But of course, we’re not there yet. April’s first weeks are still in Lent, so be sure to hang in there with those Lenten practices! If you are short on spiritual reading, perhaps take a look at some of the saints with feast days that fall during Lent. The rousing Lenten sermons of St. Vincent Ferrer (April 5) would be a great source to reflect upon. St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (April 6) also has some works, such as his Meditations, or his Duties of a Christian, which would make for good reading during this time.
Right at the end of Lent, we enter Passiontide on Palm Sunday (April 10). Quite unusual among the other Masses of the liturgical year, Palm Sunday is the only time we have a responsorial Gospel, where we act out the drama of Christ’s condemnation to death. This is a wonderful exercise in the sacramental nature of the Catholic faith: just as every Eucharist offered “connects” the present to the past in a very real way, so too on Palm Sunday, we “present” ourselves at Christ’s condemnation—and at no moment are we more present than when we ourselves say those words of condemnation: “Crucify him!” Being so present can cause us to wince—as we ought to every time we renounce our Savior, even by the littlest of sins.
Another wonderful tradition celebrated during Passiontide is the Tenebrae service. Coming from the Latin word meaning “Darkness,” Tenebrae is rooted in ancient monastic prayer services known as the Liturgy of the Hours. As the Lamentations of Jerimiah are read, candles are slowly extinguished one by one, representing Israel’s fading hope through her centuries of exile, with her sorrows culminating (as we know) in the death of her Messiah. The Diocese typically hosts one at the Cathedral; check with your pastor to see if he is planning one for your parish!
Since Passiontide’s dramatic “re-living” of Christ’s suffering is uniquely Catholic in its sacramentality, it makes a wonderful opportunity to invite our Protestant brothers and sisters to experience Christ in a very powerful way. My first experience of a Catholic Holy Week was something that helped me on my journey into the Catholic Church, and I would invite you to ask at least one friend or family member to join you for a similar experience this Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter…any or all of these Masses would be an excellent opportunity to introduce someone you know to the beauty of our Catholic faith and witness the power of the Liturgy.
Of course, the biggest joy of April is Easter! The Triduum begins with Holy Thursday and continues into Good Friday, concluding with the Easter Vigil on the evening of Holy Saturday. There are a myriad of devotions you can do during these days; perhaps you can keep a late prayer vigil on Holy Thursday after Mass, or watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Good Friday is an excellent day to go to your local parish and sit in front of the tabernacle—what would normally be called “adoration”—and meditate upon the emptiness of life without Christ. Some parishes do a “Tre Ore” prayer service, meditating upon the “Seven Last Words” of Christ in commemoration of His three hours of agony on the cross. Of course, the Stations of the Cross is another wonderful form of devotion for the day.
Finally comes the Easter Vigil, which celebrates the Resurrection and the new life which Christ brings into the world! As challenging as it may be, stay up for the Vigil Mass in anticipation of Christ’s Resurrection; after all, such should be the anticipation we feel for Christ’s return in glory—so why not exercise those virtues of hope and joy? Of course, it is only fitting to celebrate Easter Sunday in a special way with the family. If you have traditional celebrations, such as an Easter brunch, then by all means keep those traditions going! If you don’t have any “regular” way of celebrating Easter, why not start one? Family picnics and hikes are both great ways to “encounter” the Resurrection in a very tangible way—especially by noting the new fauna and flora, seeing once-dead trees springing forth shoots of new life. Dyeing, racing, and hunting for Easter eggs can be a great activity to bring the family together and turn off the electronics. Whatever you do to celebrate, take some time to meditate on the power of Christ’s Resurrection to animate all that we do. After all, as St. Paul says, “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Of course, the celebration doesn’t stop on Monday! After a full season of fasting and penance, Holy Mother Church asks us to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ with a full season of festive celebration! Find a way to celebrate the Octave of Easter, or perhaps the whole of Eastertide, with personal devotions. Perhaps continue your spiritual reading with St. Louis de Montfort’s (April 28) Secret of the Rosary or True Devotion to Mary. Or, take up the mystical Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena (April 29), a celebrated Doctor of the Church.
Or, perhaps, you’re a sponsor for someone who will be baptized or confirmed this Easter. Why not read a spiritual book with them, and continue to strengthen them in their newfound faith? St. Augustine’s Confessions is a wonderful meditation to start with, while the Rule of St. Benedict or St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life provide good “practical” guides to Catholic spirituality.
Easter brings new life, and with it, endless possibilities. However you celebrate, give thanks to the Lord for the gift of life—and the life which is only made possible to us through the gift of Christ!