April 16, 2020
Dear Parishioners and Friends:
Paschal greetings to you and your loved ones as we commemorate the Solemnity of the Octave of Easter this year. Again, I realize the surreal nature of our current and limited physical participation at the Altar but, nonetheless, we are called to witness to Easter joy in these holy days. As your pastor, it has been so edifying for me to observe your faithfulness in “virtually participating” in the Holy Week services this year, especially the Paschal Triduum movements live-streamed, by way of Facebook and then the parish website. While there is no substitute for our real participation in the Ecclesial act of the Mass, it does indeed warm my heart knowing that you were connected in prayer and identified as the St. Francis de Sales Parish family on social media. Again, your smiling faces and those of your children and grandchildren are deeply missed on this holy hill! Hopefully, brighter days are coming when we can congregate once again at 1 Guthrie Lane!
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all who worked so hard in producing worship aids and videos to enhance our participation in the live-streamed Holy Week movements. A flood of familiar faces and parish campus scenes along with beautiful music from past Triduum celebrations here at St. Francis de Sales stirred our minds and hearts and hopefully brought all of us comfort and enjoyment as we await more normal times and celebrations to come. I am grateful, too, for so many family photos sent to me by texting and email over the past week. It was refreshing to see you!
Before I address the significance of the Easter Octave for us, I would like to draw attention to the unsung heroes who have manifested outstanding generosity and compassion for others during the weeks of Stay Home directives. Younger relatives, neighbors and friends have checked on our elderly and more vulnerable citizens and have supported them during these times of containment. Many have called others, offered to grocery shop for them or even prepared meals for their loved ones and friends. Parishioners have informed me of their donations to local food pantries and Catholic Charities West Virginia. Many have shared with me of their prayers for the lonely, self-isolated and emotionally distraught as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated anxieties felt by most of the Country in not being able to support their families because of the economic shutdown. What a powerful witnessing to our Easter faith in action! Such individuals, parishioners, and groups of concerned citizens are the unsung heroes of this unprecedented time in our history. Blessed are those who bring hope, relief, consolation and compassion to their neighbors, friends and loved ones!
Now, let’s focus on the “brightness” of the first eight days of the Easter Season called the Octave. Side note: Christmas, too, enjoys an Octave celebration but its observance is not as ancient as the Paschal Octave. The Easter Octave, or first eight days, is liturgically treated as if it were One Great Sunday that witnessed the Resurrection of the Lord. In fact, the Gospel narratives of each day of this week (appropriately called Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc.) present the day of Easter itself with a journal-like description of the events of the early hours, midafternoon and evening of that day when Christ rose triumphantly from the tomb and was revealed to eyewitnesses as the Victor over death and power of darkness. The Mass each day of the week commemorates solemnity with the Gloria being prayed, the Preface I of Easter is used with a special insert of “on this day”, when Eucharistic Prayer One is used, it includes a special mentioning of the Easter mystery a couple of times and the Mass concludes with the chanting of the dismissal followed by a double “Alleluia”.
Historically the Easter Octave was specified “in albis” with the newly baptized distinguished and dressed in their white baptismal garments through Sunday of the Octave which was called Dominica in Albis or Sunday in white garments. Only after this second Sunday of the Easter celebration did the newly baptized take their places among the Community of the Baptized (the Church) in the Eucharistic celebration. Of course, in our day, the Second Sunday of Easter (the actual Octave day) may be called Divine Mercy Sunday, with special devotional significance promoted by St. John Paul II. Today many hold the celebratory nature of this day as something new but, as history attests, it has always been highlighted and associated with baptismal dignity bestowed on those whose sins are washed away in the Baptismal Font. The Opening Prayer (Collect) of the Mass of the Second Sunday begins “God of everlasting mercy,” and the Gospel narrative is fixed (not rotated by the usual three year cycle) with the annual reading of John 20, 19-31 wherein the Risen Lord Jesus mercifully bestows His Easter gift to the Church: the forgiveness of our sins. Incidentally, the Gospel pericope of the day opens with the evening of Easter and concludes a week later; that is precisely where we find ourselves on the Octave day of Easter (the second Sunday of Easter), a week later!
The Paschaltide or Easter Season continues even as the sun goes down on the Second Sunday of Easter formerly called Dominica in Albis or now more popularly acclaimed “Divine Mercy” Sunday. The solemnity distinction fades at this time but the Easter Season carries us through six more weeks until we close with a bang on the Fiftieth Day called the Solemnity of Pentecost. Enjoy the festive nature of this sacred time of the year and keep in mind the primacy of the entire Christian calendar which rests on the sacred Paschal Triduum and then overflows in Easter joy for an entire season of grace and mercy.
Stay well, stay safe and stay strong in the Easter faith of the Church which rejoices in the forgiveness of our sins by way of the Crucified and Risen Lord’s gift of mercy to us.
Yours in Christ,