Reflection by a city priest
April 20, 2020
St. Peter’s Square was empty, the media reported.
Even before the holiest week, on a dark Friday evening,
leading the “Urbi and Orbi” blessing and prayer for Rome and the World,
“Pope Francesco was standing alone,
under the rain, praying for it to end,”
delivering “an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul.” (1)
Churches in many parts of the globe were shut down,
public Masses and gatherings were suspended,
worship spaces became hauntingly empty and eerily silent.
Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday came and passed silently.
There were no prayers and incense, no hymns and processions with big crowds,
no Passion Narrative, no foot washing, no adoration of the Cross in packed churches.
There was even no noticeable sign of the mother of all liturgies:
The Easter Vigil – the most glorious celebration of the Sacred Triduum.
The rising sun shed light on a surreally quiet Resurrection Sunday.
Church bells in Montréal rang loudly this day to spread hope and comfort.
Was it God’s answer to the “thick darkness…over our squares, our streets and our cities;
it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void”?(2)
Nevertheless human hearts were throbbing, minds were searching,
prayers were rising like incense, liturgies were celebrated – only in novel ways:
TV Mass. Live-streamed Eucharist. Zoom liturgies.
They were virtual and from a distance,
but the presence of the Lord and the bond with the community were felt.
The locked doors in Jerusalem (3) or shelter-in-place in San Jose could not stop the Risen One.
Palm Sunday was real in the heart’s longing for the One who came,
in the hands folding in prayer instead of holding a palm frond.
Holy Thursday was real in the care and compassion for the sick – not just their feet,
in the “breaking of bread” through groceries for neighbors and food distribution to strangers.
Good Friday was real in our own suffering and abandonment,
and in hope as we lifted up our eyes from the hypnotizing Coronavirus to the Cross, the Crucified.
Easter Vigil came just in time as we have held a month-long vigil in darkness and fear.
We were not near the Paschal Candle, but the Light of Christ began shining in darkness.
We were not close to the Baptismal Water, but have been refreshed by Christ, the Living Water.
We were not near the Book of the Gospels, but our hearts have been set aflame by the Living Word.
We could not approach the Eucharistic Table, but the Bread of Life is within us.
Our “Hallelujah” was and is continually sung within our hearts.
Who can say that the Holy Week was not celebrated this year?
(1) John L. Allen Jr, “Francis on Friday delivered an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul,” Cruxnow.com,
May 29, 2020.
(2) Pope Francis’ reflection at the Urbi et Orbi blessing and prayer, March 27, 2020.
(3) John 20:19-31, Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday).