My dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus:
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week in solemn preparation for the celebration on Easter Sunday of Christ’s glorious Resurrection. For over two years during the pandemic, there have been many challenges in celebrating the sacred liturgies of the Church including the solemn observances during Holy Week. Now that the previous restrictions about the size or number in attendance have been lifted and our churches continue to provide clean and safe environments, I pray that attendance at Holy Week ceremonies will very significantly improve. Already before the pandemic, attendance at these beautiful liturgies was in decline.
As we reflect upon the events recalled in Holy Week by which Jesus Christ renewed humanity and won for us our salvation, I wish to invite you, my dear sisters and brothers, to the Solemn Mass of Chrism on Tuesday of Holy Week, April 12, 2022, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, at 6 p.m. At this Mass our priests in union with the Diocesan Bishop renew their priestly promises to conform themselves more closely to Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, and “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ, the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain but moved only by zeal for souls.”
In turn, the faithful are entreated to “pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to Him, Who is the source of our salvation.” I also plead for your prayers, asking “that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness and that in your midst I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and the Servant of all” (Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition, 2011).
Please join us on this very special day for our priests and for me who so much appreciate the cooperation and collaboration of our people and all you do to build up our parishes, apostolates, charitable agencies, schools and religious-education programs.
At this same Mass the blessing of the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens and the consecration of the Sacred Chrism take place. In blessing the Oil of the Sick, the Bishop prays that “everyone anointed with this oil as a safeguard for body, soul and spirit may be freed from all pain, all infirmity, all sickness.” Through the priestly ministry, the Sacrament of the Sick brings the comfort, consolation and pardon of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician.
During the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, those to be baptized are anointed with the Oil of Catechumens, “that, receiving divine wisdom and power, they may understand more deeply the Gospel of Christ,” and “may undertake with a generous heart the labors of the Christian life, and, made worthy of adoption as [Christ’s] sons and daughters, they may rejoice to be born anew and to live in [His] Church.”
The consecration of the Chrism prayerfully beseeches Our Lord “to pour into it the strength of the Holy Spirit” upon the baptized, those confirmed and those ordained to the Order of Priest and to the Order of Bishop. Those anointed with the Sacred Chrism receive the strength of the Holy Spirit to “make them partakers of eternal life and sharers of heavenly glory” (cf. The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism, January, 2019).
Holy Week continues with the awesome celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the great feast of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Priesthood. On this solemn evening, we adore Jesus Christ present body, blood, soul and divinity, in this august Sacrament, the very heart and center, the source and summit of our Catholic faith. We commemorate the gift of the priesthood, which places Christ upon our altars in the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.” On Good Friday we prayerfully commemorate the Sacred Passion of Our Beloved Savior, the supreme sacrifice of Christ crucified, that we might be redeemed. As we look upon the Cross, the Crucifix, we see the perfection of love, humility, forgiveness and compassion. In the very words of Jesus: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Where shall we be on Good Friday as the words of Jesus to Peter are recalled: “Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37). How sad it is that Good Friday will not be noticed by some! Please God, this will not be the case in our parishes and our churches will be filled as those salvific words ring out: “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world” (Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition, 2011).
On Holy Saturday we celebrate “the greatest and most noble of all solemnities,” the Easter Vigil. At this beautiful Vigil, our sisters and brothers enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) will be fully incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church by receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist; others seeking full communion with the Church will profess their faith in the Creed that binds and unites us; others will complete their Sacraments of Initiation. This glorious Vigil’s essence is described in the hymn of Easter praise, the Easter Proclamation, the Exultet, in which we hear these words sung before the lighted Paschal Candle: “This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld…. May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen” (ibid.).
Now it is Easter Sunday, and all the Alleluias ring out the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. The Son of God has conquered death and opened for us the gates of heaven. This light of the Paschal Candle, the Light of Christ, now shines through the darkness of this life’s many hardships and acts of inhumanity. The light shines if only we allow it to burn in our hearts and take our places as Christ’s disciples wherever we live, work or find ourselves. We are called to be the bearers of life and light, proclaiming the message of Jesus: Every life, from conception to natural death is sacred. Because life is precious, we feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; welcome the foreigner seeking refuge from violence and war; we work to end poverty; we reverence the family where children are safe and mothers and fathers recognize the beauty of their vocations – yes, we become truly the sons and daughters of God!
How much I pray this will be a true Holy Week with your active and prayerful participation. And let’s not forget the wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, in which Jesus, through the priestly ministry of the Church, forgives, comforts, raises up and renews all who seek His mercy. May we all hear in our minds and feel in our hearts the greeting of Jesus to His disciples on the evening of that first Easter Sunday: “Peace be with you!” (Luke 24:36).
Throughout the writing of this message, I had in my heart and mind, before my eyes, the persecution and suffering of the people of Ukraine and the countless innocent lives lost both in Ukraine and Russia. This Holy Week should unite us all in prayer, imploring the Prince of Peace that His Easter greeting of peace will become a reality for our suffering sisters and brothers, the innocent victims of this tragic war.
Knowing that in Christ all things are possible, we continue to look to Him to find hope, the hope shining forth from the empty tomb!
Wishing you a blessed and joyous Easter, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester