All around the world, Christians are celebrating! Christ has risen from the dead! Our salvation is at hand!
How does one even begin to celebrate such a moment? At St. Camillus, we celebrate in the way of the Roman Catholic Church with the night watch of the Easter Vigil:
Just after sundown, turn off all of the lights in the church, and sit in the physical and spiritual darkness, awaiting Christ’s coming in joyful anticipation. We retreat outside of the church where a candle is being lit, the Paschal candle, the light of Christ in our darkness. With great praise, Christ illumines the night. From the One true light, everyone keeping vigil lights our own candle and processes into the church, now illumined by 1200 or more flames. What can we do but sing? Lumen Christi. Lumen Christi. Lumen Christi. There is anticipation of the joy to come in our voice, but our celebration is yet subdued. Three of the four priests approach the ambo, and taking turns in English, Spanish, and French, sing the Exsultet. It is emotive, haunting, and joyous all at once.
With only the light in our hands, we now sit for a journey through salvation history. Six readings, proclaimed in four languages, recall our journey from darkness into light, from Adam to Abraham to Moses, from sinfulness to forgiveness, from diaspora to reconciliation. We journey as a people in need of the light. Between each reading we sing a response, praising God, using many tongues to express our praise: Latin, French, Hebrew, Spanish, and Bangla are among them.
And then, all at once, there is a great light. The church lights are thrown on and the whole multicultural community cries out in joyful exultation the best way we can: Gloria Deo in excelsis, Gloria Deo sempiternam, “Glory to God in the highest.” From English to Spanish to French to Bangla, repeating the response in Latin, we are united in our diversity, made one from many in our great praise. An epistle from Romans is read, the Gospel and a homily is proclaimed in three languages, and the liturgy has just begun!
Those wishing initiation into the church are presented, so many they stretch the whole width of the church. We kneel and invoke the intercessions of the saints in a prayerful litany, Pray for us. Twenty eight people step into a pool of water for baptism, and each in their native language, have three buckets of water poured on them: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” With each there is an eruption of cheers and a joyful Alleluia sung. The rest of us are renewed in our own baptism with our own “sprinkling” of water, chanting Wade in the Water like you’ve never head it before. The other catechumens are then received, either into full communion or through the sacrament of confirmation. 98 sacraments are received throughout the evening.
And as if this were not enough, it was then, after two and half hours, we begin the liturgy of the Eucharist. The gifts are presented with a traditional Bangla dance, and the Holy Spirit is invoked upon the gifts to make them new. A wonderful blending of cultures and languages, the Eucharist was blessed and communicated, uniting people from all around the world in the utmost pinnacle of our faith, the real presence of our Lord, now risen, here among us.
Throughout the whole liturgy, I was overwhelmed with the overflowing, almost tangible, emotion that I felt and witnessed. The absolute tipping point was after everyone had received communion, the whole church stood up and began to dance, shout, sing, and embrace one another as if a war was called off and we now knew we were going to make it; it was as if we had just been reunited with someone lost many years ago; it was as if we had been given an unexpected day to live when we had lost hope. And in a way, it was all of these things. Although we receive Christ in the Eucharist every week, even every day, there was something even more being celebrating among the more than 1200 people last night: we were celebrating our salvation. Christ has RISEN! The darkness is no more! The true light is with us, and dwells with us! Death has been conquered, our fear has been taken away.
If you’d like to see what I mean by overflowing joy, click the link below to see one of the baptisms, the “sprinkling” of water, the Bangla offering of gifts, and the communion song: