Holy Tuesday: The Procession of the Wise Virgins
The second wedding parable from the Gospel is that of the Wise Virgins ( Matthew 25:1-13). Here the emphasis is not put on the laying aside of bad dispositions, but rather on the positive preparation for coming to the marriage-feast. Applied to the sacraments, the parable points out the dispositions necessary to take part in the Eucharistic banquet; and liturgically, the procession of virgins going to meet the Bridegroom with their lighted lamps reminds us of the procession during the paschal night in which the newly-baptized, carrying their lighted candles in their hands, were led from the baptistry to the church where they were to take part in the Eucharistic banquet. This double aspect is recalled by St. Cyril, when, at the beginning of the Procatechesis, he presents the process of initiation as a whole: “You carry in your hands the lamps of the wedding procession, these lamps which are the desire of heavenly blessings, the firm resolution and the hope which accompanies it” (XXXIII, 333). The eschatalogical waiting signified by the lamps of the wise virgins is applied to the waiting for baptism initiation which is an anticipation of the Parousia and a meeting of the soul with Christ the Bridegroom.
This connection between the procession of the paschal night and of the wedding parable is made explicitly by Gregory Nazianzen: “The station that you will make, just after Baptism, before the great throne, is the prefiguring of future glory. The chant of the Psalms with which you will be received is the prelude to the Psalmody of heaven. The lamps that you will light are the sacrament (mysterion) of the resplendent procession of heaven with which we will go before the Bridegroom, souls virginal and resplendent, with the burning lamps of faith. Let us not allow ourselves by negligence to become drowsy, so as to let Him for Whom we are waiting go by us when He comes unexpectedly, and let us not remain without sustenance and without oil, for fear of being excluded from the bridal chamber. There is no room there for the man who is proud and negligent, nor for him who is clad in a stained garment and not in the wedding-robe” (XXXVI, 426 B-C).
This passage shows us that the baptismal procession is a figure of the procession of the elect at the time of the Parousia. Or, better still, this procession is the sacrament, the visible sign of the heavenly liturgy. (Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pp. 218-219)
While Holy Week makes us think about events on earth, what is being opened to us is Paradise, Heaven, the Kingdom of God! The Liturgical services are endeavoring to help us experience what we sing at Pascha: “For from death to life and from earth to Heaven has Christ our God led us as we sing the song of victory: Christ is risen from the dead!“