(Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)
By Katherine Long | Editor
Celebrating his first Easter Vigil as shepherd of the Syracuse Diocese, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia recalled words sung at the beginning of the evening’s liturgy: “Accept this Easter candle. May it always dispel the darkness of this night.”
“My sisters and brothers, these words of the Easter Proclamation… I believe have new purpose in our world this Easter 2020,” he said.
The Easter Vigil, the apex of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum, begins in the dark as the faithful gather in anticipation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a typical celebration, the Vigil includes the lighting and blessing of fire and of the Paschal candle, recalling how Christ banished the darkness of sin by his death and resurrection; seven Old Testament readings, a New Testament epistle, and a Gospel through which the history of God’s salvation is proclaimed; the Liturgy of Baptism, in which new members are incorporated into Christ and the Church; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the faithful remember the death and resurrection of the Lord until he comes again.
This year, however, amid restrictions on public gatherings aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus, the pews of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception were empty of worshipers. No fire was lit and no Sacraments of Initiation were celebrated.
Only retired Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, Cathedral rector Msgr. Neal Quartier, Deacon Robert Burke, and a handful of lectors and servers joined Bishop Lucia for the celebration of Mass, while hundreds of faithful watched the livestreamed liturgy.
In his homily, Bishop Lucia acknowledged the many crises and disasters affecting the global community.
“Events have occurred which have either literally or figuratively made us feel like the biblical people who walked in darkness. Like our ancestors in faith, the human family finds itself grappling with events that are both tragic as well as beyond our immediate control in many respects,” the bishop said. “Into this fray and darkness, on this holy night, arises a new flame — one whose radiance transforms our world from pitch blackness into a column of fire, casting out the darkness.”
Bishop Lucia encouraged the faithful hold on to hope in this time of darkness and uncertainty, citing the examples of Jesus’ first disciples.
“All were adrift after Jesus’ death on the cross. They wondered what had happened and were questioning the purpose of their belief and trust in Jesus,” he said. “As they were to discover, all was not lost. With God, all is never lost. God is always with us. And as you and I celebrate the resurrection of our Lord in these strange times, it is good for us to remember that the Lord will find you and me in the midst of whatever situation we are facing. He will never abandon us, and in that we can find hope.”
Pope Francis offered a similar message during his Easter Vigil liturgy, calling Christians “to keep kindling sparks of hope, knowing that Jesus has risen and death will not have the last word,” according to a Catholic News Service report.
Like at the earlier liturgies of the Easter Triduum, Pope Francis celebrated a pared-down Easter Vigil at the Altar of the Chair in the back of a dark and nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica. In addition to a few Easter flowers, two strong symbols of praying for God’s deliverance were again present near the altar: The “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) icon, usually kept at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, and the “Miraculous Crucifix,” which usually is housed in the city’s Church of St. Marcellus.
Easter, the pope said, gives believers “a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope.”
Easter hope is not simply optimism, rather “it is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own,” he said.
“Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, ‘All will be well,'” the phrase children wrote on banners and posters hung from windows and balconies all over Italy as the lockdown began a month ago, he said. “But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate.”
But Easter proves that “Jesus’ hope is different,” he said. “He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.”
Jesus invites those who would be his disciples to journey with him and to share that good news of the resurrection, Bishop Lucia said.
“This commission of the risen Jesus himself sends us out to loosen bonds and unlock doors so that the wondrous love which flowed from that old rugged cross can be experienced by those we encounter in the public square — Mass or no Mass,” the bishop said. “Brothers and sisters, accept this Easter candle. For us, through us, may it always dispel the darkness of this night.”