An Easter People – Orla Walsh
When my mother brought home wallpaper and paint, it meant that we were preparing for Easter. We didn’t ever prepare for Christmas the way we prepared for Easter. There was always a room to be decorated and curtains to be taken down, hand-washed and pressed. We were regularly reminded of her youth, when the walls of her homeplace were ‘whitewashed and the hedges clipped.’ One might suggest that Mammy was doing the spring cleaning; however, she very openly attributed any and all of her work to the risen Jesus. As children, Easter was a big event in our lives.
In my own family, there is a similar sense of preparation. Easter and the hope it embodies carries us forward as well as making sense of our past. Once, on the way to Holy Thursday Mass, our daughter was chatting to me about a primary school project entitled ‘Saint John Paul II’s visit to Ireland.’ I told her about how amazing it was to be in the Pope’s presence, the emotion I had experienced when the popemobile drove past us in the Phoenix park, and how the Pope’s visit had been such a huge national event. Later, during the Mass, she leaned over to me and enquired: ‘Did Jesus ever visit Ireland?’ ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘He visits all the time, and He is about to arrive on the altar right now; when you hear the bells ringing, you will know He is here.’ I must admit tears sprung to my eyes when I saw her wide-eyed with wonder as the bells rang out louder and longer for the Holy Thursday Gloria.
Easter is a blessed and holy time for any family. The brighter evenings and rising temperature herald hope. Lambs and snowdrops announce renewal. For people of faith there is so much more. Jesus broke through the barriers of sin and death. Jesus is present to everyone, not just the people who follow Him and celebrate Him. Easter is a time of rejoicing and jubilation at the unconditional love poured out for all.
The Easter Triduum is an even more intensive time of preparation, and brings Lent to its climax. Pope John Paul II explained: ‘By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church was born and set out upon the pathways of the world, yet a decisive moment in her taking shape was certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper room. Her foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum … but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated” forever in the gift of the Eucharist.’ The last supper shared in the upper room is the ‘source and summit’ of the Church. The individual liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil mark not isolated events, but a single blessed event. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday does not end with a final blessing; rather, that blessing is given at the conclusion of the Easter Vigil.
The Easter Triduum is what I can only describe as an annual retreat. Our own family have prayed through primary school playground squabbles, adolescent angst and anger, young adulthood decisions and all that goes on in between. Most of all, we have prayed with and for each other. Each part of the Easter Triduum offers the opportunity to be blessed and broken in equal amounts.
With Holy Thursday comes the initiation of the sacrament of the Eucharist, a willing of the soul to ‘stay awake’ and prepare for what has to come. Good Friday breaks the human heart open with sadness and loss, until the Easter Vigil showers hope with the joy of the Risen Lord. A cherished memory is of Oisín ringing the bells for the entire and beautifully sung Gloria during an Easter Vigil in Trim. This precious ritual and symbolic action filled my heart with a searing love of the Lord, along with endless gratitude for the faith that was gifted to me. In those moments, I experienced gratitude for our son, my parents, our community, and for the love of God offered through faith. Such powerful liturgy! Such a joy to look forward to! In 1976, Dr SM Lockridge, a Baptist pastor, was asked to describe Jesus. He replied that Jesus was his ‘King’. He was then asked to describe his ‘King’. A very famous explanation unfolded that included the following:
‘… Well, the Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him… Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my King …’
Dr Orla Walsh is Deputy Principal of Mount Sackville Secondary School, Sisters of Cluny, Chapelizod, Dublin.
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