Christ is Risen!
Happy Easter to you all.
I hope that these past two week, Holy Week and Easter Week, have been grace-filled.
If you will permit me, I want to step back a bit and give a few reflections from my experience of Holy Week. Classes were suspended for Holy Week and Easter Week giving us the opportunity to travel and spend the holiest time of the year with our communities, families and friends. This year I have become close to a parish here in Rome that I often frequent whenever I can on Sundays. The parish is named in honor of a 6th century Roman Noblewomen Saint Galla, who was known for her service to the city's poor and a miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary which she entrusted to the Pope John I. The parish of Saint Galla is outside the city center somewhat near St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls and was built in 1930's to accommodate Rome's expanding population.
Holy Week started out with the Mass of the Lord's Passion on Palm Sunday. The parish has a quaint little garden set apart from the busy street that provided the perfect place to begin the procession. In the garden there were even a few olive trees and palm trees which provided a few of the faithful some extra branches when the supply of olive branches ran low. Luckily the trees were tall enough so as not to lose all their branches. The Masses were packed that morning as people came to have their olive branches blessed. I smiled when Don Paolo assured the people that their branches were indeed blessed even if the holy water didn't reach them. In the afternoon I enjoyed lunch with the family of my friend. They just live across the street from the parish. Then later that evening the children who are to make their First Communion this year put on a little play. It was quite good.
Holy Thursday started with a delicious lunch with all the priests of the parish, the pastor (Don Paolo) and the associate pastor along with three or four student priests from other countries who lend a hand during the weekend. The lunch was a beautiful time for us to thank the Lord for the gift of priesthood conferred on the apostles that day. I was impressed by how the priests made themselves available to hear confessions that week. I always saw at least two of them in the confessionals during the day while I was setting things up in the church. I asked the young associate pastor if extra hours of confessions made him tired. He replied simply saying "This is why I became a priest." What a great example...
Good Friday was beautiful as well. The liturgy of that day is quite impressive and moving as you all know well. During the adoration of the cross, I was really stuck by the universality of the Cross of Christ. I have such strong memories of holding the cross as an altar server as a boy. Now thousands of miles from home I see that same beautiful gesture of kissing the wood of the cross. It is a good reminder for me that the Cross of Christ is universal. It is for all. Then I went with Giorgio to the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum led by Pope Francis.
Holy Saturday always seems like such a long day. Maybe it is the anticipation of that evening's vigil. Whatever it is, time seemed to go slowly. I spent the morning cleaning the chapel's at the NAC as part of my house job. We had our rehearsal for the Easter Vigil in the early evening which went smooth. Sometimes I felt like I was more of a burden then a help when it came to serving the Mass. The servers knew exactly what to do and are well trained where as I struggled sometimes just to understand the instructions let alone give any guidance. Fortunately, even though it was obviously all in Italian the Mass is the same. The Vigil was as beautiful as ever. My favorite moment is when during the Gloria I could hear the bells in the bell tower ringing. There is nothing like the sound of bells to announce the Easter Joy. The Vigil lasted until about 1 AM at which point I was exhausted, but so was the young associate pastor who was still kind enough to drive me home so that I didn't have to attempt to use the night buses. So much joy!
Easter morning I slept in and went to the Papal Mass in St. Peter's Square which was spectacular. The sky was so blue with the sun shining. Perfect weather. I also stayed in the square for the Pope's Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city and to the world. Then I went back to the NAC for a big Easter lunch with a few of the other seminarians who were still in Rome.
I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful way to spend Holy Week. It was so good to be in a parish for all the liturgies during Holy Week. As a young altar server, I grew up serving the various liturgies during Holy Week. It is there I really fell in love with the Mass, the mysteries of our faith, and the priesthood. So it was a great blessing to be once again in a parish setting, albeit not the same as being at Holy Family Parish in East Tawas. My thoughts and prayers were focused often on everyone back home and in the diocese. Nonetheless the experience of being in a parish in a different cultural setting is unforgettable and will hopefully prepare me for the future.