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Published 2020-04-02


To the Law School Community:

Roman Catholics together with many Christians of other denominations mark the week which begins on Palm Sunday, April 5, as the most solemn week of the Church's faith life. Lent officially ends on Wednesday. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil make up the so-called Triduum culminating in Easter Sunday. These are the Christian "high holy days."

As Catholic Chaplain at Seton Hall Law School may I beckon all my Christian friends to come pray by the Cross and Empty Tomb this Holy Week. Happy Easter!

This year Eastern Orthodox Easter is observed on Sunday, April 19. Christos anesti!/Alithos anesti!

Passover begins at sundown on April 8. The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. To my Jewish friends I wish Chag Sameach.

What is peculiar for all of us this year is the isolation in which our sacred observances will unfold. By definition, liturgy is public worship. It is communal faith sharing. It is ritual participation in a reality larger than myself. Yet, this year we must keep our distance from our fellow believers, at least in the most literal sense.

Consequently, I propose we leverage the coronavirus impediment to our advantage. Normally, I would encourage all to make an effort to be present at your house of worship for these holy days and to gather with extended family. As long as we must do so, can we use our forced separation to consider our religious observances in their most stripped down, essential state? What does Palm Sunday mean when we have no palm to show for it (none will be distributed this year in any Catholic parish in New Jersey)? What is Holy Thursday without the reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord or witnessing the washing of the feet? What is Good Friday without the reading of the Passion and the communal veneration of the cross? And the Easter Vigil…no new fire lit, no procession with lighted candles, no Easter Proclamation, no collective meditation on Holy Scripture, no Great Alleluia and Easter Gospel! Likewise Seders this year will be limited to households. As long as the public health situation makes it necessary, let’s use the starkness of our physical distancing to remember why we perform these rituals year in and year out.

Liturgy, ritual, religious observances are supposed to change us. They speak of mystery to rational minds, awakening the whole person to hidden reality so deep and vast and endless that it must be entered into to begin to be understood. We repeat rituals annually because the transformation needed is inexhaustible. Only this year, we observe in stillness without the artful movement of ritual.

I offer you the words of Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believing her suffering was also the suffering of God.

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life.

And again,

And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. (Etty Hillesum,  An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 157 & 178.)

To all my friends of all faiths or no faith at all, I promise the best thoughts of my heart for you and celebrate the goodness I discover over and over in the blessing of my days among you.

Holding all of you close in prayer,
Fr. Nick

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