For Christmas and Easter instead of picking a saint who’s feast day falls on that week, I usually choose a saint associated with that feast-day of Our Lord. This year, I find myself meditating not on a member of the beatified, but on bees. During the most stupendous moment of the Easter Vigil, after the Paschal Candle has been solemnly consecrated, kindled, and carried into the darkened Cathedral … as the priest, other ministers, and then entire congregation, light their candles from that pillar of fire shining with the light of the Risen Jesus … as flames flicker throughout the nave, and every light is set to 100% … the Deacon solemnly incenses the Paschal Candle, enthroned before us all, and begins to sing:
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, …
This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness. The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty. 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, this gift from your most holy Church.
This song praises God for all the tremendous moments of His mercy down through human history. It has been sung for at least a thousand years, with our current version recalling the work of bees twice, and earlier editions harping upon their labors with even greater emphasis. Why, amid creation and fall and exodus and resurrection, do we turn in praise to bees … humble, buzzing, bees?
For the entire season of Easter, at every Mass, we will relight the Paschal Candle, drawing near again and again to the triumphant light and unending fire of love that is Our Risen Lord, yet that flame that shines His light, that white column decorated and distinguished in the center of our Church, surprisingly depends on the industry of a whole lot of honey-bees. The strength and success of Christ, is here symbolically reliant on a swarm of insects! The Church Fathers, and writers of Scripture, had a more sanctified imagination than we do these days, and it is they who remind us of this and other ways that bees remind us our own position in the Body of Christ.
Bees live in colonies with thousands of members, each one taking a specific, and essential, place – queen, drones, workers … governing, gathering, directing, defending, reproducing, guarding, clearing, and laying down their lives – for the hive. We too must submit to, and be sustained within, our communion around Christ. Bees produce honey and wax, both marvelous substances – sweet, nutritious, and incorruptible; strong, malleable, and sterile – all for the sake of a project so much larger than each individual bee, and even the entire hive. In this way, they speak to us of our own call to the work to a charity like Christ, for the salvation of the Church and the world. Bees, lastly, Augustine, Isidore, and other saints point out, represent to us an example of the virtue of chastity. Of course, those saints did not understand exactly how bees reproduced, yet our modern science only strengthens their point. Male bees literally give up their lives in order to mate with a queen-bee and continue the life of the hive – talk about laying down one’s life! Yet the queen, as happily noticed by Augustine, can also reproduce asexually (laying unfertilized eggs that do develop into bees) – one of those peculiar natural reminders of Jesus’ own virginal conception as well as the supernatural fecundity and example that celibacy can have.
Community, charity, chastity … all discovered in the buzzing of bees, in some ways dependent on them! Christ’s victory depends on you too! Our world will not find the perfect Communion that Jesus has won for us if you and I don’t live it out, submitting to His reign, surrendering to His will, and abiding in Him. Our world will not receive the persevering Charity that cascades from Our Lord’s Heart if you and I don’t receive it from the cross and chalice, bearing the Love He entrusts to us and defending that flickering flame through the storm. Our world will not know the victory and delight that is Chastity, if you and I do not take on the burden and freedom of authentic love, upholding ours and others’ dignity, defending ours and others’ bodies, consecrating our and others’ hearts.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin sometimes falls into thinking that carrying the Gospel these days is akin to a single-rep barbell squat: heaving upward hundreds of pounds against the pull of gravity. The truth is that Jesus has borne the bulk of the cross’s weight! We need not lift the entire beam, rather, He asks us to simply approach the flowers of His grace and carry away a few grains of pollen for the nourishment and transformation of the world. I think even I can manage that!