Our favorable weather last Sunday contributed immensely to our Easter celebrations. Our Easter Triduum and Sunday liturgies were very powerful and prayerful experiences. All of our Lenten experiences led right into the liturgies of the shortest season of the church year, the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday evening). Father Josh, with Sue Entwistle’s assistance, coordinated our celebrations and selected the liturgical options we used.
Thank you to Father Matt who presided at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper and Friday’s Passion service in Spanish. Thank you to Father Josh who presided at Friday’s Passion service in English. As I took my turn holding the Cross that was venerated during Friday night’s Passion Service, I was struck by the wide variety of people who approached the Cross to venerate it. We had Anglos, Hispanics, Filipinos, Poles, Africans and Indians. There were men and women, elderly assisted by canes and walkers, entire families, widows and widowers, young parents with small children, young adults, those being Baptized and Confirmed at the Vigil, choir members, college students home for the holy days, teens, Confirmation candidates I had recently interviewed, children of all ages, and more. Seeing all of this diversity was incredible. Yet we were all united by our common faith that had brought us to church on Good Friday evening.
The Easter Vigil Saturday evening has always been an incredible experience for me, and this year was no exception. Six people were fully initiated into our church community through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Nine more joined them for Confirmation and Eucharist. We have been praying for each of them since they took the first steps in the RCIA process last fall. It was great to celebrate their full initiation into our church family. Special thanks go to our RCIA team and sponsors for their faithful efforts in personally sharing their faith and preparing our new members to take these steps in their lives.
Our Easter Sunday Masses brought everything to a good conclusion – and a good beginning of the Easter Season. Many of our liturgical ministers, choir members and cantors did double duty returning for multiple Masses on Easter. Our Art and Environment volunteers slipped in after services on the various days to prepare for the next day. Thank you, again, to all who helped make these experiences so memorable.
I want to say an additional word of thanks to all of you for your flexibility and cooperation with our efforts to welcome our visitors over the past two weekends. We estimated that we served between 8900 to 9000 persons for our Easter Masses. Like our celebrations in many of our homes, our facilities were stretched to their limits. The Knights of Columbus were incredible in their efforts to plan the flow and direct traffic in the parking lots – both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. And we have found a very workable pattern for our simultaneous Masses in the Church, Ministry Center and Chapel by starting the Mass when the space was full. Both the 10:00 and 11:30am Masses in the Church actually began several minutes early when the Church was filled. Those still arriving were directed to the Ministry Center where those two Masses actually began at the time scheduled. Staggering our start times actually gave us a 10 minute window between the conclusion of the Church and Ministry Center Masses for cars to exit the parking lots. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation with our staggered start times. They helped us in our efforts at hospitality and provided many with a pleasant experience with us.
With this Sunday’s celebration of the Octave (Eighth day) of Easter, we have completed the first segment of this 50-day season of new life. Since Easter itself is too great an event to be celebrated within a single 24-hour day, the entire first week of the season is treated as a one day celebration. The Gospel readings at the weekday Masses gave us the different resurrection appearances of the Lord recorded in the four Gospels. Today’s Gospel gives us John’s account of Jesus’ Easter night appearance to the disciples.
As we saw in the season of Lent, there is a progression to our celebration of Easter. Traditionally, the Easter season was the time when the local Bishop would gather with those who had been initiated into the church community at the Easter Vigil. At the Vigil, they celebrated all three Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Often those being initiated were not given the details of what would happen to them during the Vigil. Rather, the church trusted that the symbols used in each sacrament would convey an experience of the Risen Lord’s presence. Only later did we take time to explain to the newly-initiated members of the church what had happened. It was an interesting progression – they experienced the Lord in the sacraments first, and received the explanation second.
The Bishop would gather with the new Christians throughout the Easter season and provide the explanations. The Sunday and daily Scripture readings were arranged to guide them in their reflections. We inherit that structure of the Easter season today. Our Scripture readings from week to week will lead us through a reflection on the Sacraments of Initiation that we celebrated at the Easter Vigil. We begin tomorrow morning with John’s Gospel, Chapter 3. It contains Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and presents his teaching on the need to be “born again.” As we hear this discourse throughout the week, it will guide our reflection on the Sacrament of Baptism.
Since Easter is the primary season of initiation into the church community, it is very appropriate that we schedule our special celebrations of the Sacraments of Initiation during the Easter Season. On Saturday, May 2nd and 9th, we will celebrate First Eucharist with our Second Grade students. And then on Saturday, May 16th, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with our Confirmation candidates. It is wonderful to continue the sacramental initiation of our young people into our church community during the Easter Season.
We spent 40 days fasting in preparation for the feast of Easter. Now we are called to spend 50 days feasting in celebration. Let’s maintain our initial enthusiasm throughout all of the days of this season. May God continue to bless us with everything that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy