Why as Catholics, do we put so much emphasis on Easter? Perhaps the answer lies in the opening prayer of Easter Sunday Mass:
“Oh God who on this day through your Only Begotten Son have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity.”
I know sometimes we fail to understand just how much of Jesus’ suffering and death was truly real. As children attending Catholic school we were taught about all these things. It was in religion class where we learned that Easter Sunday was the greatest Holy Day of them all. I remember thinking back then, clearly, they’ve got this wrong. After all, how can an Easter basket with eggs and candy compare to Christmas?
As I gaze back in my past, memories of Good Friday seemed like the hardest day of all. We were sent home from school at 11:00. During the homily at Mass in the morning, we were given instructions from the Sisters that we needed to be silent between the hours of noon and 3:00. It was these hours that Jesus walked His road to Calvary. And of course, 3:00 was the hour he died.
“Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
As a reminder of the suffering Jesus experienced we were told to be silent during these hours. “Silent? Are you kidding me?”
Silence was not my strong suit. Everyone has a point of no return, and my Achilles heel was being silent. I was challenged being silent for ten minutes, let alone three hours.
My brothers and sisters would tease me about this mercilessly. My brother Mike and my sister Mary always held out for the full three hours and were in silent prayer the entire time. Not so much for me. My mother tried to help me by handing me a rosary and telling me that I should pray the rosary twice and that would help with my silence. My sister Judy would make me laugh or my brother Tom would tease me and I was talking and laughing at the same time. My mother would send me to a bedroom alone and tell me I needed to work harder at trying to be silent. Even when alone, I was singing to myself, or thinking about going to a friend’s house at exactly 3:01. For me this “no talking” thing was brutal.
At 6:00 we walked to church to attend the Stations of the Cross. My mother wanted this to be part of our Lenten experience. We were expected to get ashes on Ash Wednesday and participate in all the Lenten services. My mother insisted that Good Friday was a day for prayer. As a young girl, for me, all I could think of is let this day be done! At least on Holy Saturday all we had to do was go to Mass. In the evening, we would color our Easter eggs. I had younger brothers and sisters, so we did Easter baskets. At least we could look forward to that.
We were so happy when Easter Sunday arrived. Most of the time we would give something up for Lent. Easter Sunday would come and allow us to have whatever we gave up. I remember feeling relief in not having to think about a sad Jesus.
Easter Sunday started with Mass. My Dad sang in the choir. We would have a big dinner in the early afternoon. We didn’t have money for new dresses although I have to admit, I was envious when I saw my classmates at church wearing their new pastel-colored dresses and Easter hats. If I mentioned this to my mother she would remind me that beauty in church is with God, not a new dress. In spite of my inadequate view of the week, even at a young age, I did comprehend the meaning behind some of these traditions. I remember telling my friends that I would be over on Easter Monday to play. They responded by asking, “What do you mean? Easter is over. What’s Easter Monday? Sometimes you Catholics talk weird. You wear dirt on your head and then you get out of school early and then you are told to be silent for three hours. Catholics are strange.” They didn’t understand the meaning behind some of our traditions. Interestingly enough, I remember defending them. I even remember defending the “no talking” one.
I am grateful to my mother for encouraging our participation in all things about Lent and Easter. Sometimes we don’t appreciate it when we are a child, but as an adult we have a clearer understanding of the holiest day of the year — Easter!
“We confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen” (The Nicene Creed; A.D. 381)
Copyright 2017 Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh