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Exsultet, Alleluiah! Christ has risen!
I don’t know about anyone else, but my Easter has been a rollercoaster ride, both personally and in how I experienced the Triduum this year. It’s not a given, but this time around I was really struck by how the celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday form one organic whole. On Maundy Thursday Mass began in the usual way, but it did not end. There was no final blessing, no closing hymn, but a silent procession out, followed by the altar and the entire sanctuary being cleared of all decorations – candles, altar cloths, crucifix – while the Lord under the appearance of bread was removed to the altar of repose. The next day, Good Friday, we returned to the empty church – not empty of people, but lacking what makes the building come alive, the Lord Jesus Christ – to medidate on the Stations of the Cross and, later that day, mark the salvation that His death on the cross brough us. On Saturday then, there was silence. No Mass, a sense of loss. But then, late in the evening, in a darkened church, a fire burns and lights the new paschal candle. From that candle the candles held by the faithful ware lit and as light floods the church, the priest sang the Exsultet. We sing the Gloria again, the church bells ring throughout. Easter, and Christ was risen. What began on Maundy Thursday is now completed.
The symbolism is strong in these days, and it should be. Mere words can not adequately convey what happened, and nor can actions do so completely. But together they can help in lifting our hearts and minds to understand in some sense the resurrection of the Lord, after so much suffering and pain. The hope in our hearts was kindled anew. And when it is, it becomes visible to those around us.
Easter is not the end of Lent, but the beginning of something new. Let it be a new beginning for all of us.
The Eucharist and its celebration are the source and summit of our Christian life. It’s a line that has appeared time and again on this blog and in many other places. And while at times it may seem like a snappy sound bite or handy slogan, it is an essential truth that we need to understand and practice in order to live a proper Christian life. In His Son, God has come among us and given Himself to us. If we profess to follow Christ but ignore Him in his most vulnerable presence among us, we are missing the essential point.
Our faith is an Easter faith. The death and resurrection of Christ that we remember and celebrate at Easter permeates every day and everything we do as Christians. It is the foundation and seal of the new covenant that God has made with us. To pretend otherwise is a denial of what the Lord communicates to us in the Bible and sacred Tradition.
In a letter dated to Ash Wednesday, and sent to all priests, deacons, pastoral workers and caregivers in the country, the Dutch bishops seem to want to emphasise this. Starting with the Easter Triduum of 2013, they say, the focus of the communal celebrations must return to the Eucharist. Easter, they say, is after all “the feast of feasts”. What we remember and make present at Easter is, again, our covenant’s basis and seal.
The bishops write that, in every aspect, the Easter celebrations must be dignified. They are a celebration of God’s sacrifice, not merely one of human community. The celebrations must take place in cathedrals and parish churches, provided it can be done with dignity there. These locations allow the attendance of many faithful, servants and other volunteers and the singing of at least some parts of the liturgy. Small communities, special groups and societies are urged to join these celebrations, and what is interesting about that last point is the reason given by the bishops: it will allow the celebrations to be held in the best possible form. The focus is not first on the community of faithful, but on the celebration of the sacred mysteries. And rightly so, for we are a community through the Eucharist, through Christ’s sacrifice at Easter. We don’t make that community, God does.
Simplified or shortened celebrations are to be avoided. Celebrations on the various days of the Triduum have their own unique character and timing. The Easter vigil, for example, is celebrated after sunset, and not without reason. Afternoon vigils take away an essential element of the celebration and make it subordinate to our own limitations and wishes. It should, of course, be the other way around. The ‘complete’ celebration of the Church, the bishops write, takes precedence over that of the smaller local community (and the customs and deviations that have been allowed to develop in those smaller communities over time).
As Word and Communion celebrations by laity have steadily become more and more common, especially in those areas where priests are few, the bishops’ statement that it is “of the utmost importance that, during the Easter Triduum, the faithful indeed take part in the special liturgical celebrations led by a priest” is timely.
All celebrations during those days are to be led by a priest. Other forms are not allowed. Every diocese will point out specific churches where the celebrations will be offered in their fullness, and smaller communities and new movement are expressly invited to join these celebrations.
Lastly, the bishops urge all the faithful to receive Communion at Easter, preceded by Confession.
Fifteen years ago, such a letter would have been unheard of, and if it was released then, very few faithful and clergy would have taken it seriously. I am not saying that every lay faithful, deacon or priest will happily accept it today, but it is a step in the right direction. In the western world, in western Europe especially, we must combat the individualistic life philosophies which teach us that things are good as long as they feel good, that no one has a right to tell me what to do, and that the only truth that exists is the truth that I make for myself. These trends are no less visible in the Church. By refocusing at least the Easter celebrations on their contents instead of on the superficial feelings and perceived rights of the faithful, we may begin to counter the dictatorship of relativism.
Various Catholic blogs have already mentioned the readings plans that Fr. Bryan Jerabek offers here. The four different plans all offer reading material for at least the forty days of Lent, and sometimes also the Sundays and the Easter Triduum.
I intend to follow one of the plans, but I’m not entirely sure which one. The Church Fathers plan is quite demanding in sheer volume but, like the other three, it seems very interesting. Of course it would also be quite fitting to read from the Curé of Ars of Cardinal Newman.
Anyway, it’s a great initiative. Now to decide what else I can do this Lent…