With St. Mary Magdalene, let us accept Christ’s ‘Do not touch me’ with the certainty that His words give us a new mission, and a new way to be with Him, just as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton met the hardships of her life with renewed faith and strength. Written by Lisa Lickona from the Seton Reflection published last year.
This year we celebrate our great and holy Feast, the Resurrection of Our Lord, in the most unexpected circumstances, most of us separated from physical participation in the Mass and the opportunity to receive Communion.
We are cut off from our family and friends and our parish communities. And we wonder: how can we live in this new situation, separated from the Body of God—both in the Eucharist and the living Church?
As was the case last year during the beginning of the pandemic closures, this year’s Stations of the Cross (or Via Crucis) presided over by Pope Francis were held in the quiet and virtually empty St. Peter’s Square. This year, though, the mediations and prayers for each Station were prepared and read by children from Rome and other Italian cities. The faith and hope expressed by these children are profound and moving and are worthy of further reflection during this Easter season. As a complement to the text of the meditations and prayers provided here, you can watch a video of the Stations and hear the children’s sweet voices, as well as see several of the children greet Pope Francis with hugs after the Stations concluded.
All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. —Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 27
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which allows faithful Christians to trust that, indeed, all will be well. I like to think of the resurrection as God’s way of telling us that God can take the worst thing in the world—the killing of the God-Human Jesus—and change it into the best thing: the redemption of the world.
Amid the many hardships we are enduring, let us never forget that we have been healed by the wounds of Christ. In the light of the Risen Lord, our sufferings are now transfigured. Where there was death, now there is life. Where there was mourning, now there is consolation.
As we have journeyed through Lent and an intensified Holy Week, I hope your heart is rejoicing and full of light in the fact that God’s mercy endures forever. He is risen. Alleluia! I hope your faith has been strengthened and your heart has been lovingly pruned and purified so it is bursting with love. Christ suffered greatly to grant us access to eternal life. The time is now for us to mature spiritually and Be His Light in the world.
After recollecting our Lord’s Passion and Death on Good Friday, Holy Saturday begins as a day of quiet prayer and reflection. It is a day when no Mass is celebrated in the Catholic Church (until the solemn Easter Vigil that begins after sundown). Instead, the faithful pray and meditate on the great sacrifice our Lord has made for all of us, and anticipate His Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
I spend the day in the quiet, thanking Jesus for the ultimate gift that He gave to all of us on Good Friday. I try to place myself in the confusion and fear (as well as hope) that the Blessed Mother, the apostles, and the other witnesses to Jesus’ Passion undoubtedly felt on that first Holy Saturday. In doing so, I realize how fortunate I am to know how the story ends and that Jesus Christ will be rising on Sunday morning!
As the day progresses, my thoughts turn to the Easter Vigil Mass. For those who have not experienced an Easter Vigil Mass, I strongly encourage you to do so when you are able (whether attending in person or watching at home, perhaps viewing Pope Francis offering the Easter Vigil Mass from St. Peter’s in Rome). It is a long Mass (usually three hours) that gives us the opportunity to keep vigil for the Lord in the greatest solemnity of the year. You will hear, see, and feel the entirety of our salvation history and be united with members of the Church throughout all time.
The Easter Vigil Mass is divided into four parts: (1) The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil (or the Lucernarium); (2) The Liturgy of the Word; (3) The Baptismal Liturgy; and (4) The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Each of the parts of the Mass have unique characteristics and I will point out several that are significant to me.
The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil begins in the dark but you will see light beginning to break through.
The church is dark before the priest blesses a fire outside the church and then prepares and lights the Paschal candle. After the blessing, there is a procession in which the Paschal candle is brought into the dark church, with the procession stopping at certain intervals for prayer. While the procession continues, the Paschal candle is used to light the small candles that each member of the congregation has been given. It takes your breath away when you see the wave of light slowly move through the dark church representing Christ spreading His light throughout our world. When the candles are lit and the procession reaches the front of the church, the Easter Proclamation, or Exsultet, is chanted by a deacon. The Easter Proclamation is filled with images of light and recalls Christ’s death and Resurrection, giving us time to reflect on what we have prepared for during Lent and are now able to celebrate as Christ is risen. The candles that the congregation hold are typically extinguished after the Easter Proclamation and the church is again dark.
The Liturgy of the Word during the Easter Vigil is unlike the Liturgy of the Word that you experience during a normal Sunday Mass.
It is an extended liturgy that includes up to nine readings from the Old and New Testament, with Responsorial Psalms after each reading. These readings (which begin with the creation story from the Book of Genesis, then move to Abraham’s sacrifice and the Israelite exodus from Egypt from the Book of Exodus, and conclude with the great prophets Isaiah, Baruch, and Ezekiel) highlight crucial moments in our salvation story. This is our story of healing and redemption and it reminds me that I am part of this great story too. After the readings and psalms conclude, the lights are raised, the candles lit, and the sounds of the Gloria and bells fill the church (for the first time since Lent began). We can now celebrate that our Lord has risen and has overcome death and sin for us. The sounds and the light (arising from the previously dark church) fill my soul with joy. We then move to a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans proclaiming Christ risen from the dead and dying no more. The Alleluias ring out, also for the first time since Lent began, and we hear the Gospel reading of Jesus’s Resurrection. This year, the Gospel reading is from Mark 16: 1-7, in which Mary Magdalen, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome are greeted by a young man at the tomb with these words:
Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.
Focus on His truth, Mark 16:6
The Mass moves to the Baptismal Liturgy.
This is a very special and important part of the Mass for me as it is the time when adults entering the Church experience the initiation sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.I spent many years working with catechumens and candidates in the RCIA process and was so privileged and blessed to be part of their faith journeys that culminated in the reception of sacraments at the Easter Vigil Mass. At my parish, there would be a retreat for them on Good Friday evening. Each adult that was to enter the church was encouraged to take a glass, fill it with water to the level that represented where they were in their faith journey, and tell the group their story. It was truly amazing to hear the faith and hope that these soon-to-be Catholics shared with us. They then poured the water into a pitcher. The water in that pitcher was added to the baptismal pool water so that each adult would be baptized with each other’s faith journeys. What a powerful statement of faith and community! To see the glow on the faces of the newly baptized and confirmed helps strengthen my faith every year. After the sacramental rites, the congregation is given the opportunity to renew their baptismal vows and be sprinkled with holy water. We are also blessed with the faith journeys of the new members of our Church in the sprinkling of the holy water, united in our faith, the faith of our Church.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist then follows. While it is the same liturgy we experience at all other Masses, it takes on heightened importance during the Easter Vigil.
We celebrated the institution of the Holy Eucharist during the Holy Thursday Mass and now once again recreate that sacrament on the altar during the Easter Vigil. The newly baptized and confirmed will receive the body and blood of our dear Lord for the first time at this Mass. So many of them have been longing to receive this sacrament and you will see many of them overcome with emotion as they return to their pews after their First Communion. When I see their faces, I am always reminded to not take the miracle of the Holy Eucharist for granted.
The conclusion of the Easter Vigil Mass is really the conclusion of the Easter Triduum that began on Holy Thursday. The recessional will include one of the great Easter hymns, such as “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” To join our voices together in proclaiming this great mystery that we just commemorated invigorates me in my faith as we enter the Easter season.
Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! May this truth fill your heart with peace, joy, and hope, and may you be Smitten with Goodness during this Easter season!
We have spent the past 40 days of Lent renewing and reinvigorating our faith in preparation for Easter. The sacrifices and penances we have made have softened our hearts to be ready to enter the Easter Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil — in which we commemorate the passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Easter Triduum allows us to walk in Jesus’s footsteps during His final hours on earth.
Today’s post is written by a guest contributor Jacquelyne Rocan. Jacquelyne has been a spiritual sister to me throughout the years and I am pleased to introduce you to her!
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and I find myself recalling this time last year. While there were certainly reports of the new coronavirus circulating in more and more communities, I celebrated Ash Wednesday in 2020 in many of the same ways that I have always marked that day — attending Mass, receiving ashes on my forehead, fasting, and setting in place plans for experiencing a holy and spiritual Lenten season. This included plans for additional prayers, readings, and attending Stations of the Cross. I marked times for all of the Holy Week services on my calendar — the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday service, and Easter Vigil Mass. It was important to me to fully participate and prepare by attending these services, as much as I could (especially through many years of serving on the RCIA team in my parish). My Lenten and Easter seasons have felt incomplete when I have been unable to prepare and attend the Easter Triduum services.
Of course, we now know, the many plans that we all had for 2020 came to a crashing halt in March when the scope and seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic became evident and closures and cancelations began in earnest. While I could still pray, fast, and practice charity while at home, many of the big markers of Lent and Easter were suddenly gone. Not being able to attend Mass and hear the rich and textured readings and experience the reception of our dear Lord in Holy Eucharist was difficult for me, and for so many Catholics. I worried that I was missing out on Lenten preparations and I would not be ready for Easter. My focus on what I did not have or could not do was overwhelming what I actually could do.
Then, two weeks into the pandemic closures, I received an email with a daily prayer from the Missionary Oblates which contained the following: “…PRAYER is not canceled, FAITH is not canceled, and HOPE is not canceled.” This statement was a game-changer for me. It helped me focus on what I could do, when isolated at home. I continued my daily prayers and readings, my Lenten readings, daily rosary, and a weekly Stations of the Cross at home with increased commitment. I was able to maintain a quiet, peaceful space to focus on Lenten preparations in anticipation of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. For the first time in my life, I felt my experience of Lent and Holy Week was aligned with the Blessed Mother and the apostles and disciples. Just like I have to live with the uncertainty of when and how the pandemic will end, I feel solidarity with the Blessed Mother and the apostles and disciples who did not know what would happen after Jesus suffered and died on what we now call Good Friday. They remained faithful and prayed through the uncertainty of those dark and difficult days and received the greatest blessing of the resurrected Christ. Their example allowed me to continue my Lenten preparations, even amid the uncertainty of the world around me.
I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Focus on His truth, Matthew 28:20
I will always remember this experience with gratitude and peace in my heart. In previous years, I would rush to make sure I was on time for Stations of the Cross and the Good Friday service, participating in RCIA retreats, and meeting with family and friends. While a beautiful and spiritual experience, I did not get to experience quiet and peace on this most solemn day. I spent Good Friday last year in quiet prayer and contemplation. I listened to Bishop Robert Barron and his beautiful talk on Jesus’ last seven words on the cross. I conducted a private Stations of the Cross. I watched Pope Francis conduct the Good Friday service from the Vatican, and also watched a special prayer service reverencing the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (with memories of the fire that almost took that building from us on April 15, 2019). Mostly, I focused on the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all us, including me, over 2,000 years ago, and the gift of mercy that he gave to us all that still resonates through the years to the present day. I felt closer to God in the silence and contemplation in a way that I had not experienced before.
This Lent, I pray that the quiet and contemplation of Good Friday 2020 will fill my heart and soul as I prepare for Easter. I have identified several resources to assist me in these preparations, including many of the resources listed here. Mostly, I plan to leave room for quiet prayer and reflection to focus and prepare for the great miracle of the Easter Resurrection. While I still do not know when or how the coronavirus pandemic will end and what our new “normal’ may look like, I know deep in my soul that Jesus died for all of us, that He has risen from the dead, and that He is with us always, until the end of the age. This reality fills my heart with joy, and peace, and love.
May we all be Smitten with Goodness during this season of Lent!
Jacquelyne Rocan is a life-long Catholic that enjoys continuing to learn and grow in the faith. She has a special devotion to St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she lived in a number of U.S. cities while growing up and is now happy to call Houston, Texas home. During the day, she practices law, and spends her free time reading good books, enjoying movies, drinking hot tea, and dreaming of when she can travel to Italy again.