Easter in the land of the rising sun
I saw this in this year’s celebrations of Holy Week and the beginning of Eastertide in this city, which providentially happened in the peak of cherry blossom season that marks the turn of winter to spring.
The liturgical celebrations, however, featured some differences compared with the ones in the Philippines.
In both the Sacra Famiglia church and the Tamatsukuri cathedral dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the Good Friday liturgies were held in the night.
The day is not a holiday here so congregations cannot participate in the services of the Passion that are normally offered at 3 p.m. in remembrance of the hour that Jesus Christ died.
I also noticed that Catholics in Japan do not customarily drape sacred statues in purple in the last two weeks of Lent as we have done again back home to help ourselves focus on no other figure in the holy days but the Christ. This, I suppose is a tradition we inherited from the Spaniards.
Likewise, the devout did not flock to the churches for the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Good Friday.
In any case, as I did at the cathedral, one may speak with a nun for confession to be arranged upon request as long as a priest is available.
The people who prayed the Way of the Cross at the cathedral were individuals or groups of tourists. One Filipino family prayed at the wooden reliefs of the stations hung on the walls of the worship space that had a square layout.
Good Friday at Sacra Famiglia was presided over by a Japanese priest and his confrere who spoke with English with an Indian accent.
The liturgy was international. Readings were in Japanese and in English. When they were in Nihongo, they were not hard to follow since the English translation was projected on the wall.
For the Veneration of the Cross, we lined up in threes to take our turns at the foot of the crucified. Most of the venerators gave deep bows, the sign of reverence to Japanese Christians as kneeling is to the brethren in most of the West and its former colonies.
The Easter vigil started in the cold night under the silver moon on the cathedral courtyard. As in the other church, the crowd was made up of people from different parts of the world. Assisting Osaka Archbishop Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda and the concelebrating priests and deacon were some altar boys and many altar girls.
For the candlelight procession, we were each given a candle with a holder that bore a sticker painting of the resurrected Christ. The Easter proclamation or Exsultet was sung in dialogue format so that deacon and congregation sang assigned lines from the ancient hymn.
The vigil was special not only because it inaugurated the feast of feasts. It was also the moment that about 20 Japanese became grafted to the Body of Christ through the sacraments of initiation. This is something we rarely witness in countries with Catholic majorities.
At the Tamatsukuri cathedral, we sang the Litany of the Saints and witnessed the Baptism, anointing with the oil of Confirmation and first Holy Communion of Japanese converts to Christianity.
After Archbishop Maeda poured water on the head of a newly baptized, his or her godparent dabbed it with a piece of white cloth.
In the rite of confirmation, the prelate approached each of the confirmed and gave them an additional name, the name of their patron saint.
Easter Sunday morning Mass at Sacra Famiglia was a crowded affair. The faithful filled one whole floor such that others who came late had to be seated on an upper story.
In the homily, the priest requested those who came to the church for the first time to stand up. They comprised more than half the number of worshipers and were welcomed with applause.
The priest reminded everyone that coming to the celebration was not so much about compulsion as it was and should always be about love for the Christ.
Before Mass ended, the priest blessed hardboiled eggs wrapped, each of them gift-wrapped and placed in trays for distribution to churchgoers. The priest reminded everyone of the meaning of the blessed eggs, that of emergence from a grave into newness of life.
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