Χριστος ανεστη – Christ is risen! Happy Easter to all our readers

All the Brethren in Chelmsford wish our readers a very happy Easter.

Today we would like to offer you some pictures of the Paschal Candle that will be burnt in our chapel during Easter. It was blessed last night during the Sacred Paschal Vigil, which is the supreme and most solemn of Holy Mother Church’s sacred liturgies. In this annual Mass, the Faithful are gathered together in complete darkness, still in mourning for our Blessed Lord, lying dead in the sepulchre – or so we think.

The priest, the alter Christus, assisted by the sacred ministers processes to the head of the assembly and there lights a fire, and blesses it, and from this paschal fire, the candle is blessed and lit, the sign of our Risen Lord in the midst of His children, like, as it were, the pillar of fire in the midst of the Hebrews in the wilderness, and the lamp-stand that cannot be hidden.

During the blessing, the priest writes on the candle itself, using a stylus: he inscribes the Cross, the wood of which the Faithful venerated only the day before as Christ the Lord lay dying upon it for our salvation. He then writes the letters α – alpha – and ω – omega – for Christ, the Son of God, is both the beginning and the end. Finally, he inscribes the number of solar years since the Incarnation. After this, he inserts five grains of incense into Cross on the candle, recalling Christ’s five sacred wounds.

The deacon then holds aloft the candle and sings: “Lumen Christi!” – the Light of Christ! – and processes into the dark church, and again sings on a higher note, “Lumen Christi!”. He moves from the narthex to the sanctuary, and sings the final time on a higher note yet still, “Lumen Christi!” “Deo gratias!” Thanks be to God! The deacon then incenses the candle and by its light, he sings the Easter Proclamation, or Exultet, an ancient poem which tells the story of this blessed night, from the Fall of Man to our Redemption by the God-Man.

This year, Br Stephen, who was ordained to the levitical order by the Bishop of East Anglia in January, was able for the first time to perform this, the diaconal blessing par excellence, and sing the Exultet to the Norbertine tone. This was the first time that the Norbertine Exultet (which includes intercessions for the Pope and Bishop) had been heard in this county for nearly half-a-millennium since our Order was banished from the kingdom by the tyrant Henry VIII. We are very fortunate that we are now able to restore this ancient practice, which once was regularly heard in Essex and throughout England, and it a humbling privilege to be able to unite ourselves in this way ever more closely to our long deceased confères.

By the light of the Paschal Candle, the story of our salvation is told by the reading of sections of the Old Testament – for the Old Testament can only be explained in the light of Christ, as He Himself taught the disciples on the road to Emmaus – after which, as the Old Testament is concluded, the church explodes into light and music, as the priest intones the Gloria in excelsis Deo: Glory to God in the highest. The organ is played, all the bells in the church are rung, the veils torn down a the candles are lit. The desolation of Calvary has now been completed, and the Tomb is empty. Alleluia!

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At the base of the candle is a little superfluous decoration, but also the author’s favorite element. It shows a beehive and several worker bees, which are mentioned in the Easter Proclamation, or Exultet, since the candle is made with beeswax. Traditionally, the beehive is a symbol of the Mystical Body of Christ; each bee has his or her own assigned task, a vocation, as it were, which builds up the hive. Each Christian person has a different function, a different offering to make, each of which is of immeasurable value to our Lord when such offerings are made in union with His Sacrifice. Similarly, the beeswax candle is a symbol of His Sacrifice: the candle is consumed by the flame which enlightens our darkness. Co-incidentally, the beehive was a favourite symbol of St Bernard, who was a contemporary and friend of OHF Norbert.

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The main decorative element on the candle is the cross, the alpha and omega (which here is in the lower case). The cross itself is green, as if it were a living tree, rooted in the omega, and coming to fruition in the alpha; the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The cross itself is studded with incense grains, which are encased within large brass pins. The date is written around the cross in Arabic numerals, though the artist preferred to use the earliest style of such numerals, as would have been familiar to OHF Norbert (which is why the number 4 looks like an ‘h’!). The characters are written in red to symbolise the Precious Blood.

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At the top of the candle is the arms of the Order of Prémontré, two crossed-crosiers on a field of fleur-de-lis. The author will hazard a blazon of: Azure semé-de-lys Or two crosiers in saltire Or (Answers on a post-card please!). The crest is a decorated cloth-of-gold mitre.

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The Paschal Candle in situ in the chapel. It was decorated by one of the confrères.

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