Transformed by Holy Week:
Personal reflections of our new shepherd

By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent

FALL RIVER, Mass. — During Holy Week at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, we were in the midst of more than a hundred priests, deacons and seminarians at the Chrism Mass; we were disciples at the Last Supper; we were there when they crucified Our Lord; and we saw the empty tomb and believed.

As we walked the road to Calvary, we were accompanied for the first time by our new shepherd, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D. V., whose kind and gentle voice guided and taught us along the way.

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MASS OF CHRISM: A TIME TO BLESS

One of the most beautiful celebrations of the year, the Chrism Mass drew faithful from across the diocese, and the cathedral was filled to the rafters.

Clergy from all diocesan parishes processed down the center aisle, while the bishop followed.

“We are really grateful to all of you for being here today,” said Bishop da Cunha, welcoming the congregation. “I wish at this celebration to let all our priests know how important they are and how appreciative we are for their lives and vocation.”

Gathering together at the Chrism Mass, the priests renewed their ordination promises by reaffirming their commitment to serving the Church.

“Beloved sons, on the anniversary of that day when Christ the Lord conferred His priesthood on His Apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew, in the presence of your bishop and God’s holy people, the promises you once made?” Bishop da Cunha asked. 

“I am,” they answered.

“Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about Sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of Him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?” he asked. 

“I am,” they answered.

“Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other Liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the Sacred office of teaching, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls?” he asked.

“I am,” they answered.

Then the bishop addressed us.

“As for you, dearest sons and daughters, pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to Him, Who is the Source of Salvation,” he said. “And pray also for me, that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness and that in your midst I may be made day-by-day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and the Servant of all.”

Three oils — the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and Holy Chrism — were blessed and consecrated for distribution to the parishes. There were three processions, each headed by two deacons holding an urn, followed by nine people representing those ministries and bringing four baskets, each containing 25 bottles of oil. 

Bishop da Cunha breathed over the open vessel of Chrism oil, and all of the clergy extended their right hand in blessing.

“These holy oils distributed throughout the diocese will be a sign of unity and source of blessing for all those who receive this anointing,” the bishop said. 

HOLY THURSDAY: A TIME TO SERVE

On this holy night we began the Sacred Triduum which continued until sunset on Easter Sunday.

“Welcome all to this beautiful celebration this evening as we begin the Paschal Triduum,” said Bishop da Cunha. “Today we celebrate when Jesus and His disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and we celebrate service as He washed their feet.”

Twelve men, representing the Apostles, waited in the front pews. One by one they approached Bishop da Cunha, assisted by Deacon Peter R. Cote, and the bishop washed their feet.

“We sit around the table of Our Lord with the meal of the Body and Blood of Christ and remember what Christ did for us,” said Bishop da Cunha. “Jesus had to give Himself in the Eucharist, suffer and die for us, and Rise again.”

He said that the sharing of the Eucharist is a sign of our commitment to be transformed and to be an instrument of transformation. 

“Everyone who participates in the Eucharist must be committed to the struggle to create a better and just world,” he added. “It must change us.”

Bishop da Cunha carried the Blessed Sacrament, while we followed in silence to the Chapel of Our Lady for Eucharistic Adoration. Compline was prayed at 10 p.m. to end the night watch. 

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GOOD FRIDAY: A TIME TO SUFFER

The Good Friday service began in silence, while Bishop da Cunha walked prayerfully to the altar. 

We waited respectfully as the bishop and Deacon Cote lay lifeless on the marble floor in front of the altar.

After the reading the Passion from the Gospel of John, Bishop da Cunha spoke about the redeeming value of suffering.

First, he asked us to ponder this question: “Why did God choose to save the world the way He did by allowing His only Son to suffer, to be crucified and to die?”

He added: “Could God have done differently, and just say, ‘I’m saving the world,’ by the power of His Word, without Jesus going through all this humiliation, suffering and abandonment?” 

“But if He had done this, we would never have been convinced,” he said. “We needed to see how much God loved us and how much He is capable of doing for us so we could be touched and changed. Miracles would not be enough. We needed to know how much He loves us — to love means to suffer; to love means to give one’s life for the beloved.”

We venerated the cross. All came forward to kiss the Cross of Christ.

Then we left in silence for the sake of those who remained in prayer.

EASTER: A TIME TO REJOICE

While the wind howled outside, we stood in silence in the darkness of the massive cathedral. Then in the back of the Sanctuary, a new fire appeared, blazing with light.

Bishop da Cunha lit the Easter Candle and proclaimed the Light of Christ, scattering the darkness. 

Then flickers of light began to appear, as the flame was passed candle to candle; and in a matter of minutes the church was illuminated.

“The whole darkness of our Church is gone, and we are now in the light,” said the bishop. “Christ is our Light as we celebrate this Easter Vigil in anticipation of His Resurrection.”

We renewed our baptismal promises.

“To be blessed and sprinkled with water tonight reminds us of our new beginning,” said Bishop da Cunha. “We are blessed with the new light, the fresh water of Baptism and the hope of Resurrection. Easter is a new beginning.” 

He added that God changed things around: He changed death into life, evil to good. 

“Tonight we are called to move from darkness into light, from fear to courage, from old to new, from sin to grace, from sadness to joy, from doubt to faith, from despair to hope,” he said. 

The Mass ended, and the musicians performed a lively Brazilian-Portuguese song while everyone clapped with joy. 

And the bishop shook hands with us, before we headed back out into the cold, dark night — a People of Light.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts