HOLY WEEK and THE PASCHAL TRIDUUM are the heart of the liturgical life of our Church. I would like to share with you some of what I experienced as I celebrated Holy Week in different parishes around the diocese and experienced the seriousness with which our pastors, their staffs and our faithful celebrate the central mysteries of our faith. While the prayer of the Church is the same throughout the Universal Church, each local community does its praying according to its own traditions and customs.
At the Shrine Church of Saint Padre Pio in Vineland. The Blessing of the Palms and the procession took place outside the Church. This procession recalls the triumphant entrance of the Lord Jesus into the Holy City, Jerusalem, where He was greeted by crowds waving palm branches and with acclamations of Hosanna.
The route of the procession of the choir, faithful, clergy and servers went directly through the parish cemetery. How appropriate that this joyful procession walked among the dead which expressed the hope that the dead share the victory Jesus achieved for all in the Holy City by His death and resurrection.
MONDAY of HOLY WEEK
I was invited by Antonio Talotta, a senior at Saint Augustine Prep in Richland, to attend the live Stations of the Cross, a production staged every four years. Each of the 14 stations is performed in tableau form, accompanied by a well-written commentary for teenagers and hymns sung by the school choir. The students professionally and solemnly performed this para-liturgy which drew the audience into prayerfully participating in the Way of the Cross. The student actors held their positions frozen in each tableau with convincing form; no easy task. The audience could not but feel the humanity of the Way of the Cross remembered at each station.
TUESDAY of HOLY WEEK
The Mass of the Chrism. With its double focus on the blessing of the sacred oils that are used by the Church for her sacramental life and on the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ. It was an opportunity for me in the company of my brothers to recognize and thank our priests for their priestly ministry. Especially these days, when the news is frequently dominated with stories of bad deeds committed by some priests and bishops who in no way represent the witness and service of the priesthood of Jesus Christ as it has been lived in this diocese since its foundation 82 years ago.
WEDNESDAY in HOLY WEEK
Mass at Camden County Correctional Facility. A dedicated group of lay parishioners from Sacred Heart Parish in Camden weekly visit this jail. Our prayer reflected on the events remembered each day in Holy Week and the mystery of Jesus Christ who was a prisoner. Some of the inmates had their feet washed before Mass as an expression of their desire to walk clean with the Lord.
The Mass of the day focused on the tragic story of Judas Iscariot who is one of the saddest figures in the Scriptures. Did God hold his evil act against him? An appropriate question for the incarcerated to consider. After Mass we enjoyed a brunch and conversation with a few prisoners.
At the Church of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Absecon. The pastor kindly arranged not only a delicious dinner for me and the six seminarians who accompanied me but also each of us received a personal Easter Basket! What a treat!
The parishioners jammed packed the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and a fine parish choir sang. Those chosen to have their feet washed were the parish representatives who had attended our recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders. They will have much to offer their parish about Missionary Discipleship. During the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel of repose a deep prayerful silence filled the church and the faithful remained in place until the stripping of the Altar.
At the Pro-Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Camden. Before Mass a procession wound its way through the streets of East Camden. Christ in His passion is found on those streets not just on Good Friday. Hundreds of the faithful and families with lots and lots of children attended.
From my chair in the sanctuary I observed the veneration of the Cross. It was particularly moving as toddlers and even infants in the arms of their parents kissed the cross. The family is the first educator in the faith.
THE EASTER VIGIL
At the parish of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill. A group of our seminarians were with me. It is imperative in their formation that they experience the liturgy in a parish and at Christ Our Light they experienced liturgy at its best.
The faithful gathered at a distance from the church and at 8 p.m. processed to the door of the church where a roaring fire broke the darkness. The Light of Christ! The Scripture readings were masterfully proclaimed and the psalm response was accompanied by outstanding sacred music.
“Most Reverend Father, I bring you the Good News of Alleluia,” the deacon addressed to me. To which I responded by singing Alleluia three times which the community repeated. Then, I intoned it a second time raising the key and again the congregation responded. Finally, the third time the same pattern was repeated after which the musicians burst loudly forth as the Gospel procession formed. Yes. It is Easter. He is Risen. You could not not know it at Christ Our Light.
Two Elect were baptized; one Christian made a public profession of Catholic faith and was received into the Catholic Church. The procession to the Baptism font with the entire church invoking the Holy Family of God to accompany the elect to the bath of life. The catechists and RCIA team carried pitchers of water as we moved through the church. The Elect entered the pool and I poured the water over them. Their sponsors assisted with the change of their garments into the white robes of the newly baptized. The presence of the Risen One in that assembly on that most holy night was palpable and evident.
At the Church of Saint John in the parish of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Many young families were in attendance. Before I preached I asked for prayers for the slaughtered victims of anti-Catholic hatred in Sri Lanka who on that Easter Sunday morning were murdered and injured by bombs detonated in their Churches. One is the Church. One is the Body of Christ. We are as much the victims of such hatred as were those who were physically harmed.
In my Easter homily I encouraged the parishioners to experience the Joy, Hope and Life of Easter. Enough of sadness, despair and death.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! After my Holy Week experience of the richness of our Catholic liturgical life, these fifty (50) days of Easter continue to keep aflame in me the Risen Savior Jesus Christ. May that be the same for you.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden