Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thursday Post

Humbly Renewing the Renewal (of Baptism)
"Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak."
[GKC "The Hammer of God" in The Innocence of Father Brown]
Our story, so far:

The new fire, the light of the New Spring of the Universe, has been kindled.

The great candle has been claimed for Christ, the Alpha and Omega, redolent with the fragrance of His five glorious wounds, and alight with the New Life which comes from death, as He foretold: "if a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies..."

And therefore, we hear chanted the great Praeconium, the hymn of His victory, which is ours. We hear reading after reading, remembering why "this night is different from all other nights" when our doors were marked with blood and we followed Moses through the sea.

And then the bells rang out, and the Gloria was chanted! the very same song which was taught to us by the angels on another night of wonder.

Then we hear Paul, the persecutor-turned-Apostle, tell us that we have died, and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God.

Then the Alleluia, and the Good News is told: how just as the sun had risen, [What a pun. But I did not make it.] the women went to the tomb, forgetting about how the stone needed to be rolled back - and what they discovered...

Sure - you know all that. But like little children, we tell it to each other, over and over, because it is Good News - night is passed, and the Day is here!

A day of new life. So now it is time for us to consider how the new life begins.
Continue reading.It begins, as the story of the world began - with water. No, my dear subatomic physicists, no, my beloved big-banging cosmologists - I am not trying to talk about some literal interpretation of how "the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters". For most of human existence, water was seen as an elementary thing - how much more, now that we know so very much about water, do we know its vast, fundamental, critical, wonderful importance for life - and for us. Especially for us Christians.

Some time ago I wrote an essay about water, setting forth a mere handful of important facts and a comment or two, almost a kind of meditation... little guessing that in 2002 Pope John Paul II would practically give us what we might call the Five Hydrous Mysteries! Should you care to read my essay, you can find "The Division of the Waters" in my index here. (My discussion of how the Luminous Mysteries are connected with water appeared in my comments for Advent 2006, which begin here.)

But here and now, we are here considering the particular use of water during the Great Paschal Vigil.

How solemn this event is! The fire, the candle, the readings, the Doxa, the Epistle, the Gospel! The memory of the races at sunrise, people running around, telling each other something too good to be true - but it was true!

But now, we enter into a deeper layer of the mystery - for we now enter into the very womb of the Church, and we shall see the organs by which the New Life is communicated - and (as much as our earthly eyes can) see that Life itself.

Such an action cannot be taken lightly. We must humble ourselves, and ask for assistance. So the priest intones the ancient Litany of the Saints, asking God for His mercy, and the intercession of Mary and all the angels and saints - and we respond, Lord have mercy! All you angels and saints, pray for us!

Then the priest opens the baptismal font, filled with that marvellous liquid called water, or H2O.
There it sits, quiet and shimmering in the Paschal light: one of the most unique and most fascinating substances formed by God. In nearly perfect balance within itself, its pH of 7 means that only one out of every ten million molecules is incomplete, and thus charged. Yet, its powerful electric dipole gives it a "fractional" charge, formed along the central axes of a tetrahedron, and thus having the form of a cross - it is this powerful activity which makes water one of the most difficult of all substances to make warmer, or colder - and why ice floats.

Meanwhile, we humans stand nearby in reverence, the warmth of our bodies keeping the water in unceasing motion within the cells of our body forces the various proteins in those cells to maintain their correct shapes... To say nothing of the heart's pumping of blood, which is another topic in itself.

Now, to all these, and so many other amazing physical powers, the priest comes, and speaks in persona Christi, exorcizing the water - it is no longer just a thing-of-the-world; blessing the water - it is to be used for divine purposes; dipping the Paschal candle into the water...

Ah, now we see a connection to the Luminous Mysteries (L1 to be precise; see Mt 3:13-17) And, strangely enough, to Genesis. For the Paschal candle is the symbol of Christ. And once, Jesus Himself was dipped into the water of the Jordan. Now, the water which was divided in Genesis, and which divides the hydrophobic amino acids from the hydrophilics in the countless places within our bodies - now, this water will have the power to act as Jesus commanded before His ascension: "baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" [Mt28:19]

This water can now perform division: dividing New Life from death.

Alas, I've got to stop now, or I will quickly fill a gigabyte or two. After all, next week is the Ascension, and I've got to leave some room for that. Ah, I know what's missing. So far, I haven't said much about Chesterton, and just in case you don't have time to hunt up my essay, here is a relevant GKC gem for you to ponder:
Chesterton was a very large man, and he began his autobiography by stating that he "was baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little Church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian." [GKC Autobiography CW16:21]
This water tower played an important role in his story The Napoleon of Notting Hill, but even more important to him was the role of baptism: "I know only one scheme that has proved its solidity, bestriding lands and ages with its gigantic arches, and carrying everywhere the high river of baptism upon an aqueduct of Rome."[GKC The Thing CW3:156]
[above quoted from my essay]
But I ought not end this solemn renewal of the renewal-of-baptism with a quote of my own, or even of GKC's. Let me, rather, quote someone who was a living Paschal candle, bearing marks of the Five Wounds in his very own flesh. He also thought very much about water, whom he loved so dearly he called her his "sister" and even wrote her into a song! Here is the verse:
Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable to us, and humble and precious and clean.
[St. Francis of Assisi, "Canticle of the Sun" quoted in the Poetry Appendix of The Liturgy of the Hours]

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