An Easter message from Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
It often takes a moment or two for things to sink in. When we find ourselves in situations we did not expect, our minds rarely grasp what has happened right away.
That first Easter Sunday morning at the tomb was just such an occasion. All four Gospel accounts describe the women coming to the tomb but finding it empty. They arrived to mourn and to anoint Jesus’ body, but it was not there. We can be sure a thousand thoughts raced through their confused and frightened minds in an instant as they peered into the burial space to see the funeral cloths lying there but no body. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him (John 20: 2).” They had to be reminded by an angel or two of what Jesus himself had foretold. “And they remembered his words (Luke 24: 8).”
Each year at this time, as spring makes its presence felt in new life all around us, we “remember his words.” In fact, for over two thousand years, the story of Jesus’ death resurrection has been remembered and retold, sung and proclaimed every day in every language by Christian believers everywhere. “He is not here. He has been raised up just as he said (Matthew 28: 6).” And we “remember his words.”
Words are powerful. Once uttered or written or read, some words are never forgotten. It is not simply the author or the speaker who gives words the power to endure, although in Jesus’ case, no greater or more powerful source could be identified. It is, in the end, the power of truth that prevails, a power beyond any attempt on our part to give it expression in words. The truth of Jesus’ rising from the dead – indeed, the power of his resurrection – is far greater and far more convincing than any words that we could speak about it. And, yet, something within moves us at Easter to “remember his words” and to want to shout from them from the mountaintops: Christ is risen! “Christ, once raised from the dead, shall never die again; death has no more power over him. His death was death to sin, once for all and his life is life for God (Romans 6: 9-10)!”
Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, risen from the dead, speaks his word to us once more this Easter: a word of triumph, a word of victory, a word of life. “And we remember.” The truth and the power of his word shatter the darkness of death and give rise to the bright promise of eternal life. That promise is offered to us. That offer is simply an invitation to believe. And that belief, that Easter faith, changes our lives forever.
“Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here. He has been raised up just as he said. Remember what he told you (Luke 24: 5-6).”
The stone has been rolled back. The tomb is empty. He has gone ahead of you. “Remember his words.”
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.,
Bishop of Trenton
Complete with ancient rites and sacred symbolism, Holy Week is when all of God’s people are invited to go on a spiritual pilgrimage and share in the story that commemorates the profound mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a story that’s most appreciated when experienced in its entirety.
The following is an overview of some of the special liturgies, prayer services and other traditions that people throughout the Diocese can look forward to celebrating in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.
Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. As Jesus, who was riding on a donkey, entered the city, the enthusiastic crowds greeted him by throwing their cloaks down before him as a gesture reserved for royalty. The crowd also spread palm branches along the road while shouting, “Hosanna,” a Hebrew expression meaning “save us.”
Until this time, Jesus, in his public ministry, did not allow himself to be proclaimed as the Messiah. However, in this final entry into Jerusalem, he sets the stage for an entry that fulfills the Old Testament’s foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah. In commemoration of Passion Sunday, the faithful are called to become part of the crowd at that day’s liturgy. Prior to the start of Mass, the congregation gathers, usually outside, where the priest blesses the palms. The faithful, while carrying palms, then participate in a joyful procession into the church for Mass.
As a memorial for Christ’s suffering, the day’s Mass includes the reading of the Passion – the Gospel passages that tell of Christ’s Passion and Death.
Mass of Chrism
The Chrism Mass reflects the communion of priests with their Bishop. During the Mass, the priests of the Diocese who are gathered publicly renew their commitment to their service. The Mass is also when the Bishop blesses the oils to be used in parishes throughout the coming year. The Bishop blesses the Oil of the Sick, which brings comfort to the ill, and the Oil of Catechumens, which is used in the preparation of catechumens for their Baptism.
The Bishop also consecrates the Sacred Chrism, which is used to anoint the newly baptized, seal candidates for Confirmation, anoint the hands of priests and the heads of bishops at their ordination as well as in the rites of anointing during the dedication of churches and altars. The Chrism Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 p.m. in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.
Tenebrae, meaning darkness or shadows, is an ancient service that is prayed and sung, commemorating the Death of Jesus through psalms, lessons and chants expressing grief. A principal element of the service is the extinguishing of 15 candles, reflecting the desertion of the Apostles and three days of darkness following Christ’s Death. The candles are displayed in a triangular stand. The candle at the top, symbolizing Christ, remains lit but is hidden behind or under the altar during the closing prayer, symbolizing Christ’s burial. When the prayer is completed, a loud noise is made representing the earthquake that followed Christ’s Death on the Cross.
The lit candle is returned to its place, symbolizing Christ’s victory over death. The noise ceases, and the congregation departs the church in silence.
A diocesan Tenebrae service will be celebrated at 7:30 p.m. in St. Catharine Church, Spring Lake, with Bishop David M. O’Connell presiding. Other parishes in the Diocese have included Tenebrae in their own local schedules.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper relates how Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. During this Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood.
It is also at this Mass when the Gospel is read of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. By washing his disciples’ feet, he set the example of what it means to “love one another” and to be of service to others.
At the end of the Mass, the Eucharist to be shared on Good Friday is not returned to the tabernacle. Instead, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession by the priest. This movement symbolizes Jesus’ walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonized over the suffering he was soon to endure.
It is also at the end of the Mass when the altar is stripped. This ancient ritual is a powerful reenactment of the Lord’s humiliation at the hands of the Roman soldiers. The now-bare altar symbolizes the transformation of the Communion table of Holy Thursday into the tomb slab of Good Friday.
Good Friday, a day of fasting for the Church, commemorates Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death.
In keeping with the Church’s ancient tradition that Sacraments are not to be celebrated on Good Friday, this is the only day Mass is not celebrated. Instead, the celebration of the Lord’s Passion takes place within the context of a Communion service and is held at 3 p.m., which places the prayer close to the traditional hour of Jesus’ Death.
The service includes a Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross and reception of Holy Communion. The Passion, as written in John’s Gospel, is read again.
Holy Saturday begins in many communities with the Blessing of Easter Food, a European tradition anticipating the breaking of the three-day fast as ham, eggs, breads and other foods are brought to the churches and blessed. In some parishes the foods are then given to a local shelter or distributed to families in need.
With darkness comes one of the most ancient rituals of the Church – the Blessing of the Easter Fire, during which the celebrant blesses a large fire outside the church. From that fire, the Paschal candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ, is solemnly brought into the church and is used to light the candles held by members of the congregation who wait in the darkened worship space. By the time the Paschal candle reaches the sanctuary, the entire church is bathed in soft candle light and the image of Christ as the Light of the World ushers in the Great Vigil of Easter.
At the vigil, members of the parish who have been preparing for full initiation in the Church receive one or more Sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – before their local faith communities. The celebration of Mass marks the start of the Great Solemnity of Easter, in memory of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter Sunday continues to proclaim the glorious news of the Resurrection. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the power of sin and death has been destroyed forever. Alleluia!
— Compiled by Mary Stadnyk, The Monitor
Find more coverage of Holy Week and Easter from The Monitor, HERE.