Bishop McCarthy's Easter Letter
My dear people,
As the great feast of Easter approaches, my mind wonders back to the night of the Easter Vigil in 2009. I am beside a baptismal font. The lights in the church are dim, four adults stand ready to walk down into baptismal pool. The voice of God had led them into the Catholic Church, as the prayer of Easter Night announced, ‘on this most sacred night, in which the Lord Jesus passed from death to life, the church calls her sons and daughters scattered throughout the world to come together.’
These people standing by the font had heard in the liturgy of Holy Thursday: how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and, in turn, invited them and us to lives of service. On Good Friday afternoon in the ancient liturgy, they had heard the Passion according to St John inviting them and us into the streets of ancient Jerusalem to watch, listen and feel the last few hours of Jesus’ life. We engaged with the Passion, reverenced the wood of the Cross and joined in Holy Communion with the Crucified yet Risen Lord. These people now wait at the side of the font anticipating being buried in the waters of baptism with the Risen Lord whom we worship.
Easter Night, the final part of three day celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (the Triduum), begins in darkness. We listen to the grand story of the unfolding of God’s creation, the stories of God’s call to journey in faith. We hear with Mary of Magdala and the other Mary the announcement, ‘He is not here, for he has risen.’
Our people at the side of the font stand waiting with nervous anticipation for this moment. Now they are to enter into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ: they are to be baptised. In preparation for this moment, these neophytes had walked with our Church for many months, years, even decades. Some were married to a Catholic and then decided to be baptised, some were attracted to the teachings of Jesus, some wanted a stable core in their lives and some wanted to belong to a community of faith. They had been prepared by the Catholic community who had walked beside them, supported their faith journey at regular meetings, sat with them each week at Mass and then explained the faith.
Now they enter the font. Crouching low and semi-immersed in the holy water, the ancient words that have been used for twenty centuries ring out over them and through the church, I baptise you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Their sponsors assist them up and, thoroughly wet, they stand and are welcomed by a full church of fellow Catholics, cheering and clapping. What a welcome they receive as they join our Catholic family.
After the baptism, the newly baptised return dressed in white as a symbol of their new membership of this community and then they are anointed with the perfumed oil of Chrism—the sign of the Holy Spirit—which was consecrated prior to Holy Thursday. Later they are led to the Eucharistic Table for the very first time.
For me, this experience was repeated in the coming years and each time more were added to the baptismal party. These included young people and children. In fidelity to the Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil is the appropriate time for adults, children of catechetical age and infants to be initiated into the Church.
The days of the Triduum - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter day - are the high point of the Church’s liturgical life. Central to this time is initiation.
I would encourage all parishes to reinstate or renew the ancient practice of the Church that was revived by the Second Vatican Council, namely the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This is the Church to which we belong and it is at the Easter Vigil that we welcome our new people. Prepare well for these days and enter them with faith and hope. May you experience the joy of Easter as you witness so many people of faith commit themselves once again to following Jesus who is risen and with us.
Most Reverend Bishop Michael McCarthy