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The Easter Vigil: ‘the mother of all vigils’

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2021 / 01:37 pm (CNA).- The Easter Vigil, which takes place Holy Saturday night, “is the greatest and most noble of all solemnities and it is to be unique in every single Church,” the rubrics of the Missale Romanum proclaim.

The word vigil, which means "staying up all night," takes on a special meaning for the night before Easter because it recalls the holy women who came to the tomb the early hours of Sunday morning.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene and another Mary arrive at the tomb at dawn to finish embalming Jesus, but his body isn’t there. An angel tells them, “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He’s not here. He has risen. Tell his disciples to go to Galilee and they will see him there." (Mt 28:6-7)

The vigil by its very nature takes place no sooner than nightfall Holy Saturday night and must end before daybreak Easter morning.

The vigil begins with the kindling of a “blazing fire” at a suitable place outside the church to gather the faithful around its warmth and beauty and to dispel the darkness of the night.

The celebrant blesses the fire with a prayer and then the Paschal Candle is brought forth and lit from the fire. The candle symbolizes the light of Christ, which “shines in the darkness” which “has not overcome it.” (John1:5) 

The Paschal Candle is then processed into the darkened church and the congregation lights their small hand-held candles, starting from the Paschal Candle and then from one another, lighting up the whole church.

At the beginning of the vigil after the Paschal Candle is lit, the Easter Proclamation or Exsultet is said or sung, usually by a deacon, or by a priest or a lay cantor.

It briefly tells the story of salvation from the creation, the testing and fall of Adam, the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and the culmination in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and leads us to salvation.

The Exsultet is addressed to all humanity but especially to Christians. Saint Augustine invites Christians to constantly recall it because it is a message of hope that brings us the victory of light over darkness.

After the Scripture readings, the Baptismal Liturgy continues for candidates who have never been baptized. They and those who have been validly baptized in another Christian faith are then confirmed. If there are no candidates for Baptism, the Mass continues with the blessing of the water and the renewal of baptismal promises.

Finally, the Liturgy of the Eucharist follows and concludes the Easter Vigil.

“The Easter Vigil celebrates the Resurrection which fulfills all the prophecies by Jesus rising, never to die again,” said Father Donato Jiménez speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner.

Jiménez is a noted theologian who taught for many years at the Faculty of Pontifical and Civil Theology of Lima. The priest has published numerous articles on theology and other topics.

“This resurrection is what teaches us, more clearly than anything else, the fulfillment of the words of Jesus in our lives. Just as Jesus Christ died and on the third day he rose again, so the Christian who dies in Christ will also rise again at the end of time,” Jiménez said.

Many joining the Church this year have learned of the faith virtually

Denver Newsroom, Apr 3, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Despite difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, parishes are welcoming groups of catechumens and candidates into the Catholic Church this Easter who have had to learn about the faith largely through virtual meetings. 

One such parish is St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco, which is welcoming a group of catechumens and candidates into the Church who had never convened in person until last month.

Dr. Mary Romo, a professor at the University of San Francisco and a catechist for the parish, told CNA that after convening their RCIA group online in September, she and a deacon have taught all the classes via Zoom.

"Hopefully we got the material across, but people missed the sense of community," Romo said.

"The first time they actually saw each other [in person] was at the Rite of Election, the first Sunday of Lent."

San Francisco has had some of the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in place, including on places of worship, throughout the pandemic— a fact often decried by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

For much of the pandemic, indoor religious services were not allowed in San Francisco; under current restrictions, indoor religious services are allowed at 50% maximum occupancy.

Romo said their parish church has remained closed throughout most of the pandemic, but the RCIA group is looking forward to being together in person for the Easter Vigil.

St. Ignatius, like most parishes, is still livestreaming their Masses. Don Crean, director of sacramental preparation for the parish, said they have been trying to encourage viewers to be aware of the RCIA group.

One of the ways they have done that throughout the pandemic, Crean said, is to invite people from the RCIA group, two or three at a time, to come forward at the livestreamed Masses for a blessing so the viewers get a sense of who the catechumens and candidates are.

Generally their group of catechumens and candidates includes people from all walks of life, Romo said, but this year one demographic which generally accounts for a handful of converts is notably absent from the group— students from the nearby university.

She said in typical years, students from the University of San Francisco tend to “bring a life” to the RCIA sessions with their enthusiasm and inquisitive nature. But with the university still largely closed for in-person learning, the opportunities to attract students to RCIA at the parish dried up.

Romo said she honestly does not know how well the months of catechesis will “stick,” since she found it difficult to connect with the group via Zoom.

She and her co-catechist even recently conducted a retreat over Zoom, which included a guided meditation on Holy Week. She said it remains hard to “take the pulse” of the class when the interaction is mediated through a screen.

"Are they in profound silence, or are they just texting? We don't know," she laughed.

But she said the joy that the group showed when they met for the first time in person in February was a promising sign, and that seeing “the Church in action” as it continues to reopen will doubtless be helpful for the new Catholics.

Deacon John Rangel, RCIA coordinator at St. Joseph Catholic Church in the Diocese of San Angelo, told CNA that they usually start their RCIA program in early August, but this year delayed their start until mid-September.

Since then, their RCIA program has been a combination of in-person and virtual, with Deacon Rangel leading an in-person group for those who feel comfortable, and others joining via Zoom.

He said they started out with 27 in their English-language RCIA program, and five in the Spanish RCIA.

Out of those 32 participants who started the program, 17 are set to join the Church at the Easter Vigil. That number is more than a typical year; eight to 12 is a typical number, Rangel said.

The group has been able to get together in person recently with masks and social distancing. Deacon Rangel said they recently held an in-person retreat with precautions at a local retreat center.

Among the catechumens are a mother and daughter who are joining the Church together, he said.

"They came not knowing much, not knowing what to expect, but throughout this process...they were hungry for something,” Rangel commented.

"God was calling them to be a part of something beyond themselves. They are probably the most vibrant out of the whole vibrant class."

Normally, he said, RCIA meets once a week, with a potluck before each meeting. Although the lack of fellowship meals this year has been a big loss for the group, Deacon Rangel said the group has found ways to support each other in their journey to become Catholic.

He said in many ways, the experience of leading RCIA during a pandemic has strengthened St. Joseph’s program, and taught them that they are not limited to the “old way” of conducting RCIA only in person.

"The more we discovered what we could do, the more 'normal' it became. The people found their niche, where they fit in with everyone else. They interacted with one another" and supported each other to build a community, he said.

"And that's the miracle part. God himself is greater than COVID. When he calls his people, he makes a way for them to become a community, one people."

Deacon Rangel’s parish is far from the only parish in the U.S. which has seen its RCIA numbers increase this year from 2020.

St. Mary and St. Michael parish in Stillwater, Minn., part of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis, reported that this year they have 25 people expected to become Catholic at the Easter Vigil, a fivefold increase from the number that joined in 2020.

Three relics of Christ’s Passion housed in Spain

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 1, 2021 / 04:13 am (CNA).- While the Shroud of Turin – believed to be the burial cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus after his death – may be the most recognizable relic association with Jesus’ Passion, several others exist.

Three of these relics are located in Spain, where they have been studied by scientists and venerated by pilgrims for many years.

Lignum Crucis: A Relic of the True Cross

For more than 1200 years, the Franciscan monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana in Cantabria houses a relic believed to be a large part of the Cross of Christ.

This relic is known by its Latin name “Lignum Crucis” which means “Wood of the Cross,” and is believed to be the left horizontal arm of the Cross.

Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, went on a mission to Jerusalem, around 324 AD, to preserve the relics of the Lord's Passion. One of them was the True Cross, which made its way in Spain in the 16th century.

In 1958, some tests were carried out to verify the relic’s authenticity.

“They confirmed that the wood is from a tree that exists in the Holy Land and is older than 2000 years,” Fr. Juan Manuel Núñez, superior of the convent of Santo Toribio de Liébana told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner.

In addition, the DNA of the relic matches that of other smaller pieces of the cross that are preserved in different parts of the world.

The Holy Shroud of Oviedo

According to tradition, the shroud that covered the face of Jesus is kept in the Cathedral of Oviedo and is exposed to the public only three times a year: on Good Friday; on September 14, the Feast of the Holy Cross; and on September 21, the feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle, patron of the Spanish city.

Tradition holds that the Apostles venerated the relics of the Passion in Jerusalem, including this shroud, during the early years of Christianity. It was saved from the invading Persians in the 7th century and brought to Spain.

Jorge Manuel Rodríguez Almenar, president of the Spanish Center for Sindonology (the study of the shroud), has explained on numerous occasions that studies confirm that all the elements of the face of the Shroud of Oviedo fit those of the Shroud of Turin.

The last of these studies was carried out by the Catholic University of Murcia in Spain, which concluded that both fabrics enveloped the same person. The examination also indicated that the man of the Shroud of Turin and the man of the Shroud of Oviedo suffered the same wound to the side.

This detail agrees with John’s Gospel which records, “When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.”

The Holy Chalice of the Last Supper

According to tradition, the chalice that Jesus used during the Last Supper is preserved in the Valencia cathedral.

According to Fr. Jaime Sancho, custodian of the Holy Chalice, the most complete study of this object was made in 1960 and the evidence suggested a very high degree of confidence in the relic’s authenticity.

The cup dates back to the time of Jesus and is made of a type of agate stone that was only found in the Holy Land.

“No subsequent archaeological study has disproved this research. It is the only chalice that has stood up under criticism and historical research,” said Sancho in a July 2016 interview with ACI Prensa.

“When one looks at this relic, one discovers the love of God in the Eucharist and that is what converts people,” the priest said.

St. John Paul II venerated the chalice in the Valencia cathedral and used it for the consecration during his visit to Spain in 1982.

Pope Benedict XVI used the chalice during the Mass for the Fifth World Meeting of Families held in Valencia in 2006.

The Chapel of the Holy Chalice can be visited virtually here.

https://www.visitvalencia.com/en/santogrial

The Holy Thursday seven churches devotion

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2021 / 01:10 am (CNA).- The Visitation to Seven Churches is a Holy Thursday devotion primarily  practiced in Latin America, Italy, Poland and the Philippines.

It involves traveling to seven local churches after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday. These visits recall the final seven places Jesus went from his arrest on Holy Thursday to his death on Good Friday.

In each church, the pilgrim kneels before the Altar of Repose, meditates on the appropriate Scripture, and offers prayers and adoration. In this way, pilgrims seek to spiritually accompany Christ as he enters his Passion.

The first church recalls Jesus going from the Cenacle, where he celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he earnestly prayed and sweat blood in his agony over what was about to take place.

In the second church, the pilgrim meditates on Jesus being taken from the Garden of Gethsemane by the armed crowd to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas the high priest, where he was interrogated and slapped in the face.

In the third church, the prayer focuses on Jesus being brought to the house of Caiaphas, where he was beaten, spat upon, insulted and endured a painful night in captivity.

The focus of the reflection for the fourth church is the first time Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor of the region. There Jesus was accused by the Jewish religious authorities of being a rival king to Caesar.

In the fifth church, the pilgrim follows the Lord as he is taken to King Herod, who along with his guards mock him.

The sixth church recalls Jesus being taken from Herod and brought before Pilate for the second time and then scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked and condemned to death.

The last church commemorates Christ carrying the cross on his shoulders from the Praetorium, where Pilate yielded to the crowd’s demand for his crucifixion, to Mount Calvary where he suffered excruciating pain, died and was laid to rest in a nearby tomb until his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Divine Mercy Novena begins tomorrow

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2021 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The Divine Mercy Novena begins tomorrow, Good Friday.

Our Blessed Lord gave Sr. Faustina (for herself only initially) a Novena to His Mercy. She was to start it on Good Friday, that wonderful day when Christ first revealed how merciful and loving He was, by dying for us.

Sr. Faustina wrote in her diary that she began the Novena for the conversion of the whole world that all may recognize God's Mercy and that all souls may speak of His Goodness.

Jesus said: "I desire the confidence of My people. Let not even the weak and very sinful fear to approach Me, even if their sins be as numerous as all the sands of the earth they will be forgiven in the fathomless pit of My Mercy."

She received instructions on how to make this Novena: "During these nine days I want you to lead souls to the Fount of My Mercy, in order that they may draw from it strength, refreshment and all the graces they need in the trials of their lives, especially at the hour of death. Each day you will lead a different group of souls and immerse them in the sea of My Mercy. Each day You will beseech the Father through My Bitter Passion for graces for these souls."

This Novena can be made at any time, but it is recommended to begin it on Good Friday in preparation for the Feast of His Mercy, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter.

Jesus told Faustina that "The souls that will go to confession, in preparation, and communion on this day will obtain a complete remission of all sin and all punishment. .... On each day You will bring to My Heart a different group of souls and You will immerse them in this ocean of My Mercy, and I will bring all these souls into the House of My Father ... on each day you will beg My Father, on the strength of My Bitter Passion, for graces for these souls."

The novena consists of praying a daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy and daily prayer intentions. The novena is prayed as follows:

The Lord's Prayer

Hail Mary

Apostles' Creed

On each of the large Rosary beads say:

Eternal Father, I offer to You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

On each of the small Rosary beads say:

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Conclude by saying three times:

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

First Day

"Today bring to me all mankind, especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. In this way you will console me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges me." Most merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us to forgive us, do not look upon our sins, but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from it. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Eternal Father, turn Your Merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion show us Your Mercy, that we may praise the infinite power of Your Mercy, forever and forever. Amen.

Second Day

"Today bring to me the souls of Priests and Religious and immerse them in my unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave me strength to endure my bitter passion. Through them, as though channels, my mercy flows out upon mankind." Most Merciful Jesus, from whom comes all that is good, increase Your grace in men and women consecrated to Your service that they perform worthy works of mercy, and that all who see them may glorify the Father of Mercy who is in Heaven. Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the company of chosen ones in Your vineyard - upon the souls of Priests and Religious - and endow them with the strength of Your Blessing. For the Love of the Heart of Your Son in which they are enfolded, impart to them Your Power and Light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation, and with one voice sing praise to Your boundless Mercy for ages without end. Amen.

Third Day

"Today bring to me all devout and faithful souls and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. These souls brought me consolation on the Way of the Cross. They were that drop of consolation in the midst of an ocean of bitterness." Most Merciful Jesus, from the treasury of Your Mercy, You impart Your graces in great abundance to each and all. Receive us into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart and never let us escape from it. We beg this grace of You by that most wondrous love for the heavenly Father with which Your Heart burns so fiercely. Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon faithful souls, as upon the inheritance of Your Son. For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion grant them Your blessing and surround them with Your constant protection. Thus may they never fail in love or lose the treasure of the Holy Faith, but rather, with all the hosts of Angels and Saints, may they glorify Your boundless Mercy for endless ages. Amen.

Fourth Day

"Today bring to me those who do not believe in God and those who do not yet know me. I was thinking also of them during my bitter passion, and their future zeal comforted my heart. Immerse them in the ocean of my mercy."

Most Compassionate Jesus, You are the Light of the whole world. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who as yet do not believe in You or do not know You. Let the rays of Your Grace enlighten them that they, too, together with us, may extol Your wonderful Mercy, and do not let them escape from the abode which is Your Compassionate Heart.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls who do not believe in Your Son, and of those who as yet do not know You, but who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Draw them to the light of the Gospel. These souls do not know what great happiness it is to love You. Grant that they, too, may extol the generosity of Your Mercy for endless ages. Amen.

Fifth Day

"Today bring to me the souls who have separated from my Church and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. During my bitter passion they tore at my body and Heart, that is, my Church. As they return to unity with the Church, my wounds heal, and in this way they alleviate my passion." Most Merciful Jesus, Goodness Itself, You do not refuse light to those who seek it of You. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who have separated from Your Church. Draw them by Your Light into the unity of the Church, and do not let them escape from the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart; but bring it about that they, too, come to glorify the generosity of Your Mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your Merciful gaze upon the souls of those who are separated from Your Son's Church, especially those who have squandered Your Blessings and misused Your Graces by obstinately persisting in their errors. Do not look upon their errors, but upon the love of Your Own Son and upon His Bitter Passion, which He underwent for their sake, since they, too, are enclosed in His Most Compassionate Heart. Bring it about that they may glorify Your great Mercy for endless ages. Amen

Sixth Day

"Today bring to me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children and immerse them in my mercy. These souls most closely resemble my Heart. They strengthened me during my bitter agony. I saw them as earthly angels, who will keep vigil at my altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. Only the humble souls is capable of receiving my grace. I favor humble souls with my confidence." Most Merciful Jesus, You Yourself have said "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart". Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart all meek and humble souls and the souls of little children. These souls send all Heaven into ecstasy, and they are the Heavenly Father's favorites. They are a sweet-smelling bouquet before the Throne of God; God Himself takes delight in their fragrance. These souls have a permanent abode in Your Most Compassionate Heart, O Jesus, and they unceasingly sing out a hymn of love and mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your Merciful gaze upon meek and humble souls and upon the souls of little children, who are enfolded in the abode which is the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls bear the closest resemblance to Your Son. Their fragrance rises from the earth and reaches Your very Throne. Father of Mercy and of all Goodness, I beg You by the love You bear these souls and by the delight You take in them. Bless the whole world, that all souls together may sing out the praises of Your Mercy for endless ages. Amen.

Seventh Day

"Today bring to me the souls who especially venerate and glorify my mercy and immerse them in my mercy. These souls sorrowed most over my passion and entered most deeply into my spirit. They are living images of my compassionate heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell. I shall particularly defend each one of them at the hour of death." Most Merciful Jesus, whose Heart is Love Itself, receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who particularly extol and venerate the greatness of Your Mercy. These souls are mighty with the very power of God Himself. In the midst of all afflictions and adversities they go forward confident of Your Mercy. These souls are united to Jesus and carry all mankind on their shoulders. These souls will not be judged severely, but Your Mercy will embrace them as they depart from this life.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls who glorify and venerate Your greatest attribute, that of Your fathomless Mercy, and who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls are a living Gospel; their hands are full of deeds of mercy and their spirits, overflowing with joy, sing a canticle of mercy to You, O Most High! I beg You O God: show them Your Mercy according to the hope and trust they have placed in You. Let there be accomplished in them the Promise of Jesus, who said to them that during their life, but especially at the hour of death, the souls who will venerate this fathomless Mercy of His, He, Himself, will defend as His Glory. Amen

Eighth Day

"Today bring to me the souls who are detained in purgatory and immerse them in the abyss of my mercy. Let the torrents of my Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are really loved by me. They are making retribution to my justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all indulgences from the treasury of my Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt for my justice." Most Merciful Jesus, You Yourself have said that You desire mercy; so I bring into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls in Purgatory, souls who are very dear to You, and yet, who must make retribution to Your justice. May the streams of Blood and Water which gushed forth from Your Heart put out the flames of Purgatory, that there, too, the power of Your mercy may be celebrated.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls suffering in Purgatory, who are enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. I beg You, by the sorrowful Passion of Jesus Your Son, and by all the bitterness with which His most sacred Soul was flooded: Manifest Your mercy to the souls who are under Your just scrutiny. Look upon them in no other way but only through the Wounds of Jesus, Your dearly beloved Son; for we firmly believe that there is no limit to Your goodness and compassion. Amen.

Ninth Day

"Today bring to me souls who have become lukewarm and immerse them in the abyss of my mercy. These souls wound my Heart most painfully. My souls suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: "Father, take this cup away from me, if it be Your will". For them the last hope of salvation is to run to my mercy." Most Compassionate Jesus, You are Compassion Itself. I bring lukewarm souls into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart. In this fire of Your Pure Love let these tepid souls, who, like corpses, filled You with such deep loathing, be once again set aflame. O Most Compassionate Jesus, exercise the omnipotence of Your Mercy and draw them into the very ardor of Your Love; and bestow upon them the gift of Holy Love, for nothing is beyond Your power.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon lukewarm souls who are nonetheless enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Father of Mercy, I beg You by the bitter passion of Your Son and by His three-hour agony on the Cross, let them too, glorify the Abyss of Your Mercy.

Amen

Based on an article from CatholicExpert.com. Printed with permission.