Easter Reflection

Happy Easter!

To some this is just another consumer driven holiday that includes spending money on cute gifts & flowers, a big family dinner with a Ham, dying Easter eggs, and taking your children to a nearby Easter Egg Hunt “Egg-stravaganza.”  To many, however, it is truly a Holy Day, and for me & Catholics everywhere, this is the third day of the three holiest days of the liturgical calendar, the Triduum.

For the last several years (since quitting my weekend waitressing job) I’ve been attending the famous Easter Vigil Mass.  What a joyful celebration!  The two-hour Vigil is full of rich history, symbolism, and sacrament.  After many long months of preparation, prayer, classes, and discussions catechumens are fully welcomed and initiated into the Catholic Church through the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion.  I did indeed say two hours!  Every year all over the world Catholics who only attend mass at Easter get “trapped” by the Easter Vigil Mass.  They look up their local Catholic Church, see the mass times & opt for the Vigil so their plans for Sunday aren’t hurried.  I can remember once when I was an unsuspecting parishioner at a Vigil Mass.  The funny thing was that I attended mass regularly and had gone to Catholic schools my whole life, so I should’ve known.  I remember being caught off guard, first by the Deacon processing in with the Paschal Candle instead of the usual Opening Hymn, and then by the countless readings & Psalms.  And then a light bulb went off in my head.  I remembered something from a long forgotten religion class… Oh, yeah!  This is that “special” mass for Easter!  Then, instead of feeling irritated or impatient, I found myself fully engaged and enjoying the celebration.  I don’t think I had ever been to a Vigil Mass until that night.  I felt connected to a very long faith tradition, and connected to the story of salvation, what some people call Salvation History.

This morning as I opened my online source of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, I had to pause and reflect on what was written about today:

Today is Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection. Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, life-giving waters, like the four rivers that flowed from Paradise, flow toward all of us. Those who are thirsty are invited to drink and be reborn into a renewed life, one aligned with the eternal covenant. In this way, nourished by the sacraments, we become a wellspring of life for others and can go forth proclaiming joy and peace. [1][2][3]

As Pope Francis says, “Let each one of us think: “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?” Let us think about this, just this.” [4]

photo 1

Easter decor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church; 19 April 2014.

“Life-giving waters, like the four rivers that flowed from Paradise, flow toward all of us.”  I am responsible for decorating the sanctuary at our church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Easter is a time that I look forward to because of the symbolism I am able to incorporate into the decor.  We have this sheer blue fabric that I pin under the altar linen.  I place lava rocks around like a mini pond on the steps and then “spill” the fabric/water so it looks like life-giving waters flowing from the altar of sacrifice out toward the congregation.  I’m not sure how many of our parishioners understand this symbolism, or if they make the connection to the Vigil’s Fifth Reading from Isaiah (55:1-11) and the Vigil Epistle reading from Paul to the Romans (6:3-11), but I do it every year.  The reading from Paul is one of my favorites.  It sums up for me what Easter and the Resurrection are all about, but more importantly, it sums up what our lives should be about because of the Resurrection.  I believe that in “living for God in Christ Jesus” I can be for others a “wellspring of life, joy and peace.”  But this is a daily struggle throughout the year, not just a “feel-good,” “mountaintop” experience for today only.

Easter is not just one day.  Easter is the culmination of the Triduum.  On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus instituted the new priesthood and the Eucharist.  He washed the feet of his Apostles and demonstrated through his actions how, if we want to truly be servants of Christ, we must serve others.  Good Friday has always been a time of quiet reflection for me.  Participation in the Stations of the Cross at 3:00, and the evening celebration of the Passion of the Lord with Solemn Prayer and Adoration of the Holy Cross is a way for me to reflect on my Lenten journey.  It is also a time to contemplate what it means to be obedient to the will of God.  In his article “The Sacred Triduum,” Michael Sean Winters describes these holiest days as a connected, ongoing event; one continuous prayer rooted in history.  He says,

We do not so much profess an understanding of this paschal mystery, as if it were a bit of knowledge we can manipulate as we do other discrete bits of knowledge. No, the Church sets forth on a way of life from this event. We embrace a new attitude towards death and therefore towards life. The teachings of Jesus, which got Him killed, are confirmed for us as true. And, because of the eucharist and the abiding Spirit at work in the community of faith, we know that on this way of life, we do not walk alone, we accompany each other and are accompanied by the Spirit of Christ.

The Paschal Mystery, if we are willing to be changed by it, demands that we change our attitudes towards death and life.  Pope Francis’ words pose the ultimate question for us all, “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?”  I will be thinking about this in the coming days and months.  How will my life be transformed this year by the Paschal Mystery?  What new ways will God lead me to serve my brothers & sisters?

PS:  Last night I had the special privilege of being a sponsor for a former student and cancer survivor who was Confirmed at the Easter Vigil. I got to not only enjoy again the richness of this liturgy, but share it with a beautiful young woman of great faith and love. Truly a blessed evening with her and her family; another memorable Vigil!

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