Welcome again to fr Gerard Austin, OP, who has offered these thoughts for Easter prayer and reflection:
THE MASS OF EASTER DAY
The Commentary on the General Norms for the Liturgical Year after Vatican II stated, “The faithful should understand that the last three days of Holy Week are not a preparation for Easter but, as St. Augustine wrote, ‘the most sacred triduum of the crucified, buried and risen Lord’.” Thus, our constant Catholic teaching explains that the solemnity of Easter has the same kind of preeminence in the liturgical year that Sunday has in the week. We stand today on top of the mountain as we celebrate our greatest liturgical feast. We are at the heart of the Paschal Mystery: Christ has risen from the dead, and what is crucial for us is the age-old tenet of our faith: Christ’s resurrection is also our resurrection!
To better understand
what we mean by that inclusion of our own eventual resurrection in that of
Christ’s, we should think in terms of the threefold meaning of “the body of
Christ”: (1) the historical body of Christ; (2) the ecclesial body of Christ;
(3) the Eucharistic body of Christ. Our great feast of Easter involves all
three: (1) the historical body of Christ: born of Mary, brought up in Galilee,
hailed as a wandering prophet, betrayed, crucified, and raised by God in the
Spirit; (2) the Church which Paul called “the body of Christ,” and which we
become by our baptism; (3) the sacramental body and blood of Christ which we
receive and we become by our celebration of the Eucharist. A key for
understanding the meaning of the Paschal Mystery is that all three of these uses
of “Body of Christ” are inter-related and inter-dependent. Christ gave of
himself to the Father in the power of the Spirit at the time of his crucifixion
and death, and his resurrection was the Father’s saying “yes” to that gift! In
his mercy and love for us, Christ left his Church the Eucharist as his final
departing gift. We have access to that gift through the prior gift of baptism,
by which (as St. Augustine put it) “we become Christ.” St. John Chrysostom
clearly explained in his Easter Catecheses that “when Christ was dead, but still
hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and
immediately there poured out water and blood……Now the water was a symbol of
baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist.” Now we see why the Church has
always taught that her principal sacraments are Baptism and Eucharist. By
Baptism we become Christ; by Eucharist we become “all the more that which we
already are, the body of Christ” (St. Augustine). On this Easter Day, the Day of
the Resurrection of Christ (and of our own resurrection), let us rejoice and be
glad, and with the Apostle Paul cry out: “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in
me” knowing that we shall die just as he died, but that we, too, shall be raised
up by the Spirit to the right hand of God in heaven.
(Nine readings are offered for the Easter Vigil: seven are from the Hebrew Scriptures and two from the New Testament. Some may be omitted, but usually three are read from the Hebrew text before the Epistle and Gospel. The Exodus reading should be read.)
For those of us who
have experienced the death of loved ones over this last year, this feast brings
a message of comfort. Our bonds with our beloved dead are not perpetually
broken, left in ashes. Our faith assures us that we, with them, will rise again.
Those of us approaching the end of our lives, because of sickness or advanced
age, also are encouraged today. What seems like a certain victory for death, is
not. God has the last laugh over death and so our faith assuages our fears.
The young man at the tomb, dressed as a heavenly messenger, refers to “Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.” The emphasis here is on the human Jesus. The references to Jesus as a Nazarene and as the one crucified, are also derogatory terms. He is from a small town, not respected by the more urbane people of Jerusalem (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” John 1: 46) and he was crucified – he suffered the death of a criminal. Yet this very one from Nazareth, crucified as a criminal, the messenger tells the women, has been raised. This is Isaiah’s Suffering Servant whom we heard about yesterday, Good Friday (Isaiah 52:13-53-12), the one who was misunderstood, rejected, condemned and executed. What a complete reversal has just happened!
But the resurrection comes only through Jesus’ death – he is “the crucified.” Mark won’t let us forget that the shadow of the cross is still present in this new age inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection. Our world may not believe in the resurrection; the word may be very strange to moderns. But people certainly know about the cross and suffering. Even unbelievers will say, “I have a heavy cross to bear.” We keep the crosses of our world in mind as we celebrate the resurrection. The cross casts its long shadow over our earth and its peoples. The messenger reminds us that our God is no stranger to pain. God isn’t just the God of sunsets, pretty flowers and innocent children. A sober appraisal of our world will not allow us such a clean, sterile God. We look at the recent mass killings in two of our cities, the half million in our country who have died of the Covid virus – not counting 125 million worldwide who have had or died from the virus; the 25% of our children in this country below the poverty line; sex slavery and spousal abuse, etc. Jesus is called the “crucified one,” and we are reminded that our God entered our world, the world we know all too well, whose sorrow seems to dwarf the “lilies of the field” and the “birds of the air.”
We gathered with the suffering messiah and the tormented of the world at the cross on Good Friday. We believed our God was there with us, despite the fact that we got no immediate answers and were defeated. Evil seemed so large and powerful, we felt impotent and dwarfed. We need Good Friday to remind us that we are not alone in our suffering; God is no stranger to our pain. In Jesus, God too has lost everything in death. After it was all over, we asked the same question the women did, “Who will roll away the stone?” Who will open the tomb; who will set us free and destroy death? On Good Friday and Holy Saturday we and the women weren’t thinking too optimistically; we weren’t thinking “Springtime thoughts.” Dead bodies don’t rise on their own. But the Genesis story tonight reminds us that God can create from nothing. God spoke over the formless wasteland and into the darkness of the abyss and created light. God can completely reverse a helpless situation. And God did; for while God stood with us at the cross on Good Friday, God has also acted boldly and unexpectedly on Easter morning. Once again, as in Genesis, God spoke a mighty word, this time into the tomb’s darkness. Again God created light for us. God rolled away the stone of death with a life-giving word. God now turns towards us as we ask the women’s question, “Who will roll back the stone for us?” God responds, “I will.”
This story should give us courage to face what has died in our lives and we can be reassured that God stands with us as we grieve our deaths. But God still has something new in store for us. Each of us knows Good Friday; but we are not stuck there. Though we have reached a dead end, some new life will be shown to us, some new possibility up ahead will open for us. We believe the messenger’s words, “He is going before you to Galilee.”
The young man’s announcement to the women, “He has been raised; he is not here,” becomes our shout at this liturgy, “Christ is risen!” We love this feast, it bursts upon us with song, drama and color after a drab Lent. But after the glow, does its reality stay with us? So often we have seen good defeated by hostile forces and declared “Finished.” (“Nice try, but you lose.”) Today we celebrate God’s choice to be with our vulnerable humanity, engage death and come out victorious. Now we are asked to believe, with the women, the message at the empty tomb; to take seriously that God has exposed the lies death has given us. Today’s gospel ends with us holding our breath. Will the woman and we, struck with amazement go out following the trail of the risen Christ and trust he will be with us each time we face down death’s debilitating effects on our lives?
Mark has avoided the spectacular in his account. There is nothing extraordinary about the young man at the tomb, or in the fact that the stone was rolled away. In fact, this passage originally ended with the very next verse, “When the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened” (12:8). The women go off and tell no one what they have seen. In the original ending there were no appearance stories of the resurrected Christ. By the messenger’s emphasizing Jesus’ humanity (“Jesus of Nazareth”) and his suffering (“the crucified”), Mark is downplaying the glorious and emphasizing Jesus’ sharing our human condition. Mark wants his persecuted Christian community to soberly reflect on the meaning of the resurrection in its own struggling life. He seems to encourage them to face their fears and doubts with hope. To their question, “When will finally we see him?” Mark provides the messenger’s promise, that Jesus is up ahead, in Galilee, the place they expected to meet him when he did return at the end of time in his glory. We will see the glory, Mark is suggesting. That is what now sustains us with hope amid our doubts and struggles.
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this Vigil's readings:
“One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign “The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty.” Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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