By Fr Nicholas Pearce
The Easter Triduum of 2020 is not one we will forget anytime soon, especially for those of us who celebrated it in the empty churches of Victoria. The Triduum is so often a time when our parish communities are at their best. Teams of parishioners, shining, polishing, and vacuuming. Flowers, vestments, brassware at their finest. Readers and musicians in full voice.
Yet Easter during lockdown was so very different. For many, worship at home was like a mini-retreat, a time of renewal of prayer in the family, drawing closer to the Lord in the Scriptures and personal devotions. As priests, though, we also heard time and time again of the great sadness and deep longing that people felt as they could not pray in their churches or receive the sacraments. For some, this was the first time in more than 40, 50 or 60 years that they had missed the Easter Triduum.
As we head now into another Easter, the prospect of socially-distanced congregations and a new range of restrictions on our liturgy brings with it a new sense of fear and uncertainty. There is a grief at the loss of what we hold so dear, the ability to worship the God we love in the way we have become accustomed. Yet our knowledge of the very thing we celebrate at Easter – Christ's triumphant victory over death – encourages us to seek in these absences, new life, and let them be, for us, moments that draw us more deeply into the Easter mystery.
As we gather in our churches on Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet at the Mass of the Lord's Supper will be a conspicuous absence. This beautiful ritual is a reminder to us of the priests' central role as servant both of the mysteries of Christ and of His people. May the absence of this act this year be a timely reminder for us to pray for our priests and for those around our country who, due to distance or a shortage of clergy, regularly gather without a pastor. This Holy Thursday, may we redouble our efforts to pray for an increase in vocations to the ordained ministry.
On Good Friday, we are so used to coming forward, venerating the cross in silence, and, with a simple kiss, showing our love for the source of all love. While, in our churches this year, for obvious reasons, a simple genuflection will replace this beautiful act of devotion, there is no reason why among our families, in our homes, we can't continue this fine tradition. As we do so, we can also ensure that the crucifix has pride of place in our homes – not just on Good Friday, but every day.
Of all the Easter ceremonies, the Easter Vigil remains relatively unchanged for us. Perhaps this year, though, the readings from Sacred Scripture may take on special significance. As we reflect on the saving action of God throughout time, let us call to mind with gratitude how we have experienced His presence in our lives over the past 12 months, especially in the generosity of those who have served us, healed us and led us through this pandemic.
Fr Nicholas Pearce is Chaplain at the University of Melbourne and Senior Chaplain – Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. During Melbourne’s lockdown he was Parish Priest of Holy Family Parish in Mount Waverley and has recently taken up a new appointment as Parish Priest at St Michael’s, North Melbourne.