The Easter story of the risen Christ shared by ordinary people who were the first witnesses of the empty tomb has been heard through the ages by “an unbroken chain of witnesses,” and that story continues to change hearts and bring new life to people today, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory said at an April 17 Easter Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“Churches throughout the Christian world are filled today, because so many of us want to hear the story of new life, the wonder of Jesus’ triumph over death, and the regeneration of our own lives in Christ,” said the cardinal.
Easter, he said, “is a story that can only be spoken and must be communicated by ordinary people, folks like you and me, with all of our own faults and failings, our own inadequacies and fears. We must tell the Easter story if others will come to believe. ”
Cardinal Gregory pointed out how today such a momentous event would be promoted with the latest media technologies and strategies to reach the largest possible audience. He said those who first witnessed Jesus’ empty tomb 2,000 years ago “were all too ordinary,” but the story they initially shared by word of mouth and that was passed on through the ages has inspired countless millions of people who have come to believe in the risen Christ.
“To be certain, there are more effective and efficient ways of sharing the Easter story, but none as satisfying as hearing it from people who like ourselves have heard it from others,” he said.
The cardinal then pointed to an example of people whose hearts have been changed by hearing that story – those at the previous evening’s Easter Vigil who became full members of the Catholic Church after being baptized and receiving the sacraments of Confirmation and Communion during a dramatic liturgy where churches were first darkened and then people’s candles were lit one-by-one from the Paschal Candle to signify the light and new life offered by the risen Christ to the world.
“Last evening in the darkness of night, believers gathered around fires to listen to the story of new life. In the telling of that same ancient story, others joined us as new disciples having heard about the Easter mystery, and with hearts filled with wonder, they professed their faith in the story of life, ”he said.
Washington’s archbishop noted that, “Today the Church throughout the world is resplendent with joy because we have been enriched with new brothers and sisters in the family of faith. The mystery, which is the Church, is renewed in them; we are a better Church today because of their presence. ”
At the Easter Vigils in parishes across The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, 824 people became full members of the Catholic Church, with the elect receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Communion, and candidates for full Communion in the Church receiving the Sacraments of Communion and Confirmation, and some Catholics completing their Sacraments of Initiation by being confirmed and receiving Communion for the first time.
Concluding his homily, the cardinal encouraged those attending the Easter Sunday Mass to join him in congratulating the newly initiated and professed Catholics.
“They fill us with new hope and with joy,” he said.
The cardinal’s Easter Sunday Mass at the National Shrine was televised by the Eternal World Television Network and livestreamed on the basilica’s website.
Earlier that day, Cardinal Gregory celebrated an Easter Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, returning to the church where during the Easter Vigil on the night before he had conferred the Sacraments of Initiation upon 19 people who became full members of the Catholic Church in a joyful liturgy.
At the Easter Sunday Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the cardinal again reflected on those first witnesses of the empty tomb, noting how “a stone seal had been broken and the sight of scattered burial clothes were enough to ignite their faith that Jesus was truly risen.”
Then Cardinal Gregory asked, “What will it take to ignite our hearts?”
He pointed out how at the Easter Vigil, “our Church grew” with new members, adults who were plunged into the waters of Baptism, anointed with sacred oil (at Confirmation) and feasted at the Lord’s Table (receiving Communion) for the first time last night. They are a sign for all of us that the spirit of Christ is still active in the world. They are the stone seals that have been broken, the garments thrown about that today witness to Christ’s resurrection. ”
The cardinal praised their witness, saying, “Our newest brothers and sisters in faith stand as providential expressions of the Church’s vitality. We too are called to be witnesses… May you and your loved ones find such signs of Christ’s victory this Easter, and may your hearts and homes be filled with the joy that faith both ignites and sustains. ”
Concluding his homily at the Easter Sunday Mass at the cathedral, Cardinal Gregory said, “In my name and in the name of the Archdiocese of Washington, grown richer today with our newest Catholics, I wish you and all the communities of faith in this local Church a happy and holy Easter season. ”