Low Sunday

I love our homely English name ‘Low Sunday’ for Dominica in Albis, the Octave Day of Easter, when those baptized at the Easter Vigil traditionally laid aside their white garments and put on an Agnus Dei made of wax blessed by the pope to remind them of their newborn innocence in Christ. Another name is Quasimodo Sunday, from the words we sing at the introit of the Mass, Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus. Alleluia, Alleluia. (‘As newborn babes desire the rational milk without guile,’ etc, from 1 Peter 2.2). Low Sunday, however, is my favourite: it describes exactly that lowering of intensity we feel at the end of the Easter Octave. We have sung alleluia over and over again, rejoiced and given thanks: there seems nothing left to give. Joy, like grief, reaches a point where it almost numbs the senses.

Then we hear again the gospel of Thomas’s encounter with the Risen Christ in John 20. 19–31. I have often remarked that the Church uses John’s gospel at the peak moments of the Christian year. Surely this moment, when the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed and Thomas’s doubts are resolved, is a peak moment for all of us. It shows us not only what Christ accomplished through his Death and Resurrection but also why he suffered. His wounds are transfigured: love and compassion have made them beautiful, so that they are no longer blemishes but the source of grace and healing.

Christ’s Risen Body will always bear the wounds our sins have made upon them. That is not an easy thought. We are forgiven, we are redeemed, but at what cost! Surely we can tremble with Thomas at the enormity of the gulf that separates us from God, and the enormity of the love that spans the gap between. Low Sunday confronts us with the mercy and forgiveness of God less brutally than Good Friday, perhaps, but just as insistently.

The end of the Easter Octave is not the end of Easter. Low Sunday invites us to go deeper into the mystery at the heart of the Easter message. Just as the flame of the paschal candle continues to burn, so we too must continue to explore what it means to respond to our Lord’s invitation, ‘Doubt no longer but believe’.


14 thoughts on “Low Sunday”

  1. It seems to me that there are three points here. First, for us to truly realise (and accept) the wounds which we have inflicted on others and pray to be forgiven. Second, to be aware of the very great goodness of God and the infinite love which he has for us, such that we can dare to hope that we may be saved. Then finally, to realise that if we are to follow Christ we must pray our wounds may be transfigured too; that the blemishes may become beautiful sources of grace and healing, not only for ourselves but for those around us as well.

  2. One other way to look at Thomas was expressed by Fr. Mariusz in his homily. He suggested that perhaps Thomas valued truth and honesty more that as simple “go along with what the others are telling you”, group loyalty, and until he could see the truth he would not commit to a thing he could not validate by word of mouth..
    A very different approach, one that I had not heard before. Fr.Mariusz always leaves one thinking with his homilies.

  3. Of course that was simply a lead in point to a discussion on professions of faith, and how one cannot simply sit in the church and just “go along with the crowd”, that individual professions of faith and belief that then becomes part of the larger body of the church are key.. very interesting priest, (and he always has a candy basket after Mass in hand for the kiddies, and the “young at heart” parishioners…

  4. In another blog a linknis made between the wounds in Jesus’s hands and Isaiah “I have carved you on the palm of my hands” If I could find it I’d provide the link.

  5. The “Low Sunday” you describes corresponds with our “Divine Mercy” Sunday here in Canada. Is Divine Mercy Sunday not universal?

  6. Thank you for all your comments. I wish I had time to reply to all of you individually, but this is ‘one of those days’. Yes, Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter, but it’s a very recent addition to the calendar (John Paul II). I find it more helpful to look at the older liturgical tradition which has, after all, been familiar to me from childhood and therefore has a particular cogency: Low Sunday is the old name for the day.

  7. Personally, I do not care for Divine Mercy being celebrated on this Sunday in Easter. To me, it clashes, so much emphasis on penance, sin, when we have just come through the most wonderful experience of the defeat of sin, Jesus’ resurrection. Would you consider a posting on this new addition to our calendar, some suggestions on how traditionalists might incorporate it into our age old spiritual practices? I have difficulty reconciling St. Faustina’s personal revelations and directives as to how we should work out our part towards salvation when up until very recently we had a good model/method worked out by the Apostles, handed down from and through Jesus.

  8. Jean, I have to say I agree with you. One of the things I have always had difficulty with is the way in which devotions of various kinds come to supplant the clear and beautiful structure of the liturgical calendar. You may not be able to do as we do in the monastery, which is to mark these latest additions in the briefest fashion allowed, e.g. some commemorations can be ‘collect only’, meaning that everything save the prayer is taken from the usual liturgy of the day. The Second Sunday of Easter poses particular problems. The liturgy is already rich and full. I suppose everything will depend on how your pastor chose to celebrate the day. Personally, I like to remember that the devotions associated with St Faustina’s cult are not of obligation and I can legitimately stick with the psalmody and prayers I find helpful.

  9. Very good point about this and other devotions not necessarily obligatory. Our pastor had a second service in the afternoon, with recitation of the Divine Mercy chaplet, benediction and exposition. The Mass was strictly separate with emphasis on Thomas and guarding our personal faith and how it adds to and strengthens the faith of the Church as a whole. Harold and I did not attend the DM service. Thank you for your clarification. There is much pressure to get into the DM practices, though for myself, I prefer the traditional Rosary together with reading scripture.

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