How we celebrated Easter

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Hundreds of thousands of people went looking for the face of their suffering and risen Lord this Easter, flocking to a myriad of celebrations ranging from Good Friday walks proclaiming His suffering and death across the city, to all night vigils awaiting His resurrection in glory.

It was also at the Triuduum that Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP made his first public appearances since developing Guillain-Barré Syndrome, late last year; fulfilling a long-held wish to once again join his people and his priests in prayer and worship.

With the fraternal assistance of his brother priests, the archbishop joined large congregations at St Mary’s Cathedral for Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday celebrations.

On the night of last Christmas, having already been sick a few days, he experienced weakness in his right arm and within 24 hours, was paralysed from the neck down.

Speaking about what he had learned through his suffering, he said that one of the hardest aspects of his illness was losing the use hands – the first parts of his body that were affected by the syndrome and the last expected to heal.

Catholicism is a very hands-on religion,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“We express our faith with hands together in prayer and with hands open in service. We put our hands to work in making a more just and compassionate world. And all our sacraments involve hands …

“Even now after three months of care and rehabilitation it is a great struggle for me to do the simplest things with my hands. As a priest and bishop, I miss the use of my hands even more because they are so important to our ministry as priests,” the archbishop said.

“At times I have wished that I had lost the function of my legs for much longer and had my hands back much sooner, but these things are in the hands of God and there is a providence there we know, and I have great confidence that God will bring great fruit from this time of powerlessness and vulnerability for me.

“Powerlessness comes in many forms,” he said. “In contrast to our powerlessness, the hand of God signifies an immense power which He continues to stretch out to creation.”

On Easter Sunday he prayed for all of the suffering, unable to join in the celebration of the resurrection of Christ and the conquering of every anguish and tear.

“Many others, I know, suffer worse with little hope of things getting better for them. Some are much longer trapped in the hospital ward or the grave.

“Some are not yet able to join us singing Alleluias this morning. Yet so radical is the power of Easter that it does eventually break down the walls even of the tomb.

“Easter comes to the sick, the depressed, the lonely, and the deceased today and brings new life where it surely cannot be found.

“Life visits Death this morning and Life says: ‘I shall be your death, O Death’. Today Life reigns in every hospital, in every broken heart, at every deathbed, and even every graveside.”

Easter celebrations proceeded seamlessly throughout the city, with the possible exception of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Baulkham Hills where an elderly woman lost control of her car, careering into the church where people were praying.

Parish priest Fr Wim Hoekstra said it was an “Easter miracle” that no-one was hurt, telling the ABC that he was most concerned for the people involved – the driver, three people who received minor injuries, and another two who were taken to hospital as a precaution.

“The damage (to the church) was only bricks and mortar and glass,” Fr Wim said. “Thank God that no-one else was seriously injured.”

At St John Bosco, Engadine, Edward Noack took on the weighty role of Jesus in the parish’s Good Friday Passion play, which was directed by James McMahon.

“For me, playing Jesus was an incredible way to connect to the mystery of Easter and to even get a small sense of what Christ would have gone through,” Edward said.

“Practicing and rehearsing all throughout Lent was a great way to prepare for Easter, and I think everyone involved got a lot out of our presentation.”

At Our Lady of the Rosary primary school, Fairfield, students kicked off Holy Week celebrations with an Easter hat parade on Wednesday morning. Principal Br Nicholas Harsas said the event captured “the joy and excitement of the Resurrection”.

Holy Thursday featured a visit to the school by Br Jerome Ellens, international Congregation Leader of the Patrician Brothers. Based in India, Br Ellens was visiting Patrician Brothers communities in Australia and dropped by Our Lady of the Rosary school, where he met with the two school captains.

Students and staff of St Declan’s primary school, Penshurst, were not deterred by the Easter long weekend, instead marking both Holy Thursday and Good Friday a day early to allow pupils to fully participate in the liturgies.

The St Declan’s community celebrated each day of Holy Week with daily events, said principal Maria Ross.

Now in her third year as principal of St Declan’s, Ms Ross was previously a Penshurst parishioner for 25 years.

She said she was honoured last month to be leading the school during such an important time, as the parish of St Declan’s celebrated its centenary.

“Because the school and the parish share such a close relationship, it was our absolute delight to join in the celebrations of the centenary in March,” Ms Ross said.

For the past six years, members of the St Felix de Valois youth and young adults group at Bankstown have led parishioners and their family and friends in a prayerful re-enactment of the Lord’s final moments.

Drawing more and more people every year, Good Friday 2016 was no exception, with more than 300 people in attendance. Rain did not deter the faithful, who gathered with their umbrellas to join in prayer and song as they made their way through the grounds of LaSalle College.

The parish of St Charles Borromeo and Our Lady Queen of Peace Ryde-Gladesville, which is a little shy of one year old after the formerly-twinned parishes voted to combine, last year, saw an increased attendance, particularly in the number of young people.

The new parish caters to a large and diverse population and takes in Holy Cross College, Ryde, and Our Lady Queen of Peace, Gladesville, and a range of urban residential developments.

Holy Thursday at Holy Spirit, Carnes Hill. Photo: Patrick J Lee
Holy Thursday at Holy Spirit, Carnes Hill. Photo: Patrick J Lee

The community’s first Easter as a merged parish was a great success, parish priest Fr Paul told The Catholic Weekly.

“I think it was also helped for us that Easter didn’t coincide with the school holidays this year,” Fr Paul said.

“We were very pleased.”

While a first for the enlarged community, it will be Fr Paul’s last Easter at the parish after 24 years’ of ministry in the area.

He will take up his new post as parish priest of All Saints parish in Liverpool on 24 May; the same parish where began his ministry as a priest 29 years ago.

Extraordinary Form celebrations at Easter, conducted in Latin according to the Missal of 1962, attracted larger than usual crowds, including some protestants and non-Christians.

Parish priest Fr Duncan Wong FSSP said the community’s regular congregation, replete with young singles and young families, was bolstered by friends of their younger members, including overseas students, some of whom did not speak English but who appreciated the experience.

“They heard from their friends that there is this church that does the old rite and has good chanting,” Fr Wong said.

“Maybe they came out of historical interest but I think there is a deep thirst for God in everyone and it comes out especially at Easter.”

The community marked Good Friday with the service of Tenebrae, an ancient liturgy in which 15 candles, thought to represent Mary, the 12 apostles and John the Baptist, are gradually extinguished to the sung lamentations of Jeremiah.

The atmosphere grew dark and bleak as each of the candles – the only light source in the church – were extinguished, culminating in the loud and discordant thumping of books as the light of Christ was snuffed out, signifying the utter desolation of the world.

Fr Wong also reported that several Catholics from Eastern Catholic Churches were present, gestures of intercommunity worship reciprocated by members of the Latin Mass community.

“Many of the people who come here are interested in liturgy and there is an openness to that,” he said.

With seven campuses around Australia, including two of these in the Sydney archdiocese, Easter at Australian Catholic University was busy and fulfilling.

Preparing for the robust joy to come at Easter, our North Sydney and Strathfield campuses were transformed with palms to mark Passion Sunday, but as Holy Week began, Easter anticipation began with silence and contemplation.

Leading up to Easter, each week began with a Mercy Hour – Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament accompanied by meditation and music, which became a companion to the weekly Lenten Stations of the Cross that were prayed each Friday at both the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom chapel at the North Sydney campus and the Barron Memorial chapel at the Strathfield campus.

These avenues of silent reflection were complemented by a Lenten program drawing on the wisdom of Sr Hilda Scott OSB and Fr Ken Barker MGL, which was launched for staff members at North Sydney as a chance to discuss and deepen their relationships with God and each other.

For students, the weekly Connect discussion groups were their avenue of reflection.

Here, students spoke of their personal hopes and understanding of this Easter period for them.

With the arrival of Holy Thursday, ACU marked the beginning of the Triduum by having a commemorative liturgy where, instead of the washing of feet, the congregation was invited to have their hands washed by the person preceding them, and in turn, to wash the hands of the person following them.

Tony Hoban, Rosemary Sun and Vicki Bourbous of ACU.
Tony Hoban, Rosemary Sun and Vicki Bourbous of ACU.

Our week then came to an end with staff and students enjoying hot cross buns together.

At Strathfield campus, Br Jude Butcher co-ordinated arrangements for Easter liturgical celebrations for local residents as well as members of the university community, including Mass of the Lord’s Supper celebrated by Fr Reg Howard SSC, Stations of the Cross on Good Friday with archdiocesan Vicar General Fr Gerald Gleeson leading prayer, and Easter Vigil Mass celebrated by Fr Noel Connolly SSC.

The campus ministry team also distributed a special Easter card and eggs to staff immediately following the Easter break.

Large crowds were in attendance at all of the Easter celebrations at St Paul the Apostle parish in Winston Hills, but for many parishioners the pinnacle was the Easter Vigil when seven candidates were inducted into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and received First Communion.

“These seven new Catholics highlight the diversity of backgrounds of our congregation and were made most welcome by all of us,” said a parish spokesperson, “and we shall continue to grow together in faith”.

Winston Hill assistant priest Fr Tovia Lui, parish priest Fr Ranillo Creta baptise Sharon Wang, pictured with sponsor Nancy Hargrave.
Winston Hill assistant priest Fr Tovia Lui, parish priest Fr Ranillo Creta baptise Sharon Wang, pictured with sponsor Nancy Hargrave.

At the parish of St Paul the Apostle, Winston Hills, large crowds were in attendance at all Easter liturgies but the pinnacle was the Easter Vigil when seven candidates were inducted into the Church through baptism, confirmation and first communion. These seven new Catholics highlighted the diversity of backgrounds of the Winston Hills congregation and were welcomed by all.

Communities of the Neocatechumenal Way spent the whole night in prayer and thanksgiving on Holy Saturday, keeping vigil for the dawn of the resurrection in emulation and in the footsteps of the early Church.

Around 20 communities gathered in one of seven vigil locations spread throughout the archdiocese of Sydney and the dioceses of Parramatta and Wollongong for the occasion, with some communities welcoming new people into the Church through baptism by full immersion.

Their unique hymns, sung in a musical style redolent of the Way’s country of origin – Spain – was not the only unique aspect of the night.

The communities’ many children got the chance to formally pose existential and often challenging questions to their parents at the gatherings, giving parents the opportunity to pass on their faith in their responses – an echo of Jewish traditions following Passover.

Some communities also welcomed new Christians into the Church, baptising adults and babies by full immersion.

Children and young adults wait to light candles from the Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil liturgy conducted by the first and second communities of the Neocatechumenal Way at Baulkham Hills. Photo: Peter Rosengren
Children and young adults wait to light candles from the Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil liturgy conducted by the first and second communities of the Neocatechumenal Way at Baulkham Hills. Photo: Peter Rosengren

The rector of Redemptoris Mater, an archdiocesan seminary run by the Way, Fr Eric Skruzny, said the communities meant to signify to the world, and most especially to their children, that Holy Saturday is a night unlike any other in the year.

“All other nights we go to bed early after having supper, but this night we don’t go to bed; we don’t have supper until we celebrate with a banquet in the morning,” Fr Eric told The Catholic Weekly.

Fr Eric accompanied Redemptoris Mater seminarians to St Mary’s on Holy Thursday, describing as “an enormous encouraging” the words of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who spoke about his suffering and complete dependence on others during his recent illness.

“It was a big encouragement to the seminarians and to me, and that was a perfect start to Easter.”

Related: Holy Week brings Church into focus for photographers