I’ve been thinking about the apostles over the last 36 hours. On Wednesday evening we received the word – effective March 20, 2020 till sometime after Easter the Diocese of Venice would be without public Masses. I am grateful to our Bishop for allowing the faithful the consolation of Mass on Solemnity of St. Joseph. In his letter to us, he told of his plan to consecrate the Diocese to the protection of St. Joseph during his own public celebration of the liturgy. Our observances for the Solemnity of St. Joseph were celebrated with more gravity and certainly more of the faithful present than usual (it’s ok, our Church is really big, there was plenty of room for social distancing). Our current directives have the Churches closed and all public celebrations of the sacraments canceled, including Mass and confessions, as well as severe limitations to celebrations of baptisms, marriages and funerals. St. Joseph’s day then became the baptism day for a few infants, the wedding day for a couple, and for the rest of us, we had the opportunity for adoration and confession all day, from the end of our 7:30 am Mass until midnight.
This set up, with so many sacraments being celebrated as well as the bittersweet sadness of those who participated called to mind the beginning of the Easter Triduum. The magnificence of our celebration of St. Joseph followed by Eucharistic procession and adoration late into the night very much resembled the Mass of the Lord’s supper celebrated on Holy Thursday. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is one of great importance for the life of the Church. It re-presents the Last Supper and calls to mind the institution of the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Holy Orders – the apostles received the command to do ‘this’ in memory of me. After the supper, Jesus takes the Apostles to the garden of Gethsemane where he spends a prayerful agony before being taken away from them.
While we have some more knowledge than the Apostles, I think emotions were the same. As members of the faithful we are sad and confused. We have abruptly lost the presence of our Friend and Savior and do not know when we will see him again, know his consolation in the sacraments, receive him intimately in the Eucharist, or just be able to stop by and say hello in the Church. For those of us used to the daily availability of these, much like the apostle’s familiarity with Jesus’ presence, we are struck a great blow.
After the arrest of Jesus up till he appeared to them on Easter Sunday were really not their best moments. They were confused and afraid. All but John abandoned him, Peter denied him three times, and according to the Gospel accounts, all doubted the women who first told of the resurrection. Thomas even doubted his friends’ testimony. Though sadness and confusion are reasonable emotions to experience, our knowledge should help us to respond better than the Apostles.
We know the end of the story and have a firm faith in its veracity. Jesus had counseled the Apostles both in veiled and plain language that he would die and also rise. Right after the first of his signs at the wedding feast of Cana he makes a reference to his resurrection: As a sign of his authority, Jesus tells the Jews he will “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19).” The apostles and those present were confused, but John, several years later, remembers these words and realizes the resurrection significance of them. Jesus also gives what now appear to us to be plain references to his passion, death, and eventual resurrection in Mark 8:31: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” While Jesus had warned the apostles, they could not understand the what he was saying. To us, these verses and their significance and implications seem clear.
Our knowledge puts us in a good place to use this time well. I imagine the apostles accepted the blow of Jesus’ arrest, passion and death in the same ways many of us deal with a crushing loss: questioning, turning to human comforts, perhaps even denial. However, Jesus had given them instruction. “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” While the disciples (and us!) rejoice as long as we have Jesus with us, once he is taken away, they are called to fast. This is the call for us to double down in our Lenten practices, to renew our resolve, to fast, give alms, and pray. The latter two may look different right now. We can’t do group service projects, our contact with other who need us is limited or modified, our Churches may be closed, Mass is not available. But we can certainly fast. Fast from food, yes, but also from other things that distract us. Let’s not lose focus simply because things have changed. Prepare your heart to eagerly greet the Risen Lord when he returns.
With this kind of long Triduum we endure, Easter and his return should be greeted with the same astonished surprise and joy that the disciples had. This time, Easter will have a fresh meaning. It won’t be the same as Easter we’ve celebrated over and over again, but this year, whenever Jesus returns in his Resurrected eucharistic presence, we should great Him with the same joy we imagine the apostles had upon seeing him again. Remember, while they had the promise of the resurrection like we do, they could not comprehend what this actually means.
Since we know He will be returning, we should be prepared to recognize him and greet Him with joy – not like the Apostles in the upper room, or on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus tells us throughout the gospels, do not be afraid! Let us not need this same greeting when at last we meet him again in the Eucharist.