The Feast of Easter is a celebration of New Life. New life is symbolised by holidays, chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies. Easter is all of that and more. It is the most important feast in the liturgy of Christian churches.
The Catholic Church in Australia and elsewhere has been disgraced. Years of abuse inflicted on boys and girls at the hands of priests and religious have left thousands of suffering victims. For many there can be no resolution.
Their situation was made even worse by the failure of the authorities to acknowledge the horrendous crimes committed against the victims. In some cases, criminals were protected, their heinous sins covered up.
Good priests and religious, as well as ordinary, pew-filling lay Catholics, suffer. We acknowledge the deep pain inflicted on our abused brothers and sisters. We suffer from our loss of trust in the criminal men and women who inflicted such pain in the name of the Church. We suffer from the loss of the integrity of the Church.
But for those who believe in the Risen Christ, the Church is not the men who have created this chaos. Instead, the Church is suffering because of them.
The Christmas story of the baby Jesus born of humble parents in a stable in Bethlehem has a certain readily accessible charm. It’s easy to understand, at least on one level. But the Easter story of a Man risen from the dead is hard to comprehend. It requires a leap of faith.
Jesus was crucified on Good Friday like a common criminal. His crime? Preaching and demonstrating a message of love. He was thought to be subverting the existing order. He paid with his life. On the third day after his death, his followers found his tomb is empty.
Preparing for Easter
The forty days of Lent that precede Easter are a time of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Catholic children are encouraged to ‘give-up’ something for Lent – lollies, chocolate, dessert. This year, my six-year-old great-nephew, Austin, gave up tomato sauce, presumably a favourite treat.
Most adult Catholics with a more mature faith take Lenten observances seriously. Each year, on Ash Wednesday we begin Lent with good intentions. Each year I hope I won’t fail. It is as hard to maintain Lenten observances as it is to keep New Year resolutions.
Liturgical readings for the days during Lent are frequently from the Gospel of St. John. So, a couple of years ago I enrolled in an eight-week course on St. John’s Gospel at the Centre for Faith Enrichment. I hoped to take up new ideas and habits in preparation for the Feast of Easter..
My appreciation of the Gospel of St John increased. Since then my Lenten practice has been far richer than it would otherwise have been.
Ceremonies for the Feast of Easter
Even in the most humble suburban church, the solemn liturgies around Easter are full of drama and beauty.
This Easter followed a pattern begun when I was a child. This year would mark over seventy years of my attending Easter services. Once I was in Bangkok, once in Paris, once in Cairns, a couple of times in Albany. Everywhere, the ceremonies followed the same pattern.
Thursday evening (Maundy Thursday) is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It includes ceremonial washing of the feet of twelve parishioners by the parish priest. The ceremony imitates the washing of the Apostles feet by Jesus the night before he died. It’s a lowly act, a symbol of how Christians are to love others.
The sombre Celebration of the Lord’s Passion takes place on Good Friday. As a child I hated Good Friday. Sometimes now I wonder if little children should attend, even with loving parents. I still have to steel myself for the ceremony. But I know it is an essential part of the Triduum, and not to be missed.
The solemn, joyful Easter Vigil is celebrated on Saturday evening. The people gather outside at dusk for the Blessing of a New Fire. Inside the church, minutes later,the priest lights the Paschal Candle and we all light our candles from it. The candles are again lit after the readings and prayers as we renew the promises made at our Baptism.
For those of us who believe, the Feast of Easter is so important that it is celebrated for eight days, from Easter Sunday to the following Sunday.
In spite of all the suffering in the world, the pews in the simple parish church of St. Dominic in Innaloo were filled this Easter. According to the media, many other churches throughout Australia were also filled with worshippers. Christians full of hope in the Resurrection gathered to celebrate the Feast of Easter. We prayed for the peace of the Risen Christ.