AQUINAS: An Easter united in prayer
April 28, 2020
For many of us, in this time of pandemic, our Lenten season became something we did not expect. Our planned prayers, fasting and alms giving gave way to the ever-evolving challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Limitations on our daily routines interrupted our normalcy, and our regular ways to entertain ourselves were reduced to drive-thru windows and walks in our neighborhoods.
Most of all, our suffering changed dramatically when our access to the Sacraments changed. By not being able to attend Mass and visit our churches for prayer, we were given the ultimate opportunity to fast and pray from the desert of isolation and disorientation. We cried out, “Lord! Why? Why would you keep us away? Answer us!” Yet, through all of this, we learned a lesson more profound than any we could ever learn from a book, homily, or witness: we learned the inestimable value of prayer as a source of unity with Christ and others.
By uniting ourselves to Masses from our homes, we were given the opportunity to learn that prayer transcends borders and spaces. We were immersed in one of the most profound teachings of our faith, that we are intimately linked as one body in Christ. Christ is our “head” and we are the “members.” As we learn in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
We learned to unite our sufferings, loneliness and disappointment with the rest of the faithful — whom we cannot see — with the prayers of the priest at the altar, to see with the eyes of faith the intimate union that exists in the body of Christ. St. Augustine called this the “whole Christ,” and that is because of the grace of our Baptism, prayers, fasting and sacrifices are united with Christ’s prayers, fasting and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Thus, we learned that prayer is vital for us and expresses the connection we have with Christ and each other!
Now it is Easter. As we know from our faith tradition, the glory of Easter is not confined to celebrating just one day, Easter Sunday. The glory of Easter spills into the 50 days that follow, as we remember the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. The lesson the Church teaches through the Easter Liturgies is of the growing community of believers.
The body of Christ begins to grow and take shape. The Church grows in number and begins to spread beyond the borders of Israel. How was this growing Church nourished? By prayer!
In Acts of the Apostles, we read, “All these [disciples] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Perhaps we are learning through these strange days, too, that prayer is not just a practice for Lent but belongs within our Easter season as well. Why not take on an Easter practice in much the same way that we take on prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent? We continue our “fast” from the Liturgy.
Yet, with our new eyes of faith, we can see the glory of Jesus radiating from the Masses that we cannot attend. Our experience and understanding of the Easter season as a season of growth as the body of Christ should be paramount in our thoughts and our hearts. We unite with those who are suffering, dying, lonely or afraid. We pray alongside others spiritually now in order to build up the body of Christ, the Church. May our Easter see us grow closer by prayer despite the separations we put into place as families, communities and cities.
Many are commenting that we will not forget this Lenten season just past, with its unique circumstances and challenges. Yet may we practice more intensely our daily prayers both individually and in our families, to allow the hard lessons of Lent flower into the triumphal graces of Easter, and cause abundant growth for the Church throughout the world.
Sister Thomas Aquinas, OP, is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and currently serves at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham.