The gift of the new translation of the Roman Missal invites us to a deeper understanding of the liturgical year. There is a striking difference between the calendar year of society and the liturgical year of the Church. Both provide a way of marking and counting time. However, in the civil year existence progresses in a linear manner, which many times lacks a sense of fulfillment in life. Whereas the liturgical year, when there is appropriate and adequate catechesis, can be a source of great joy and grace, as it is a participation in the redemption of time. As one is increasingly immersed in the life of faith, the celebrations never become old, and can truly be an occasion for an experience that is "ever ancient, ever new." The wonder of the mysteries of the life of Christ brings one to a new consciousness of the meaning of one's own life. As we participate in these mysteries, we are being formed in the life of Christ.
Keeping an account of time in the civil calendar comes to an end with death. In contrast, with every liturgy, there is a mutual celebration in communion with others, and in communion with the eternal liturgy. Thus, there is a continuity of life. When we make the transition from this pilgrimage of life to new life, the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem will not be unknown or foreign to us. As we live in the suspense of "now, but not yet full" participation in the kingdom of heaven, the liturgical calendar is a deep anthropological aid to a consciousness of the true meaning of life.
The celebration of the Easter Vigil is an example of how we are led more deeply into the mystery of the history of salvation through the words found in the prayers and the symbols that accompany these words. The Easter fire and the lighting of the Pascal Candle with the proclamation "Christ our Light" express our coming out of darkness into light through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The procession with the Pascal Candle as the candles held by the faithful light up the Church symbolizes the pillar of fire that led the Israelites during their passage through the Red Sea to new life, prefiguring baptism for the Christian. Most important, the Pascal Candle symbolizes Christ. All of this is proclaimed in the words of the Exultet, as it is magnificently chanted at the conclusion of the procession. However, for some years, we have missed a very important part of the Exultet, which in the new translation will be proclaimed in English for the first time:
"On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants' hands, an evening sacrifice of praise from your most holy Church. But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for Godís honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious."
In the current translation, all references to bees were eliminated, theoretically because we are no longer interested or able to understand apiculture. However, since before the time of Augustine, there was already the analogy between the wax, which was supposed to be parthenogenetically (from the Greek for "virgin birth") produced by the bee, and the flesh of Christ, who was born of a virgin. Thus, the inclusion of bees is symbolically a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through her "the Word became flesh." The earlier omission of these words from the Latin text also overlooked this reference to the humanity of Christ, through which he brought us salvation. In the early Church, the newly baptized were given milk and honey, the nourishment of newborns, and were actually called "neophytes." Also in the early Church, people were more aware of the cosmos, and the goodness of all of God's creation. They were more aware of the relationship between creation and humanity, both in dependence and stewardship. Thus, this analogy was completely understood by them, and it can also be understood by us.
Although the Pascal Candle is extinguished at Pentecost, for every baptism and funeral liturgy it is brought back again. Christ is the light for those who are born anew in baptism, and he is the light that guides them through the transition to new life. Our work is to keep the candle that we received at our baptism burning brightly with the light of Christ, until it is our time to celebrate the heavenly liturgy. May this new translation of the Roman Missal help us to discover how to understand our faith more deeply, and live according to what we believe.
Sister Esther Mary Nickel, Ph.D., S.L.D., is a Religious Sister of Mary of Alma, Mich. She is a professor of sacred liturgy at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.