The following story appeared in the March 26 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register
By Jay Wonacott
Marriage and Family Life Office
We all know that Easter is around the corner when the weather starts to turn a bit warmer, the grass begins to green, colorful buds appear on trees, and we face the dreaded springing forward of the clock with the beginning of Daylight Saving Time.
In the midst of this seasonal change, we celebrate the Triduum and Easter liturgies – the pinnacle of Catholic worship – during the greatest liturgical season of the year when we commemorate the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
As a father to five daughters over the past 22 years, I have always looked forward to Easter. Our girls always have beautiful pastel Easter dresses and fancy white hats that seem to come out of the closest only at Easter time. We all put on our Sunday best to celebrate the fact the Jesus has been clothed in the golden robes of His kingship as the Resurrected Lord.
Easter Day is filled with the beautiful celebration of the Holy Mass, feasting on delicious food usually in the form of an Easter brunch, and hosting an Easter egg hunt of plastic eggs filled with jellybeans or coins. Easter Day is the quintessential day of Sabbath rest, the time for our families simply to be together to worship God and celebrate the gift of eternal life that Jesus offers us through His resurrection.
The importance of these Easter rituals and traditions came to light recently as I was reflecting on the experience of Easter 2020.
Easter Day last year landed in the midst of the lockdown, with Church doors being shut to the faithful. In some sense, it felt like the stone was rolled over the front of the tomb. I re-member struggling to make the video-streamed Masses more meaningful for our family. We all felt the ebbing of excitement of experiencing Mass virtually after just a couple weeks of streaming the Mass on TV. The experience was simply not the same as attending Mass in person.
Last year on Easter Sunday, my wife insisted that we all get dressed up, get in the car and drive to the church. We arrived at church and watched the Mass on a smartphone while sitting in our minivan. We remained outside the church walls trying to make the best of a difficult situation. We so much wanted to be inside where the risen Jesus was. After Mass ended, my wife took pictures of our daughters in their Easter dresses on the steps of the church. While we knew Jesus was alive and resurrected that day, the barrier to receive Him felt like that stone was still in front of Christ’s tomb. Something was missing.
Compared to other places around the country, our Easter experience and closure in Idaho wasn’t that long-lived. Soon after we were able to begin attending Mass again in person with safety protocols in place.
Some of my family life ministry colleagues in other parts of the country are asking: What’s going to bring Catholics back to Mass after such a long time away? The hope is that with some of the pandemic restrictions lifting, many churches will experience a return of those hungry for Jesus in the Eucharist and being together in community again.
In Idaho, our lockdown prevented Mass in person for seven weeks. I remember the moment I was able to receive Communion after the longest time in my life that I had been away from the Eucharist. I remember getting very emotional and tearing up after receiving our Lord. I was relieved and overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. We should feel this gratitude every week!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church highlights the teaching that the “Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.” (Paragraph 1324) “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.” (Paragraph 1325)
The Eucharist is the source of our Christian lives, and without the Eucharist we are not “kept in being” as the People of God. This is why it is important for us all to be “Easter Catholics” this year.
We all probably know the term “C&E Catholic.” This is the Catholic who attends Mass only at Christmas and Easter. For the regular church-goer, this usually means there are more people in the pews and more complaining about there not being enough room in the church on these special holy days. “Who are those people?” “Hey, they are sitting in our pew!”
Unfortunately, when C&E Catholics do come to Mass, they often have to endure some “regulars” who can be unfriendly and a bit grumpy because they have to share the space. I think this year the “regulars” will welcome C&E Catholics with open arms as we fill the pews.
We must remember the Eucharist is what keeps the Church in existence. If you haven’t been to Mass in person for a while, I encourage you to become one of those “Easter Catholics” who shows up to Easter Mass this year, especially if you missed Easter Mass last year because of the lockdown.
I have a feeling that Easter Sunday this year is going to be much better. The pastels in my girls’ dresses will be a bit brighter, their hats a bit whiter, family and friends will be dearer, and the Eucharist will be that much sweeter – because without experiencing these things, life loses its deepest meaning, its source and summit.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
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