Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica

By Thaddeus Jones

Apr 18 2022

Pope Francis attends the Easter Vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, focusing his homily on how the women of the Gospel help glimpse the “first rays of the dawn of God’s life rising in the darkness of our world,” and teach us to see, hear and proclaim the Passover of the Lord from death to life.

Pope Francis attended the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica, filled with 5,500 pilgrims. This celebration is the most solemn and noblest of all Solemnities.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals, presided over the celebration, while Pope Francis delivered his homily and baptised seven catechumens. The Pope has suffered from knee pain in recent months, something he also mentioned when speaking to journalists recently after his pastoral journey to Malta.

Closeness to Ukraine

Present at the celebration were members of a small delegation from Ukraine, made up of representatives of the local government and the country’s parliament, whom the Pope met with just before the liturgy began.

The delegation included the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, now an exile. The Pope greeted him in particular during the celebration.

“In this darkness that you are living, Mr. Mayor, Parliamentarians, the thick darkness of war, of cruelty, we are all praying, praying with you and for you this night. We are praying for all the suffering. We can only give you our company, our prayer and say to you: “Courage! We are accompanying you!” And also to say to you the greatest thing we are celebrating today: Christòs voskrés! Christ is risen!”

Delivering his homily seated, the Pope recalled how many writers have evoked the beauty of starlit nights, whereas nights of war are marked by streams of light portending death.

From bewilderment to joy

Reflecting on this Easter night, he encouraged everyone to see the hopeful light of dawn as experienced by the women of the Gospel who discovered the empty tomb of Jesus. They show us “the first rays of the dawn of God’s life rising in the darkness of our world.”

Easter Vigil baptism of catechumens

The Pope recalled how the women who went early in the morning to annoint the body of Jesus were startled to find it empty while meeting two figures in dazzling garments telling them Jesus was risen.

“They saw, they heard, they proclaimed” – three aspects of their experience we also can gain from when remembering the Lord’s passover from death to life.

The women saw

The first news of the resurrection marked “a sign to be contemplated,” the Pope observed, as it totally overturned expectations and came as an amazing and surprising hope.

Sometimes radically good news many not “find a place in our hearts,” the Pope added, and like the women in the Gospel we can initially react with doubts and especially fear, as the Gospel narrative describes their reaction. 

We can sometimes keep looking at life and reality with a downcast persepctive, the Pope went on to say, and even write off the future, believe things will never change or improve, burying “the joy of living.”

Yet, the Easter hope we proclaim today is a call by the Lord to see life with different eyes, and make the jump to really believing that “fear, pain and death will not have the last word over us.”

While death can fill us with fear and sadness, he said, we must remember that “the Lord is risen!” 

“Let us lift up our gaze, remove the veil of sadness and sorrow from our eyes, and open our hearts to the hope that God brings!”

The women heard

Recalling the two men in dazzling garments who spoke to women, saying “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen,” the Pope said we do well to hear and repeat their words “He is not here!”

This response can be for us too when we think we have understood everything about God and allow our own ideas and perspectives to contain Him, or we only seek the Lord in times of need and forget Him the rest of our daily lives, or when we neglect the Lord present in our brothers and sister who need our help. 

The Pope added that we need to break free of moribund ways of thinking and behaving, where we can become prisoners of the past, lacking courage to to let ourselves be forgiven by God, to opt in favour for Jesus and his love.

We need to accept and encounter the living God who desires to change us and to change our world. 

“Yet the Lord is risen! Let us not tarry among the tombs, but run to find him, the Living One! Nor may we be afraid to seek him also in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the stories of those who hope and dream, in the pain of those who we suffer: God is there!”

The women proclaimed

The final verb the Pope underscored is how the women proclaimed the joy of the resurrection, opening “hearts to the extraordinary message of God’s triumph over evil and death.”

This joy was not just a happy consolation, but animated them to generate missionary disciples who “bring to all the Gospel of the risen Christ.”

The Pope said after the women saw and heard, they were overcome with a drive and the exhilaration to tell this good news, even if people thought they were crazy or would not believe it. 

Joy of the Gospel

The Pope expressed his wish for a Church that can proclaim in the same way, with the same fervour, the joy of the Gospel, what all Christians are called to do “to experience the risen Christ and to share the experience with others” and the joy it brings. 

“Let us make Jesus, the Living One, rise again from all those tombs in which we have sealed him…Let us bring him into our everyday lives: through gestures of peace in these days marked by the horrors of war, through acts of reconciliation amid broken relationships, acts of compassion towards those in need, acts of justice amid situations of inequality and of truth in the midst of lies. And above all, through works of love and fraternity.”

Hope has a name: the name of Jesus

In conclusion, Pope Francis recalled how Jesus entered “the tomb of our sin” and “bore the weight of our burdens” restoring us to life. 

“Let us celebrate Easter with Christ! He is alive! Today, too, he walks in our midst, changes us and sets us free…For with Jesus, the Risen Lord, no night will last forever; and even in the darkest night, the morning star continues to shine.”

-Vatican News