April 17, 2017

Easter Mass at Stanley Park draws large crowd

Story and photos by Kathleen Harrington

outdoormass3WESTFIELD- “Welcome! Wow!” That is how Father Frank Lawlor opened Easter Sunday morning Mass at Stanley Park in Westfield. The new pavilion at the park served as the chapel for St. Mary Parish’s 11:30 am Mass for the day. Easter flowers and candles decorated the altar.

Every chair under the pavilion was filled before the Mass got underway. Volunteers rolled out another rack of chairs, but by the time the processional hymn began, there was standing room only. People were lining the sides and back of the pavilion, to get away from the heat of the midday sun. “I dare anyone to find a more beautiful cathedral in the world,” Father Lawlor said.

This special Easter celebration was the idea of St. Mary’s pastor, Father Lawlor, according to Marie-Anne Buffam, St. Mary’s pastoral minister. “About 30 volunteers spent the last month planning the service,” Buffam explained.

“You can feel the spirit in this place,” Father Lawlor said. Those words drew laughter when the breeze picked up blowing a few programs.

“The diocese is encouraging evangelization and I thought this was a great opportunity,” said Father Lawlor. The parish spread the word about the outdoor Easter celebration in church bulletins throughout the diocese, in the secular newspaper, and on social media. The Mass drew Catholics from other parishes in Westfield, Chicopee, and Springfield. It drew young and old, wearing Easter finery or shorts and in sunglasses.

This was not a traditional Easter celebration. Elsa Munoz, whose 13-year-old daughter, Ariana, was an altar server for the Mass, came with friends. “If we are sons and daughters of God, we should all be together as a family praising and worshiping God,” she said.

 The bilingual Mass featured members of Mary Fountain of Grace and Soul Motive providing the music. “This is exciting. St. Mary’s hasn’t done an outdoor Mass in a long time,” said Rob Lepage, director of St. Mary’s music ministry. 

The Gospel was proclaimed by the deacons, first in English and then in Spanish. Then Father Lawlor rose to deliver the homily.  “If the resurrection of Jesus is the center of our faith, why is the crucifix the symbol of our faith, instead of an empty cave?” he asked. The crucifix can be compared to the staff carried by a general in the Middle Ages heading into war with the crest of a defeated enemy displayed on the stick.

“This is the symbol that Jesus overcame death. He beat death. It means that you can do anything you want to us and we will overcome it,” said Father Lawlor. His words were punctuated with the noon bells ringing in the carillon across the rose garden. “If you understand that Jesus died and rose from the dead for you, if that doesn’t change you, then you missed the point,” he continued.

outdoormass4Longtime parishioners John and Joanne Murphy said they came to this Mass because it seemed like a unique opportunity and a different way to celebrate Easter. Their family was called on for the presentation of gifts as the Liturgy of the Eucharist got underway. They were smiling as they left at the close of Mass. Being involved was a surprise to them, one that made them a part of the day.

 In closing the Mass, Father Lawlor thanked all who made the Easter celebration at Stanley Park possible. Then he called on all present to “go out as a changed people and share it with others. Wrap yourself in the joy of the day!”