Saint Gregory the Great’s Sermon on the Mystery of the Resurrection

Given to the People in the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the Holy Day of the Resurrection

1. It has been my custom, beloved brethren, to speak to you on many of the Gospel readings, by means of a sermon I had already dictated for you. But since I have been unable, because of the weakness of my throat, to read to you myself what I had prepared, I notice that some among you listen somewhat indifferently. So, contrary to my usual practice, I shall for the future make the effort during the sacred solemnities of the Mass to explain the Gospel, not through a sermon I have dictated, but by speaking directly to you myself.

So for the future it shall be the rule for me to speak to you in this way. For the words which are spoken directly to sluggish souls awaken them more readily than a sermon that is read to them; moving them by that touch as it were of authority, so that they listen with more attention. I am not, as I well know, competent to fulfill this office: but let your charity make good what my ignorance denies me. For I have in mind Him Who has said: Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it (Ps. lxxx. ii). We all have in mind a good work , and it will be perfected by His divine assistance (II Tim. iii. 17). And also, this great solemnity of the Sunday of the Resurrection gives us a fitting occasion for speaking to you: for it would indeed be unfitting that the tongue of our body should be silent in the praises that are clue this day; that day on which the Body of our Author rose again from the dead.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

2. You have heard, Beloved, how the holy women who had followed the Lord came to His tomb, bringing with them sweet spices, so that with tender affection they might tend Him in death Whom they had loved in life. And this tells us something which we should observe in the life of our holy Church. And it is important we give attention to what here took place: to see what we mint do to imitate them. And we also, who believe in Him Who died, truly come with sweet spices to His tomb, when we come seeking the Lord, bringing with us the sweet odour of virtue, and the credit of good works.

But these women who came bringing sweet spices beheld angels. And this signifies that those souls who, because of their holy love, come seeking the Lord, bearing the sweet spices of virtue, shall also see the citizens of heaven. And let us also take note of what it means that the angel is seen sitting on the right side. For what does the left side mean but this present life; and the right hand side, if not life eternal? Because of this it is written in the Canticle of Canticles: His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me (Cant. ii. 6).

And so, since Our Redeemer has now passed over beyond the mortality of this present life, tightly does the Angel, who had come to announce His entry into eternal life, sit at the right side . And he came clothed in white: for he was announcing the joy of this our present solemnity. For the whiteness of his garments signifies the glory of our great Feast. Should we say ours 0t His? That we may speak truly let us say that it is both ours and His. For this day of our Redeemer’s Resurrection is also our day of great joy; for it has restored m to immortality. It is also a day of joy for the angels: for restoring us to heaven, it has filled up again the number of its citizens. On this our festival day, and His, an angel appeared, clothed in white robes, because they are rejoicing that because we are restored to heaven the losses their heavenly home had suffered are now made good.

3. But let us hear what is said to the women who came? Be not affrighted! As though he said to them: Let them fear who love not the coming of the heavenly citizens. Let them fear who, steeped in bodily desires, have no hope of belonging to them. But you, why should you fear, meeting your own? Matthew also, describing the appearance of the Angel, says of him: And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow (Mt. xxviii. 3). Lightning awakens dread and fear, the white radiance of snow is soothing. For Almighty God is both terrifying to sinners, and comforting to those who are good. Rightly then is the Angel, the Witness of the Resurrection, revealed to us with countenance like the lightning, and his garments white as snow: so that even by his appearance he might awaken fear in the reprobate, and bring consolation to the just.

And rightly also, for the same reason, there went before the Lord’s People in the desert, a column of fire by night, and a column of smoke by day (Ex. xiii: 21, 22). For in fire there is fear; but in the cloud of smoke the comforting assurance of what we can see: day also meaning the life of the just, and night the life of sinners. Because of this Paul, speaking to converted sinners, says: For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord (Eph. v. 8). So a pillar of cloud was set before them by day, and a pillar of fire by night: because Almighty God shall appear mild of countenance to the just, but fearful to the wicked. Coming to judge us, He shall comfort the one by the mildness of His countenance, and terrify the other with the severity of His justice.

4. Now let us hear what the angel says. You seek Jesus of Nazareth .  Jesus, in the Latin tongue, is saving ; that is, Saviour . Then however many were called Jesus, by name, not because of the reality it means. So the place is added, to make clear of what Jesus he is speaking: Of Nazareth . And to this he adds the reason they seek Him: Who was crucified . And then he goes on: He is risen, he is not here . That He was not there was said only of His Bodily Presence; for nowhere is He absent in the power of His divinity. But go , he continues, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee .

Now we have to ask ourselves, why did he, speaking of the Disciples, single out Peter by name? But, had the Angel not referred to him in this way, Peter would never have dared to appear again among the Apostles. He is bidden then by name to come, so that he will not despair because of his denial of Christ. And here we must ask ourselves, why did Almighty God permit the one He had placed over the whole Church to be frightened by the voice of a maid servant, and even to deny Christ Himself? This we know was a great dispensation of the divine mercy, so that he who was to be the shepherd of the Church might learn, through his own fall, to have compassion on others. God therefore first shows him to himself, and then places him over others: to learn through his own weakness how to bear mercifully with the weakness of others.

5. And well did he say of Our Redeemer that: He goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you . For Galilee means, passing-over . And now our Redeemer has passed over from His suffering to His Resurrection, from death to life, from punishment to glory, from mortality to immortality. And, after His Resurrection, His Disciples first see Him in Galilee; as afterwards, filled with joy, we also shall see the glory of the Resurrection, if we now pass over from the ways of sin to the heights of holy living. He therefore Who is announced to us from the tomb is shown to us by crossing over: for He Whom we acknowledge in the denial of our flesh is seen in the passing over of our soul. Because of the solemnity of the day, we have gone briefly over these points in our explanation of the Gospel. Let us now speak in more detail of this same solemnity.

6. There are two lives; one of which we knew, the other we did not know of. The one is mortal, the other immortal; the one linked with human infirmity, the other to incorruption; one is marked for death, the other for resurrection. The Mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ, came, and took upon Himself the one, and revealed to us the other. The one He endured by dying; the other He revealed when He rose from the dead. Had He then foretold to us, who knew His mortal life, the Resurrection of His Body, and had not visibly shown it to us, who would believe in His promises? So, becoming Man, He shows Himself in our flesh; of His own will He suffered death; by His own power He rose from the dead; and by this proof He showed us that which He promises as a reward.

But perhaps some one will say: Of course He rose: for being God He could not be held in death. So, to give light to our understanding, to strengthen our weakness, He willed to give us proof, and not of His Resurrection only. In that hour He died alone; but He did not rise alone from the dead. For it is written: And many bodies of the saints that had slept arose (Mt. xxvii. 52). He has therefore taken away the argument of those who do not believe.

And let no one say: No man can hope that that will happen to him which the God-man proved to us in His Body; for here we learn that men did rise again with God, and we do not doubt that these were truly men. If then we are the members of our Redeemer, let us look forward to that which we know was fulfilled in our Head. Even if we should be diffident, we ought to hope that what we have heard of His worthier members will be fulfilled also in us His meanest members.

7. And here there comes to mind what the Jews, insulting the Crucified Son of God, cried out: If he be the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him . Had He, yielding to their insults, then come down from the Cross, He would not have proved to us the power of patience. He waited for the little time left, He bore with their insults, He submitted to their mockery, He continued patient, and evoked our admiration; and He Who refused to descend from the Cross, rose again from the sepulchre. More did it matter so to rise from the sepulchre than to descend from the Cross. A far greater thing was it to overcome death by rising from the sepulchre, than to preserve life by descending from the Cross.

And when the Jews saw that despite their insults He would not descend from the Cross, and when they saw Him dying, they rejoiced; thinking they had overcome Him and caused His Name to be forgotten. But now through all the world His Name has grown in honour, because of the death whereby this faithless people thought they had caused Him to be forgotten. And He Whom they rejoiced over as slain, they grieved over when He was dead: for they know it was through death He had come to His glory.

The deeds of Samson, related in the Book of Judges, foreshadowed this Day (Judges xvi. 1-3). For when Samson went into Gaza, the city of the Philistines, they, learning he had come in, immediately surrounded the city and placed guards before the gates; and they rejoiced because they had Samuel in their power. What Samson did we know. At midnight he took the gates of the city, and carried them to the top of a hill outside. Whom does Samson symbolize, Beloved, in this, if not our Redeemer? What does Gaza symbolize, if not the gates of hell? And what the Philistines, if not the perfidy of the Jews, who seeing the Lord dead, and His Body in the sepulchre, placed guards before it; rejoicing that they had Him in their power, and that He Whom the Author of life had glorified was now enclosed by the gates of hell: as they had rejoiced when they thought they had captured Samson in Gaza.

But in the middle of the night Samson, not alone went forth from the city, but also bore off its gates, as our Redeemer, rising before day, not alone went forth free from hell, but also destroyed the very gates of hell. He took away the gates, and mounted with them to the top of a hill; for by His Resurrection He bore off the gates of hell, and by His Ascension He mounted to the kingdom of heaven.

Let us, Beloved, love with all our hearts this glorious Resurrection, which was first made known to us by a Figure, and then made known in deed; and for love of it let us be prepared to die. See how in the Resurrection of our Author we have come to know His ministering angels as our own fellow citizens. Let us hasten on to that great assembly of these fellow citizens. Let us, since we cannot see them face to face, join ourselves to them in heart and desire. Let us cross over from evildoing to virtue, that we may merit to see our Redeemer in Galilee. May Almighty God help us to that life which is our desire: He Who for us delivered His only Son to death, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who with Him reigns One with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • I’m not finding the Migne P.L. citation for Gregory the Great’s sermon on the Resurrection. In general, citation of original documents would be useful; I need to translate for an article I’m working on, and the online version of Migne doesn’t seem to list it either!

    Many thanks–DLa Rue