By FATHER JOHN C. KIERAN, Commentary | Published April 1, 2010
Celebrating the Holy Week liturgies is a special joy for me. I had the advantage of attending the secondary school attached to the primer center for liturgical training in Ireland, Glenstal Abbey. There all Catholic liturgical rites are observed to perfection.
Each year I have tried to pass on that learning and celebrate the paschal passage with exuberance. Over time I have come to appreciate more the richness of our liturgies and the power of their symbolism. Even after retirement age I relish the extra work and planning that make for good Holy Week liturgies.
This year I have been reflecting a lot on the Service of Light at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. This once-a-year ceremony reintroduced by Vatican II reforms emphasizes the biblical theme of “light” conquering “darkness.” Here the dramatic sequence of: waiting in darkness, a blazing fire, processing and proclaiming CHRIST OUR LIGHT leads to the very heart of the paschal event.
In symbol and in song the liturgy of light reaffirms the Gospel teaching: “I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5). Jesus is our “light from light,” in whom we have salvation.
I propose we rethink and pray using the theme of light to make the Holy Week events more palatable—especially for non-Christians. While the cross (crucifix) will always remain “the” Christian symbol, there are other ways to express the Savior’s passage from death to life.
The Service of Light culminates with a joyous singing of the Exsultet honoring Christ as our light. Thereafter the Easter candle burns at an honored place in the sanctuary for the entire Easter season. The great candle and its symbolism continually remind Christians of Christ’s victory: light over darkness.
In the same vein the Constitution on the Church opens by proclaiming: “Christ is the light of humanity” who desires the enlightenment of all people everywhere. This application of Christ as the light for all people poses ecumenical possibilities. Surely those other religions who seek wisdom and truth can relate to Jesus as Light?
It is troubling that so little progress has been made in the field of interreligious studies—notably Islam—at a time when wars are being fought over faith issues. Have we failed by emphasizing Jesus and his cross as the “only” way to salvation? Have we voided dialogue by reintroducing the Good Friday petition for the conversion of Jews? Would not presenting Jesus as the “light of the world” open more doors of dialogue?
I rejoice during this Year for Priests and its observance here at St. Pius. Our Vocations Committee invited all parish groups to sponsor some activity that would highlight the role and work of the ordained priests. We had a wonderful spread of events from a poetry reading using works by priest authors, dinners, prayer novenas and open discussions.
As a result I sense a stronger priest and people cooperation in ministry. Discussing the role of the ordained priest led to acknowledging the common priesthood received at baptism. The many extra prayers and thoughtful activities resulted in a deeper awareness that we are all called to let the light of Christ shine out in whatever role or status we hold within Christ’s body.
Recently some parishioners have excelled in giving strong leadership in establishing a branch of the interchurch Family Promise Organization in Rockdale County. This lay-led church cooperative helps homeless families get restarted. Many volunteers from the cluster churches will help feed, counsel, instruct, transport selected homeless families until they have secured work and shelter. Family Promise has 160 affiliates across the country and has a 60 percent success rate in reestablishing homeless families. The average time taken is 58 days.
In the months and years ahead many St. Pius parishioners will radiate the light of Christ by their involvement with Family Promise and other Christian activities. They will carry the flame of faith-action to the workplace and to their social encounters. They bring the message of the Easter fire and paschal candle to others.
As I write several parishioners are currently serving others at our sister parish in Haiti, under the leadership of Dr. Michael Manning. Each year our medical mission teams bring medical aid and faith sharing to our neighbor country, so desperately poor and often forgotten.
My role is to equip our twenty-first century disciples by way of prayer, instruction and homily. That is my joy, my work, for which I am ever grateful. At this glorious time I pray for all, following the collect prayer for Easter Sunday:
May the risen Lord breathe on our minds and open our eyes that we may know him in the breaking of bread, and follow him in his risen life. Amen.
Father Kieran, pastor of St. Pius X Church, Conyers, has been a priest for over 42 years.