Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the apostolic administrator of  the Archdiocese of Washington, celebrated Easter Masses at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 

In contrast to the darkness of Good Friday when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, March 1, in an ancient rite, a fire was lit on the steps of the cathedral to symbolize the resurrection of Christ, the light of the world. 

As the faithful waited inside the dark church, the cardinal blessed the Paschal candle, and light was passed through the congregation until the entire church was slowly illuminated with candles held by people in the pews. As darkness and death were overcome with light and new life, the Exsultet (Easter proclamation) was sung. The same liturgy unfolded in parishes throughout the archdiocese as the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed.

Cardinal Wuerl baptizes a woman during the April 20 Easter Vigil at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

 At the Easter Vigil at the St. Matthew’s Cathedral parish, there were a total of 15 individuals welcomed into full communion in the Catholic Church, either as catechumens (who were newly baptized), or as candidates (already-baptized Christians who received Eucharist and Confirmation), or as Catholics completing their sacraments of initiation. Across the Archdiocese of Washington, more than 1,300 adults, teens and children were welcomed into the Catholic Church this year.
In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl spoke of the dark church and the beauty of the magnificent cathedral becoming more evident as the darkness dissipated. “As the Paschal candle, representing Christ, the Light of the World, was brought down the center aisle, each of us was asked to light our candle from it. Light was passed on to the candle that symbolizes each one of us. All of a sudden the darkness began to dissipate,” he said, noting that as light began to illuminate the dark church slowly, what people could see was not perfectly clear, but gradually they began to recognize more and more details. “This is how the kingdom of God comes to be in us,” he said. 

Addressing the catechumens and candidates present, he said, “Just as you will be invited into the mystery of the Church in your Baptism or in the completion of your conversion through Confirmation and the Eucharist, so all of us are invited, once again, to renew our own baptismal commitment and to rejoice in the grace that we have received through the death and Resurrection of Jesus.” He continued, “Tonight the whole Liturgy speaks to us of how we experience the fullness of God’s mercy, and how because we see with the eyes of faith, even if only dimly, we can begin to recognize what is happening through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As he concluded his homily, Cardinal Wuerl urged the faithful, “Remember how the dim light of this candlelit cathedral gave way to brightness when the lights were fully turned on. Remember that scene. Let it speak to all of us of how the doubt and uncertainly in our life gives way gradually as we allow our faith to grow stronger and stronger.  Walking every day more fully in the light of Christ we can truly see through the lens of faith, through the eyes of faith.”

On Easter Sunday at the cathedral, Cardinal Wuerl spoke before a standing-room-only crowd that packed the pews and the aisles. “The Church calls us together today to announce the reason for our joy, Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen,” he said as he began his homily. “With all the other things going on in life, it would be so easy to forget that at the very core of our identity as Catholics is the recognition that Jesus Christ who died on the cross is alive.”

An essential part of the Easter celebration is hearing this Good News, the cardinal said, and he spoke of how the four Gospel accounts all relate essentially the same message, that the tomb is empty and witnesses have seen the risen Lord. 

Cardinal Wuerl noted that the narrative has been meticulously preserved so that today, people are able to place their faith, trust, and confidence in the words of the Scripture in the living witness of the Church. 

“Today there is only one living witness to the Lord Jesus, only one witness who can say, ‘I was there when Christ died, when He rose, when He ascended in glory, when He sent the gift of the Spirit on us.’ That one remaining living witness is Christ’s mystical or new Body, His Church,” the cardinal said. 

He continued, “It is that Church that summons us today to hear all over again the good news — that we would not otherwise hear with confidence, ‘Christ is Risen.’”

Cardinal Wuerl said that at the Eucharistic liturgy, “Here we do what Jesus asked us to do in memory of his death and Resurrection, we re-present that mystery in a way that we become a part of it.”

“What Easter says to us is what the Church has witnessed for 20 centuries: Christ has risen from the dead, broken the chains of death, and done so not only for himself but also for us,” the cardinal said.

As Cardinal Wuerl concluded his homily, he encouraged the faithful to take the words, “Christ is risen! Christ is truly risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!” and to take this message and share it with others like Mary Magdalene running back from the empty tomb and telling the apostles. 

“Let us make that commitment today; let us renew our own faith that Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead,” the cardinal said. “And then, let us make that promise in our heart to say to one other person, ‘Christ is risen! Christ is truly risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!” 

Following the Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated the noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was carried live on The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 655,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 93 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.