Even though last Sunday’s temperatures were hovering near freezing, the sun was shining and our Easter celebrations were great 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).
Thank you to Father Juan Jose who presided at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper and Friday’s Passion service in Spanish. Thank you to Father Clive who presided at Friday’s Passion service in English. As I took my turn holding our 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, Blacks 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, children of all ages, and more. I was reminded of a comment I heard during last year’s Lent Parish Mission that we are a very diverse parish community. 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. We had a full house in our church for this highest celebration in our church year. Four people were fully initiated into our church community through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Fourteen more joined them for Confirmation and First Eucharist. We welcomed eighteen new members into our community! 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 stories and preparing our new members to take these steps in their lives. In addition to that, I truly believe our choir reached a new high in leading us in prayer throughout the Vigil!
Our Easter Sunday Masses brought everything to a great conclusion – and a good beginning of the Easter Season. In addition to our regular Sunday Mass schedule, we celebrated two additional “over-flow” Masses in the Parish Center at 10:00am and 11:30am. The 10:00am Mass was almost filled to capacity (600 chairs) and the 11:30am Mass was full with many standing along the walls and in the back. Many of our liturgical ministers, musicians, 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. I was in the church on Holy Saturday morning after Morning Prayer and before we had an altar servers practice for the Vigil. It was incredible to see our various groups descend upon the church and prepare it for the Easter Vigil, each working in their own area of responsibility. 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 approximately 7700 persons for our Easter Sunday 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 a few minutes early when the Church was filled. Those still arriving were directed to the Ministry Center where those two Masses actually began a few minutes after the time scheduled. Staggering our start times gave us a welcome 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 Octave of Easter. 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. With Jesus’ first words to the apostles of “Peace be with you!”, it was an incredible experience of reconciliation and forgiveness.
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 throughout the Easter Season.
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.
Both Confirmation and First Eucharist will be celebrated later in 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