Easter Visitors

by The Most Reverend Edward M. Egan

Many years ago when I was a seminarian in Rome, I found a book in a second-hand bookstore which I have read over and over. It is a kind of guidebook of Palestine with special attention to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The first chapter of the book describes in detail the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Northern Section of Jerusalem which is thought to be built over the tomb of the Lord. The church, we are told, is constructed in the Crusader style. It has a baroque facade, a dark interior, and three aisles divided by grey, stone columns. Underneath there is to be found a cavern six feet wide and six and one-half feet long. It is decorated with ancient oil lamps hanging from the ceiling, and its floor is covered with wax of thousands of candles by which visitors have been able to see the traditional burial-place of the Lord.

The author of the book describes two groups of visitors coming to the church. One is made up of tourists who have evidently traveled to the Holy Land on a steamer and arrive at the church in the dapper, fashionable clothes of the day. They are led by a studiously bored guide who mumbles a few observations about the geography of the area. Thus, they enter the church with a detached, uninterested air and leave it, in the words of the author, "clearly untouched by the experience."

The other group is an extended family of local shepherds in their Sunday best, that is, in coarse leather jackets for the men and heavy black capes and veils for the women. They are led by a monk reading the Gospel account of the Resurrection aloud. They enter with solemn and prayerful faces, and they leave... well, let the author tell us.

"As they emerged from the dark church, one sensed that they had been somehow transformed. I was witnessing a joy such as I had never witnessed before. True joy, unbridled joy, the joy of belief, and the joy of fulfillment. They had seen the empty tomb. They had understood and embraced its message of salvation and eternal life. Thus they left the encounter touched forever by the Risen Savior whose tomb they had themselves touched with trembling hands."

On Easter Sunday we Catholics come to Mass for an encounter with the Redeemer who conquered sin and death. He is really and truly present on our altars under the appearances of bread and wine. We receive Him into our hearts - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. And if we truly understand what is happening, we cannot leave the experience untouched. We cannot fail to sense true joy, unbridled joy, the joy of belief, and the joy of fulfillment. For we know with the firmness of faith that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and we know too that in His rising ours is secure.

copyright © 2000-2006, Spirituality for Today