April 3, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Paschal Triduum brings us close to the Lord, sharing in his passion, death and resurrection

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinFor the past six weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the season of Lent using images from the experiences my fellow pilgrims and I had in the Holy Land before Lent began. I’ve also been sharing some of the ideas developed by Pope Francis in his message for Lent 2015.

We now come to the culmination of our Lenten journey, the Paschal Triduum.

Each year, the Church gives us the opportunity to share in the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ through our celebration of the liturgies for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. As Pope Francis reminds us, this is “a time of grace” for us, a time to grow closer to God and to one other by experiencing prayerfully the powerful moments of Christ’s last days on Earth.

How can we be indifferent to his suffering and death if we participate in his Last Supper; if we share his agony in the garden; if we see him scourged, mocked and crowned with thorns; if we witness his condemnation by religious and political authority; if we walk with him on the Way of the Cross; if we stand before the Crucified One as he utters his last words; and if we help his mother and a few faithful friends lay him in the tomb? How can we abandon him—as Peter and most of the others did—when we know that he will rise again on the third day?

The Paschal Triduum is meant to be a liturgical experience that runs the gamut from profound sorrow to intense joy. Why do we put ourselves through this every year? Why relive experiences that were excruciatingly painful—and shameful—for all concerned? Why re-enact the disciples’ infidelity and their failure to understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead (Jn 20:1–9)?

Pope Francis says we do these things in order to break through our indifference to our neighbor and to God. We observe the discipline of Lent, and we celebrate the great mysteries of the Paschal Triduum, in order to “trouble our conscience.” We need this time of interior renewal and reawakening, the Holy Father says, “lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves.”

On the last full day of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, my fellow pilgrims and I were privileged to celebrate Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher at the site of the empty tomb. We gathered there at 5:30 in the morning for the sole purpose of celebrating Christ’s resurrection in the place where tradition tells us it occurred. St. John’s Gospel tells us that the tomb where Jesus was laid was in a garden, very near to the Skull Place (Golgotha) where he was crucified. In the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, the chapels that commemorate these two sacred places are very near indeed—in fact, the tomb is just a few steep steps down from Calvary, across the main floor of the Basilica in a space that has been built over the cave that formed the burial place of Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus was laid.

The tiny chapel could not hold all 51 of us, so half went in for the first part of the liturgy while the others participated from outside. Then we paused, and the first group switched places with the second group.

I can’t speak for my fellow pilgrims, but for me the experience was overwhelming. I felt a closeness to Jesus that words cannot convey. Here, in this very place, he rose from the dead. Here, he overcame my sins—and the sins of the world—and conquered death once and for all. Here, he triumphed over the evil that even today appears to us to be insurmountable. Here, Love was victorious once and for all!

As we enter into the Paschal Triduum this year, let’s open our hearts to the presence of God as it manifests itself in many different ways—in the Eucharist, in the veneration of the Holy Cross, and in the singing of the “Exultet” and the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. The Church has given us a great gift these days. We can walk with Jesus, growing closer to him and to each other as we observe this great festival of our faith. May our celebration of the Paschal Triduum help us break through our indifference and become united to Christ and to one another.

Resurrexit sicut dixit! Christ is risen as he said! This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad! †

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