My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord
May the Risen Lord bestow upon you
His Joy and Peace!
Due to the great efforts of all of you, 3,000 adults will receive the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion) in our Diocese and join our Christian family at the Easter Vigil this year. Our diocese is deeply thankful to God for this blessing. On behalf of the Diocese, I sincerely welcome them as our new brothers and sisters.
Also to their catechists, I express my sincere gratitude and deep admiration. Although Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing and I have met most of the candidates, as it is our privilege to administer the oil of catechumens to their foreheads during this Lenten season, we still look forward to meeting them again at the Eucharist to be held on the upcoming feast of Pentecost.
St. Paul told us: “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Thus, the resurrection of Christ is the core element of our faith.
When the Church celebrates the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, we implement the remembrance of not only the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, but also of our new life of being Christian through the Sacrament of Baptism.
As we have become Christians through Baptism and want to be Christians worthy of the name, we naturally ask: How should we celebrate Easter?
To answer this question, we must first look back in history to find out how the Early Church celebrated Easter. According to historians who have researched ancient documents, the celebration of Easter in the Early Church evolved through two stages.
The earliest stage was during the first and second centuries AD. During that time, Church authorities had not yet established liturgical rules.
When Catholics of that time celebrated Easter, the main emphasis was on renewal of life. They viewed their own conversion and baptism as a journey through life, constantly dying and rising with Christ.
Thus St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4). On the eighth day of every week, Sunday, they also celebrated the mystery of the resurrection. Even if Roman authorities and soldiers seized them, they had no regrets.
The second stage was the third and fourth centuries AD. The Church was growing steadily larger and many believers were second or third generation Christians. Baptised as children, they lacked the conversion experience of first generation Christians.
Thus the Church had established the annual Easter Vigil, adding the symbolic rituals of blessing holy fire and holy water to the liturgy. The purpose was to remind believers of that generation of their Baptism, so that they should constantly die and rise with Christ, and be a light to the world.
As one historical era gave way to another, outside customs worked their way into the Church and business people commercialised it, so the celebration of Easter became just a common practice to many Catholics.
The coming of the annual feast merely meant an occasion for everyone to eat and party, exchange Easter eggs, take a holiday and travel. So 51 years ago, the Second Vatican Council made a special effort to remind believers of the true spirit of Easter in the Early Church.
The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy says: “By a tradition handed down from the apostles… the Church celebrates the paschal mystery on the eighth day of every week, which is appropriately called the Lord’s Day. For on this day, Christ’s faithful are bound to come together into one place. They should listen to the Word of God and take part in the Eucharist, thus calling to mind the passion, resurrection and glory of the Lord Jesus” (Ch5, n106).
The same document stresses: “Once a week, on the day which she has called the Lord’s Day, she keeps the memory of the Lord’s resurrection. She also celebrates it once every year, together with his blessed passion, at Easter, that most solemn of all feasts” (Ch5, n102).
From the outstanding celebration of Easter in the Early Church and the teaching of Vatican II, we can draw three recommendations.
The celebration of Easter is not limited to the annual feast of Easter itself, but includes every Sunday of the entire year as well. Therefore, if we want to celebrate the annual Easter well, we must first celebrate each Sunday well all throughout the liturgical year. In such a way, we can celebrate the annual feast of Easter as the summit and source of all other Sundays.
The main spirit of the celebration of Easter is on spiritual renewal. Thus, if we want to celebrate Easter well, we must consider our whole life as a winding staircase, moving up to a higher level.
Although Easter comes in an annual cycle, our Christian life should be like the winding staircase, constantly moving upwards with progress, meaning that our spiritual life this Easter should be better than last Easter, particularly in the area of personal growth and helping others.
The death and resurrection of the individual Christian starts from the moment of receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. The liturgy of Baptism will be over quickly, yet the responsibility of Baptism should be life-long.
If we can always remember the baptism we received and consider each moment of our life as a small success of our death and resurrection, and the last moment of our life as a big success of death and resurrection, our whole life would become a real celebration of Easter, full of the joy and peace brought by our Risen Lord.
In order to accomplish the above mentioned goals, I sincerely encourage all of you, besides joining any of the small communities in your parish and attending the formation courses offered by our Diocese, to try your utmost to carry out the following six spiritual practices recommended by St. Pope John Paul II.
Choose a period of time each day to pray. This will make you a close friend of Christ, always communicating with Him.
Actively participate in Sunday Mass. Do not do this just to fulfill the Church’s commandment. Do it to become a real Christian.
Conscientiously receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This will help you to face the modern prejudices regarding a sense of sin. It will also help you to receive the limitless graces of Christ.
In every activity or plan, place Christ at the head of it and completely rely on the help of God’s grace.
Every household should possess a Bible. Earnestly read the Bible. Let the Word of God guide you and let it form your life. Let it arouse in you a missionary spirit and make you become a servant of God’s Word.
Be concerned about your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Share in and take responsibility for their joys and sorrows. Be a witness to love.
Hong Kong has many reservoirs, which gather water. These reservoirs receive rain water and river water. But they must also have a way to release it. If they only receive water and have no means of releasing it, the water in the reservoirs will become stagnant and create a bad smell.
Our faith is like that. It is a living stream, which is continually flowing. We must receive it and share it with others. Only then will our faith flow into the hearts of others and become mature, dynamic and great. Therefore, spreading the Gospel is the best way to thank God for His great grace.
Again, we congratulate the 3,000 adult brothers and sisters who are receiving Baptism this Easter and we welcome them into the great family of our Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong!
May God bless you all!
+ John Cardinal Tong
Bishop of Hong Kong
20 March 2017
The Feast of St. Joseph