Wednesday 11 May 2022

Paschal Joy

During the Preface of every Mass in Eastertide the Church describes herself as “overcome with Paschal joy”. This joy, which is to characterise the whole season, began at the Exultet of the Easter Vigil when the Deacon sang, “Rejoice, let Mother Church rejoice, arrayed with the lighting of [Jesus’ risen] glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.” Our joy at the Resurrection of Christ is expressed in all our hymns and prayers, and even the thrice-daily Angelus is replaced at this time with the Regina Caeli, “O Queen of Heaven, rejoice!” On Maundy Thursday the Lord told us that he had come into the world so that “my joy may be in you and your joy be complete!” The Easter season is meant to be the time when we celebrate the fullness of this joy — even though our experience of that fullness must wait until the life to come.

It is easy to be overcome with Paschal joy during the Gloria on Holy Saturday, or the Hallelujah chorus on Easter Day, or even when having that chocolate or glass of wine that we had given up for the forty long days of Lent. But then on Easter Monday or Tuesday, everything is back to normal. The BBC news is as depressing as before. The war in the Ukraine rages on. Our politicians continue to embarrass themselves and the country. Energy costs, rising taxes, all the worries and anxieties from before Easter are still with us afterwards. So what has happened to Paschal joy? How can we rejoice? Are we just pretending to be happy when we’re in church before returning to real life as soon as we leave Mass?

Joy, of course, is not happiness. Happiness is a feeling, an emotion, dependant on all sorts of circumstances outside of ourselves. Joy is not a feeling, it is our response of faith to God. It fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus and accept his offer of salvation, bringing them a peace, fulfilment and hope that sets them free from sin, sorrow, emptiness and loneliness. Christians can find joy even in suffering because of our knowledge of how Good Friday leads to Easter when we unite our crosses to the Lord. Jesus promised his disciples, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy… I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:20, 22).

We are overcome with Paschal joy because the heart of our faith, of the Gospel, will always be the same, in good times and in bad, in poverty and prosperity, in sickness and in health: that God has revealed his immense love in the death and resurrection of Christ. As the Holy Father taught, “the fundamental proclamation of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ loves you, he gave his life to save you, and now he is living with you every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. You are infinitely loved.” That is not to deny the grief of those who have to endure great suffering, but the Resurrection gives us hope: “If we think that things are not going to change, we need to recall that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty. Jesus Christ truly lives… Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope, and he will not deprive us of the help we need”.

Jesus’ Resurrection is not an event of the past, it is a force which continues to permeate the world: we don’t celebrate what God did, but what he continues to do through the power of Easter. Often it does seem that it is hard to be joyful, when all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But we do also see that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and produces fruit — life breaks through, goodness and light re-emerge and spread, and hope can always be found, because the Lord has risen indeed!

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