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Bishop Denis’s Homily from Easter Vigil Mass, 16.4.22

Easter Vigil  – Year C:                                                                                        16.04.22

Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 10.45pm


Luke’s gospel suggests immediacy and urgency: “the first day of the week, at the first sign of the dawn, the women went to the tomb[1]. It is the women who find the tomb empty. It is the women who go with their spices to embalm the body properly, the timing of the Passover had robbed them of an earlier opportunity. It is the women who tell the eleven and all the others. Luke offers no detail on who “all the others[2] were, but we can be very sure the early church was much more than the eleven – men and women who were moved to follow Jesus.

Pope Francis recently on his trip to Malta, speaking in Gozo, invited us to return to the nascent Church that we find beneath the cross in the persons of Mary and John. He said “going back to the origins means … recovering the spirit of the first Christian community, returning to the heart and rediscovering the core of our faith[3]. And I think we need to learn from  the Church we find at the empty tomb that first Easter day. We forget the key role women played in the earliest days of the Church. Without the women there would be no first hand news of resurrection.

Pope Emeritus Benedict is definite that the empty tomb is no proof of resurrection, but then again he asks “Can Jesus be risen if he is still lying in the tomb? What kind of resurrection would that be?[4]. We have held our breath since 3 o’clock yesterday. There is so much we do out of habit over these past thirty hours – dipping fingers by instinct into dry holy water fonts! And those fonts have been dry for over two years. Those fonts thirst for Easter water this Vigil night. Genuflecting in front of empty tabernacles, we have all done it! We have missed receiving His precious Body and Blood, during lockdown, nourishment for the journey, nourishment for our lives.

Easter defines us as Christians, there is no simpler way to put it. Pope Francis in his post-synodal exhortation after the synod on youth tells us: “Christ is alive! … He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One.[5]. He puts it very succinctly and concisely.

Our Easter Vigil is a journey expressed in symbolic actions. We began with an Easter fire that gave us the spark that lit our Easter Candle. In darkness we journied through the Old Testament in song and in word, accompanied by candle light. So much of the Easter Vigil is defined by the elements of fire and water.

Christ is the only light that dispels all darkness this Vigil night. He is the only light that eradicates the daily darknesses that permeates too much of our lives. Let us return to the women at the tomb. Their message from the angels: “why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen[6]. Too many of us, spend too long looking in the wrong places. Easter is a time of great renewal, refreshment, revival.

I notice the colour yellow is most associated with Easter, check out your Easter Cards. Yellow is a colour of sunshine, hope, happiness. We also know it is the colour of Ukraine. I think of the women of Ukraine who are arriving here, Oxanna and her daughters who came to Chrism Mass here in Carlow and Natalia and her son Matthew who attended the Chrism Mass in Kilkenny. We pray that the women, men and children of Ukraine may soon experience the true Easter message of hope and happiness that comes from a lasting and just peace.

We’re not told by Luke what the women wore on their early morning rush to the tomb with spices and cloths. He was much more interested in their intent. I suggest they were most likely wearing sombre colours, but the reality of resurrection changes the dullest greys into the most colourful yellows. We all risk thinking Easter is over once we leave the church after our Vigil or our celebration tomorrow. Easter lasts fifty days. Fifty days of “Alleluia, Christ has Risen!” And remember how fundamental women are to our Church and to our faith story. On this Vigil night we give thanks for their witness.

[1] Lk.24:1

[2] Lk.24:9

[3] Pope Francis, Address at National Shrine of “Ta’ Pinu” in Gozo, Saturday, 2 April 2022

[4] Ratzinger, Joseph: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, 2011, Pg.254

[5] Pope Francis: Christus Vivit, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, 2019, ¶1 – 2

[6] Lk.24:5-6