Water at Eastertide
The symbol of water has great importance during the season of Easter.
Those who are truly attentive can learn much from the liturgical texts themselves.
The Blessing of Water at the Great Easter Vigil provides a panorama of water in God's plan of salvation, in preparation for the glorious Sacrament of Baptism administered later that evening to the eager catechumens (now called the Elect).
At the very dawn of creation
your Spirit breathed on the waters,
making them the wellspring of all holiness.
The Church begins this liturgical "documentary" at the very beginning ... the instant of creation.
We recall the vital necessity of water for all human life to exist.
Water is the root, the "wellspring" of all that we are.
The waters of the great flood
you made a sign of the waters of baptism,
that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.
Man was not always faithful to the covenant with his Creator.
The floodwaters washed clean a race that had embraced sin, and this cleansing is renewed in each baptismal rite that has occurred in history.
We (or our godparents for us) promised to renounce the evil ways of sin and live in the light of Christ.
Through the waters of the Red Sea
you led Israel out of slavery,
to be an image of God's holy people,
set free from sin by baptism.
The ultimate moment of drama in the Old Testament is here -- God divides the water of the Red Sea to allow his chosen people an entrance to a new life as they turn their backs on a former existence, one literally drowned in the waters of rebirth.
Paradoxically, the image of "dying" is quite a natural part of baptism.
Many baptisteries are sunken to denote that descent into the tomb -- a sharing in Christ's moment of death in order to rise again to a new life.
In the waters of the Jordan
your Son was baptized by John
and anointed with the Spirit.
As the liturgical texts repeatedly tell us, the waters of the Jordan were made holy by the one being baptized.
A great symbol of this event (the baptism of Christ) is seen in the priest's lowering the Paschal Candle, which represents Christ, into the water of the font at the Easter Vigil.
A joyful acclamation is sung (e.g. "Springs of water, bless the Lord") as the candle is taken out of the water.
Your Son willed that water and blood
should flow from his side
as he hung upon the cross.
There are many interpretations of the water and blood that flowed from Christ's side after his death on the cross.
Some see symbols of humanity and divinity, of the Church and its Savior, of the great sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.
In all these, the water retains its connection with us, rooted in the things of earth, as we win by water and Spirit a share in the things of heaven.
Recall the words during Mass when the priest pours a little water into the wine: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."
After his resurrection he told his disciples:
"Go out and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
We see Baptism, the first sacrament of initiation, very clearly in this portion of the prayer of blessing.
The great commission, or mandate, handed by Christ to his disciples, is shared by all the baptized.
Part of our duty as members of Christ's body on earth is to share our faith in the Trinity with those around us who do not know this mystery.
Evangelization (i.e. spreading the Good News) has become a pressing focus for the Church.
We spread the news most effectively not by words, but by the way we live -- daily renewing our baptismal promise to refuse to be mastered by sin.
Our Easter liturgies should concretely connect us to this water of our baptism.
I consider it an unavoidable, albeit unwritten, rubric that the Sprinkling Rite be a part of every Sunday liturgy during Eastertide.
This is so important to the season that the Church has given us a special prayer for this "Aspersion" rite during Eastertide, recalling, as does the blessing prayer at the Vigil and the use of water in our salvation history.
There are certain issues to be considered when using this rite throughout Easter.
- Keep it up!
Eastertide really does last fifty days.
If you're using this rite for the season, it must continue up to and including Pentecost Sunday!
- If you use the water from the font, water that was blessed at the Easter Vigil, don't "bless" it again.
Consider the prayer of blessing: it might say, "Hear our prayers as we recall this water which give fruitfulness..."
- Be aware that there is a great deal of music called for in a brief, five minute interval: Entrance Song, Song during the Sprinkling, Gloria.
Under no circumstances should one consider singing three different congegational hymns here -- and the Gloria is already likely cast in that format.
- Various practical options for music exist:
- Use a choral entrance (perhaps the proper Introit), and make the Sprinkling Song the first congregational music, continuing with the prayer after the sprinkling (please don't omit this!) and the Gloria.
- Divide a hymn and use a few verses as the Entrance Song and the remaining verses during the sprinkling.
Follow with the concluding prayer and Gloria -- perhaps even a setting for choir alone.
- Sing an Easter hymn as the Entrance Song, let the choir sing the suggested proper chant Vidi aquam during the sprinkling (a perfectly legitimate option!), and follow with a rousing Gloria.
- Focus on the Sprinkling Rite by using an organ processional, a beautiful setting of a sprinkling song for choir/cantor and congregation (like CNP's I Saw Water Flowing by Alex Hill), and perhaps a simple Gloria.
Sustain the baptismal celebration of Eastertide by the abundant and overt use of water throughout the season.
Don't let lethargy or ignorance spoil our mystagogical festival!