Pope John Paul II wrote, “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!" In this Easter season, we are not looking for a shallow joy. Rather, we search for a joy that comes from faith that grows through unselfish love that respects the “fundamental duty of love of neighbor, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of Joy”. That type of joy is demanding; it demands unselfishness; it demands a readiness to join with Mary, saying: “Be it done unto me according to thy word”.
From at least the early 4th century, the Easter season extended a full 50 days—from Easter Sunday through Pentecost. We are now in the Octave of Easter. First of all, let’s recover the idea of the Octave. In the book of Exodus, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the greater feasts like Passover for eight days, with a solemn assembly on the first and the eighth day. So liturgically, we celebrate Easter at highest pitch from Easter Sunday through the Second Sunday of Easter. Each and every day of this Octave is considered a solemn feast (aka a “solemnity”) in the Roman calendar. Though many of us cannot avail ourselves of daily mass, we can engage this joyous worship in our homes or attend mass via live stream.
I was extremely pleased with the church attendance on Easter Sunday, and now we have our collective work cut out for us, the work of evangelization – bringing our community together again.
According to a 2020 Gallup poll, overall church membership dropped to 47% of the more than 6,100 poll respondents. It is the first time since the polling firm started measuring church membership in 1937 that a minority of adults said they belonged to a formal religious institution.
In the midst of the Great Depression, 73% of adults said they belonged to a church. Over the next six decades, membership levels remained steady at about 70% before a measured decline began. According to Timothy O’Malley at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame, institutional belonging is not high right now. "It's becoming quite clear that at least church membership is not the way most Americans are practicing religiosity," he said. Though it is quite challenging to face such facts, it is the reality of these times. What is the path for the faithful? We are now called to gear ourselves up for evangelization.
“The main reason that people will come back to church is for community,” says Amy Ekeh, director of Little Rock Scripture Study, a small-group Bible study program serving Catholic parishes. “If they were already experiencing community as a parish, they’ll come back to that. Small groups is one way in parishes to experience that community.”
This is so true. So, I call on each one of us to continue to think outside the box, while preparing to welcome back our community, in a safe and friendly space. Let us not get bogged down in what we cannot do, but continue to focus on what we CAN do.
Our first social event is going to be Cinco De Mayo. We plan to throw a safe gathering outside on the evening of May 5th on the lawn celebrating our community with food and drink and music. We will have tables set up for families or groups that have been together safely during Covid. There will be chairs for individuals to set up at safe distances. We are working on getting a mini-Mariachi band and a couple of food trucks. Stay tuned, and we will post the sign ups soon.
Two weeks from now, we will have to let go of the beautiful tent that has provided shelter and shade to so many worship services – masses, sacraments, ministry meetings and youth and confirmation classes etc. We will continue to offer outdoor masses into the summer and beyond, as necessary. We shall maintain the altar, and keep the small tents that we have. There is a lot of planning to do in the days to come, to provide comfortable spaces for us to gather and worship. If you have ideas, please share with us.
Someone told me that many of you have tents or umbrellas that you can bring and set up before service if the weather is too warm. If you have such items that you would like to share with the community, we will be happy to accept them. Because we are a loving and caring community, I am sure we can move ahead without fear. May the Risen Lord bless us.