Dear Brothers and Sisters
We have reached the eve of the Easter Triduum. The next three days are commonly known as 'holy' because they allow us to relive the event central to our Redemption. They lead us to the nucleus of Christian faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These three days could be considered one single day. They make up the heart and are the key to both the liturgical year and the life of the Church. At the end of Lent we also enter that climate which Christ himself experienced back then in Jerusalem.
We want to rekindle in ourselves the living memory of the suffering which our Lord endured for us and to joyously prepare ourselves for next Sunday "the true Passover, which the Blood of Christ has covered with glory, the Passover on which the Church celebrates the Feast that is the origin of all feasts" as stated in the preface for Easter in the Ambrosian rite.
Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, the Church remembers the Last Supper during which our Lord, on the eve of his own passion and death, institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist and that of ministerial priesthood. On that same evening, Jesus gave us a new commandment, "mandatum novum," the commandment of brotherly love.
Tomorrow morning, before entering the Easter triduum, but very closely tied to it, the "Chrism Mass" will take place in every diocese during which the bishop and priests of the diocese renew their promises made at ordination.
Also, the oils used to celebrate the sacraments are blessed: the oil for the catechumen, the oil for the sick and the holy chrism. It is one of the most important moments in the life of every Christian diocese, which, gathered around it's pastor, strengthens it's unity and faith in Christ, the supreme and eternal priest.
In the evening during the [...] Mass, we remember the Last Supper when Christ gave himself to all of us as the food of salvation, as the drug of immortality and the mystery of the Eucharist— source and pinnacle of Christian life.
Through this sacrament of salvation the Lord offered and realized for all those who believe in him, the most intimate union possible between our lives and his. With the humble and most expressive gesture of washing someone's feet, we are reminded how much Christ did for his Apostles.
Washing their feet was a concrete way of exclaiming the primacy of his love, a love that serves even to the point of giving oneself, anticipating as well the supreme sacrifice of giving his life, which he was to do the following day on Calvary. According to a beautiful tradition, the faithful close on Holy Thursday for a vigil of prayer and Eucharistic adoration enabling them to relive the agonies that Christ suffered at Gethsemane more vividly.
On Good Friday we remember the passion, crucifixion and death of Christ. On this day the Church does not celebrate mass, but the Christian community gathers to consider the mystery of sin and evil that oppress humanity. They revisit, in the light of the word of God, the sufferings of Christ that atone for this evil.
After they have listened to the retelling of the passion of Christ, the congregation prays for all the necessities of the Church and of the world, they pay homage to the cross and take the consecrated bread and wine kept from the [...] Mass of the previous day.
By way of further invitation to consider the passion and death of the Redeemer, to express their love and to enable the faithful to participate in the suffering of Christ, Christian tradition has created popular processions and holy representations which aim to impress ever more deeply on the souls of the faithful a sense of having truly participated in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.
The [Way of the Cross] stands out among these. Over the years it has been enriched with many spiritual and artistic expressions linked to the sensitivities of the various cultures.
In many countries, sanctuaries with the name "Calvary" have been born which are accessible after a steep climb. In recalling the painful climb of the passion, it allows the faithful to participate in Jesus' climb toward the mount of the Cross, the mount of love offered right up to the end.
Holy Saturday is marked by a deep silence. The Churches are left undecorated and there are no particular liturgies set aside for this day. While waiting for the Resurrection, the faithful persevere in the wait with Mary by praying and meditating. A day of silence is necessary to ponder the reality of human life, the forces of evil and the enormous power of good unleashed by the passion and resurrection of Christ.
Great importance is given during this time to participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, indispensable for the purification of the heart and to prepare for the celebration of Easter completely renewed. We need to undertake this inner purification and renewal of ourselves at least once a year.
This Saturday of silence, of meditation, of forgiveness, of reconciliation leads into the Easter Vigil, which introduces the most important Sunday in history, the Sunday that marks the Passover of Christ.
The Church holds vigil next to the newly blessed fire and meditates on the great promise contained in the Old and New Testaments, of the conclusive liberation from the ancient slavery to sin and death. In the darkness of the night, the Easter candle is lit from the new fire as a symbol of Christ who rises again in glory.
Christ, the light of humanity, dispels any shadows in the heart and the spirit and illuminates all men who come into the world. Together with the lighting of the Easter candle, the great Easter announcement reverberates throughout the Church: Christ has truly risen, death no longer has any power over him. With his death he defeats evil forever and makes man a gift of God's own life.
It is tradition that Christ's followers received the sacrament of baptism during the Easter Vigil. This was to underline the participation of Christians in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. The joy, the light and the peace of Christ spread from the shining Easter night to fill the lives of the faithful in every Christian community and reaches into every area of space and time.
Dear brothers and sisters, during these special days let us guide our lives definitively toward a complete and decisive adherence to the designs of our celestial Father; let us renew our "yes" to the divine will as Jesus did with his sacrifice on the cross. The rites suggested for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the rich silence of prayer of Holy Saturday and the solemn Easter vigil provide us with the opportunity to deepen the feelings and the values of our Christian vocation unleashed by the Paschal mystery and to strengthen it by faithfully following Christ in all circumstances, just as he did, even to the point of giving up our own existence to him.
Remembering the mysteries of Christ also means a willing and complete adherence to the history of today, convinced that when we celebrate, it is reality. Let us include in our prayers the terrible facts and situations that afflict our brothers across the world. We know that hate, division and violence never have the last word in historical events. These holy days reawaken a great hope in us: Christ was crucified, yet he rose again and conquered the world.
Love is stronger than hate, it has triumphed and we should affiliate ourselves with this victory of love. We should therefore start again from Christ and work together with him for a world founded on peace, justice and love.
In this commitment that involves all of us, let us allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, who accompanied her divine son on the road to his passion and cross, and who participated with the strength of her faith in the realization of his plan of salvation.
With these thoughts I send you my best wishes for a happy and holy Easter to you, your loved ones and your communities.