Suffering, Memory, and Hope

Suffering, Memory, and Hope

By Fr. Mark Neary
The Valley Catholic – April 14, 2020

During this time of the new Coronavirus—a global illness to which you and I may lose family and friends,  I have found comfort in a saying of St. John Chrysostom:

They whom we love and lose
are no longer where they were before.
They are now wherever we are.

Along the journey of these past twenty-one years I have lost family and friends.  I have lost a good deal. I do not have the life of priestly ministry and I do not have the public life that brought many good friendships my way, so I reframed my life and I live like a monk. The ability to adapt and reframe my day, as well as my understanding of myself living the day I have, has gone a long way in the self-help work that makes me feel life as I know it is worth it.

How did it begin?

I fell! All I did was fall down. I was presiding at a wedding, something that as a priest I did on many Saturdays in church, and I fell.   

Twenty-one years ago, I suffered a spinal cord brain injury, and everything about my life changed forever. From the moment I hit the floor of the sanctuary, I was immediately in pain, and even now I remain in a condition of ongoing debilitating physical pain. After surgery and hospital stay, I was moved to a nursing home. I have been in and out of many hospitals and nursing homes since.

After the fall, I was not able to celebrate the Eucharist; I could not pray the prayer that had become an everyday part of my life.  So what did I do when I could not celebrate the Eucharist? I discovered my memory, which gave me not only the prayer of the Eucharist, but also my body’s memory of aligned motion encouraged by muscle memory.  Gradually, with the coaching of professional physical therapist, that memory gave me the movements of rolling over, crawling, standing and walking.  I can do it most days and, yes, there have been setbacks and some of the losses, but the overall experience is one of progress and the slow return of physical abilities.

Now, during this time of social distancing, you and I cannot go to Church to pray, to celebrate the Mass.

The Eucharist, following the command of Jesus, is a prayer of memory: “Do this in memory of me!” I am almost 70 years old, so I remember when I was in grammar school that the Mass was prayed in Latin. The opening lines of the Mass were, “Introibo ad altare Dei.  Ad Deum qui laetifcat iuventutem meam.”  The English translation is, “I will go unto the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.”  Now that I am older and I find life in an injured body, I look back on the person that I was – who existed before the injury, and I try to bring what was then to the present now, so that I can have it back, knowing that my life will not ever be as it was, but that with the Lord I can make it better than it is. The Eucharist brings the good and the grace of the past to the present and becomes a prayer of hope – hope that right now and then every moment after, we might have the same experience of Jesus that his disciples had, the possibility of making the present moment and the future better.

My work of physical recovery and my work to have a felt sense of the experience of the presence of God in my life has been enabled by my imagination. I do not mean make-believe, rather, the creative act of having in my mind’s eye an image of what I hope the next moment will be and then, with God’s grace, working myself to make it happen. If I can imagine a physical movement, I can work myself to the ability of performing it. If I can see my right leg and foot making the forward motion that will give me my next step in my mind’s eye, then I can get my right leg and foot to make the motion. I have done it. It works well. I trust that God is love and, in praying, I find myself moving toward God and God moving toward me, even if I cannot feel it happening.  It does happen – in a sense we are all in the same boat on a sea larger than the Sea of Galilee.

The physical process of healing my body and the role that memory played in the work of recovery is similar to the experience of being at prayer. Both require the cultivation of an intention. Although today, I cannot go to Church to celebrate the Eucharist, I can pray.

Long before I was injured, I introduced gatherings with the following personal phrase, which became my prayer. When I suffered my life-changing fall and injuries, I often prayed it:

Remember! Whenever you are remembering you are praying
And whenever you are praying
You are not alone!

So, perhaps like me, when you are remembering, you are praying. And when you are praying, you are not alone. I am not alone, for everyone I have lost is always with me, and in the moment of prayer, God is with me.  We can’t go to Mass together these days, we may not have anyone to be right next to us as we are praying at home, and yet we are not alone.


Fr. Mark Neary was pastor of St. Cyprian Parish, Sunnyvale (1996-2000) before his retirement.

Bishop Cantú’s Easter Message

Bishop Cantú’s Easter Message

By Bishop Oscar Cantú 
The Valley Catholic – April 9, 2020

Today, we are seeing extensive suffering. And in these stories of suffering, we are witnessing faith and hope and love that sustain sacrifices. From those who were confined to their sleeping quarters aboard ships to those who have lost loved ones to the deadly Coronavirus, to the courageous and heroic medical professionals who risk their lives to care for others – people are suffering. Each of us is making sacrifices. Some make great sacrifices, like our medical personnel, who because of their exposure in caring for the ill, don’t get to go home to be with family. Others, like most of us, make the daily sacrifice of staying at and working from home. And an unprecedented number of people are losing jobs, income, a sense of security, and more.

As we begin our Easter celebration, I invite us to reflect on the mosaic of the “Tree of Life” at the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. It presents a profound understanding of the meaning of redemptive suffering, stemming from the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

The mosaic depicts Jesus on the Cross, with Mary and St. John at the foot of the Cross. From the base of the Cross springs a large vine with extensive branches which fill the rest of the mosaic, reminiscent of Jesus’ description of himself as the Vine (cf. Jn 15:5). Just below the root of the vine is a spring of water flowing outward (cf. Jn 4:7-15; 7:37-39 Jesus gives “living water”). Deer are depicted drinking from the stream. Sheep and other animals are refreshed by the flowing waters, as well (cf. Ps. 23:2)

Thus the Cross is presented as the new “Tree of Life,” as it brings life to all who are connected to it through the branches of the vine. The various figures depicted along the branches are people from various walks of life: clerks, scholars, farmers, and shepherds. In spite of their different states in life, their wealth or poverty, education or skill, they are all connected to life through the vine. They derive their life and meaning from the Cross of Jesus.

As we now celebrate the Paschal Mystery (the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus), we contemplate the key turning point in human history, when Jesus transformed the meaning of suffering. He made it redemptive. With Jesus, suffering became sacrificial (literally, “to make sacred”). Sacrifice can be deeply meaningful, when offered with faith, hope, and love.

In spite of the sacrifices, great and small, we are witnessing in these days, and perhaps because of these sacrifices, there seems to be in the air a sense of solidarity. As Pope Francis recently noted, “we’re all in the same boat.” At Eastertime, and in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, Christians are reminded of the one, Jesus Christ, who made suffering not only meaningful, but redemptive, contributing to the good and eternal salvation of our souls.

In the Tree of Life mosaic at St. Clement, while life flourishes and swirls around the branches of the vine, they all are connected to the source of their life and meaning – Jesus victorious on the Cross.

Now more than ever in these trying times, we are invited to quench our spiritual thirst from the living waters, Jesus himself. Perhaps the psalmist best described the yearning of our hearts, “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, my God” (Ps. 42:1).

It is in this context of faith and hope that I wish you all a Blessed Easter.

Bishop Oscar Cantú

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Easter and Fullness of Time

Easter and Fullness of Time

A pastor’s message during the sheltering mandate
The Valley Catholic – April 9, 2020

There’s an interesting contrast between the gifts exchanged at Christmas and those for children at Easter.

Christmas gifts are conspicuously displayed under a tree. At Easter, the eggs are hidden, and it takes effort for children to find them. The Easter egg is seen as a symbol of the tomb and new life that breaks out of it.

After hearing from Mary Magdala the shocking news of the missing body of their crucified Master, Peter and the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to His tomb (John 20:1-10).  They thought they lost His dead body, and, except for the beloved disciple, it took them time to finally discover that the Lord had risen from the dead.

We are not much different from the disciples in their confusion.  We can understand suffering and death; resurrection is beyond our human experience.  Yet, even in suffering and death, life is not absent. 

During the darkness of this dreadful pandemic, like a resilient heart, life still throbs in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” as our beloved Santa Clara Valley was once known.  Life still exudes energy around the clock in hospitals, in the community-organized distribution of food to the hungry and in care for the homeless, in impromptu neighborhood grocery deliveries, in the virtual, but comforting connection to relatives and friends and communities of faith.

The disciples of Jesus were confused, although he had given them lessons about dying and rising in nature.  He taught them, “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).”  His death and His tomb were merely the threshold leading to new life.  His disciples were looking for a “dead grain,” but He was already blossoming into a “fruit-bearing plant.”

Death can lead to new life, just as Good Friday led to Easter.  Unlike his friend Lazarus, who came out of his tomb, but then would reenter the tomb years later, Jesus was raised from the dead and entered into the fullness of new life.  Lazarus’ rising from the dead was more like a resuscitation; Jesus’ was resurrection, from the Latin verb, “resurgere,” which means “rise up,” or the “anastasis,” a Greek word, which means “up-rising.”

The image of Jesus’ resurrection, found in the First Letter to the Corinthians, is even more lively.  The letter referred to the resurrected Lord as a “First Fruit”: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).”  This view is significant, as the letter was written in the early 50s A.D., decades before the gospel accounts. 

We know suffering and pain, although we do not like them. On the other hand, we delight in Easter joy and glory, even as we do not comprehend them.  However, despite being puzzled by the mystery of the Resurrection, we still long for our resurrection to fulfill our deepest dreams and hopes.  

The solemn feast of the Resurrection is a call to fullness of life from God. Our life-giving God does not want to offer us an easy life with cheap gratification. God desires to lead us to a true life, true fulfilment with an everlasting future. 

The way to this life requires us to make the leap of faith, despite our doubts, to place our hope in God, despite fears, to love without counting the cost. This way of living makes our lives strong, hopeful, and meaningful, no matter what happens around us; and we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 2:10).”

Jesus, the center of this great season of Anastasis/Resurrection, was Himself the outcast, the crucified One. But He totally trusted His Father, completely believed in His mission, and loved his disciples to the end. His resurrection is an affirmation of that way of life, a vindication of a love that is truly stronger than death.

As Christians, we are called to be part of the company of witnesses who believed in the Risen Lord, even though they had not seen him.  Easter is more than a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It is also an invitation to each of us to take our place in the long line of those witnesses, to the Christian way of living. That is why the first community of believers were known as people “who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2).

Christ’s Resurrection is the beginning of a new era, a new life.  Is that not why we only start a new Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil with the numeral of the current year?  Nature seems to agree, as Easter more or less coincides with springtime (in the northern hemisphere), when creation enters into a new cycle of bursting life, with blossoming flowers and roaring waterfalls.

However, despite the significance of Easter, we will quickly return to the daily demands or routine of our lives. What should continue every day is gratitude for a share in the new life, new energy from the Risen Lord that we have received in Baptism, and a willingness to bring that life to others by our kindness and care for them. When this characterizes our daily living (366 days this year), then our whole life is a living Alleluia, and act of praise of God.

This year, we will all miss celebrating Easter in our parish churches.  But Easter is too great an occasion to celebrate in one day; indeed, it is like a festival celebrated for eight days (octave), and the incredible joy of Easter is extended throughout a season of 50 days.  And every Sunday is a little Easter, the “Lord’s Day,” yes, the day He rose! 

These few weeks (so far) away from the communal joy we experience in the presence of the Risen Lord and one another is like an eternity.  We miss you and we hope to see you soon, very soon.

Have a Blessed “Anastasis” (Up-rising) Season!

Holy Week and Tapestry of Life

Holy Week and Tapestry of Life

A pastor’s message during the sheltering mandate
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

“Teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart”
 – Psalm 90:12

Recently someone sent me a poem associated with #PrayforyourPastor:

Your Pastor has never pastored a church through a pandemic before.
When he opens (his church), people are going to say he should have closed.
When he closes, people are going to say he should have opened.
When he does not shake hands, people are going to say he needs faith.
When he shakes hands, people are going to say he’s foolish.
He’s going to make some difficult decisions to protect the flock
considering everything from your spiritual growth to legal liabilities
that you aren’t even thinking about…  – Author unknown.

Pastors are not the only ones facing the incredible challenges during this Coronavirus pandemic.  Virtually every person, family, community, city, nation, and the entire world, is affected on different levels. Doctors, nurses, first responders continue their mission while even they themselves are especially vulnerable to the viral infection.

A post on Instagram on March 23 is touching: “The sad thing for suspected COVID-19 patients is they have to die alone, catching their last breath alone.” This is because their families are not allowed to be near their deathbed. Priests likewise are kept at a distance and can only pray for them outside their isolation.

This stealth virus can even affect babies who are not yet born. Many pregnant women now have to give birth alone, as hospitals restrict visitors during the pandemic. Others chose to give birth at their own homes, as they are anxious about the impact of the virus.

Christ Jesus Himself endured excruciating pain, abject humiliation, and violent death. In the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew, Jesus suffered alone. The crowd turned against Him. His close friends betrayed or abandoned Him. Everything was out of control. The world turned upside down. On the Cross, in the eerie darkness of nature, He even cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

His cry on the Cross shows us that Jesus, the Son of God, is also the Son of Man, truly human.  “God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering (St. Augustine).” It reflects the anguished cry of many people whose faith is tested in their suffering.  It reflects the collective cry of humanity in crises, disasters, wars, violence, pandemics.

It was a culmination of His entire life spent in solidarity with other suffering human beings.  He Himself took risks in entering this uncertain world, dared to welcome the marginalized, reached out to the untouchable.

Among the untouchable were lepers; according to the Law of Moses, healthy persons were rendered ritually unclean and excluded from the community for touching a leper.  The purpose of this law was to quarantine the unclean person.  When they had to go out from their isolated place, lepers were required to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn others to keep a distance (similar to today’s “social – or physical – distancing”).

Yet Jesus healed a leper by touching him, although His touch was unnecessary (Matthew 8:2-4).  He healed the leper, and more importantly, showed him that he was not alone, even in isolation and marginalization. His physical outreach, even without the physical healing, already healed the leper on the emotional and deeper level.

What Jesus painfully uttered on the Cross was the beginning of Psalm 22.  It’s one of more than 50 psalms under the lamentation category in the Book of Psalms, a Jewish national repertoire of 150 hymns.  Psalm 22 first cries out to God, then laments for the suffering, speaks of enemies who mocked the psalmist for his fidelity to God, but concludes in praising God, who heard and responded to the cry of the afflicted. This psalm is a hymn expressing both helplessness and trust in God and in his plan.

In the dark valley of life, it helps to see the big picture and to take the long view. Maria von Trapp (1905-1987), the real-life person whose story inspired the popular musical, “The Sound of Music,” wrote: “It will be very interesting one day to follow the pattern of our life as it is spread out like a beautiful tapestry… In looking back we can discover how a red thread goes through the pattern of our life: the Will of God.”

The tapestry of Jesus’ life was not finished on the Cross or the Tomb on Good Friday. It culminated in his Resurrection, when he passed over to the fullness of life on Easter morning. In the Gospel according to Saint John, Jesus does not pray to be spared of suffering and death, but sees it as the very purpose for His coming into the world: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

The Gospel of John views both the Death and Resurrection of Jesus as His Hour of Glorification. That is why at every Mass we celebrate both the Lord’s Death and His Resurrection: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.”

In this Week of Our Salvation (the Eastern Church’s term for Holy Week), let us reflect on Jesus’ tapestry of life, the tapestry of our own individual lives, and the tapestry of the history of humanity.  May we see the red thread that goes through the tapestry of life and history: God’s loving care for us, God’s closeness to us, most especially when we feel alone.

Illustrated image: Jesus is alone in the Last Supper sculpture at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX

Bringing Holy Week Home in a Time of Pandemic

Bringing Holy Week Home in a Time of Pandemic

By Msgr. Francis V. Cilia
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

We are preparing to celebrate Holy Week under extraordinary circumstances, in a time of pandemic, a week in which our celebrations will preclude personal participation in the mysteries of salvation and reception of the Eucharist. 

It is in this context that we will soon enter Holy Week, remembering those long-ago events of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day.  Although sheltered and isolated from one another, we are invited to participate virtually in each day’s liturgies.  Through technology, we are given the choice to follow the liturgies of our own parishes, our bishop, the pope or countless celebrations throughout the world, all through the mystery of the Internet.

However we choose to observe this holiest of weeks in 2020, there is a way we can “bring home” the lessons and the spirit of these days, even when – or especially – when most are confined to those very same homes.

Palm Sunday is a proclamation of the faithfulness of God in the face of the extremes, the fickleness of humanity.  We make ourselves present to Jesus’ joyful and victorious entry to Jerusalem.  Crowds greet him, palm and olive branches carpet his path and shouts of “Hosanna” fill the air.  Our liturgy invites us to join those crowds, to hail the Lord as our King.  Yet in just a few minutes, we listen to the prophet Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant who proclaims: “I give my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. . .I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:6a, 7b).

Psalm 22 places on our lips the response, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  In the Passion accounts of Saint Matthew and Saint Mark, these are the final words Jesus utters from the Cross.  While they may leave us confused as to why Jesus quoted that psalm, every Jew knew that Psalm 22 does not end on a note of hopelessness, but one of faith:  “But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me. . .I will proclaim your name. . .in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”  In those last moments of Jesus’ life, even as He faced His death, the Lord affirms his trust, his faith in God.

This paradox is reaffirmed in the ancient hymn that is quoted in the Letter to the Philippians:  “Christ Jesus. . .emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. . .obedient to the point of death. . . Because of this, God greatly exalted him.”

As we listen to, or even take our own part in the proclamation of the Passion according to Saint Matthew, we recount how the crowds who had sung their Hosannas began calling for Jesus to be crucified.  His disciples abandoned and betrayed Him, others condemned Him.  We know the names that are recounted in the gospel: Peter and Judas, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas.

Palm Sunday offers an overture of what we will be celebrating for the next seven days, introducing the major themes that will be highlighted throughout the rest of the week. This would be a good day for us to take a few extra minutes to reflect on our relationship with the Lord, whose love for us never loses its intensity, its focus.  We do so not in some pietistic guilt, but rather in the hope of following His example of fidelity, even in the midst of pain, suffering and abandonment. 

On Holy Thursday morning, Bishop Cantú will celebrate the Chrism Mass.  In normal times, the Diocese of San José celebrates this annual Mass on the Tuesday evening before Holy Week.  At that time, all of the priests and deacons who serve in the Diocese would gather with religious and lay representatives from every parish, mission and chapel for the blessing and consecration of the Holy Oils (Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick) and the Sacred Chrism that will be used in celebrations of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and Anointing of the Sick throughout the Diocese for the coming year.  Although in emergencies, a priest can bless the Holy Oils, only the Bishop can consecrate Sacred Chrism that is used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Ordination of Bishops and Priests.

The significance of this Mass is the connection it shows between the Bishop’s ministry and the sacramental life of every parish, mission, school, and apostolate in the Diocese.  We are all co-workers in this “vineyard of the Lord,” where priests and deacons share the ministry of the Bishop and carry it out in every corner of the Diocese.

This year, because of COVID-19, Bishop Cantú will be joined by only a few priests: the Vicar General, Vicar for Clergy and the six Deans.  While the Renewal of Priestly Promises usually precedes the blessing and consecration of the oils, this significant annual rite will be delayed to a time when all priests will be able again to gather with the bishop.

The Chrism Mass invites all of us to reflect upon how connected we are to one another in what we call our “local Church,” this Diocese of San José, and to understand how, through the bishop’s ministry, we are called to be one in the Lord.

Later on Holy Thursday, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper, what we might call the “First Eucharist,” as Jesus handed Himself over to his disciples.  In bread and wine, they received from Him his very Body and Blood.  Although not observed this year because of Coronavirus concerns, the Washing of the Feet, or “Mandatum,” is usually part of this Mass, recalling how the Lord rose from the table (of the Last Supper) and washed the feet of his apostles.  The lesson of the Mandatum (“commandment”) is simple to state, though not always easy to live: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. . . I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:15,34).

How do or can we wash one another’s feet?  How many ways can we find to “love one another” in the same way that Jesus loves us?  How can we, sheltered at home as we are, show our reverence for one another, a reverence rooted in love and service?

On Good Friday, we celebrate the most somber of all days. There is no Mass, but instead a liturgy of three separate movements. The priest enters in silence, lies prostrate before the altar and, without the usual Sign of the Cross and greeting, recites an opening prayer.  Then begins the Liturgy of the Word, which culminates with the proclamation of the Passion according to Saint John, the Crucifixion of the King. 

After a brief homily, we pray the Solemn Intercessions. These are ten prescribed intercessions or prayers, one for each of the following:  for the Church, for the Pope, for all the members of the Church, for Catechumens, for the Christian Unity, for the Jewish People, for Those who do not believe in Christ, for Those who do believe in God, for Those in Public Office, and for Those in Tribulation.  Each year, the Bishop may add a prayer related to a particular concern.  This year, the Holy Father has sent us such a prayer, to be observed throughout the world, “For the Afflicted in Time of Pandemic.”  It is worth including that prayer here, in the hope that it will become our own in this time of special need:

Almighty ever-living God,
only support of our human weakness,
look with compassion upon the sorrowful condition of your children
who suffer because of this pandemic;
relieve the pain of the sick,
give strength to those who care for them,
welcome into your peace those who have died
and, throughout this time of tribulation,
grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

The second part of the liturgy is The Adoration of the Holy Cross.  As the Cross is shown to all, we hear sung three times the following: “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world” and our response, “Come let us adore.”  In other years, all present are invited to come forward and to show a sign of reverence to the Cross.  However, this year, even if we were present to this liturgy and not by livestream, we would have been asked not to touch the Cross, but to make a simple sign of reverence, perhaps with a bow.

At the conclusion of the Adoration of the Cross, Eucharist consecrated at the Evening Mass on Holy Thursday is placed upon the altar.  After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer,

Holy Communion is distributed, the liturgy concludes with the Prayer after Communion and the Prayer over the People.  In silence, the ministers leave, after genuflecting to the Cross.

Even in good times, Good Friday is a day of desolation, of quiet, the only day of the year in which there is no celebration of the Mass.  In this period of isolation and sheltering in place, when we feel disconnected from one another and from what passes for our normal lives, we just might have a greater appreciation for the Cross, not only in the life of Jesus, but in our own lives.  Usually, our hurried lives do not allow us to pause and to reflect upon the Lord’s Passion and Death.  Perhaps, in addition to spending extra time with the account of the Lord’s Passion, found in chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John, we might also reflect upon these lines from today’s first reading, celebrating the mystery of our Redemption:

Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,

But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
all following our own way;
But the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

As the hymn of the same name asks the profound question, what “Wondrous Love” is this?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this,
That caused the Lord of bliss,
To bear the dreadful curse,
For my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul. (Lyrics by Fernando Ortega)

During the day of Holy Saturday, the sacraments are not celebrated, except for the benefit of those who are at the point of death.  The liturgy cannot begin until nightfall. In the darkness, a new fire is kindled and from that fire the Easter Candle, symbol of the Light of Christ, is lighted.  In normal times, there would be a procession leading into the church, during which the deacon or priest three times chants “The Light of Christ,” to which all respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The Easter Proclamation, in Latin, Exsultet, is chanted, calling all creation to rejoice, as it recalls the saving work of God throughout history and the significance of this night:

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

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 truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

Underscoring how all of the history of salvation led to the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, the Liturgy of the Word (in as many as seven Old Testament Readings) traces the same themes from Creation through the Prophets, culminating in a reading from the sixth chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?. . .You must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”).  The Alleluia, not heard for six weeks, is sung to acclaim the Gospel account of the finding of the Empty Tomb on Easter morning (Matthew 28:1-10).

After a homily, there would usually follow the Baptismal Liturgy, Easter being the day most suited to our Catechumens’ completion of their initiation into Christ and the Church, their sharing in Christ’s dying to sin and rising to eternal life.  Given the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, these rites are postponed to a later date.  There will be no Blessing of Water this year, but simply the Renewal of Baptismal Promises.  General Intercessions are offered and the Liturgy of the Eucharist proceeds as at a normal Sunday Mass, concluding with double alleluias at the end of the dismissal:  “Go in the peace of Christ, Alleluia! Alleluia!

Many years ago, I heard a story, told by one of our priests, about when he was a boy, participating in the liturgies of Good Friday, at a time in our past when there was much more emphasis on the Crucifixion of the Lord than the Resurrection.  Though in his mind, that of a child, he wondered whether Easter would follow that Good Friday, he could not help but catch the scent of the Easter Lilies, waiting to burst from imprisonment in the sacristy, so as to adorn the sanctuary for Easter.  And that scent reminded him, even on that grim Friday, that Resurrection was just around the corner! 

In our dark moments, the scent of the lilies is also our assurance that, just as night gives way to day, so Christ now lives forever in the glory of the Resurrection, a glory to which we are all called to share.  Please take the time to smell the blossoms this spring, and know that Easter glory and hope are always near.

As we sit in our homes, separated from one another, we are never truly alone, so long as we reach out in our thoughts, our prayers, our emails, FaceTime, Zoom, and telephone calls.  The true miracle of the Internet allows us to be part of a common prayer.  Liturgy is “the work of the people.”  We are doing this work in new and different ways, because it is all that we have.  My prayer for you and all is that when we have the privilege of returning to our parish churches for the celebration of Mass, we may more than ever cherish and make our own the sacred work of this people.  Happy Easter to all.