By Fr. Michel Mulloy
I think a little rejoicing is in order. After all, it is Easter! Jesus has risen. The joy of this holy season is beautifully expressed in the opening prayer for the Third Sunday of Easter. The opening prayers of the Mass are rich in history and theology. Taking the time to read and reflect on them, which is easy to do these days with the worship aids available, can enrich the experience of Mass.
The prayer states: May your people exult forever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit, so that rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption, we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ This text comes from two prayers that date back to the 400-600s AD. It begins with a prayer over the people taken from a final blessing. It continues with part of a prayer for the dead. The complex history of how these two texts were brought together is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is significant that this prayer has been used by God’s people for centuries.
The verb tense in the prayer indicates that the renewal of our youthfulness of spirit has happened. It is a done deal. When I looked in the mirror after Easter, I saw the same old face. But this is about a youthful spirit. The prayer attributes our renewal to the restoration of the glory of our adoption. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus has canceled out the debt of our sins and restored us to the status of beloved sons and daughters. Like the prodigal son who is swept up into the love of his father and family, we are also renewed in the resurrection of Jesus. That awareness causes rejoicing. Even if our bodies do not comply, our minds and hearts are dancing and singing a song of joy.
The prayer then goes on to ask that we may have hope for the future because of that renewal and joy — hope for the coming day of resurrection. This is a reference not to Jesus’s resurrection, which has already happened, but to our own. We are speaking here about our own death. That is generally not seen as a moment of joy. Yet for those who are faithful, who have incorporated into their own spirit the joy and the resurrection of Jesus, death is welcome. It is the goal of our lives as stated at the end of our diocesan mission statement. Everything we do in life is “leading to eternal life.” This prayer on the Third Sunday of Easter expresses that simply and clearly. We look forward with joy to our own resurrection.
So, put together, this prayer says that we are grateful for the resurrection of Jesus. It has renewed us and restored our youthful spirit. We rejoice because we are back in the loving embrace of our faith family. God is our Father; Jesus is our brother and we belong to each other. We also know that this relationship is not temporary. This renewed bond of love is meant to be forever. We have the promise of sharing in the fullness of eternal life. This exciting reality causes us to rejoice. In addition, we hear, unspoken but clear, the invitation to live in this youthful spirit preciously because we want to go and be with God forever in heaven.
This prayer expresses the blessing we have received in the resurrection of Jesus. It sets the course and calls us to live in the joy of this newfound path to eternal life. In this prayer we have faith expressed and the road map for living in that faith clearly stated. So, when the priest presider invites your participation with the words, “Let us pray…” you now have a better awareness of the joy and hope of the prayer. That awareness gives you the opportunity to join more fully in this moment in the Mass. You can allow the joy of your own heart to rise up in the resurrection of Jesus. You can offer thanks and, as the words are prayed, resolve to rejoice in this hope of a new life in Jesus leading to your own eternal life.