SCRANTON — “Hallelujah!”

Faithful of the Diocese of Scranton will undoubtedly be filled with “greater joy than ever during this Easter season” as churches once again open wide their doors for the most solemn time of the year in the Christian world.

As the coronavirus pandemic suspended in-person participation at houses of worship and The Catholic Light front-page headline at this time last year read “Holy Week at Home,” Catholics had to resort to social media to “attend” traditional Holy Week and Easter services and liturgies celebrated before empty pews.

It has been a long year indeed.

But the hope of Easter takes on a whole new meaning in 2021 as worshippers are joyfully returning to their rightful place to personally take part in the sacred ceremonies, both in person and as faith communities, beginning with the start of Holy Week on Palm Sunday.

The exuberance diocesan faithful are experiencing this Easter season reminded Chris Calore of the last words of Saint Pope John Paul II before he died in 2005: “Let me go to the house of our Father.”

“Likewise, let us go to our Father by receiving him in the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist,” Calore, a member of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Swoyersville, said. “There is a physical, spiritual and emotional need for worshipping together in the Church that the Lord left us. Our return to worship in a body, as brothers and sisters and a family, is so important, particularly during this most holy season.”

He continued by lauding pastors and parish staffs for accommodating the general public in providing for a smooth transition back into our churches.

“We have learned much about how to congregate safely,” Calore noted. “Thankfully, we have used this knowledge and can once again be nourished by the Lord’s Sacraments — His Body and Blood.”

Gail Gayeski of Luzerne, who worships at both the Cathedral Parish of Saint Peter and Saint Ignatius Parish in Kingston, lamented the inability to physically be present in church for Palm Sunday, the Sacred Triduum and Easter Sunday a year ago.

“This is the holiest time of the year for Catholic Christians and not to be able to attend and receive Holy Communion was indeed a sacrifice for everyone,” Gayeski commented. “How filled with joy we are to go back to our churches in person. This Easter will be a particularly happy one for us all.”

Continuing the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” theme, she feels a great lesson was learned by what Catholics experienced due to the health crisis.

“I think all of this may have given us a greater understanding and appreciation of the suffering going on in our world,” Gayeski said, “where people longing for Christ’s presence do not have the opportunity to worship because of governments that prohibit Christian worship.”

She added how grateful she is for the “extraordinary efforts” both of her parishes put forth to livestream Masses online during the pandemic. “Of course, CTV (Catholic Television) was never more valuable to all of us than during this past year.”

Also very thankful for being able to participate in the Catholic Mass “virtually” when COVID kept faithful at a distance is Attorney Tim Foley, a parishioner of Saint Gregory Parish in Clarks Green, who also serves as a lector at Saint Peter’s Cathedral.

However, he noted, something was missing.

“As time went on, I realized I missed the community aspect of the congregation,” Foley recalled, “but most importantly, I became more aware of the absence of the Eucharist.”

Greatly anticipating the opportunity to personally take part in this year’s Holy Week events, he remarked, “I am looking forward to participating and receiving Holy Communion in person during the Easter services and beyond. The Easter season and the customary services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday have always been a positive tradition in our house for many years.”

Pittston resident Cathy Mack rejoiced upon the opportunity to participate in the Eucharistic liturgy at her parish of Saints Peter & Paul, Plains, when churches throughout the diocese reopened following the pandemic’s initial impact.

“For me it was a sad, empty, detached feeling not being able to attend Mass in person,” Mack said as she looks forward with great joy and anticipation to being present for this year’s solemn celebrations of Holy Week, Easter Sunday and Divine Mercy Sunday.

“We need these blessings,” Mack remarked. “Churches have always been our sanctuaries, places where we feel safe and protected as we worship in our Lord’s temples.”

She continued by stressing how important it is to engage in the sacraments, especially during the Solemn Paschal Season. “Our churches provide us with the greatest gift of all — the physical presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ!”

Acknowledging that Easter 2021 will be vastly different from a year ago, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Janet Jeffers noted that as life drastically changed for America and the world during the past 12 months, faithful of the Scranton Diocese experienced major changes in how we celebrate our religious rites.

“It appears the worst of COVID-19 is behind us,” Sister Janet, who lives in community in South Scranton and celebrated her 50th anniversary of religious profession in 2019, said with renewed hope. “We are in a ‘new place.’ Our parishes have opened and we see increasing numbers of our members ‘coming home.’”

The former executive director of Catholic Social Services of the Diocese for Lackawanna/Wayne Counties reflected on the holiest week of the liturgical year as a time filled with powerful accounts and images of the final days in the life of Christ.

“During this time, we recall His life and the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us,” she related, referring to Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter as great gifts of faith to be experienced by all.

Sister Janet concluded, “We are an Easter people. Signs of life abound; don’t miss them. May all of us celebrate the graces, gifts and blessings of this very holy season. Blessed Easter! Alleluia!”