National Catholic Register


Weekly Catechesis 04.15.2007

The Mystery of Easter Is a Present Reality

BY John Lilly

April 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/10/07 at 10:00 AM


Pope Benedict XVI met with 20,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience on April 4. As Lent draws to a close, he noted, the Church’s liturgy invites us to contemplate the mystery of the cross, acknowledge our sinfulness, and unite ourselves with Jesus as he passes from death to life:

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we approach the end of our Lenten journey, which we began on Ash Wednesday, today’s liturgy — the liturgy for Wednesday of Holy Week — is preparing us for the dramatic events of the coming days, which are permeated with recollections of Christ’s passion and death.

In today’s liturgy, the Evangelist Matthew draws our attention to the brief conversation that occurred in the Upper Room between Jesus and Judas: “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me,” the Divine Teacher had prophesied. “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” the traitor asks. Our Lord’s answer is penetrating: “You have said so” (see Matthew 26:14-25).

St. John concludes his account of the announcement of Judas’ betrayal with a short yet meaningful phrase: “And it was night” (John 13:30).

As the traitor leaves the Upper Room, darkness — an interior night — thickens in his heart, discouragement grows within the souls of the other disciples as they, too, go into the night, and the shadows of hate and abandonment grow deeper around the Son of Man as he heads toward the consummation of his sacrifice on the cross.

In the coming days, we will commemorate the supreme battle between light and darkness, between life and death. We, too, have to place ourselves within this context where we are conscious of our own “night” — of our sins and our responsibilities — if we wish to benefit spiritually from the paschal mystery and if we are to experience a light within our hearts through this mystery, which is the cornerstone of our faith.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is the beginning of the Easter Triduum. During the chrism Mass, which can be considered a prelude to the Triduum, the bishops of each diocese, along with their priests who are their closest collaborators, surrounded by the people of God, renew the promises they made on the day of their ordination to the priesthood. Year after year, it is an intense moment of ecclesial communion, highlighting the gift of the ministerial priesthood that Christ left to his Church on the night before his death on the cross.

For each priest, it is a moving moment preceding the vigil of the Passion, when the Lord gave himself to us, gave us the sacrament of the Eucharist, and gave us the priesthood. It is a day that touches each of our hearts.

Later, the holy oils used in celebrating the sacraments are blessed: the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the holy chrism.

As we begin the Easter Triduum in the evening with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (in Cena Domini), the Christian community relives all that took place during the Last Supper. Through the sacrament of bread and wine that were changed into his body and blood there in the Upper Room, our Redeemer anticipated the sacrifice of his life.

He anticipated his death, freely surrendering his life and offering the supreme gift of himself to mankind.

With the washing of the feet, we repeat the gesture with which he, having loved his own in this world, loved them to the end (see John 13:1); he left this act of humility — love unto death — as an emblem for his disciples.

After the Mass in Cena Domini, the liturgy invites the faithful to remain in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, reliving Jesus’ agony in Garden of Gethsemane. We see how the disciples slept, leaving the Lord all alone.

Today, we, his disciples, often fall asleep. During this holy night of Gethsemane, we want to stay awake; we do not want to leave the Lord alone during this hour. By doing so, we can better understand the mystery of Holy Thursday, which encompasses the threefold supreme gift of the ministerial priesthood, the Eucharist and the new commandment of love (agape).

Good Friday

Good Friday, which commemorates the events from the moment of Christ’s condemnation to death until his crucifixion, is a day of penance, fasting, and prayer — of participation in the Lord’s passion.

At the prescribed hour, with help from the Word of God and from the liturgical rites, the Christian assembly retraces the history of man’s infidelity to God’s plan — which, nevertheless, is fulfilled precisely in this way — and listens once again to the moving account of Our Lord’s sorrowful passion. Then, we direct a long “prayer of the faithful” to our heavenly Father, which includes all the needs of the Church and of the world. Finally, the community venerates the cross and receives the Eucharist, consuming the sacred species that were reserved during the Mass in Cena Domini from the preceding day.

Commenting on Good Friday, St. John Chrysostom said: “Before, the cross meant disdain, but today it is venerated. Before, it was a symbol of condemnation, today it is the hope of salvation. It has truly been converted into a fount of infinite goods; it has liberated us from error, it has scattered our darkness, it has reconciled us with God. From being enemies of God, it has made us his family; from foreigners it has converted us into his neighbors. This cross is the destruction of enmity, the fount of peace, the coffer of our treasure” (De cruce et latrone, I, 1, 4).

In order to experience the passion of the Redeemer more intensely, our Christian tradition has given life to numerous manifestations of popular piety, including the well-known Good Friday processions with their evocative rites that are repeated year after year.

But there is one expression of piety, the Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross) that offers us the opportunity throughout the year to impress the mystery of the cross more deeply into our hearts, to walk with Christ along this path and, in doing so, to conform our innermost being to him. We might say that the Way of the Cross teaches us — to use a phrase from St. Leo the Great — to “fix the eyes of our heart on Christ crucified and recognize in his flesh our own humanity” (Sermon 15 on the passion of the Lord). Herein lies the true wisdom of Christianity that we hope to learn on Good Friday during our Way of the Cross at the Colosseum.

Holy Saturday is a day when the liturgy is silent, a day of great silence, when Christians are invited to foster an attitude of inner recollection — which is often difficult to do in our day — in order to be better prepared for the Easter Vigil. In many communities, spiritual retreats and Marian prayer meetings are organized in order to be united with the Mother of the Redeemer, who anxiously and confidently awaits the resurrection of her crucified son.

The Easter Vigil

Finally, during the Easter Vigil, the veil of sadness, which has enveloped the Church like a shroud because of our Lord’s death and burial, will be torn open by the cry of victory: Christ has risen and has overcome death forever!

At that moment, we will truly understand the mystery of the cross and, as an ancient author writes, we will truly understand “how God creates wonders even from the impossible, so that we might know that only he can do what he wants.

From his death proceeds our life; from his wounds, our healing; from his fall, our resurrection, from his descent, our rising up” (Anonimo Quartodecimano).

Animated by a stronger faith, we welcome the newly baptized during the Easter Vigil and renew our own baptismal promises. By doing so, we experience the fact that the Church is always alive, is always renewing herself and is always beautiful and holy because her foundation is Christ, who, having risen, will never die again.

Dear brothers and sisters, the paschal mystery that we relive during the Easter Triduum is not just a memory of a past reality; it is a present reality: Christ overcomes sin and death with his love even today. Evil, in all its forms, does not have the last word.

The final triumph belongs to Christ, to truth, and to love! If we are prepared to suffer and die with him, as St. Paul reminds us during the Easter Vigil, his life will become our life (see Romans 6:9). It is upon this certainty that we base and build our lives as Christians.

Calling upon the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary, who followed Jesus on the path of his passion and the cross and who embraced him when he was taken down from the cross, I pray that all of you will participate fervently in the Easter Triduum and so experience the joy of Easter together with all your loved ones.

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