In New York City, the dropping of a large, glittering ball at midnight marks the end of an old year and the arrival of the new. In Paris, the Eiffel tower is lit in a rainbow of twinkling colors. In Los Angeles and other cities, there are fireworks and other celebrations.
However, for Catholics and Christians, a stone rolled away from the tomb of Jesus may be the ultimate symbol of transition to rebirth, renewal and hope.
And this year, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic threw a shroud over the Diocese of Orange, parishioners will have the chance to celebrate Easter as they are accustomed. With the pandemic showing signs of receding, churches will be fully open for Easter. Back in 2020, parishioners could not attend Mass but were instead limited to watching it via live-stream. This year, Masses will be held fully indoors without social distancing or masks being mandated, although still recommended.
“You’ll see churches filled to the brim,” said Deacon Modesto Cordero, director of the Office of Worship. “My expectation is that all the churches and services will be full.”
That includes roughly 2,000 parishioners for each of 11 services at Christ Cathedral between the Easter Vigil on Saturday and Easter Sunday.
At Christ Cathedral, the famed Hazel Wright pipe organ will play in full throat.
Across the Diocese the beauty of Orange County’s diversity will be on display with services in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and Polish.
In the Diocese of Orange, the time around the celebration of Easter and the resurrection may be the most special of times.
Bishop Timothy Freyer described the significance of the transition of old to new on the “We Are An Easter People” episode, on OC Catholic Radio. Bishop Freyer said that in his death and resurrection, Jesus “manifests that he is God,” and that when Jesus was resurrected, “the gates of Heaven opened for the first time.”
FR. CHRISTOPHER PHAM CELEBRATES THE EASTER MASS IN VIETNAMESE ON APRIL 4, 2021. PHOTO: CHUCK BENNETT
THE MOST IMPORTANT MASS
Although Easter Sunday is a time of celebration, what precedes it is at least equally important, or more, the New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day, so to speak.
At the Diocese of Orange, as in dioceses and archdioceses across the world, the Great Easter Vigil is profound.
The Mass is held after sunset on Holy Saturday. It is considered by some to be the first celebration of Easter, as historically the new day was considered to begin at sunset the night before.
At Christ Cathedral, Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann traditionally has baptized and accepted scores of candidates into full communion at the vigil. This year it is on Saturday, April 16.
Across the Diocese, 1,000 children and adults are expected to be baptized. That includes those being baptized and those who may have been baptized Catholic without completing confirmation or those baptized in another Christian church who are converting to Catholicism.
Another Easter first at Christ Cathedral will be the availability of the baptismal font.
“It’s perhaps the most important Mass of the year,” Deacon Tom Saenz said of the Vigil. “It is a beautiful Mass full of signs and symbols from darkness to light.”
“We are blessed as a Diocese to baptize so many new Catholics on this Holy Saturday. This ceremony is the Church’s most significant vigil and is the climax of the liturgical year,” Bishop Vann said after the 2016 Vigil Mass.
After the solemnity of the Vigil, on Sunday morning parishes will gather for Easter Mass, fellowship with friends and family on the way out of church and in church halls and even egg hunts for children at some parishes.
A DEACON’S CLOSER CONNECTION
Last year, Deacon John Silberstein completed a personal journey into the Easter light.
As a sixth-grader, he had tried out for choir and was told by the music teacher, “you’re not going to sing,” he recalled. “I never sang in public since that time,” Deacon Silberstein said.
Fast-forward five decades and he finally found the courage to take singing lessons with fellow deacons without really thinking where it might lead. One night, he was at his parish at St. Killian’s in Mission Viejo on a bit of business. For fun, he started singing to check out the acoustics. Then, he said, “out pops the director of music.”
At the Easter Vigil last year at St. Killian’s, Deacon Silberstein made his public debut singing “Exsultet,” a 10-minute a capella solo, also known as the Easter Proclamation.
“Never take for granted or let a sixth-grade teacher prevent you from doing things,” he said. “Fifty years later, I was at the right place at the right time.”
With the paschal light flickering and surrounded by his brother deacons, Deacon Silberstein had emerged from his musical darkness into a new Easter.
“That’s the centerpiece of perhaps the most important Mass of the year,” Deacon Saenz said.
This year, the symbolism of moving from dark to light may have even more resonance as the faithful pray that the worst of the pandemic is finally past.
As Pope Francis said in his 2019 Easter Homily, “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the ‘living stone,’ the risen Jesus.”