Christus vincit! An Easter wish

easter resurrection
As ever, while Lent sometimes seemed to creep by, the holy days of the Easter Triduum passed in a whirlwind of events, activities and emotions. From the intimacy and promise of the Last Supper, via the agony in the garden and the horror of the Lord’s Passion, all the way to the unimaginable wonder of the empty tomb.

“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”

What we thought was an ending, what we still too often think as a conclusion, is in fact the very opposite: Jesus is risen, and thus something new begins. We have not reached the end of a story, but began a completely new one.

The tomb is empty, Christ is not there. Let’s not linger where life ended, but go forward to the fullness of life, victorious over death.

A blessed Easter!

“He is with us!” Bishop Van Looy looks at ahead to the turning point of Easter

In a letter for Easter, published yesterday, Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent presents a hopeful message about the turning point that is Easter, and especially Maundy Thursday, the day, this year on 13 April, on which we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. He draws from the Easter events as described by St. John the Evangelist (and plainly calls St. Mary Magdalene an Apostle).

The events of Easter, we Christians believe, are a turning point in history. We call them the Holy Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. But it is not limited to these three days. The arc of this entire period spans from the confusing entrace of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday up to and including the Ascension and Pentecost. Where is the heart of these days? Obviously in the overwhelming experience of the empty tomb and later of the appearances of Jesus. But there are also the Last Supper and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. According to tradition, both events took place in the Cenacle, the upper room where the disciples prepared the pascal meal upon Jesus’ request (Mark 14:15) and where they habitually spent their time after Jesus’ death (Acts 1:13), and perhaps where, fifty days after Easter, they were also together on the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). There the Spirit came down on them in the presence of Mary and others, there they opened doors and windows towards the future, there the Church was born. Also according to tradition, the Cenacle lies above the grave of David, linking the Old and the New Testament.

naamloos

Turning point

But let us return to the period from Maundy Thursday to Easter. The events are inseparable. The Last Supper opens onto suffering and death, the burial in the tomb onto the ressurection, the empty grave opens onto the encounter with the Apostle Mary Magdalen and with the disciples. The appearances open onto the ultimate reunion of Jesus with His Father and the coming of the Spirit. I consider what takes place on Maundy Thursday to be a turning point. After the tense entrance into Jerusalem the events of Maundy Thursday reveal the true meaning of the incarnation. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. The Master becomes a servant.

He remains with us!

At the same time, Maundy Thursday points ahead to the resurrection. He remains with us, under the appearance of bread and wine. He will stay with us forever, which becomes clear in His prayer at supper: “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:1-3). Then, when he says in His prayer over His disciples, that He “sent them into the world”, it becomes clear this His mission involves all of humanity. He already implied this in the blessing of the bread and the wine: “Do this in memory of me”. A new history begins, He remains with us. “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:26).

Past, present and future

For Christians these are no events from a distant past. They ground us in the present, in what happens in the world today. It often seems as if God has disappeared from our world. With Jesus, we sometimes desperately wonder if God has abandoned us. We also better understand what Jesus meant when he predicated that His disciples would also have their share of difficulties: “No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20).

Dear friends,

as workers in the vineyard of the Lord nothing surprises us anymore. The friends of Jesus were also afraid, they gave up in despair and disillusion, like the two on the road to Emmaus. But what matter is that they came back after a period of despair and fear. The attraction of their Lord was so strong that they no longer feared the rulers, that Peter spoke plainly about Jesus, even when he was imprisoned for it. The story of Paul who travelled across the world as it was known then to speak about the resurrection of Christ can only be cause for amazement. He was precisely the one among the Apostles who had never known Jesus personally. Resistance could not deter him from his conviction that Jesus lived. And in these difficult times His world resounds again, full of hope: “So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:22).

Resurrection means that He is waiting for us. The joy that we will experience in the coming days, then, comes from His presence: His body and blood are food for eternal life. His word confirms the love that the Father has for us. He precedes us to Galilee, as a missionary on the road with his followers.

I wish you a happy and hopeful Holy Week and a faith-strenghtening experience on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter.

+ Luc Van Looy, Bishop of Ghent

Photo credit: Bisdom Gent, Frank Bahnmüller

Alleluiah!

easter resurrection
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.

Lent reading schedule

lent_desktopIt’s almost Lent. Snuck up on you, didn’t it? But it’s true, Less than a week away the great time of fasting and penitence will begin and prepare us for Easter.

Time to plan ahead.

For this Lent and Holy Week I want to take the Gospel readings of every day and do some lectio divina with them, a spiritual reading. I’ll be posting the relevant passage every day (well, that’s the plan) and reflect on it. These reflections will be short, as lectio divina is by definition a personal exercise: we prayerfully read a Bible text for ourselves and are open to learn from it. The reflections are therefore what I take from the text: your experience may be a different one, but I hope that comparing what others learn with what you have learned can set you off on new avenues of thought, prayer and discovery.

For those who want to read and reflect in their own time, or if I am unable to post every day, here is a list of the Gospel reading of every day:

  • Wednesday 5 March (Ash Wednesday): Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
  • Thursday 6 March: Luke 9: 22-25
  • Friday 7 March: Matthew 9:14-15
  • Saturday 8 March: Luke 5:27-32
  • Sunday 9 March (First Sunday of Lent): Matthew 4:1-11
  • Monday 10 March: Matthew 25:31-46
  • Tuesday 11 March: Matthew 6:7-15
  • Wednesday 12 March: Luke 11:29-32
  • Thursday 13 March: Matthew 7:7-12
  • Friday 14 March: Matthew 5:20-26
  • Saturday 15 March: Matthew 5:43-48
  • Sunday 16 March (Second Sunday of Lent): Matthew 17:1-9
  • Monday 17 March: Luke 6:36-38
  • Tuesday 18 March: Matthew 23:1-12
  • Wednesday 19 March (Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary): Matthew 116, 18-21, 24a or Luke 2: 41-51a
  • Thursday 20 March: Luke 16:19-31
  • Friday 21 March: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
  • Saturday 22 March: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
  • Sunday 23 March (Third Sunday of Lent): John 4:5-42 or John 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
  • Monday 24 March: Luke 4:24-30
  • Tuesday 25 March (Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord): Luke 1:26-38
  • Wednesday 26 March: Matthew 5:17-19
  • Thursday 27 March: Luke 11:14-23
  • Friday 28 March: Mark 12:28-34
  • Saturday 29 March: Luke 18:9-14
  • Sunday 30 March (Fourth Sunday of Lent): John 9:1-41 or John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38
  • Monday 31 March: John 4:43-54
  • Tuesday 1 April: John 5:1-16
  • Wednesday 2 April: John 5:17-30
  • Thursday 3 April: John 5:31-47
  • Friday 4 April: John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
  • Saturday 5 April: John 7:40-53
  • Sunday 6 April (Fifth Sunday of Lent): John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 20-27, 33b-45
  • Monday 7 April: John 8:1-11
  • Tuesday 8 April: John 8:21-30
  • Wednesday 9 April: John 8:31-42
  • Thursday 10 April: John 8:51-59
  • Friday 11 April: John 10:31-42
  • Saturday 12 April: John 11:45-56
  • Sunday 13 April (Palm Sunday): Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54
  • Monday 14 April: John 12:1-11
  • Tuesday 15 April: John 13:21-33, 36-38
  • Wednesday 16 April: Matthew 26:14-25
  • Thursday 17 April: John 13:1-15
  • Friday 18 April (Good Friday): John 18:1-19:42
  • Saturday 19 April (Holy Saturday): Matthew 28:1-10
  • Sunday 20 April (Easter Sunday): John 20:1-9

It’s much, to be sure, but it is an investment that’s worth the effort. Lent is especially a time to return to the basis, to the Word, and allow the Lord to join us on our way.

Holy Week in the Dutch cathedrals

Holy Week i rapidly approaching, and since this time last year I received some questions about Mass times in various Dutch churches for this busiest of times of the liturgical year, below follow Mass times for all Dutch cathedrals, except the cathedral of St. Catherine in Utrecht, for which I have been unable to find a schedule online. If anyone knows more, by all means, share it in the comments.

Cathedral of SS. Joseph and Martin
Radesingel 4, Groningen

Palm Sunday (1 April)

  • 9am: Holy Mass in Latin
  • 11am: Holy Mass
  • 5pm: Holy Mass in Polish

Maundy Thursday (5 April)

  • 7pm: Holy Mass

Good Friday (6 April)

  • 2pm: Stations of the Cross for children
  • 3pm: Stations of the Cross
  • 7pm: Service of the Passion of the Lord

Holy Saturday (7 April)

  • 11:30pm: Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday (8 April)

  • 9am: Holy Mass in Latin
  • 11am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Gerard de Korte

Easter Monday (9 April)

  • 11am: Holy Mass

Cathedral Basilica of St. Bavo
Leidsevaart 146, Haarlem

Palm Sunday

  • 10am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Jos Punt
  • Noon: Holy Mass for children

Maundy Thursday

  • 7:30pm: Holy Mass

Good Friday

  • 3pm: Stations of the Cross
  • 7:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord
  • 9:30pm: Dark Matins

Holy Saturday

  • 10pm: Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday

  • 10pm: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Jos Punt
  • Noon: Holy Mass in Indonesian

Easter Monday

  • 10pm: Holy Mass

Cathedral of SS. Lawrence and Elisabeth
Mathenesserlaan 305, Rotterdam 

Palm Sunday

  • 11pm: Holy Mass

Maundy Thursday

  • 6pm: Holy Mass

Good Friday

  • 10:30am: Stations of the Cross for children
  • 3pm: Stations of the Cross
  • 19:30pm: Service of the Passion of the Lord

Holy Saturday

  • 10:30pm: Easter Vigil, offered by Bishop Hans van den Hende

Easter Sunday

  • 11am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Hans van den Hende

Easter Monday

  • 11am: Holy Mass

Cathedral of Saint Anthony
Sint Janstraat 8, Breda

Palm Sunday

  • 10:30am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Jan Liesen

Maundy Thursday

  • 7pm: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Jan Liesen

Good Friday

  • 3pm: Service of the Passion of the Lord, presided by Bishop Jan Lisen

Holy Saturday

  • 9pm: Easter Vigil, offered by Bishop Jan Liesen

Easter Sunday

  • 10:30: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Jan Liesen

Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist
Torenstraat 16, ‘s Hertogenbosch

Palm Sunday

  • 11am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Antoon Hurkmans

Maundy Thursday

  • 7:30pm: Holy Mass

Good Friday

  • 3pm: Service of the Passion of the Lord
  • 7pm: Stations of the Cross

Holy Saturday

  • 10pm: Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday

  • 10am: Holy Mass
  • 11:45am: Holy Mass

Easter Monday

  • 11am: Holy Mass

Cathedral of St. Christopher
Grote Kerkstraat Bij 29, Roermond

Palm Sunday

  • 11:30am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Frans Wiertz

Good Friday

  • 3pm: Stations of the Cross, offered by Bishop Frans Wiertz

Holy Saturday

  • 8:30pm: Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday

  • 11:30am: Holy Mass, offered by Bishop Frans Wiertz

Easter Monday:

  • 11:30am: Holy Mass

All this information was collected by me from various parish and diocesan websites, and so may well be far from complete. A Google search or drop by the various cathedrals may give you more and more accurate information as Holy Week approaches.

The silence of communication

As is customary on today’s feast of St. Francis de Sales, the Holy See publishes Pope Benedict’s annual Message for World Communications Day (here with a link to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ new website). This time around, the Holy Father once again speaks about social media and communications, but with the main emphasis on silence. A scarce commodity in modern society, to be sure, silence is here presented is one of two essential elements of communication, next to the word. Where words are spoken, someone else usually listens. Silence also allows for reflection;

“in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.”

Equally important, God also speaks to us in silence. The Holy Father beautifully describes this in the following passage:

“The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps … and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.”

In social media circles, much has been made about the pope’s clear reference to things like Twitter and Facebook status updates: “In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”

All in all, a worthwhile read (also in Dutch), offering proper food for thought for all of us. We all communicate, after all.

Shhh... take some time to listen and reflect

A Dutch Passion

It’s still five weeks away, but in Gouda (d. of Rotterdam) preparations are underway for a re-enactment of the story of Easter. Following the example of the similar event held in Manchester, UK (video), The Passion is promised to be a multi-media spectacle centered around the 15th-century city hall and market square. In it, the story of the Passion of Jesus is told through modern pop music. The Passion is an ecumenical project, but according to Bishop Everard de Jong, who represented the bishops’ conference at a press conference on 10 March, it has a distinct Catholic flavour:

“The Protestant tradition doesn’t know imagery. It is all about the Word. This is a representation, a Catholic approach. Of course you can never express who Jesus is, who God is, in images. Perhaps we Catholics are a bit more relaxed in that regard, but saying that images can refer to God.”

In an interview with Kruispunt Radio, the bishop explained the importance of the project.

“With modern music, with the language of today, you well link to the language of Jesus Himself. Jesus spoke the language of His time, and also participated in festivities: he turned 600 litres of water in 600 litres of wine. He was also incultured. The intention of this project is to let Jesus enter the streets of Gouda and so the streets of the Netherlands, and ultimately the hearts of people.”

At the aforementioned press conference, the organisers made public the names of the people to perform to roles of Jesus and Mary. Jesus will be portrayed by singer Syb van der Ploeg (pictured below) who, at the very least, looks the part somewhat. The role of His mother, the Blessed Virgin, is performed by singer Dominique Rijpma van Hulst, better known as Do (pictured above). While Van der Ploeg has a fairly respectable career as a musician and actor under his belt, and is therefore a pretty good choice for such a project, I question the choice for Do as Mary. Her musical talents may be fine, but selecting a former Playboy model for such a  role is hardly wise. Not if you want to not only teach people about what Easter is (the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, on their site, claims that 75% of young people between 12 and 18 have no clue), but also want to do so in a way that is consistent with the teachings and example of Christ.(which I believe is a safe conclusion to draw from statements from the organisers, who see this as a missionary project). That extends, in my opinion, to the choice of music, setting and also actors and singers you involve in such an endeavour.

But despite these reservations, I am looking forward to The Passion, which is one of the largest media projects undertaken by Catholic broadcasters in recent years.

The Passion is project of broadcast companies EO and RKK, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the Catholic Church, the Dutch Bible Society and the municipality of Gouda. It will be broadcast live on television, radio and Internet on Maundy Thursday, with a  repeat on Holy Saturday.