What to do when your diocese is overwhelmed by hostile invaders and natural disasters? Around 470 Saint Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne in Dauphiny (today’s France), had to figure out a plan of action. The Goths, the Huns, earthquakes, fires and crop failures were plaguing the faithful of his diocese. What to do? How about turning to God? He initiated “rogation” or “asking” processions – several days of penitential processions with public supplications. The devotion soon spread far beyond Vienne. In 816 Pope Leo III introduced this practice into Rome and eventually it was observed throughout the Church. There were processions during which the Litany of the Saints, Psalms and other prayers were chanted, followed by a special Rogation Day Mass on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday.
Many of us looking back on our childhood and young adulthood are humble enough to admit “My mother is/was a saint.” We probably did not accord our mothers the high honor at the time but now in retrospect they should be canonized for their limitless patience, unflagging perseverance and unconditional love. Since we just observed Mother’s Day and since I have been on a roll recently writing about two saints, I got to thinking about saints – ancient and recent – who were mothers.
In the last reflection I wrote about a very contemporary young man on the path to sainthood. Now I want to share one of the most unusual saint stories that I have ever heard. I first learned of this Holy One on retreat this past January with the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The experience of this saint has a particular relevance in our present situation where almost all Catholics are prevented from receiving the Eucharist and limited to making a Spiritual Communion.
When I meet with the Confirmation candidates before the Mass, I like to remind them of the great diversity that exists among the canonized saints. After all they have been browsing through the Saints’ Who’s Who to determine what name they want to be called at the moment of their Confirmation. We often have a very narrow idea regarding the saints’ personalities, virtues and behaviors. But, in fact, there is no one pattern a man, woman or child must fit into to exhibit sanctity. Some Holy Ones were kings or queens and some homeless; some were highly educated, great scholars and authors and others never had one hour of formal education; some lived into advanced old age and others died in youth. All saints don’t look alike.
When I visit elementary school classrooms, a question frequently posed, especially by the younger students, is “What is your favorite Bible story.” My stock response is that I have many favorites but Luke 24, “The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus,” is pretty close to the top. On the Third Easter Sunday we were treated to that very narrative.
I’m sure that you’ve noticed that the actual framework of the story is that of our Mass. It begins with the Word of God. The stranger walking along with the disciples quotes and interprets the Scriptures, explaining how it all pointed to the recent events that had taken place in Jerusalem. Then, at table using the words and gestures of the Last Supper, He breaks the Bread and their eyes are opened. They recognize that this is no stranger but the Risen Christ. With this realization He immediately disappears from their physical eyesight. They immediately hightail it back to the place of their disappointment to announce to the apostles the grace they had experienced.
One of the great and beautiful symbols of the Risen Christ is the Paschal Candle. Lit from the Great Fire in the first movement of the Easter Vigil, the candle bears the five wounds of the Lord’s passion and reminds us that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega and that all time belongs to him. The candle is prominently situated in the sanctuary throughout the Easter Season. On Pentecost Sunday it can be carried in procession out of the sanctuary to make its return for the celebration of baptismal and funeral liturgies.
I got to wondering where this great symbol of our Risen Lord originated. I should have asked one of my seminary liturgy professors. Apparently it was not a question weighing heavily on my mind in those days.
Professors and authors in the field of Homiletics seem to be divided in their opinions whether preachers should tell jokes within a homily. In my own experience when I do tell a funny story, I’m fairly convinced that it might be the only thing most listeners will remember from the homily.
In his book, Images of Hope, Pope Benedict XVI refers to a practice that originated in his native Bavaria and made its way throughout Germany in the 15th century. It’s called “Easter Laughing” – Risus Paschalis in Latin. The Easter homily and homilies throughout the Easter Season had to contain a story that made people laugh. The church resounded with joyful laughter as a symbol of the joy Christians know in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It was reasoned that Isaac – an Old Testament image of Christ – came down from the sacrifice on Mount Moriah with laughter on his face – the laughter of redemption because his life was spared. That act of redemption pointed to the perfect redemption accomplished by the Paschal Mystery which should put a big smile on the faces of the faithful.
This Easter, Matthew’s story of the empty tomb was the Gospel for the Vigil and an option for Easter Sunday Masses. We learn that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first to hear the good news of the Resurrection and to encounter the person of the Risen Lord. There is a detail that Matthew alone includes in his resurrection narrative – a detail that is easily overlooked as our attention is riveted on the Risen One. Only Matthew mentions that the two Mary’s witnessed a “great earthquake” at the moment when the stone was rolled back and the angel descended with the good news of Easter.
In the previous chapter Matthew states that the moment of our Lord’s death on the cross was accompanied by an earthquake – a sign that led the centurion to admit: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Earthquakes occur elsewhere in the New Testament. While Paul and Silas are doing jail time in Philippi, there was an earthquake at midnight and the prison doors opened and their chains loosened. In Revelation earthquakes are mentioned five times, always as apocalyptic signs of the end times.
In Catholic schools, education is more than academics. It’s about caring for the whole person: emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually.
In the days since Pennsylvania schools were ordered to close on March 13 from coronavirus concerns, Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have risen to the occasion, discovering and implementing ways to carry on their mission in uncertain and challenging times.
Using technology to stay connected to the faithful during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Ronald Gainer will celebrate the Diocese’s first ever digital Holy Week and Easter. The difficult decision to extend the suspension of Masses through Easter was made after careful consideration of the decree (In time of Covid-19 (II)) issued by Pope Francis, and in following the recommendations of state and local governments and, most especially, out of continued concern for the health and wellbeing of the faithful.
“Our Diocese, our nation and our world are experiencing the unthinkable with the coronavirus. With this global pandemic in mind, the Holy See, Pope Francis, has decreed that all Holy Week and Easter Masses will be celebrated, but that countries impacted by coronavirus and in cases where restrictions regarding the assembly and movement of people are in place, the bishop and priests may celebrate without the presence of the faithful.