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Key Takeaway In This Sunday’s (April 5,2015) Gospel: Easter Sunday –
John 20:1-9

THE GREAT COMEBACK

Christians all over the world contemplated on the sufferings of Jesus Christ this week. One of the cornerstones of the faith — Christ’s ultimate sacrifice — sealed the spiritual salvation of mankind. The religious and the pious commemorate this in a complex set of rituals capped by Easter Sunday, a glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Easter signifies mankind’s opportunity to rise above its sins and be born again in God’s state of grace. (Let’s leave the theological ramifications of this event to the theologians who can best explain them.) It reminds us of our mortal lives, our humanly plight and the divine salvation, which we need if we want to complete the meaning of our existence.

PHOENIX RISING. A myth that perpetuates a similar theme would be the phoenix, a fabled species of bird, which meets its fate in a conflagration, only to rise again from its ashes.

FOUR SEASONS. There are, of course, numerous other stories, parables and myths that drive home the message of a rebirth or a resurrection. The ancient sages found the cycle of life in many aspects of nature. Even the seasons have been attributed the ability to be reborn; spring heralds new life from the dead of winter.

The lesson is a powerful antidote to those who have found life devoid of, well, life; those who have plumbed the depths of despair and have lost all hope.

The concept of resurrection is not just about coming back to life; it is COMING BACK TO LIFE IN A BETTER FORM. After resurrection, Jesus revealed himself as divine with His eventual ascension to heaven.

The phoenix, rising out of the ashes, is transformed into a bird of wondrous visage.

Spring finds the blossoming of shoots and flowers and breathtaking bursts of colors, in contrast to the bleak and gray winter landscape.

Perhaps the very essence of resurrection goes beyond the act of reinventing and renewal that brings back the vitality into living.

Our human frailties, notwithstanding —and we seem to have more than our fair share of inadequacies — we are also blessed with a prodigious capacity for repentance, of self-flagellation, as it were, inflicting upon ourselves a penitential dosage of pain and despair not unlike the bloody display of flagellants who walk the streets of Pampanga scourging their backs with flesh-ripping bits of broken glass and pieces of blunted nails.

What can we learn from the story of Jesus — told and retold many times — that we can apply to our present lives? After more than 2,000 years, we have a distillation of the wisdom and the soul of a person who lived and died for but one sole purpose — TO SAVE MANKIND FROM THE EVIL OF SIN. Jesus was singularly focused on that purpose and unquestionably, totally, sincere in His pursuit.

Perhaps that, more than any other, is the defining principle which, tragically we lack in the way we live — the sincerity and a singular purpose; the true desire to mean what we say.

How sincere was Jesus in His mission to save us from sin? Sincere enough to give up His own life for ours. — the penultimate essence of public service; of living our lives for others.

Our PRAYER: Lord, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has given us new life and renewed hope. Help us to live as new people in pursuit of what is good. Grant us wisdom to know what we must act on, the will to want to act on it, the courage to undertake it, the perseverance to continue to act on it, and the strength to complete it. Amen.

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Holy Saturday, also nown as Black Saturday commemorates the day that Jesus Christ lay in the tomb after his death, according to the Christian bible. It is the day after Good Friday and the day before Easter Sunday.
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Holy Saturday commemorates the day that Jesus (sculpture of him pictured above) lay in his tomb after he died. ©iStockphoto.com/Edward Lin

Holy Saturday is the last day of Holy Week and ends the season of Lent. It is also known as the Vigil of Easter. The day is traditionally a time of reflection and waiting. The vigil stems back to when Jesus’ followers spent this day waiting after his crucifixion on Good Friday. It is also known as the day when Roman governor Pontius Pilate instructed guards to be posted at the tomb to prevent Jesus’ followers from removing the body to claim that he had risen from the dead.

Holy Saturday was also known as Great or Grand Saturday, as well as the Angelic Night. It was the only Saturday on which fasting was permitted in the early days of the Christian church. According to some sources, fasting occurred during the entire day or lasted for 40 hours before the Easter Sunday sunrise during the first century CE. This day was a major day for baptisms in the early church. Many churches still hold large services for baptisms on Holy Saturday.

Some people refer to Holy Saturday as Easter Saturday but this is a misnomer, as Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent and the eve of Easter. The Saturday after Easter Sunday is known as Easter Saturday, or Bright Saturday. It is important to note, however, that Holy Saturday is often referred to as Easter Saturday.

 

Scripture Readings for the Holy/Black Saturday

 

Hebrews 4:1-13

Let us fear therefore lest the promise being left of entering into his rest, any of you should be thought to be wanting. For unto us also it hath been declared, in like manner as unto them. But the word of hearing did not profit them, not being mixed with faith of those things they heard.

For we, who have believed, shall enter into rest; as he said: As I have sworn in my wrath; If they shall enter into my rest; and this indeed when the works from the foundation of the world were finished. For in a certain place he spoke of the seventh day thus: And God rested the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again: If they shall enter into my rest.

Seeing then it remaineth that some are to enter into it, and they, to whom it was first preached, did not enter because of unbelief: Again he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time, as it is above said: To day if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

For if Jesus had given them rest, he would never have afterwards spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a day of rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, the same also hath rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest; lest any man fall into the same example of unbelief.

For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature invisible in his sight: but all things are naked and open to his eyes, to whom our speech is.

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)

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Christ Jesus died on the Cross to redeem mankind, to save us from our sins because of his love for us. As recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ was mocked, scorned, and tortured in the praetorium. He carried his cross up the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem to Calvary, was nailed to the Cross and hung between two common criminals, and suffered an indescribable end, recalled by the Church on Good Friday of Holy Week.
One may meditate on the Passion of Christ by reflecting on his Seven Words on the Cross or by a devotion known as the Way of the Cross.
When religious pilgrimages to the Holy Land ended with military occupation of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, a popular devotion known as the Way of the Cross arose during Lent retracing the Passion, Crucifixion, and Death of Jesus. The fourteen Stations of the Cross are (1) Pilate condemns Jesus to death; (2) Jesus takes up his Cross; (3) He falls the first time; (4) Jesus meets his sorrowful mother Mary; (5) Simon helps carry the cross; (6) Veronica cleans his face; (7) He falls the second time; (8) Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem; (9) He falls the third time; (10) Jesus is stripped of his garments; (11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; (12) Jesus Christ dies on the cross; (13) He is taken down from the cross; (14) Christ is laid in the tomb.

Here are his Seven Words, the last seven expressions of Jesus Christ on the Cross recorded in Scripture. 

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THE FIRST WORD
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”Gospel of Luke 23:34

Jesus is looking down from the cross just after he was crucified between two criminals. He sees the soldiers who have mocked him, scourged him and tortured him, and who have just nailed him to the cross. He probably remembers those who have sentenced him – Caiaphas and the high priests of the Sanhedrin. Pilate realized it was out of envy that they handed him over (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10). But is Jesus not also thinking of his Apostles and companions who have deserted him, to Peter who has denied him three times, to the fickle crowd, who only days before praised him on his entrance to Jerusalem, and then days later chose him over Barabbas to be crucified?
Is he also thinking of us, who daily forget him in our lives?
Does he react angrily? No! At the height of his physical suffering, his love prevails and He asks His Father to forgive! Could there ever be greater irony? Jesus asks his Father to forgive, but it is by His very Sacrifice on the Cross that mankind is able to be forgiven!
Right up to his final hours on earth, Jesus preaches forgiveness. He teaches forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). When asked by Peter, how many times should we forgive someone, Jesus answers seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). At the Last Supper, Jesus explains his crucifixion to his Apostles when he tells them to drink of the cup: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). He forgives the paralytic at Capernaum (Mark 2:5), and the adulteress caught in the act and about to be stoned (John 8:1-11). And even following his Resurrection, his first act is to commission his disciples to forgive: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).

 

THE SECOND WORD
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”Gospel of Luke 23:43

Now it is not just the religious leaders or the soldiers that mock Jesus, but even one of the criminals, a downward progression of mockery. But the criminal on the right speaks up for Jesus, explaining the two criminals are receiving their just due, whereas “this man has done nothing wrong.” Then, turning to Jesus, he asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). What wonderful faith this repentant sinner has in Jesus – far more than the doubting Thomas, one of his own Apostles. Ignoring his own suffering, Jesus responds with love and mercy in His second word.
The second word again is about forgiveness, this time directed to a sinner. Just as the first word, this Biblical expression is found only in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus shows his Divinity by opening heaven for a repentant sinner – such generosity to a man that only asked to be remembered!
This expression offers us hope for salvation, for if we turn our hearts and prayers to Him, we will also be with Jesus Christ at the end of our lives.

 

THE THIRD WORD
“Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, this is your son.”
Then he said to the disciple: “This is your mother.”
Gospel of John 19:26-27

Jesus and Mary are together again, at the beginning of his ministry in Cana and now at the end of his public ministry at the foot of the Cross. The Lord refers to his mother as woman at the Wedding Feast of Cana (John 2:1-11) and in this passage, recalling the woman in Genesis 3:15, the first Messianic prophecy of the Redeemer, and anticipating the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12.
What sorrow must fill Mary’s heart, to see her Son mocked, tortured, and crucified. Once again, a sword pierces Mary’s soul: we are reminded of the prediction of Simeon at the Temple (Luke 2:35) . There are four at the foot of the cross, Mary his Mother, John, the disciple whom he loved, Mary of Cleopas, his mother’s sister, and Mary Magdalene. He addresses his third word to Mary and John, the only eye-witness of the Gospel writers.
But again Jesus rises above the occasion, and his concerns are for the ones that love him. The good son that He is, Jesus is concerned about taking care of his mother. In fact, this passage offers proof that Jesus was the only child of Mary, because if he did have brothers or sisters, they would have provided for her. But Jesus looks to John to care for her.
St. Joseph is noticeably absent. The historic paintings, such as Tondodoni by Michelangelo and The Holy Family by Raphael, suggest Joseph was a considerably older man. St. Joseph had probably died by the time of the crucifixion, or else he would have been the one to take care of Mary. Early Christian traditions and the second-century apocryphal Protoevangelium of James held that Joseph was a widower, and his children by his former wife were the “brothers and sisters of Jesus.”
Another striking phrase indicating Jesus of Nazareth was an only child is Mark 6:3, referring to Jesus: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Now if James, Joses and Judas and Simon were also natural sons of Mary, Jesus would not have been called the “son of Mary,” but rather “one of the sons of Mary.”

THE FOURTH WORD
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

This was the only expression of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Both Gospels related that it was in the ninth hour, after 3 hours of darkness, that Jesus cried out this fourth word. The ninth hour was three o’clock in Judea. After the fourth Word, Mark related with a horrible sense of finality, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37).
One is struck by the anguished tone of this expression in contrast to the first three words of Jesus. This cry is from the painful heart of the human Jesus who must feel deserted by His Father and the Holy Spirit, not to mention his earthly companions the Apostles. As if to emphasize his loneliness, Mark even has his loved ones “looking from afar,” not close to him as in the Gospel of John. Jesus feels separated from his Father. He is now all alone, and he must face death by himself.
But is not this exactly what happens to all of us when we die? We too are all alone at the time of death! Jesus completely lives the human experience as we do, and by doing so, frees us from the clutches of sin.
His fourth Word is the opening line of Psalm 22, and thus his cry from the Cross recalls the cry of Israel, and of all innocent persons who suffer. Psalm 22 of David makes a striking prophecy of the crucifixion of the Messiah at a time when crucifixion was not known to exist: “They have pierced my hands and my feet, they have numbered all my bones” (22:16-17). The Psalm continues: “They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots” (22:18).
There can not be a more dreadful moment in the history of man as this moment. Jesus who came to save us is crucified, and He realizes the horror of what is happening and what He now is enduring. He is about to be engulfed in the raging sea of sin. Evil triumphs, as Jesus admits: “But this is your hour” (Luke 22:53). But it is only for a moment. The burden of all the sins of humanity for a moment overwhelm the humanity of our Savior.
But does this not have to happen? Does this not have to occur if Jesus is to save us? It is in defeat of his humanity that the Divine plan of His Father will be completed. It is by His death that we are redeemed. “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:5-6).

 

“He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.”
I Peter 2:24
 

THE FIFTH WORD
“I thirst.”Gospel of John 19:28

The fifth word of Jesus is His only human expression of His physical suffering. Jesus is now in shock. The wounds inflicted upon him in the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the nailing upon the cross are now taking their toll, especially after losing blood on the three-hour walk through the city of Jerusalem to Golgotha on the Way of the Cross. Systematic studies of the Shroud of Turin, as reported by Gerald O’Collins in Interpreting Jesus, indicate the passion of Jesus was far worse than one can imagine. The Shroud has been exhaustively studied by every possible scientific maneuver, and the scientific burden of proof is now on those who do not accept the Shroud as the burial cloth of Jesus.
Jesus thirsts in a spiritual sense as well. He thirsts for love. He thirsts for the love of his Father, who has forsaken him during this dreadful hour when He must fulfill his mission all alone. And he thirsts for the love and salvation of his people, the human race. Jesus practiced what he preached:

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no man than this,
That he lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:12-13

 

THE SIXTH WORD
They put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, 
“It is finished;”
and he bowed his head and handed over the spirit.
Gospel of John 19:29-30

John recalls the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12 in this passage. Hyssop is a small plant that was used to sprinkle the blood of the Passover Lamb on the doorposts of the Hebrews (Exodus 12:22). John’s Gospel related that it was the Day of Preparation, the day before the actual Passover (Pesach in Hebrew, Pascha in Greek and Latin), that Jesus was sentenced to death (19:14) and sacrificed on the Cross (19:31). John continues in 19:33-34: “But when they came to Jesus and saw he was already dead, they did not break his legs,” recalling the instruction in Exodus 12:46 concerning the Passover Lamb. He died at the ninth hour (three o’clock in the afternoon), about the same time as the Passover lambs were slaughtered in the Temple. Christ became the Paschal or Passover Lamb, as noted by St. Paul: “For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7). The innocent Lamb was slain for our sins, so that we might be forgiven. It is now a fait accomplit. The sixth word is Jesus’ recognition that his suffering is over and his task is completed. Jesus is obedient to the Father and gives his love for mankind by redeeming us with His death on the Cross.

 

The above painting is meant to capture the moment.
What was the darkest day of mankind became the brightest day for mankind.

And the Gospels as a group captured this paradox. The Synoptic Gospels narrated the horror of the event – the agony in the garden, the abandonment by his Apostles, the trial before the Sanhedrin, the intense mockery and torture heaped upon Jesus, his suffering all alone, the darkness over the land, and his death, starkly portrayed by both Matthew (27:47-51) and Mark (15:33-38).
In contrast, the passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John expresses his Kingship and proves to be His triumphant road to glory. John presents Jesus as directing the action the entire way. The phrase “It is finished” carries a sense of accomplishment. In John, there is no trial before the Sanhedrin, and gone are the repeated mockeries and scourging. But rather, Jesus is introduced at the Roman trial as “Behold your King!” (John 19:14). Jesus is not stumbling or falling as in the Synoptic Gospels, but the way of the Cross is presented with majesty and dignity, for “Jesus went out bearing his own Cross” (John 19:17).
And in John, the inscription at the head of the cross is pointedly written “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews” (John 19:19). The inscription INRI at the top of the cross is the Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum. The loved ones of Jesus are with Him, and He decisively gives his Mother Mary to the disciple who loved him.
When Jesus died, He “handed over” the Spirit. Jesus remained in control to the end, and it is He who handed over his Spirit. One should not miss the double entendre here, for this may also be interpreted as His death brought forth the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of John gradually reveals the Holy Spirit. Jesus mentions living water in John 4:10-11 when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well, and during the Feast of Tabernacles refers to living water as the Holy Spirit in 7:37-39. At the Last Supper, Christ announces he would ask the Father to send “another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17). The word Advocate is also translated as Comforter, Helper, Paraclete, or Counselor. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:26). The symbolism of water for the Holy Spirit becomes more evident in John 19:34: “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.” The piercing of his side fulfills the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10: “They will look on me whom they have pierced.” The piercing of Jesus’ side prefigures the Sacraments of Eucharist (blood) and Baptism (water), as well as the beginning of the Church.

 

THE SEVENTH WORD
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Gospel of Luke 23:46

The seventh word of Jesus is from the Gospel of Luke, and is directed to the Father in heaven, just before He dies. Jesus recalls Psalm 31:5 – “Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Luke repeatedly pleads Jesus’ innocence: with Pilate (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22), through Dismas (by legend), the criminal (Luke 23:41), and immediately after His death with the centurion” “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47).
Jesus was obedient to His Father to the end, and his final word before his death on the Cross was a prayer to His Father.
The relationship of Jesus to the Father is revealed in the Gospel of John, for He remarked, “The Father and I are one” (10:30), and again, at the Last Supper: “Do you not believe I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works” (14:10). And He can return: “I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (16:28). Jesus fulfills His own mission and that of His Father on the Cross:

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
So that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

REFERENCES
1 The Revised Standard Version of The Holy Bible. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2005.
2 Bishop Fulton J Sheen. The Seven Last Words – The Message from the Cross. Garden City Books, Garden City, New York, 1952.
3 Pope John Paul II. The Gospel of Life – the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Times Books, New York, March 25, 1995.
4 Ignace De La Potterie. The Hour of Jesus: The Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus. Alba House, Staten Island, New York, 1989.
5 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, Third Part – The Passion of Christ. Translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. Christian Classics, Allen, Texas.
6 St. Alphonsus Liguori. The Way of the Holy Cross. Mother of Our Savior Publishing, Pekin, Indiana, 2007.
7 O’Collins, Gerald. Interpreting Jesus. Geoffrey Chapman, London, and Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1983. 

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‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.”

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“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Watchfulness is a way of embracing every virtue — it is the heart’s commandment of stillness and, when free from mental images, it is the guarding of the intellect.

There are four types of watchfulness:

The first type closely scrutinizes every mental image or provocation — for only by means of a mental image can the devil fabricate an evil thought and insinuate this into the intellect in order to lead it astray.

The second type frees the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still, and in praying.

The third type continually and humbly calls upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help, while the fourth type makes us constantly cognizant of death.

These types of watchfulness serve us our doorkeepers and bar our entry to evil thoughts. Guard our mind and we will not be harassed by temptations. But if we fail to guard our minds, accept patiently whatever trial comes.”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent — which means to prepare and to welcome in expectation for. It came from the Latin word ‘Adventus’ — which literally means ‘coming’ — the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. During this season, we are reminded of the need to be watchful and vigilant. Life is short, and death is certain.

Our hope is that we are not caught unprepared, and be filled with much regret that we did not live well and did not love enough when death finally arrives.

Today also ushers Christmas — the season of hope. We have to embrace the thought that the image of the judgment day is not an image of fear, but an image of hope, of grateful anticipation —- our comfort and our yearning. Bill Keane said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”

We plea for God’s grace hoping that His grace will give us the strength to face our challenges everyday — but more important — the big face-off with Him someday.

Christmas just like Easter is a period of atonement and self-introspection — a time for reflection and for us to look deeply into our lives. We have to prepare for His coming, just like preparing for a VIP invited to our party. We must make it our opportunity to look beyond the present moment and set-up our place in His kingdom.

Dear Lord, make us stay awake and be on our guard always. May we be constantly reminded that if we stay wakeful and live in faith and hope of Christ’s coming we will enjoy the fullness of life with God in eternity. As we pray daily in the Our Father: “May your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Amen.

Need For Watchfulness Mk 13:33-37

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“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,

that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

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Grant unto us, Almighty God, in all time of sore distress,

the comfort of the forgiveness of our sins.

In time of darkness give us blessed hope,

in time of sickness of body give us quiet courage;

and when the heart is bowed down, and the soul is very heavy,

and life is a burden, and pleasure a weariness,

and the sun is too bright, and life too mirthful,

then may that Spirit, the Spirit of the Comforter, come upon us,

and after our darkness may there be the clear shining of the heavenly light;

that so, being uplifted again by Thy mercy,

we may pass on through this our mortal life

with quiet courage, patient hope, and unshaken trust,

hoping through Thy loving-kindness and tender mercy

to be delivered from death into the large life of the eternal years.

Hear us of Thy mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord

 

Amen.

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