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April 21, 2019
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace / Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa]
Do you realize what it takes to put together the liturgies we celebrate during this Sacred Triduum, of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter? First the liturgical rites handed on to us by the Church must be studied by all who are planning the celebrations. They give a basic guideline on the flow of the liturgy and some details. Even so, there are many blanks that need to be filled in by every location, and many decisions need to be made, such as who will have their feet washed on Holy Thursday, what will be the manner for the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, or what kind of candles will be used at the Easter Vigil. Items that are used only once a year need to be taken out of storage, cleaned, and readied for use; or ordered ahead of time from a religious goods dealer. Lectors, servers, and other ministers need to be selected and trained. Homilies must be prepared. Decorations must be changed each day to reflect the mood of the day’s liturgy. Music must be selected, rehearsed, and printed in a worship aid. Bulletin editors need to disseminate information about times for the services. And there is much, much more. Why do we bother doing these things? Just to put on a good show that will engage people’s emotions and make them feel good about their faith?
We do all of these things – and I dare say, we do them gladly – because we know that the greatest event in the history of the world is worth celebrating: the death and resurrection of the Son of God who became a human being. We may not always articulate that reason, but it is at the bottom of all we do to prepare for these high holy days. “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead” is something we proclaim and celebrate every day, but we can easily forget what a monumental event resurrection from the dead means. If a loved one whose death we grieve should suddenly rise from the dead, it is not something we would take for granted – at least not for the first few days! It is something we would celebrate with awesome wonder for days on end, wanting to share the good news with all our families and friends. So how important it is for us to celebrate these days in which we remember that Jesus truly died and that he rose up from the dead! And not only that, but that he is with us always as he lives in his Body, the Church, and as he gives himself to us physically in intimate Communion.
But Jesus never intended that his living, active presence among us be confined to a church building, because then even something as beautiful as Notre Dame Cathedral would be, in effect, a tomb in which we lock him up for ourselves. No, he left the tomb behind so that his loving and living presence could go out to every corner of the world.
So it is that the risen Jesus wants to live in our families, helping each member take upon him- or herself the crosses of self-sacrifice that will give greater life to all others – including ourselves. So it is that the risen Jesus wants to be where the poor and suffering are found, so that he can transform their lives and give them the dignity that is often taken from them. So it is that the risen Jesus wants to transform our culture and our body politic, so that we can live together in greater harmony and peace by remembering who we are and what God intended us to be. So it is that the risen Jesus wants to pull people out of their tombs of loneliness, selfishness, and sin, and to let them shine with joy in his light.
And so it is that what we do here is so essential to our knowing who Jesus is and our becoming more and more committed to his mission. It is here that we hear the Word of the Word-made-flesh who lives among us. It is here that we recall how he gives his Body for us so that we can become his living Body. It is here that we remember that he pours out his Blood for us, so that we can pour ourselves out more courageously for our brothers and sisters. And it is here we learn that to allow Jesus to live and work outside the confines of the sacred walls of this church building, we need to catch the fire of his love and take it out to wherever we may go.
Just as much hard work is needed to prepare our liturgical celebrations for these high holy days, even more hard work, planning, and engagement by all as stewards of the Gospel is needed to effectively proclaim that Jesus no longer lies dead in a tomb, but is active and alive in transforming the world with his merciful grace and his saving love. What we do here is so renewing for us and gives great glory to God. But what we do in our families, our places of work, our schools, and our world is why we do this, so that the greatest event in the history of the world can continue to be lived out in all the dyings and risings of our lives. It takes all of us, planning, preparing, and working together, to announce to all the world that Jesus is alive and that he wants our Alleluia song to be sung by us in every corner of the world. It is this that will bring true joy to the world, a joy that will last into eternity.