A year into the coronavirus pandemic, Easter hope soars.
Last Easter, as Cardinal Dolan viewed the vast empty pews during the 10 a.m. Mass he offered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he thought, “I don’t mind an empty tomb on Easter morning, but an empty church? Forget it,” he joked with reporters following this year’s Easter Sunday Mass April 4. “So to see the folks back, even though we’re still limited to 50 percent capacity...means the world.
“And to know that hundreds of thousands are united with us at home—that’s the Church’s job, to get out the good news about the resurrection of Jesus.”
“A blessed Easter, everybody,” the cardinal said in greeting the faithful at the beginning of the 10 a.m. liturgy. Welcoming all to the cathedral, “America’s parish church,” he added, “If we can’t be in Jerusalem, if we can’t be in Rome, this ain’t bad. We’re thrilled you’re with us.”
He acknowledged those in the pews as well as those watching via the cathedral livestream, the Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129, the Catholic Faith Network and WPIX-TV (PIX11).
At the conclusion of the Mass, the cardinal thanked Msgr. Robert Ritchie, cathedral rector, and all who contributed to the “extraordinarily awesome and inspirational” Holy Week and Easter liturgies, despite the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus protocols were in place throughout the Mass, including social distancing, wearing of face masks and sanitizing of hands.
The cardinal, in his homily, recalled once being asked by a reporter who is the most influential person in his life. He replied, “Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior—the way, the truth and the life, my best friend.”
The reporter clarified that she meant the most influential person in his life who is living right now. The cardinal repeated his earlier answer.
“And that, that, my friends,” he continued, “is the act of faith that we profess this joyful Easter morning. Because our God is alive—present, active, with us, here and now.”
This paschal morning, Cardinal Dolan said, “we shout ‘Alleluia,’ praise God, because even death—a hideous death on a cross could not stop Him. Even a boulder in front of a borrowed tomb could not keep Him locked away.”
All of our fears, tears, hurts, tragedies, heartaches, suffering and worries can be summed up in one word, the cardinal explained: “death.”
“Dying can seem the ultimate failure—we can postpone it, we can ignore it, we can run away from it or deny it, we can put it off, but we can’t escape it.”
Death, from a purely worldly point of view, he explained, seems to eclipse all the promise, hope and beauty of “the radiant gift of life that we so cherish.” He said, it appears to be the ultimate negation, “that anvil that’s always dangling over us, posing the riddle that has nagged the human project all our days: Is this all there is?”
Never was that haunting question more dramatically asked than on that first Good Friday “on a hill called Calvary where one named Jesus who personified love and truth and hope and faith and life—all our dreams and noble yearnings—was crushed and beaten by hate and lies, despair, doubt, death…”
Not this Easter morning, the cardinal said. “That Friday afternoon did not have the last word. This Sunday morning did. And it is morning in His creation. The tomb is empty. The rock has been rolled away. That cross has been crossed out. It is spring, not winter, and we pass over from darkness to light, from death to life.
“Jesus passed over from the cross to the resurrection, and He invites us to come along with Him…He is risen as He said, Alleluia, Alleluia...I am with you all days, even to the end of the world, Jesus reassures us.”
Nick Sarelli, 56, a cathedral parishioner, served as a lector at the Mass. He could feel the presence of both the people in the pews and the multitudes joining the broadcast remotely. “I just imagined the entire church packed,” he told CNY outside the cathedral after the Mass.
Among other family members, he was accompanied by his wife, Alma, and their four children, including daughter Samantha Sarelli, 19, who is Miss Connecticut Teen USA.
“Covid,” Miss Sarelli conceded, has been difficult and has brought considerable isolation overall but “slowly, we’ve been coming together, we’re coming out stronger and we’re only coming out better from this.” Being in church is a reminder “of just all that hopefulness for the future, and that things are going to get better.”