With the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, we conclude the 40 days of our Lenten observance and enter into the Sacred Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — for which our whole Lenten observance has been preparing us. On Good Friday, a day of fast and abstinence, we begin the paschal fast which extends until after the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. It is our way of watching at the tomb of Christ, remembering His Burial and Descent into Hell (not hell, the place of eternal punishment, but the dwelling place of the souls of the just who were awaiting Christ’s coming and His saving Death and Resurrection). With the First Mass of Easter, the fourth and last part of the Easter Vigil, we begin the Easter Season, 50 days during which we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection from the Dead, by which He won for us the victory over sin and sin’s most evil fruit, everlasting death.
In a certain sense, our Lenten observance never ends. Lent is an annual training by which we strengthen ourselves in daily ways of thinking, speaking and acting, which are true to the mind and heart of Christ. The virtues which we have developed through Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving are to remain habits of life. In other words, the Risen Christ, to whom we have been drawing ever closer through Lenten penance, is the source of our lasting joy as we celebrate His Resurrection. By our Lenten observance, we have welcomed Christ more fully into our lives. We have permitted the grace of Christ to penetrate ever more deeply in every aspect of our lives. And now we celebrate His Resurrection, which has made it possible for Christ to dwell with us always through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Easter, Ascension and Pentecost
The celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection comprises three events: His Resurrection from the Dead on Easter Sunday; His Ascension to the right hand of the Father 40 days after Easter; and the Sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, on the 10th day after the Ascension or the 50th day after Easter. The three events are distinct, but they are all integral to the one work of our redemption because they mark the actions by which Christ brought the Church, His Mystical Body, to life. They are the events by which Christ has continued and continues to give His life for us, the Church.
At the Resurrection of Christ, God the Father poured forth a first gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of His only-begotten Son. We see the work of the Holy Spirit in the disciples who encounter the Risen Lord in that privileged 40 days of His appearances to them in His glorious body after the Resurrection. But the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit looked for completion, a second gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling the disciples to bring Christ to the whole world. Once Christ had ascended to the right hand of the Father and the Apostles had completed a novena (nine days) of prayer for the new gift of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord, through the Apostles, poured out the second gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples. With the Easter gift of the Holy Spirit, they had come to faith in the Risen Christ and to life in the Church, but they were timid and fearful about proclaiming faith in Christ to others and bringing the life of the Church to others.
Once they had received the second gift of the Holy Spirit, they were bold and courageous in announcing the faith to all. By the grace of the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples went out into the whole world to preach the truth of Christ and to bring the love of Christ to all the world, especially through the sacraments. It is clear how the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit are inextricably related to one another, as three moments in Christ’s one work of redemption.
Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist
Reflection on the three events of the Resurrection helps us to understand our own life in Christ. Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, has, with God the Father, poured out the Holy Spirit upon us for the first time at our baptism. Baptism is our personal Easter. The first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, through the cleansing and life-giving waters of Baptism, washed away the stain of original sin from our souls and brought our souls to life in Christ, in the Church, His Mystical Body. Through Baptism, God the Father has chosen us as His true sons and daughters in Christ, His only Son.
The first outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives through Baptism is completed by a second outpouring through Confirmation, strengthening and increasing God’s life within us, so that we may not only have faith in Christ but also proclaim faith in Christ to the whole world. Confirmation is our personal Pentecost. From the moment of our confirmation, we are to witness to Christ before others. We draw upon the grace of the Holy Spirit each day to be faithful to Christ, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us, so that in everything we think and say and do we will be true to our identity as sons and daughters of God.
The life of the Holy Spirit within us, through Baptism and Confirmation, is healed and nourished through the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s true Body and Blood given to us as heavenly medicine and food.
With our First Holy Communion, we enjoy the greatest gift which God gives to us in the Church, the gift of His Son’s very life, first given up for us on the cross at Calvary. So essential is the Holy Eucharist to our life in Christ that Christ instituted this sacrament on the night before He died, so that the gift of eternal life which He was to win for us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead would be ours always in the Church. Those who have come alive in Christ through Baptism and are Christ’s witnesses in the world through Confirmation desire to be in Christ’s company and to have full communion with Christ.
Christ comes to us in Holy Communion to be received into our inmost being. Christ accompanies and leads us on our life-pilgrimage, especially through participation in the Holy Eucharist. That is why participation in Sunday Mass is a solemn obligation for us, under pain of mortal sin. That is also why many in the Church participate in Mass daily or several times a week in addition to Sunday Mass. By an act of spiritual communion, we express our desire for Christ, even when we are unable to receive Him in Holy Communion.
During the Easter season, let us return often in prayer to our baptism, confirmation and First Holy Communion, remembering their source in Christ risen from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and sending forth the Holy Spirit. Let us recognize how Christ lives within us through the sacraments. Let us thank God and ask God for the grace to live ever more fully in Christ, faithful to the grace given to us in the sacraments.
Vocation and vocations
Called to life in Christ, we are sent to bring Christ to the world. By Baptism and Confirmation, we all share the same vocation and mission. Christ’s life within us, first given through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at baptism and then increased and strengthened through the second outpouring of the Holy Spirit at confirmation, develops even as we develop physically. When we come to adulthood, physically and spiritually, God asks us to give definitive and stable form to our Christian vocation in what we also call our vocation, in a second sense. Christ alive within us leads us to respond to God’s call to make the gift of our whole life, in love of Him and of neighbor, in the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood. These are the different vocations of those who share the one Christian vocation. As we grow spiritually, we begin already to hear God’s call, which He makes clear to us through prayer and through various everyday signs, for instance our attraction to the vocation and our natural gifts for meeting the demands of the vocation, and the counsel of our parents and parish priest regarding God’s plan for us. The grace of Baptism and Confirmation, by which we have received our Christian vocation, most of all, enlightens and strengthens us to know God’s special plan, our vocation, and to respond to God’s call with all our heart.
We are baptized and confirmed for our salvation, and our salvation is found ultimately in living out our vocation in life. There is nothing in the world which can substitute for the giving of our whole life, in response to God’s call, either in the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood. Christ’s life within us is destined for the full and selfless gift of love which is the fruit of accepting our vocation in life. We will never be truly happy in life until we have come to know and embrace fully our vocation.
The Easter Season, therefore, is a most fitting time to speak with our children and young people about our Christian vocation and their vocation, God’s special plan for them. It is especially important to remind them to be ready to hear God’s call to the consecrated life or priesthood. In our highly secularized society which places so much emphasis on personal comfort, convenience and satisfaction, it is difficult for young men and women to hear God’s call to give their lives completely to God and the service of us all in the Church. Yet, we know that God is calling a sufficient number of young men and women to the consecrated life and the priesthood for the sake of His holy people.
The Easter Season would be a wonderful time to visit a seminary or a convent. Also, encourage young men and women to take part in the programs in your diocese and of religious communities which assist them in knowing God’s plan for them. Through these programs, young men and women are helped to consider God’s call in their lives and to speak about their vocation with young priests and seminarians, and young religious sisters and young aspirants to the religious life.
God is indeed infinitely rich in His mercy toward us. The events of our salvation which we recall and celebrate during the Sacred Triduum and the Easter Season manifest God’s immeasurable love for us, pardoning our sins and pouring forth the gift of His life for us. His call to us, our vocation, is a singular manifestation of His all-merciful love in each of our lives.
The Servant of God Pope John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter Sunday (the conclusion of the Easter Octave) Divine Mercy Sunday. We begin a novena in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday on Good Friday, the day on which God showed the depth of His love for us by dying for us upon the cross. Divine Mercy Sunday is inspired by the life and devotion of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland. The record of the messages which she received from our Lord is her diary, published by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception at Stockbridge, Mass., the site of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy. The diary recounts revelations from our Lord to St. Faustina, all directed to increasing faith in the Divine Mercy and fostering worship of God in the mystery of His Divine Mercy. From the very beginning of the revelations, Christ asks that the words “Jesus, I trust in You” be inscribed on His image as the revelation of Divine Mercy. He also asked for the praying of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., the hour of His death on Calvary, each day.
May our celebration of the Sacred Triduum and the Easter season lead us to know more deeply the mystery of the Divine Mercy in our lives and to pray with ever greater fervor: “Jesus, I trust in You.”