By Barb Arland-Fye
Gratitude for the miracle of the empty tomb may have awakened more of us from our spiritual slumber this year. Through God’s grace, we could choose to participate in the Easter Triduum liturgies in-person, an impossibility last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Concluding the Easter Vigil at Church of St. Peter in Mendota, Minnesota, the pastor, Father Steven Hoffman, shared his gratitude for all of the people who contributed to the joyous celebration, including the in-person congregation and those watching online. He even thanked the bees for making the wax used in the Paschal candle! The gratitude from those of us in the pews seemed mutual.
Online Masses have become a godsend for people who are vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus, people who are homebound or people dealing with other issues that keep them away from in-person participation in the liturgy. However, when virtual participation was our only option those first months of the pandemic, it created a sense of longing for many of us to be together and to receive the body of Christ in the palm of our hand.
Some Catholics appreciate the simplicity of the liturgy during this time of pandemic. Others of us look forward to the return of singing within the full assembly (the hymns as well as the Mass settings), bringing up the gifts to the altar and physically exchanging the sign of peace.
Seeing everyone at Mass wearing masks during the Easter Vigil evoked feelings of tenderness for me. People chose to be here to celebrate the mystery of our faith, whatever their views on mask wearing. Our shared faith mattered more during this time we spent together in God’s house.
In his homily, Father Hoffman reflected on the power of the Risen Christ, who at the darkest moments in our lives, descends to the place where we suffer and lifts us up to a new place of forgiveness, hope, redemption and love. The pastor shared a story of his younger self, when he was consumed with anger and rage because of the hurt he felt from different people in his life. The anger and rage were coming out in destructive ways, until God lifted him from that place to a new place of resurrection.
Earlier that day before the Easter Vigil, “I was thanking God as I was looking over my life for the moments of resurrection,” Father Hoffman said. The power of the Risen Christ “took me out of that place, that prison of anger and rage to a place of forgiveness, and even more than that, to a place where my heart could now love the very people who hurt me. I could never have dreamed that was possible.”
“I have witnessed thousands of resurrections. It is one of the joys of my life as a priest,” he said. “I have been with people at the hardest moments in their lives … I have seen Jesus descend to that place where they are and to take them to a place of acceptance and trustful surrender and to offer their suffering to the Risen Lord so that their suffering now become something redemptive.”
In his Easter Vigil homily at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Bishop Thomas Zinkula reflected on how challenges in life “can make us bitter, or they can make us better. God can squeeze grace out of difficult situations. God can turn them on their head.” In the Paschal Mystery, “God squeezed grace out of Jesus’ passion and death … raised him to new life!”
The Easter message, the bishop reminded his listeners, “is both old and new: love is stronger than hate, good is stronger than evil. Hope is stronger than despair. Life is stronger than death, and nothing is impossible with God.”
Easter is a time of thanksgiving; I realize that fact more keenly after a year of pandemic.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)