All of us were disappointed when we couldn’t celebrate Holy Week, Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday this year in the ways we are used to: praying together at Holy Week services, attending Mass in our parish churches with choirs singing “Alleluia,” partaking in the sacrament of holy Communion and being sprinkled with newly blessed holy water.
Holy Week was a week of sadness, loss and the voicing of mixed feelings.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, originally from Richland Center, Wis., and now working in Rome, wrote on his website cardinalburke.com on March 21 advocating public gatherings for Mass and prayer. “Historically, in times of pestilence,” he pointed out, “the faithful gathered in fervent prayer and took part in processions.”
Also responding to calls for public Masses, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan (a former archbishop of Milwaukee) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Easter morning: “God gave us common sense, and God told us we have to pay attention to the common good.”
He, like bishops across the United States, said he planned to listen to doctors, scientists and civil authorities about when to allow public prayer and Masses. “God is telling us to use your brain,” the cardinal said to those who would risk themselves and others at public gatherings. “Use your prudence. Use your common sense. Don’t tempt the Lord.”
Despite everyone’s disappointments and fears, Easter Sunday came. With apologies to the late Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), “It came all the same.”
Easter came without lilies, it came without choirs; it came without incense, shared candles and fires.
And like those Whos down in Whoville, we still welcomed its dawn with prayers and Masses on TV, YouTube and Facebook Live. Without chocolates, egg hunts or Easter basket grass, without people gathering at churches for Mass, Easter came.
It just came in new ways. It came with bells in the air instead inside churches. At Easter noon, in our diocese and dioceses across Wisconsin, we stood on our porches and rang any bell at hand for a full minute. In churches nearby, steeples echoed the sound.
It came without family parties. Instead, there were family phone calls and video chats. Without family meals, there were smaller gatherings — but still with familiar prayers of grace and signs of love. Instead of Easter parties, there were Easter cards, window displays and chalked messages on driveways. There may not have been public Easter meals run by volunteers, but there were donations all the same — to food pantries and parishes, shelters and Catholic Relief Services. (The need for these continues throughout these 50 days of Easter and beyond.)
In communion with Jesus’ sacrifice, there were other sacrifices of love and devotion. Health care workers showed up on the job, as did pharmacists, grocery store clerks, food delivery personnel and emergency responders. And, unique to Wisconsin, many of us so strongly love the health of our communities, state and nation that we risked exposure to COVID-19 to stand in lines in a spring election that was not allowed to be delayed.
Farmers still farmed, police still policed, fire fighters fought fires and priests still prayed for their people. (As did deacons, religious men and women, and all parish and diocesan staff.)
Yes, Easter was different this year. Pray God it won’t be as different next year and we will all gather together, safe and sound, in our churches and at our family dinner tables.
But remember, Easter came.
Despite everything thrown at us — pandemic, crowded polling places, northern snowstorms (12 inches in Argonne, Wis.) or southern tornadoes on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday — Easter came just the same.
Why? Because, just like our churches, the tomb was empty. As Christians, we know that the empty tomb didn’t mean Jesus had left. It meant God had gone out to be among his people, wherever they were. And he still does. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
So Easter came. And it will come every day, to the hearts of God’s beloved people. It comes all the same.