By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Passion of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and son of God, culminates in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. Easter faith is always deeply personal as well as a celebration of Church and family with the renewal of our vows of Baptism, a combination of the renunciation of sin and the profession of faith in the living God whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We have been preparing to celebrate the Passover of the Lord by works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving throughout Lent, and now we reach the edge of the desert and gaze longingly into the promised land of eternal love. We stand on the cusp of Holy Week with the Commemoration of the Lord’s passion on Palm Sunday Weekend. The liturgy and Gospel readings end in the death of the Lord while inviting faith in his resurrection.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday immersion into his death, and the Easter Vigil are a pilgrimage of faith for the entire Church throughout the world that we might know the length and breath, height and depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Holy Week and Easter faith are even more personal this year for the Diocese of Jackson because of the death of Bishop William R. Houck, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson. Our beloved Bishop Emeritus died on Wednesday morning, March 9, and was buried on Thursday, March 17 adjacent to the cathedral in the bishop’s plot.
Throughout this past week we lovingly celebrated his passing with the Liturgy of Acceptance of his body in the Cathedral on Tuesday, the Vigil Rites on Wednesday evening, and the Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday afternoon. Many people availed themselves of the opportunity to pay their final respects as he lay near the sanctuary where he celebrated the sacred mysteries since his arrival in the Diocese of Jackson in 1979. Bishop Houck would have been 90 years old in June, 65 years a priest, and 37 years a bishop.
There were three chapters to his episcopal ministry in our midst. He served as auxiliary bishop to Bishop Joseph Brunini for several years (1979-1983) before serving as the ninth Ordinary of the Diocese from 1983 to 2002, and lastly as Bishop Emeritus from 2002 until his recent death. The Lord blessed him with many active years of ordained ministry, more than half as a bishop, and has blessed many through his life as one ordained and consecrated, and set apart to faithfully serve.
In death a disciple of the Lord is entrusted to God from the heart of the church whether he or she be a newly baptized or one who lives nearly 90 years. Equal dignity is accorded all, and the Word of God, the prayers throughout the Liturgy, and the Eucharist, the Bread of Angels and the Bread of Life, all proclaim our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the promise of eternal life. Our prayer always and everywhere also seeks consolation, strength, and peace for the family and friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Immediately at the outset of the Mass of Christian Burial we proclaim our Easter faith. “In the waters of Baptism, William died with Christ and rose with Him. May he now share eternal glory.” This is our hope, and this is the heart of our faith that we commemorate during Holy Week ahead.
At this time let us pray faithfully for Bishop William Houck trusting in the mercy of God in his life, and let us pray for his family who are grieving his passing. Moreover, let us not waste the opportunity of his passing at the beginning of Holy Week to renew our own faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. The renewal of our Baptismal promises await us during the Easter Masses and I conclude this column with dialogue between priest and people for the renewal of our Covenant in God begun at our Baptism.
• Do you renounce sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?
• Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you?
• Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?
• Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
• Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
• Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz