(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated the Easter Sunday liturgy in St. Peter’s Square. In his Easter message, the Pope called for peace and stability in the world’s most conflict-ridden countries, and then bestowed his blessing Urbi et Orbi. An estimated 150,000 people were in attendance.
Beginning with the words of the angels to the myrrh-bearing women—“Do not be afraid! ... for he has been raised”—Pope Francis said the culmination of the Gospel in the resurrection of Jesus is “the Good News par excellence”.
Without the fact of the resurrection, he told the 150,000 people gathered to hear his Easter message, “Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew.”
Speaking after the papal Easter liturgy from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope said: “The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.”
This is why Christians tell everyone, he continued, to “come and see” that “love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.”
The Pope then turned his message to prayers for peace and for an end to injustice, underlining current situations of distress in the world. He prayed for the hungry and the vulnerable, especially children, women, and the elderly. He prayed for migrants and for the sick, in particular for the victims of the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
He asked that the Lord comfort all the kidnapped—priests religious, and lay people—who cannot spend Easter with their families.
Turning his prayer to more conflict-ridden areas of the world, he prayed for peace in “beloved Syria”, Iraq and Venezuela, and for God to continue to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
He begged for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, and to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria.
Noting that this Easter is celebrated on the same day as Eastern Christians, he prayed for peace initiatives in Ukraine, so that all people as brothers can proclaim “Christ is risen”.
RESSUREXIT ICON AND PASCHAL STICHERA
The 90-minute papal liturgy, which took place under a blue and sunny sky in St. Peter’s Square, began shortly after 10 a.m., with the very symbolic rite of Peter, Witness of the Resurrection, traditionally referred to as the rite of the Icon of the Ressurexit, Christ the Redeemer.
This ancient Easter tradition, which fell out of use in the 16th century, but which was brought back into Church practice during the Jubilee Year 2000 by Pope John Paul II, is inspired by the Gospel accounts of Peter’s amazement in seeing the empty tomb and of his encounter with the resurrected Christ. When the icon is presented at the beginning of the Liturgy, the Pope, as Successor of Peter, also encounters the Risen Christ in the icon and becomes the “first witness”, before the whole Church, of the Lord’s Resurrection.
In a gesture bridging both Eastern and Western Catholics, the Gospels were chanted in both Latin and Greek, after which the choir from the Pontifical Russian College sang the Paschal stichera, as is custom at the papal Easter liturgy when Easter falls on the same day for both Western and Eastern Christians. The stichera are a series of hymns from the Byzantine rite, which summarize a paschal homily of St. Gregory of Nazianzus,
As well, rather than the Angelus, which reflects on Jesus’ Incarnation, the Mass closed with the Regina Ceoli, the Marian Antiphon prayed throughout the Easter season, which meditates on Jesus’ Resurrection.
Following the Easter message, the Pope imparted his blessing Urbi et Orbi, that is, to the city and to the world, which is accompanied by a plenary indulgence for all the faithful taking part in the celebration, either in person or through the various communications media, under the four usual conditions. The Pope concluded thanking the 30 Dutch florists who donated more than 35,000 flowers to decorate St. Peter’s Square and the area around the altar. Part of a 29-year tradition, this year’s display included 12,000 tulips, 6,000 daffodils, 2,500 hyacinths, 15,000 narcissus, and 2,500 white roses, added to the festive Easter morning.
At the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, the Pope told the faithful in his homily to draw from the hope of the Resurrection.
Jesus’ instruction to his Apostles, after his Resurrection, to “return to Galilee”, is in fact a call to re-read everything in the life of Christ “on the basis of the cross and its victory.. from this supreme act of love,” said the Pope.
The call to “return to Galilee” is also a call to every Christian to rediscover their baptism “as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy” from the sources of faith and Christian experience, he said.
“To return to Galilee,” he said, “means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey."
The Pope added that it also means renewing “the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ” who call each disciple to follow him and to share in his mission.
“It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me,” the Pope said.
During the Easter Vigil liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope also baptised 10 catechumens—the youngest is a seven-year-old Italian and the eldest is a 58-year-old from Vietnam. The other catechumens came from France, Belarus, Lebanon and Senegal.