“Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
Is it Easter already? It is, according to the Liturgical calendar (and probably from the ‘Happy Easter’ messages and posts you have been seeing). Yet, without public Masses and physical participation in the celebrations of the latter half of Lent and Holy Week, doesn’t it feel like like Lent? A Lent that might go on a couple more weeks? I remarked to my family that this past Triduum was a little “weird” as I am so used to a Triduum filled with liturgies and helping at liturgies. I even had notes for 2020 prepared. While the outward celebrations cannot take place throughout the majority of the world,I think that it is important to know that it is Easter.
The Paschal Candle shines in all its glory in the darkened Church during the Easter Vigil Liturgy. The flame in the darkened building signifies Jesus Christ, the Light of the World who shines forth in a world covered by the darkness of sin.
The mystery of Salvation that we celebrate this night is made evident not only in the dramatic Lucernarium, but also reflected in the Lectionary readings, most vividly in the ones that come from the Old Testament. An Old Testament reading that must never be omitted during this Vigil is that of Exodus, recounting the crossing of the Red Sea. It is interesting that we bring up Exodus at this night because at the start of the Paschal Triduum, with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we read Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, which recounts the events of Passover, including the directives for the preparation of the lamb and the Seder Meal. Tonight’s Exodus reading serves as the bookend for the Passover and the Catholic Triduum, in which God shows his mighty power to save the Israelites and overturns the Egyptians.
The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion begins not with an Entrance Hymn, but rather with the celebrant prostrating on the ground and the congregation kneeling in silence. This is the only time within the Liturgical year where a liturgical function begins with this dramatic silence. We silence our hearts as we reflect on ourselves, our relationship towards God and to our brothers and sisters.
Prostration – this action is seen a couple times in Catholic liturgy. This gesture is done at the litany of saints during ordinations and profession of vows or virginal consecrations. To lie flat on the ground is to surrender oneself totally to God. In prostrating, we recognize that we are nothing without God. It is also a sign of repentance. Many bishops have adopted this gesture in Liturgies of Reparation. In recognizing that we are sinners, we recognize that sometimes our egos take the best of us. Yet, we are called to put all of that aside and come close to the ground. That is what humility means – it comes from the Latin word, “humus” the ground.
While the secular world sees Valentine’s Day on February 14 as a day of love, I consider Holy Thursday the Catholic Church’s day of love.
“…He loved them to the end,” (Jn 13:1) today’s Gospel records. Love has been at the core of Jesus’ teachings because “God is love.” (1Jn 4:8) However, the theme of love became so concrete during the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. Love was put on full display. Yet, before enacting on love, Jesus gives a new commandment, “….love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34)
Jesus gives the new commandment right after the washing of the feet, as Jesus knelt, literally, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil 2:7) and washed all of his disciples’ feet, the first symbol of selfless love. To truly love is to have within oneself total humility, taking on tasks that perhaps not a lot of people would want to do.
The Liturgy of Palm Sunday begins my most favourite time of the Liturgical Year – Holy Week. The whole Church begins Holy Week today, most often with palms in Christians’ hands, and in some areas, with grand processions to commemorate our Lord’s triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this year, many places around the world, the liturgy will not be as elaborate as past years, including the Holy Father’s liturgy of Palm Sunday which will take place at the Altar of the Chair, at St. Peter’s Basilica with empty pews – not at the grand St. Peter’s Square with crowds of people.
While I am a little sad that none of the ‘pomp and circumstance’ will be happening at any of the liturgies at Holy Week (per the decrees of the Holy See), this Holy Week will allow each one of us, including myself to truly immerse ourselves into the Paschal Mysteries of Our Lord.
While the Pope gives an Urbi et Orbi blessing twice a year, this one was widely shared, partially because unlike the ordinary ones, it was given during a time that was convenient for most people (at least Canadians). Or, some were at home with nothing to do or simply could not sleep.
Unlike the ordinary Urbi et Orbi blessings the Pope gives at Christmas and Easter, not a lot of people knew what to expect at this extraordinary Urbi et Orbi. Some may have thought the Pope was going to go out in pontifical regalia, or in Pope Francis’ case, at least a nicely embroidered stole, a large processional cross leading the way. However, March 27’s Urbi et Orbi began with none of that solemnity. I remember vividly, and I am sure many do, the livestream began with Pope Francis without aides, security guards, and without umbrella, walking across St. Peter’s Square alone in the rain – the first time I ever saw that.
With the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we walk into one of the more critical points of Lent before entering Holy Week. Prior to the reforms of the Liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, this Sunday was known as the First Passion Sunday, and next week, Palm Sunday, would be known as the Second Passion Sunday. The period of Lent starting this Sunday was also traditionally known as Passiontide. It is traditional for Sacred Art to be covered in purple veils during this period. Crosses would be unveiled at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the other art are unveiled at the Easter Vigil.
As the Season of Lent draws nearer to a close and therefore, drawing near to the Paschal light of Easter, we are asked to focus ourselves on the Paschal Mysteries. This is very evident of the signs embedded in the Liturgy of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, from the Passiontide veils to the Lectionary readings today. All the readings can all be summed up in the word “resurrection”.
The way human beings sees things is not the same way God would see things. I think this is the overall theme of this Sunday’s Lectionary readings.
In the first reading, we read of the calling of David to be king. Out of all the sons of Jesse, David the shepherd boy is called to be king. A shepherd boy…a king? In the eyes of the secular world, today and even the past, a typical image of the king is one who bears masculine qualities, likely rich and probably a man with some good educational background… qualities in which a shepherd boy would not likely have. Yet, God chose David out of all of his brothers to be king. Similar callings are very much evident in Scripture. God chose Moses, a man “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex 4:10) to be his “spokesman” (see Ex 3-4). In the New Testament, Jesus chooses to surround himself with the lowest, uneducated and disregarded people in society such as fishermen (see Mt 4:18-22 and Mk 1:16-20) and tax collectors (see Mt 9:9-13 and Lk 19:1-10).
In a couple of weeks, for a course called “Earth, Portrait of a Planet”, (either in-person or virtually… pending announcement from UofT,) I will be presenting to my colleagues about the topic, “Life outside of earth.” As most of you will know, one of the necessities for life is water. Therefore, in order for a planet to be habitable, there needs to be a sustainable source of water as it is used for drinking, washing and a variety of other purposes, including growing food. It would be impossible for us to live. Besides, our bodies are said to be 70% water.
At the end of 2019 going into the beginning of 2020, before Covid-19 even visibly surfaced and caused a stir in the world more so today, the world’s spotlight was placed on Australia’s wildfires that is said to have taken the lives of 1-billion animals. One of the images that struck people were those of Australian marsupials approaching human beings, and sucking from their water bottles as they were very thirsty – they desperately needed the water to sustain their lives. Such images and videos circulated throughout the internet and many found compassion for these cute little creatures.
Has this pandemic been worrisome for you? It certainly has been for me lately, being in lecture halls with hundreds of people at the University of Toronto. I have taken precautions to the best of my ability, limiting my traveling on public transit only to and from the University of Toronto St. George Campus on weekdays, and traveling to work and youth ministries on weekend. I hope everyone have taken similar precautions.
However, dear brothers and sisters, it is precisely during this time that I am reminded of St. Teresa of Avila’s words she wrote down in her Breviary:
Vincent Pham, known as The Catholic Man by many of his friends, is a student at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science pursuing a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy along with a minor in Christianity and Culture. Vincent is an alumni of Chaminade College School in Toronto (Class of 2019). He has a great love for all things Catholic, especially Catholic liturgy.