What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because … the earth was in terror and was still. These words could have been pulled from the evening news or an online update of the current state of the world as our usually bustling cities have been silenced by the measures taken to suppress further spread of COVID-19. In reality, these words are the opening lines of an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, which is read each year as a part of the Liturgy of Hours at St. Norbert Abbey and across the world. This ancient homily describes the great silence that descends upon the earth as Jesus, the Incarnate God, lies silent entombed in the earth. Perhaps this year, these words are even more poignant as we reflect on the great silence that has truly descended upon the earth.
A few weeks ago when all the restrictions on travel, work and even Easter celebrations were announced a friend of mine texted and asked, “if there is no Easter Mass, does Lent continue?” Jokingly I responded, “For sinners like you and me, Lent continues indefinitely.” In some ways, confined to our homes for a time indefinite, it certainly seems that Lent will continue and we will remain entombed in our homes separated from our extended families, our parish and social communities.
In reality, Jesus did not lay silently in the tomb, but rather, as we profess in the creed and the ancient homily beautifully details, Jesus descends to the realm of the dead to proclaim to all those who have died before him: Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.
In reality, although we will not gather in person this year for the sacred liturgies of Holy Week, Christ will indeed rise. And perhaps this Easter we will hunger for the presence of the Risen Christ like we have never hungered before. On Easter Sunday, although we will gather virtually rather than physically, Jesus Christ will rise! For now, we will be comforted by the truth that we are always connected as the body of Christ. And when we do gather once again, we will truly know that he is risen, he is risen, indeed!
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned Master of Divinity and Theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.