During Eastertide, the preface to the mass changes. The Asperges me is replaced in the order of the Mass by the Vidi aquam, adapted from Ezekiel 47. I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia, the choir sings, and all they to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say, alleluia, alleluia. In and through this chant, the Church makes three interconnected statements – about ourselves, about our salvation, and about our Saviour.
During the remainder of the year, the preface to the Mass begins with the choir singing from Ps. 50, Miserere mei. Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. The Miserere mei is, perhaps, the most perfect of the penitential psalms, expressing both a firm awareness of both our sinfulness and our sin – For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me – but also a firm conviction of the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord. Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. It is this latter verse, rather than any other, that is sung while the priest sprinkles water over the congregation, matching word to deed, action to consequence.
During Eastertide, while the action of the priest’s sprinkling remains the same, the antiphon changes. Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, alleluia. I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia. This antiphon reminds us from where the water of the sprinkling comes, the water with the power to forgive sins and give life. It comes from the temple – the same temple of which our Lord said Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. For forgiveness of sins was only purchased with the birth of the church, when one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And to this day we say and we sing, all they to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say, alleluia, alleluia.
And this is the third thread that binds the Vidi aquam to the Asperges me. For it was not water only that issued from the open side our Lord Jesus Christ, but blood and water. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, the psalmist writes. Why is it that David specifies hyssop? It is because by hyssop David recalls the first passover. Dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith, and both the door cheeks: let none of you go out of the door of his house till morning. For the Lord will pass through striking the Egyptians: and when he shall see the blood on the transom, and on both the posts, he will pass over the door of the house, and not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and to hurt you. Whose is the blood? The blood is of the lamb without blemish… the victim of the passage of the Lord. It is that selfsame lamb whom is offered, under the species of bread and wine, at every altar of the Church in every nation of the world.
There is more that can be said. There is always more that can be said of the treasures of the Faith. But today, let us only say, with the rest of the Church, Give praise to the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.