Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Easter Vigil Sermon: The Resurrection and what is the meaning of the Notre-Dame de Paris Fire

Notre-Dame de Fontgombault

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, April 21st, 2019)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The flames of the Easter fire rending the night have opened the holy Vigil. The flame has sprung out from the stone. Christ has overcome death. He has come out of the tomb. God has risen Him up. He is alive. Such is the Easter message, the heart of our faith: “You seek Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for He is risen, as He had foretold.”

What sense can we give to this event? God, if He be truly God, cannot die. As for Christ, He truly died, crucified upon the Golgotha. The Scripture texts bear witness to this fact. A lie could not have withstood the presence of so many witnesses.

As during Christmas night the birth according to the flesh of the second Person of the Holy Trinity had no impact on His divine nature, thus the death and resurrection of the Son of God that we celebrate tonight are not those of His divine nature, but of His humanity. Yet, why such an event? Were Christ’s incarnation and death truly indispensable for the salvation of mankind? Repairing perfectly Adam and Eve’s primeval rebellion against their Maker required that one of their descendants should love God and obey Him as much as He is lovable and deserves to be obeyed: only He who would be both truly God and truly man could do that. 

The Son of God in His human nature has secured salvation for mankind. He has borne on His shoulders our own humanity’s burden of evil. He Who never sinned, offered Himself as a victim, nailed on a cross by the hands of men, nailed on a cross out of His love for each of us. And this humanity that had been offered to God and to men, men condemned it to an infamous death; yet, God did not abandon it to the power of death . Christ sprung out of His tomb. From now on, He carries away in His wake all those who accept to be reconciled with God, and who, in order to do that, become His members, incorporated to the Church by the sacrament of baptism.

To baptize means to “plunge” or “immerse”; the “plunge” into the water symbolizes the catechumen’s burial into Christ’s death, from which he rises up by resurrection with Him, as “a new creature.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1214) We have to keep the faith. Towards the end of his homily on the Le Bourget airfield, St. John Paul II asked: “France, eldest daughter of the Church, are you faithful to the promises of your baptism?” (June 1st, 1980) These words still resound in our ears, and they find an even more personal reflection during this holy night’s liturgy, when we have just renewed the promises of our own baptism. First, we have renounced Satan, all the works he inspires, all his seductions. Evil is at our doors: rampaging wars, crimes and attacks too often carried out in the name of God, the proliferation of teaching structures in the service of the culture of death, the enslavement of nations to the power of money and pleasure: such are the works of death daily surrounding us. We are sorely tempted to throw in the towel, and to withdraw into ourselves, all the more since evil is also inhabiting our own hearts. He who wants to follow Christ should doubtless turn away from evil; but he should above all allow the Paschal fire to enlighten, to warm up, to set ablaze his own weary heart.

God’s commandments are not arbitrary constraints, but words of life, offered out of love. Let everyone who would reform the world begin by being a little light for those around him or her. Light creates a desire for light. It is an urgent task to develop anew a taste for light, for the beauty that comes from God.

After renouncing Satan, we have proclaimed our Faith. We believe in God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, in Jesus Christ His Son, in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Each of our answers is in the first person of the plural. It is a personal answer, but we utter it within a much larger community, the Church, who proclaims, everywhere in the world tonight, one faith, one baptism. We share this one faith and this one baptism with the millions of men and women who, throughout centuries, often amid persecutions, faithfully kept and lived without a false sense of shame this precious deposit, and handed it down to us.

How could we, amid the joys of this night, forget those who have strayed away from the Church, or assert that they have lost the faith? He who was later to become Pius XII, declared on July 13th, 1937, under the vaults of Notre-Dame de Paris: 

Amidst the ceaseless rumbling of this huge metropolis, amidst the hustle and bustle of business and pleasure, in the fierce whirlpool of the struggle for life, Notre-Dame de Paris, a witness full of pity for barren despair and deceitful joys, Notre-Dame de Paris, always serene in her quiet and pacifying gravity, seems to keep ceaselessly repeating to all the passers-by, “Orate, fratres, Pray, brethren”. She seems to be, I would say, herself an “Orate, fratres” of stone, a perpetual invitation to prayer.

The very deep and widespread emotion before the terrible fire is a question for us. Was therefore the voice of the more than 800 year-old Old Lady still heard, so that so much agitation should take place around her sickbed? Abp. Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris, affirmed: "We have lost the beauty of the casket, but we have not lost the jewel it contained: Christ present in His Word and His Body given up for us."

Many today weep on the lost beauty of the casket. For a long time, they have been thinking they have forgotten or lost the jewel they had received on the day of their baptism. May Mary, who keeps the faith of her children, give back both the jewel and the casket to those who have kept a little love for her.

During this week, little oil lamps shining with the Paschal fire will be placed in the church, and the sacristans will keep them burning; and until the Ascension, the Paschal candle will tower over our assemblies. The Lord said: 

I am come to cast fire on the earth. And what will I, but that it be kindled? And I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized. And how am I straitened until it be accomplished! (Lk 12:49-50)

The fire is there. Jesus kindled it during His resurrection. Yet, this fire should keep burning, not only at the end of a few candle wicks, but in our blazing hearts. It should keep burning in each of our families, our communities, our homes. The world urgently needs this fire, and we alone can give it to the world. Let us burn with this fire, let us burn with the source of life of the risen Lord.

Amen, Alleluia.