Prepare for Easter

TRENTON, NJ - With the arrival of Palm Sunday March 20, Catholics throughout the region will have many opportunities to take part in Holy Week services, powerful dramatizations of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, Confession and Masses, all aimed at preparing them for the arrival of Easter on March 27.

The 107 Catholic parishes throughout Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties have planned a week full of special events and activities, encouraging parishioners and newcomers alike to deepen their experience of Holy Week by attending one or more of these gatherings.  Click here for a schedule organized by county.

Beyond parish walls, the faithful are invited by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., to join him and fellow members of the Diocese of Trenton for two very special events this week:  The Chrism Mass on Monday, March 21, and a Tenebrae Service, March 23. This is the first diocesan-level Tenebrae Service conducted by Bishop O’Connell (see details below).

The Movements of Holy Week

Ø  The special week will begin the weekend of March 19 and 20 with the celebration of Palm Sunday Mass, recalling the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Palms are blessed and distributed to the congregation as a reminder of the Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. The same palms are collected later in the year and are burned to be used for the next Ash Wednesday.   Bishop O’Connell will celebrate Palm Sunday Mass at 11 a.m. in Visitation Church, Brick.

Ø  On Monday, March 21, beginning at 7:30 p.m., members of the diocesan family will gather around Bishop O’Connell and all of their priests, for one of the most sol­emn and sacred events of the year – the annual Chrism Mass. It will be celebrated for the second consecutive year in St. Robert Bellarmine Church, located at 61 Georgia Rd., Freehold.

Traditionally celebrated in every diocese throughout the world during Holy Week, the Chrism Mass is a manifestation of the unity of the Diocese and the commitment of the priests who serve. During this Mass, the sacred Chrism is consecrated (blessed by the Bishop) and is used throughout the year for the conferral of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the dedication of new churches.  The Oil of the Catechumens is used to anoint the un­baptized who are seeking full initia­tion in the Church at the Easter Vigil, and the Oil of the Sick is used in the Anointing of the Sick. The Chrism Mass also serves as a special day in the life of the priests as they formally recommit themselves to their priestly ministry and service in the Diocese of Trenton.

Ø  The diocesan Tenebrae Service, led by Bishop O’Connell, will take place Wednesday, March 23, in St. Catharine Church, Spring Lake.  Tenebrae, which in Latin means darkness or shadows, is a tradition exercised in an atmo­sphere of quiet and somber reflection, employing the imagery of the gradual extinguishing of lights to represent the struggle between the darkness of sin and death and Christ as the Light of the World. A large candle on the altar, representing the Savior himself, is removed from the altar to symbol­ize the coming death of Jesus.

Tenebrae Services are also scheduled in a number of parishes across the Diocese at different points of Holy Week. (See schedule).

Ø  The sacred Triduum of the Church, which begins Holy Thursday, March 24, and ends with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, March 26, brings Lent to a close and begins a period of intense spiritual preparation as Catholics are called to remember Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday recalls Christ’s Last Supper in which he offered his Body and Blood to his followers for strength and consolation as they go forth and serve the world in God’s name. In remembrance of Christ washing the feet of his disciples as a sign of humility, the priest washes the feet of members of the local faith community. The Mass ends with the Blessed Sacrament reserved in a place of Reposition for Adoration.

Bishop O’Connell will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday at 7 p.m. in St. Martha Church, Point Pleasant.

Good Friday, March 25, is the most solemn day of the year when Chris­tians throughout the world reflect on Christ’s imprisonment, torture and Crucifixion. The Catholic com­munity will gather for a service that brings together the ancient rites of the Church of Jerusalem and the Roman traditions.

In addition to the reading of the Passion in John’s Gospel and a series of intercessory prayers, the service will include the Ven­eration of the Cross, where congregants come before the Cross, kneeling, bowing, touching it or offering a kiss in reverence and memory of Christ’s Death on the Cross. Many parish­es also portray the Stations of the Cross, and several Living Station processions through the streets are planned.

Bishop O’Connell will commemorate the Lord’s Passion during a 3 p.m. service in Epiphany Church, Brick.

Holy Saturday, March 26, begins in many communities with the Blessing of Easter Food, a Euro­pean tradition symbolizing the break­ing of the Triduum fast as ham, eggs, breads and other ethnic foods are brought to the churches and blessed. In some parishes the foods are then given to a local shelter or distributed to families in need.

With darkness comes one of the most ancient rituals of the Church – the Blessing of the Easter Fire, during which the celebrant blesses a large fire outside the church. From that fire, the Paschal candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ, is solemnly brought into the church and is used to light the candles held by members of the congregation who wait in the dark­ened worship space. By the time the Paschal candle reaches the sanctuary, the entire church is bathed in soft candle light and the image of Christ as the Light of the World ushers in the Great Vigil of Easter.

At the vigil, members of the par­ish who have been preparing for full initiation in the Church as elect (unbaptized), or candidates (baptized who must complete their Sacraments) receive Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist and Con­firmation before their faith communi­ties. The celebration of Mass marks the start of the Great Solemnity of Easter, in memory of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Bishop O’Connell will celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter at 7:30 p.m. in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

On Easter Sunday, March 27, the Catho­lic community throughout the Diocese will celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, worshiping in many different languages that reflect the ethnic diversity of the Church of Trenton.

Bishop O’Connell will celebrate Easter Sunday Mass in Fort Dix.

Established in 1881, the Diocese of Trenton comprises 107 parishes in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties with a Catholic population of nearly 800,000.