by Father Mike Stubbs
Many Protestant churches will hold a sunrise service on Easter Sunday early in the morning.
Such a service reflects very well the Gospel reading that we hear for the Easter Vigil, Mk 16:1-7, which also can be used at the Easter Sunday morning Masses.
It tells us about the visit of the three women — Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome — to anoint the body of Jesus with the spices they had bought the evening before:
“Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.”
Even though most Catholic churches do not hold a sunrise service as such on Easter Sunday morning, many have an early morning Mass every Sunday.
For example, our parish has one at 7:30 a.m. every week. That would take place at about the same time as a sunrise service.
On the other hand, we Catholics do have a service that closely corresponds to the Gospel reading. It is the Easter Vigil.
The rubrics of the Roman Missal mandate that the Easter Vigil begin sometime after sunset on the evening of Holy Saturday and end sometime before sunrise Easter Sunday morning.
It is to take place during the darkness of the night. In that way, it links us to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead sometime during the night.
We do not know the exact hour. None of the Gospels reveal that. Furthermore, none of the canonical Gospels describe the event itself.
Like the three women who visited the tomb that early Easter morning, we only see the emptiness of the tomb and hear the announcement of the angel. The event itself is shrouded in darkness and mystery.
Why is that? There is the obvious reason that the evangelists were not present, nor were any other human witnesses. But besides that, it may be because human words would be incapable of describing this great event, to do it justice.
At the same time, that lack of description allows us to give full rein to our imaginations to visualize it.
We can prayerfully place ourselves in that moment, in order to encounter the risen Christ ourselves. What no physical eyes saw, we will be able to see with the eyes of faith.
This Easter, even though we are far removed from the event of the Resurrection through time and space, that still can happen.