7th Week of Easter
May 22, 2015
Provincial House, New Rochelle
In the Collect we prayed about “partaking of so great a gift.” From the structure of the prayer, it appears that the gift in which we partake is having “the gates of eternity unlocked for us.”
It sounds a bit strange—to me, anyway—that the gates of eternity (which in context means heaven in particular) are unlocked for us. We’re still here, and I’ve never had a mystical experience that transported me thru those gates—nor have you, I dare say.
Yet we learned in the earliest days of our catechism—those of us who cut our teeth on the Baltimore Catechism—that one of the effects of Baptism is that the gates of heaven were opened for us. Does that mean they’re open only when we die, only when we arrive at the proverbial pearly gates?
I don’t think so, and neither does the Collect, which speaks of our “partaking of so great a gift,” present participle. So we already partake of or have a share in this “great gift” of open gates.
What opened those gates for us? According to the prayer, “the glorification of Christ and the light of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s glorification—his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension—burst open the gates of the underworld, we know, setting free souls till then bound by sin and condemned to death. But then the gates of heaven must also have been unlocked for those souls to enter: out of the underworld, into the upper world!
But what do the “unlocked gates of eternity” mean for us who are still here? And how does “the light of the Holy Spirit” figure in this heavenly mystery?
|Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (Jan van Eyck)|
Heaven is open to our prayers, our prayers brought by the glorified Christ, one of us in his humanity, to the Father’s throne. Heaven is open to shower grace from the Father upon us thru the Son, and thru the intercessions of the saints, with whom we have communion thru those open gates.
Heaven is open to us so that God’s holy ones may reach down to us as our patrons, protectors, and guides, like Mary, the powerful Help of Christians, and our individual patrons: Abraham “our father in faith,” Andrew the 1st to answer Christ’s call, Anthony the Preacher, Bruno the Carthusian, Dennis patron of France, John the Beloved, Kenneth patron of Kilkenny, Kevin the Noble Abbot, Mark the Evangelist, Michael God’s right hand, Richard the Bishop, Robert the Cistercian, Stephen the Protomartyr, and Thomas the Doubter. Redeemed by the glory of Christ, joined to us now by the Holy Spirit, bond of love, they labor spiritually to draw us toward themselves thru those pearly gates.
And “the light of the Holy Spirit”? The Spirit is Holy Wisdom, let loose by the Father and the Risen Son to pour his fire and light upon our hearts and minds so that we may know and desire spiritual goods, things divine—starting with the mystery who is Christ our Savior. Following the Spirit’s light, we’ll come to Christ in Person on the other side of those heavenly gates.
Heaven is open to us, comes down to us, is with us in the sacred mysteries, actions of both Christ and the Spirit. A story from medieval history—probably legend—illustrates this well. It tells how the Rus, the ancestors of Russia, became Orthodox Christians. According to the story, Vladimir, prince of Kiev, toward the end of the 10th century wanted to convert his people from paganism but was unsure which faith they should adopt. Accordingly, he sent ambassadors to the Crimea, where a Muslim people dwelt, to investigate their religion. The envoys weren’t much impressed. He sent other ambassadors to Germany to look at Latin Christianity and, sad to say, they weren’t much impressed either. He sent a third delegation to Constantinople, where the ambassadors witnessed the glories of Byzantine liturgy: fine vestments, majestic icons, golden vessels, incense, chanting, and all the ritual—and they were very much impressed, reporting to Vladimir, “We didn’t know whether we were in heaven or on earth.” So Vladimir and his people converted to Eastern Christianity.
How wonderful if our celebration of the liturgy does transport us mystically to heaven; but of a certainty it does bring heaven down to us. For the time being, in these moments when we’re still in time and history, “may our devotion grow deeper” and “our faith be strengthened” by our partaking in the heavenly gift we have received.