Reflection for Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord (Year A)
If you are reading this, it means you have just come through the holiest week of your life. I hope the symbols and rituals of the Triduum have left a claim on your soul, a claim that was so rich you still need some time to process it. Don’t fret; we all have 50 days of Easter to allow the Mystery to sink in.
Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychoanalyst, said that we are transformed at the deeper levels in the presence of images much more than concepts. Theology, thoughts, ideas, and homilies have little power to convert anyone; they never have and never will. But, as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “The lives of the saints, meeting the right person, great biographies, and heroism, can turn us around in one minute–and forever.”
The washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, if we dare to surrender to it, is one such ritual that turns me around every year. Rituals, done well, need few words. Ritual elders say only a few words like, “sit, stand, be silent, etc.” Think of the last mass or service that you participated in where each symbol was accompanied with a running commentary or explanation.
It was because the rituals and symbols were not done well and so could not speak to you on their own terms. Some middle-man, usually the priest, felt the need to translate for you, forgetting we are not only homo sapiens but also homo ritualis. We have ritual in our DNA.
Rituals well done, however, bypass the mind and force us to let go of our insistence to understand. We have to suspend our need to understand everything now and trust we will get it later. Think of how we began the Triduum. Before he washed Peter’s feet, Jesus said, “Peter, you do not know now what I am doing, but you will understand” (Jn. 13:7). When it comes to rituals, you don’t have to “get it” now. What is required, though, is for us to remain open to deeper and deeper meanings that will come to us in time.
Equally powerful, but for a different reason, the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday is another ritual that uses no words but has the power to convert me. Each year, as presider, after venerating the cross myself, I sit in a privileged position near the Cross and watch as each person, young and old, healthy and sick, happily married or recently separated, peaceful or perplexed place their hand on the cross and pause for brief moment. In that moment, time stands still, and the soul does not know the difference between ritual and reality. When your soul cannot distinguish ritual from reality, savor it, for you are in a rich place.
Fr. Phil Mulligan
Priest Moderator, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish Unit