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The three most significant days of the year

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One of the titles that attract me most about the person of Jesus is “salvator mundi,” the savior of the world. Sometimes I think that Christians assume that Christ died and rose from the dead only for us believers. Anyone who reads the first letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians will realize that for the first Christian philosophers, Christ’s death and resurrection had a cosmic impact and affected the well-being of all humanity. That is why every human being can say: Christ loved me and surrendered himself for me on the cross.

There is no other date like the Paschal Triduum, given that Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday encompass all of salvation. No other date in the calendar surpasses the richness of this great gift, maybe with the exception of Christmas: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, St. John would say in the synthesis prologue of his Gospel.

Holy Thursday is about Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, the ones he “loved to the extreme,” as he not only washed their feet, revealing to them the depths to which the Lord of Glory could go, but also transformed the bread and the cup into a permanent memorial of his passion. With how much emotion and solemnity did Paul write to the Corinthians, when explaining that this sacrificial supper is the most sacred legacy of the apostolic tradition for all Christian communities!

Today, there is among us a renewed interest in the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament. This is a logical development; before such a gift, how could the disciple not long for Christ’s presence? Anyone who loves experiences an immense sweetness in looking at the loved one. St. Augustine said it brilliantly when commenting on Psalm 98:9: “no one eats that flesh unless first he adores it; we do sin by not adoring it,” an affirmation that His Holiness Benedict XVI has repeated tirelessly throughout his teachings.

Every Good Friday we listen to the Passion according to St. John. We pray as a universal brother, respecting the Jewish people, those who do not believe in Christ or God, and others. Then, everyone gathers in a procession to kiss the cross. The language of the liturgy is precise; the cross is not venerated but worshipped, “for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world,” says the chorus in the antiphon preceding the versicles.

Today, those who persecute the Holy Father Benedict XVI, those Christians in fundamentalist totalitarianism or where religious freedom is restricted, think that believers will be intimidated. They are wrong; the cross is what encourages and strengthens us most, as it is so well expressed in the chant of the adoration of the Holy Cross: “Faithful Cross above all others, one and only noble tree, splendid, fruitful like no other, in foliage nor in blossom.”

After Good Friday, we enter into an indescribable silence until the night of Holy Saturday, when we celebrate the Paschal Vigil, “the mother of all vigils.” The silence of Holy Saturday is not well understood among us, even though the relatives of a loved one who has been buried are the ones who could help us most to understand that feeling of emptiness full of memories. If we went to the church, we would find the altar without flowers or cloth; there is no Mass. I think that we should direct our prayer to Mary. She keeps all those things in her contemplative and silent heart. She is the best instrument to live the waiting for the “great Sunday”.

The Paschal Vigil is unknown by most Catholics who fill the churches the following day. Nevertheless, the Vigil’s liturgy is the richest expression of the ecclesial joy for the resurrection of Jesus the Lord. It is the luminous night. The majestic Paschal candle that comes into the dark assembly full of smaller candles sings to Christ, light of the world, and the people give thanks for this Good News. Death has been destroyed and the deepest hope for each human being is born; Christ lives forever. And it is followed by the Paschal praise, the most beautiful hymn of the liturgy, the famous Exsultet. Rejoice!

From that moment, the Church begins a feast of fifty days; Lent’s Miserere is transformed into the paschal joy. That is the victory of faith! The cross is prolific and glorious; Christ, our paschal lamb, has been immolated. Let’s celebrate Easter! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Comments from readers

Cabrini Pak - 04/03/2010 07:30 PM
Hi Bishop Estevez! Thank you for sharing this. The part that hit home for me:

"The silence of Holy Saturday is not well understood among us, even though the relatives of a loved one who has been buried are the ones who could help us most to understand that feeling of emptiness full of memories. If we went to the church, we would find the altar without flowers or cloth; there is no Mass. I think that we should direct our prayer to Mary."

After having just learned that a beloved teacher and mentor passed away yesterday (Good Friday) that silence that settled in my heart on Good Friday is faintly echoed in the loss of my dear friend.

I await Easter with hope and love. Peace.
Antonio Fernandez - 04/02/2010 10:49 AM
After reading Bishop Felipe Estévez, beautiful and inspiring article about the Paschal Triduum, there is not much to say, except to guard those words in our hearts and pray on them.
I hesitate to add anything else, because whatever I say could distract us from the profound meaning of the Bishop's message. However, I would like to share some additional gifts that we should celebrate during these three days.
First on Holy Thursday, as well as celebrating the gift of the Eucharist, we should give thanks as well for the Priesthood, that the Lord established, also during the Last Supper, making it possible to renew his sacrificial supper throughout the world and the ages until the end of the times.
On Good Friday, I like to remember the words of the Vatican II Council regarding the "birth" of the Church: "For it was from the side of Christ as He slept of death upon the cross that there came forth 'the wondrous Sacrament of the whole Church'" (SC 5).
I would like to encourage everyone to attend and participate in the Paschal Vigil; there is no other liturgical celebration in our Church richer and with more meaning than this night. The lighted Paschal candle entering in a dark assembly, the little candles fed from the Paschal candle remind us that as we share our faith in Christ it is not diminished by sharing it but on the contrary it grows even more to the point that where there was darkness now there is light and hope for an even brighter future. This is a good night to give thanks for our own Baptism, which allowed us to pass from being slaves of sin, to be now free as God's children.
I don't want to close these thoughts, without making reference to the fact that on Easter Sunday, we Floridians should remember that the name of our State, singularly celebrates our greatest Christian Mystery: In the year 1513 in the month of April on Easter Sunday, Ponce de Leon on sighting the coast of our peninsula, he called it "Pasqua Florida". For many years that name was not exclusively used to identify the present Florida, but the entire American continental territory extending north to Newfoundland and westward indefinitely from the Atlantic. Let us congratulate ourselves and give thanks for our nameday and Christian heritage.

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