« PreviousContinue »
1847.] Whitsunday- Ascension.
655 its mournful vigils in watching, in prayer, and in torch-light processions. In connection with this solemnity the ancient church was accustomed to foreshadow, by peculiar rites, the second coming of the Son of man.
But when the morning dawned, oh, what a morning! It was announced with the triumphant exclamation, The Lord is risen! yes, verily the Lord is risen indeed was the universal response. Easter now is fully come. Easter, that day of joy, of salvation,
, that royal, triumphant day; that day of light, of life and of salvation, that feast of feasts. Old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. The ancient dispensation has passed away; and the new now begins. For this reason the ancient church began the new year with this day. In like manner the Christian sabbath, the resurrection day, is not, like the Jewish, the conclusion of the seven days, but the beginning of a new week.
The conclusion of Easter was Whitsunday, Dominica in albis, dies neophytorum, etc. On this day the neophytes, candidates for church membership, were received into full communion by appropriate solemnities, after which they laid aside the white garments with which they had been clad, and in which they appeared in public on this occasion.
The cycle of Whitsunday commemorates the complete mani. festation and exaltation of Jesus Christ. His earthly course is completed; he lives indeed still, but only as our risen Lord. As with the Jews the interval between the passover and pentecost was holy time, so also with Christians, the seven weeks between Easter and Whitsunday were religiously observed. It was the favorite time for solemnizing the rite of baptism. As a symbolical representation of the resurrection of Christ, all were accus. tomed, during this interval, to stand in prayer. The Acts of the Apostles were read and expounded, because this book particularly treats of his resurrection. None fasted during this season. Business was, as much as possible, suspended, and the time devoted to festivity as a prolonged thanksgiving. In a word, the whole was a joyous sunday, a religious holiday, a prolonged echo of the acclamations of the resurrection morning.
The last of all these days relating to our Lord's mission on earth was the Ascension, when the life of Jesus, which began in the manger ended in the glories of heaven. Then he went up on high to take his promised place at the right hand of the Fa. ther; where, in the fulness of divine majesty, he reigns, Lord of heaven and earth.
The first act of his grace as the exalted Saviour, was the shedding forth of his Spirit on the day of pentecost. This is the sig. nificant, typical import of the day. It is the true pentecost of the church. It is the celebration of the continued working of his power in his church, by the Holy Ghost, and of the arming of his apostles with spiritual gifts for the promulgation of his gospel.
On the first of May the western church kept, not improperly, the day of all the apostles; for it was the day when they all assembled to celebrate the triumph of their Lord over the grave, and to be enlightened respecting their destiny and their duty. But at a later period this day was restricted and observed as sacred to the memory of Philip and James.
The octave of Whitsunday was, in the ancient Greek church, a feast in memory of all the holy martyrs. But in the western church it became, in the middle ages, with reference to the doctrine of the trinity, Trinity sunday. This concludes the cycle of Whitsunday; and is, of consequence, the termination of the whole round of solemnities comprising the three great cycles of festivals in the church. By the Ascension the eye of the mind was raised towards heaven; by the gift of the Spirit, on the day of pentecost, it was illuminated from on high ; and now, on this day, it is turned to conteniplate the greatest, the most profound of all the mysteries of heaven, the trinity of the adorable Godhead.
In the interval between Christmas and Whitsunday many sacred days were interspersed, devoted to the virgin and the apostles; such as the visitation, the ascension, the birth and the conception of the virgin; and the days of Peter and Paul, of Bartholomew, of Simon and Judas, not Iscariot, and of Andrew. But it is sufficient for our purpose to designate particularly three great feasts which occur within this term of time. These are John the Baptist's day, June 24; All Saints, Nov. 1, and All Souls, Nov. 2. Nor must the feast of all the angels be forgotten. This occurred on the twenty-ninth of Sept. So that throughout the whole year there was no considerable interval of time without some religious solemnity. The whole circle of the year was crowded with days which were set apart in memory of some event more or less interesting and important to the church.
Festivals in relation to the Seasons.
Relation of the Festivals of the Church to the Seasons of the Year.
We have hitherto treated only of historical events connected with the festivals of the church. These, beyond doubt, were the principal occasion of the institution of these holidays. Though established at different and somewhat distant intervals of time, they are presumed to have been based on the historical facts of the gospels even though this relation may not be distinctly appar. ent with respect to some particular festival. But these festive occasions have also a certain relation to the seasons of the year. In general they are so arranged that nature herself seems to harmonize with these manifestations of a higher spiritual life. The course of the seasons corresponds with that of these occasions, giving new interest and importance to them. They are not indeed the principal occasion of these ordinances of the church; neither on the other hand, is the harmony between them alto. gether accidental. It has a deeper and more intimate relation.
The nativity occurs just at the time of the winter solstice. The days are then the shortest; the sun, sinking to its lowest point in the heavens, sends forth a faint and feeble ray; and all nature seems touched with decay and death. But from this point begin the symptoms of returning life. The sun, ascending in its course, renews its strength. As if beginning itself a new life, it gives certain promise that it will again renew the whole face of nature. Just at this time the church celebrates the birth of Christ, that sun of righteousness, arising with healing in his wings.1 Christ came in a wintry season of the moral world when all spiritual life seemed dead. But as in the natural, so in the moral world, it was only an apparent death. He arose, giving joyful evidence that the beams of truth and of love, proceeding from him, would quicken the dead to newness of life, and overspread with verdure the realms of death.
This coincidence is noted by many ancient writers, particularly by Christian poets, as Aurelius Prudentius in that familiar passage :
Quid est, quod arctum circulum
Qui lucis auget tramitem ?-Hymn 11. There is a passage of similar import in Paulinus of Nola, Poematt. 118. And similar assertions of the fathers which Jablonski has collected.—Opus, T. III. p. 355 seq. ed. Te Water.
Easter occurs in the spring. It is therefore commemorative alike of a natural and a moral resurrection. As the seed sown, that was lost in the earth, now sends forth its germ under the sun's reviving rays, so inan, dead in sin, puts away the corruptions of the flesh, and lives anew under the quickening influences of the Sun of Righteousness. Such are the interesting analogies between Easter and the season of the year to which it is assigned. It commemorates at once the springing of the year both in a natural and a moral sense.l
The analogies of Whitsunday to nature are not so striking, but the comparison does not fail even here. This festival celebrates the highest exercise of power by our exalted Lord. Author of a new and spiritual creation he manifests himself to the church in his highest glory. So also in nature. That which at the na. tivity was only the object of hope and of desire, which at Easter was in budding promise, appears now in the strength and beauty of maturer growth, and ripening for the harvest. Whitsunday occurs while the corn in different latitudes, is yet in the ear, or in the midst of harvest. It was the commencement of the spiritual harvest of the aposties, who were themselves the first fruits of the Spirit, the beginning of that great harvest which was to be gathered from among all people upon the face of the whole earth.
Relation of the Festivals of the Christian church to those of the Jews.
Several of the festivals of the church evidently have a direct historical reference to those of the Jews; while both have a common relation to the spiritual and physical nature of man. Of the analogy between Easter and Whitsunday and corresponding
| This analogy has not escaped the notice of the ancient fathers of the church. Gregory Nazianzen in his oration upon spring, and the martyr Mamos on Easter Octave, says : νύν έαρ κοσμικών, έαρ πνευματικών, έαρ ψυχαίς, έαρ σώμασιν, έαρ ορώμενον, έαρ αόρατον. The same thought is more clearly expressed in a hymn of Venantius Honorius on the Resurrection of Christ :
Salve festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo,
659 Jewish festivals there can be no doubt. And the same has been affirmed, though without sufficient reason, of Christmas by comparing it with the feast of purification.
Like the Christian festivals the three great feasts of the Jews have reference, both to the seasons of the year, and to important historical facts. The Passover relates chiefly to history; the pen. tecost, to the season; and the feast of tabernacles, equally to both. The origin of the passover is indicated in its name, and is familiar to all. It commemorates the fact that Jehovah, when he slew the first-born of Egypt, passed over the dwellings of the Jews and saved all their first-born alive. It celebrates also the deliverance of the people from Egyptian bondage. By this great event they became again an independent people. The nation was born again on that day. It was therefore the birth day of the children of Israel. It is particularly worthy of notice that the bringing of the first fruits of the harvest was connected with the celebration of this festival after the arrival of the people in the promised land, which indicates its reference to the season of the year. It was a national thanksgiving for the blessings of the year; and only as such is it observed by modern Jews, forgetful of its historical associations.
The Pentecost, on the contrary, related originally to the season of the year. It was a festive celebration of the conclusion of harvest, by the offering of new bread and meal, and occurred fifty days after bringing the first sheaves in the second day of the passover; hence the name pentecost, from NevTexogrń. The festivities of the occasion were limited to one day; but the entire interval between the passover and the pentecost was regarded as a sacred season. Though originally a feast of the seasons, it has also an historical interest with reference to the giving of the law on Sinai. Of this indeed neither the Old Testament nor Philo give any intimation ; but it is recognized by the fathers, particularly by Augustin.2 This historical reference however appears to have had its origin, not in the Christian church, but in Jewish tradition. The other festivals relate to some historical fact; and especially it is worthy of notice that the gift of the Spirit on the day of pentecost was attended with the exhibition of fire like the giving of the law on Sinai. To these considerations may be
1" Israel's Geburts-und Lebensfest."-Bähr, Symb. des Mos. II. 628.
? Occiditur ovis, celebratur pascha, et, interpositis quinquaginta diebus, datur lex, ad timorem scripta digito Dei.- Epist. 55. Ø 16. See also Contra Faustum, 32. 12.