The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, Bishop of Erie

ERIE — During the recent second round of synod discussions held in our diocese,

many people spoke about their desire to grow in their faith and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. I understand people want and need classes, discussions and fellowship within their parish communities. But as an immediate response, I am sharing my Easter message a little early this year, inviting you to participate in some of the richest and most meaningful liturgies of the year.

          I encourage you to prepare for and attend the coming Masses and services with a sincere focus on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection: Mass on Palm Sunday, Monday’s Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. Each helps us call to mind what Jeus was willing to do because of his love for us.

          One way to prepare is to set aside time to review the readings before the Mass. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops makes them available, by date, here: https://bible.usccb.org/readings/calendar.

          If you have never been to the Chrism Mass, it will be held at 1 pm on Monday, March 25, at St. Peter Cathedral in Erie. At this Mass I will bless all the oils and chrism that will be used by all clergy in the diocese for anointings and sacraments throughout the year. It is a tangible way in which clergy are linked to the diocese and to my ministry as your bishop. The priests of the diocese also renew their promises at this Mass. It is meaningful for them to do this together and in the presence of the diocesan community.

          If you have been looking for a way to embrace the Eucharistic Revival, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is ideal. At this Mass, we not only remember the moment when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, but also include a foot-washing ceremony. Oftentimes parishioners are asked to participate in this service, a powerful reminder that our faith must be lived out through service. After Mass on Holy Thursday, the altar will be stripped and the Eucharist will be taken to an altar of repose, leaving the tabernacle empty as we prepare for Good Friday. Even if you are not able to attend the Mass, I recommend you set aside time to visit Christ at the altar of repose in your parish on Thursday evening. Recall Christ’s invitation to his disciples to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

           Of course, Good Friday is the only day of the year on which no Mass is ever celebrated. But as we meditate on the events of that day, we come together to listen to the Passion of Christ, to receive Communion (which was consecrated on Holy Thursday) and to venerate the cross. This is often a special moment for families with young children who can participate in veneration even before their First Communion.

          And then of course, we come to the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. Many people enjoy attending Mass on Easter Sunday morning. But the Easter Vigil includes several memorable elements. It always begins after sunset, underscoring our movement from darkness into the light, the light of Christ in the world. A small fire is blessed, usually right outside the church, and then used to light the Paschal candle. From that candle, another is lit, and then passed on from parishioner to parishioner, until the entire church is aglow.

          I want to invite you to pay close attention to the Exsultet that is sung before the candles are extinguished. This is what I am referring to when I invite you to prepare for Holy Week liturgies. I conclude my Easter message with a copy of this magnificent hymn. I pray that it will bring hope and joy to our world and to you and your loved ones. May God Bless you during Holy Week and beyond.

           Rejoice! He is Risen. Alleluia!

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle's perfect praises.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.

It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.

Who for our sake paid Adam's debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.

This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.

O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.  
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God's honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.

Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.

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.