Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Vigil 2005 

Burns, Women at the empty Tomb

Angels and Mary Magdalene encounter Jesus at his tomb on Easter morning.

Our Easter Vigil began by a bonfire, outside. The weather was cool and cloudy, but not too cold, and the fire chased away the cool. The upbaptized Elect were in brown robes with old clothes or sweats underneath. We Candidates (already baptized) wore our normal Sunday best. We were all in the front row of the fire-watchers and the rest of the congregation huddled further out where the shadows danced around the darkness. We all caught the eyes of loved ones out in the crowd and watched embers rise from the burning logs to float on air above our heads. Father blessed the fire, said prayers over a four-foot tall Easter candle and cut figures into the wax: the Cross, Alpha and Omega, the year of the Lord 2005.

Our priest then lit and lifted the heavy candle and led us all on a short walk back to the church sanctuary which was in total darkness. Now and then, amid the silence and occasional crackle of the bonfire behind us, Father would chant, "Christ our Light," and we would answer, "Thanks be to God." Inside, the alter boys lit candles from the Easter candle Father held, then each person lit his or her candle from theirs. Soon, the dark church was lit by candlelight. Father then chanted a very, very long prayer called the Exsultet (thanks, Jim). We blew out our candles and the church lights were turned up. It was time for the Vigil readings. Each reading was followed by a psalm-sing and a short prayer.
  1. Genesis 1:1 - 2:2
  2. Genesis 22:1-18
  3. Exodus 14:15 - 15:1
  4. Isaiah 54:5-14
  5. Isaiah 55:1-11
  6. Baruch 3:9-15, 32 - 4:4
  7. Ezekiel 36:16-28
  8. Romans 6:3-11
After the Epistle reading, we sang a beautiful Alleluia chorus while Father carried the Gospels high, preceded by incense, up and down every single aisle. By the time he was at the alter, still holding high the Gospels, I could see his arms shaking a bit (the benefit of a front row seat). Our Gospel reading was Matthew 28:1-10.

Our priest then gave what I think now was the best Homily I've heard him give. I'll have to ask him if he's written it down. I'll try to paraphrase. Father always starts with a silly joke that almost never has anything to do with the homily. Today he told the joke about the man who wrote the song "Hokey Pokey" having died but they couldn't get him into the casket, everytime they put his left foot in, it would go back out. . But then father went on to tell us that the song "Hokey Pokey" was really titled from the words "Hocus Pocus" and that the words "Hocus Pocus" were slang for anything magic taken in blasphemy from the Latin Mass "HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM" which means "FOR THIS IS MY BODY." But we can take that ancient blasphemy and use it, we can use the Hokey Pokey as a confirmation song, as a baptism song -- these people here, getting ready for baptism and confirmation, are putting their whole selves in and turning themselves around.

Note: I'm sure many people have heard homilies and sermons similar to this about the Hokey Pokey (I see there are several on the Internet, now that I search), but I had not.

Father then went on to talk about how hard it must be for Pope John Paul II to sit this one out, after all his years of presiding over the Easter Triduum, he now sits out and lets God's will rule his life. Similarly, Terri Schaivo's parents have been told by the government that she is not allowed to take communion this Easter, she's sitting this one out as well. Not only does our government tell our kids they can't pray in school, now they tell people when they can and can't celebrate communion. Small battles are waging in the world, but the war has already been won. Jesus died on the Cross for us and we'll ride his coattails into paradise. Oh, we'll have our little battles, our own personal battles with sin, but the war is over and that's what we're celebrating tonight.

It was all much better than I've written it.

After the homily, we sang a Litany of the Saints and Father blessed the new waters of the baptismal font. Seven people were baptized, two girls, four women, and one little kindergarten boy. One by one, the people climbed into the font and knelt with the water up to their waist. Father took a large pitcher and three times poured the full amount on their heads, saying "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The baptized climbed out soaked and barefoot in their brown robes -- their sponsors wrapped them in large white towels. Everyone was smiling and happy and they left to get dressed.

Now it was everyone else's turn to renew their baptismal promises. Father waved a pine branch dipped in water through the church, hitting everyone with drops as reminders of our baptism. Then we all re-lit our candles and renewed our vows of baptism.

The newly baptized returned, dried and changed, in white robes. We joined them up front with our sponsors' right hand on our right shoulders. We who were coming in from other faiths said, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." Then each sponsor presented his or her charge, saying "I present so-and-so". Some people had chosen a Saint name for this, but I didn't. We didn't have to, and I have a Biblical name anyway. Father then put the Chrism on each of our foreheads and we were ready for Communion. We were presented to the congregation and they applauded us, their new members.

Father wanted some of us to bring the gifts to the alter, so I went to the rear of the church and carried in the water and wine, another newbie carried in the basket for money, and another carried the bread. We new members were first to receive. Father asked that we receive on our tongues, so we all did, and we all received the Blood of Christ, as well. The Heavens were not opened for me, but I did feel wonderfully warm as a knelt with my new brothers and sisters. We were all smiles and handshakes. He is risen indeed, within us all.

After Mass, a small reception was prepared for us in the Parish Hall, there was a nice cake for each of us to take home and more cake and punch and gifts and cards for each of us. My sponsor gave me John Paul II's "An Invitation to Joy" and a small Catholic prayer book. Outside, the bell in our small bell tower rang out, announcing Easter to the world.

Here I sit, at 2:00 in the morning, unable to sleep. A big day, Easter. If a bit of joy can offset the suffering of Terri Schiavo or Pope John Paul II, I will happily provide my measure.

A blessed Easter to you all.

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