ROMA – Easter is all about getting a fresh start, and in that spirit, Pope Francis finished his weekly audience cycle on liturgy on Wednesday by encouraging faithful to allow the flowers of Mass to blossom in their everyday lives.
The pope also sent a warm ‘Happy Easter’ to his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, emphasizing the continuity of their pontificates, and, indirectly, responding to impressions of a rift following a recent Vatican scandal featuring efforts to suppress part of the content of a letter from Benedict about a new book series on Francis’s theology.
“I would like for us to say ‘Happy Easter’ to the former Bishop of Rome, the beloved Pope Benedict, who watches us on television,” Pope Francis said. “To Pope Benedict, we shall say ‘Happy Easter’ and give a big applause!”
The crowd of over 20,000 according to estimates from the Vatican police, cheered happily while standing under the rain, with colorful umbrellas filling up St. Peter’s Square.
Despite the bad weather, the pope asked those gathered to stop and smell the roses.
“Mass is like a seed, which, in ordinary lives, grows, grows and matures in good deeds and the behaviors that liken us to Jesus,” Francis said in an unscripted remark. “The flowers of Mass are destined to mature in real life.”
The pope pointed to the many flowers left over from the Easter celebrations, which still filled the square. Since 1986, Dutch florists have been responsible for the floral display, this year filling the square with almost 50,000 flowers.
“In some places, Easter is called ‘Blossoming Easter’ because when the Risen Christ blooms, it’s the new flower,” he said. “Our justification blooms, the sanctity of the Church blooms. This is why so many flowers. It’s our joy.”
The Mass, Francis said, also reflects this cycle of ending and beginning, death and rebirth.
“Mass thus ends as it began, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the triune God who calls us to share in his divine life through the saving death and resurrection of the Lord,” Francis said.
But the ending of Mass, the pope continued, does not mean that the responsibility of the faithful to live out the Christian witness ends.
“We exit the Church to ‘go in peace’ and bring the blessing of God in our daily activities, in our homes, in our workplaces, among the occupations of the earthly city, ‘glorifying the Lord with our life’,” Francis said.
The Eucharist represents “Jesus entering within us, in our heart and in our flesh,” and the Mass is fulfilled by daily “concrete choices,” the pope explained. Through Communion, we “learn how to become Eucharistic men and women,” he added.
“Christians don’t go to Mass to perform a weekly task and then forget,” Francis said, in an off-the-cuff remark. “No! Christians go to Mass to participate in the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord and to live more as Christians.”
“Every time I leave Mass I must emerge better than when I entered, with a bigger desire to offer Christian witness,” he added.
“The fruits of Mass, therefore, are destined to mature in our everyday lives,” Francis said.
Communion, in fact, “separates us from sin,” Francis said, and it “renews, fortifies and deepens the tie with the Christian community.” The Eucharist helps faithful see Jesus in the eyes of the poor, waiting to be “recognized by us, served, honored, loved.”
With this in mind, “we have a continuous need to return to the holy altar, until, when in heaven, we will fully taste the beatitude of the wedding feast of the Lamb,” the pope concluded.
Francis concluded Mass with a special thought for the sick, newlyweds, the young and the elderly; by expressing the hope that “our lives may always be ‘flowered’ like this,” pointing again to the massive floral display in the square; and by offering one final “Happy Easter!”