the souls that God entrusted, also through this small manual work that we do; by this we united our voices to the Holy Mother Church that ends the “Exultet” with the following words: Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night receive our evening sacrifice of praise, your Church’s solemn offering. Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God. Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night! May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.” Amen.
Sister Maria del Cuore Immacolato
Monastery “Ecce Homo”, Holland