Celebrating Easter taps into the universal human longing for joy and resurrection to win out over sadness, fear and death.
And whether proclaimed in Latin, English, Hindi, Swahili or any other language of dialect, the angel’s words, “He is risen, just as He said!” (Matthew 28:6) animate the soul and turn hope into reality.
This is true throughout the world, with the Church’s Holy Week and Easter celebrations sending powerful waves through every nation and culture.
Here are some examples from nations represented among priests serving in the Jefferson City diocese:
Out in the open
Public reenactments of Jesus’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem set off the Holy Week and Easter observances in Ghana, with sweet Hosannas ringing through every city and town.
The weather is generally mild, so the liturgies for Palm Sunday and Good Friday usually start outside the church and move inside, according to Father Henry Ussher.
Fr. Ussher, administrator of St. Clement Parish in St. Clement, Sacred Heart Parish in Vandalia and the Mission of St. John in Laddonia, is a priest of the Diocese of Wiawso, Ghana.
He said the people in his part of Ghana gather on Palm Sunday in the center of town or in a large open area on the outskirts.
Priests or catechists distribute blessed palms and then lead the congregants in procession through the main street of the town.
The people sing “Hosanna to the King!” accompanied by traditional musical instruments and great jubilation.
Back home after Mass, many people enjoy a meal that includes palm butter soup.
A few days later on Holy Thursday, people usually dress in white for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which begins at 8 p.m. and concludes with Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament until midnight.
Good Friday services often begin with public dramatizations of the Stations of the Cross, usually lasting two to three hours.
“The congregation dress in red and black clothes, as when there is funeral,” Fr. Ussher noted.
Members generally participate as members of various groups and devotional societies, such as the Christian Mothers, the St. Theresa Society, the Sacred Heart Confraternity, parish choir, youth group, Catholic Charismatic Renewal Group and the Catholic Women’s Society.
Each group reenacts one of the Stations of the Cross along the principle street.
Upon arriving at church, various groups engage in Bible discussions or some other spiritual activity.
At 3 p.m., the people gather again as one for a celebration of the Lord’s Passion.
On Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil is celebrated according to the traditional rites of the Church.
In some communities, the Easter Vigil concludes with the public singing of Easter hymns.
In other parishes, the choir sings at designated places in the town, beginning at 4 a.m. on Easter morning.
Later, Catholics dressed in white clothes, traditional Kente Clothes or other colorful attire gather for Mass.
Various churches organize picnics on Easter Monday, with picnics in coastal towns and cities taking place at the beach.
“Just in time”
Holy Week is the largest religious observance in Uganda, including liturgies, festive meals and “lots of processions,” according to Father Boniface Kasita Nzabonimpa, administrator of St. Boniface Parish in Brunswick, St. Joseph Parish in Hurricane Branch and the Mission of St. Raphael in Indian Grove.
“Easter is a time for Ugandans to take to the streets and watch elaborate reenactments of the Passion, as well as enjoy some time off work in the company of their families and friends,” said Fr. Nzabonimpa, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda.
Why is Easter such a big deal in Uganda?
“Easter is a celebration of the victory our Lord Jesus achieved for all mankind,” Fr. Nzabonimpa stated.
The holy days are enthusiastically observed, with public holidays on Good Friday and Easter Monday creating a four-day weekend.
School vacations also tend to coincide with Easter.
“I remember in old days when I was still in elementary school, schools were closed for two to three weeks, just in time for the Easter celebrations,” said Fr. Nzabonimpa.
He noted that Ugandans are ranked amongst the happiest people in Africa — “and that never seems truer than on Easter weekend.”
He believes Kampala, located near where he grew up, is one of the best places to celebrate Easter.
Families begin by going to Mass together in the morning.
“The Easter Vigil is celebrated on Saturday night,” he noted, “but because of the darkness and most people walk to the church instead of driving there, as few people own personal cars, it is less attended than the morning Masses.”
Some of the larger parishes hold impressive processions, parades and Passion reenactments on Easter Sunday.
Afterward, a festive family meal for Easter might include chicken, beef and goat meat with mashed green bananas, yams and rice.
There might also be traditional libations, including banana wine and banana liquor called Uganda Waragi or “the spirit of Uganda.”
Activities for children and music from a live band often top off a fun-filled family day in the city.
“Dressed in their best”
Father Alexander Gabriel, pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Tipton and Annunciation Parish in California, still remembers his home parish’s choir singing the “Lumen Christi,” “Deo Gracias,” “Exultet” and other Easter Sunday hymns and chants in Latin.
A priest of the Diocese of Daltonganj in northeastern India, Fr. Gabriel grew up in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
He and his family attended Easter Sunday Mass at midnight in their parish church.
The only worship service conducted on Easter, it would last for three hours or longer.
“The church would be overfull with children, adults and the elderly — all dressed in their best but sitting and kneeling on the bare floor,” Fr. Gabriel recalled.
Easter Sunday also meant a special meal served at noon, with mutton or home-raised chicken.
“It would be all fixed by my Mom, who made delicious meals,” he said. “We kids assisted her with grinding spices, getting coconut sheaves, drawing water from the open well, collecting banana leaves and so forth.”
The meal would consist of five or seven items — always an odd number — including pickles.
“We ate our food hand-served on banana leaves” — a tradition still followed on special occasions, he said.
The afternoon would be for catching up on rest after a long night and day of celebrating.
“Victory after the cross”
Fr. Nzabonimpa said his happiest Easter memories from Uganda are of celebrating and spending time with his family, relatives and friends.
“I am always glad and blessed that though I am now away from home, my parishioners in St. Boniface, St. Joseph and St. Raphael always invite me to celebrate with them on big festivities like Christmas and Easter,” he said.
The most memorable Easter Sunday for him so far was in 1993.
“I was by then a student in the seminary high school and praying endlessly for God’s blessings and a clear spiritual path,” he recalled.
“After the celebration of the holy week, reflecting on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, then celebrating His resurrection on Easter and singing Easter carols, I clearly saw victory after the cross,” he said.
His life has never been the same after that.
“God has continuously showered me with His blessings and profound love,” said Fr. Nzabonimpa. “I am a Church leader today because I wanted to share this good experience with other people as well, as Christ command: ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mark 16:15).
“I am pleased that people have embraced the message of Christ with open arms,” he said. “Happy Easter to everyone!”