Archbishop William E. Lori and fellow priests celebrate a livestream Easter Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland April 12. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)
Archbishop William E. Lori celebrated Easter Masses at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen April 11 and 12 without the presence of the faithful, calling for people be “infected” with the new and risen life of Jesus.
At the beginning of the Mass on Easter Sunday, he acknowledged that churches continued to be closed during the coronavirus pandemic and welcomed those watching via livestream or the broadcast on WBAL-TV 11.
“With my brother priests,” he said, “I look forward to the day when we can be together.”
In his homily in the cathedral – empty except for a few concelebrants and other liturgical ministers – the archbishop recalled the words of Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, during a Good Friday service: “The coronavirus pandemic has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence.”
Archbishop Lori said those words and the world’s struggle with the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19 are a reminder that for all of our progress and technology, we are not invincible.
“Our hold on this life is tenuous,” the archbishop said. “We are not all-powerful, but there is one who is – our risen Lord. In our need, let us turn to him this Easter day.”
It is appropriate to beseech the risen Lord to take the scourge of the pandemic from us, but he believes our prayer will not be heard if we only pray for the coronavirus to be taken away so we can go back to business as usual.
“Make no mistake, this is a wake-up call,” the archbishop said. “God did not will this human tragedy, but God does want it to change us. He does want to dispel the illusion that we’re self-sufficient and in total control. Let us confess our dependence on the Lord, our need for God’s help and above all, our need for the Lord himself.”
He proposed a prayer that as we ask the Lord to remove this scourge from us, we ask him to replace it with another kind of contagion: “A contagion of hope – a contagion that spreads far and wide the Good News of Jesus’s and victory over sin and death.”
Jesus’ closest followers were greeted as they approached the tomb with the news “Do not be afraid. … He has been raised from the dead!”
“To be sure, the risen Lord emerged from the tomb in his human body bearing the marks of the Passion. But now his humanity was clothed with immortality, radiant with God’s glory, for Jesus was raised from the dead by the glorious, lifegiving Spirit of God the Father,” he said.
“If the risen Lord’s new life takes hold of us, if we are, you might say, ‘infected’ by it, then we will see it spread to every dimension of our existence—body, mind, and spirit,” Archbishop Lori said.
“If allowed to grow in us, Jesus’ new and risen life will attack and undermine the defenses we have built up over time to justify our sinfulness. If allowed to grow in us, Jesus’ new and risen life will convert pessimism into hope, selfishness into generosity, hatred and prejudice into reconciling love. This good ‘virus,’ Jesus’ risen life, will change us from the inside out.”
He said preaching and the sacraments are important ways to spread this good infection. “Prayer is a powerful way to spread this contagion of hope. Being confined to our homes makes us restless, but it’s also an opportunity to develop our life of prayer, especially to pray together as a family, and to pray in the privacy of our own hearts.
“Prayer is the source of many blessings for ourselves, our church, and our world – and it also makes us ‘carriers’ of the new life which Jesus won for us,” he said.
“Finally, this good contagion of Jesus’ life and love spreads by the witness of our lives.”
He said that as we pray for a swift end to the terrible pandemic, we must pray that the contagion of hope in Jesus and his resurrection will spread “from person to person, from home to home, and from parish to parish, looking to that day when we will be together again to celebrate the Sacraments in joy and newness of life.”
After the Sunday Mass, the archbishop went to Sacred Heart Parish in Glyndon to assist the parish with the distribution of boxes of food to those who are experiencing food insecurity because of the pandemic. Father Gerard Francik, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Charles Borromeo in Pikesville, estimated that 1,000 families would be served between 1 and 5 p.m. Included in the boxes were staples, vegetables and bread.
The Easter Vigil Mass April 11 started in darkness. The traditional preparation and lighting of the fire was omitted.
In the dark cathedral, Archbishop Lori prepared the Paschal candle by placing five large pieces of incense, symbolizing the wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. He then placed the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega, symbolizing the beginning and the end. The candle represents Christ himself and is used in churches throughout the Easter season and at baptisms, funerals and other special occasions.
In his homily at the vigil, he said we should all want to end up on the right side of history – not to be unblinkingly in step with the times – but to strive with the help of God’s grace to be on that side of history which God has written and continues to write.
“Our hearts must be in tune with God’s plan,” he said.
“In this great Easter Vigil, a fair amount of what we call salvation history is on display. It is presented not just to inform us about the past but to give us hope and trust. Hope and trust in the Lord who created the world in love, hope and trust in the Lord who redeemed the world with still-greater love,” the archbishop said.
“How important it is for you and me to cling to this hope and to do so at a time when it’s easy to lose hope, to sink into depression and maybe to see life as absurd. This vigil traces out how God accompanied his people throughout history and in the process revealed his loving plan for the salvation of the world.”
“Our vigil traces how even now the Lord is guiding us, you and me, through the storms of history, including and especially the destructiveness of COVID-19,” he said.
“In the darkness of this cathedral, I blessed and lighted the Easter candle, the Paschal candle, the great candle which recalls how God guides the Israelites by a pillar of fire that shone in the darkness of the desert night.”
Christ is the true light of the world who illuminates all of human history, he said. “Christ speaks on every page of Scripture; his light flashes in the hearts of unbelievers and enlightens those to be baptized.”
Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection from the dead is “the pivotal moment of history when we are liberated from our slavery to sin, that unique moment which set the stage for the ultimate victory of God over Satan. This, my friends, this is the side of history we want to be on,” Archbishop Lori said.
He noted that many people were to have been baptized and received into the church at the vigil across the archdiocese. “They have been drawn toward the fullness of faith by the Holy Spirit and seek to share in the victory of Christ,” he said, adding that this heart aches that he cannot share the Easter sacraments with them now. “How ardently I look forward to the day when we can celebrate them together.”
In a video message delivered via email and texts to the faithful of the archdiocese April 12, the archbishop talked about how he looks forward to Easter Sunday in usual years, because the weather is good, flowers are blooming and people are streaming into church – those who regularly attend Mass as well as those who attend less often.
“They are joined by those who, during the great Holy Saturday Vigil, were baptized and received into the church,” he said. However, in the archdiocese and in dioceses all around the world, the celebration of the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil have been postponed this year.
Even so, Easter “is the day of the resurrection, the day the Lord has made, a day of unalloyed joy in which we renew the promises of our baptism and promise to live the new life of grace which our crucified and risen Savior won for us.”
But this Easter Sunday is different, Archbishop Lori said. “Yes, the message of Easter is the same: Christ is risen. It is a badly needed message of hope and a message of comfort at a bleak time in history.”
The Easter message does not fade with the passage of time “for it is kept safe for us in heaven, where Jesus, our risen Lord and eternal priest, intercedes for us at God’s right hand. Let us entrust to him our cares and those of our ailing world, perhaps as never before,” the archbishop said.
“My prayer is that the hope of Easter will take hold of your hearts anew and that your faith and my faith will grow stronger as we follow the one who died and rose to save us,” he said in the video message.
Email Christopher Gunty at firstname.lastname@example.org