I have been trying to find the words all week.

Words to describe the experience of the Easter Vigil, the Triduum, Holy Week 2013.

JMU purple gem iris reticulataA week later, I still got nothing. At least in terms of a tidy narrative that would chronicle the events of those days in some kind of interesting, orderly fashion.

(And I don’t presume that readers of this blog have been waiting expectantly for such an account; but I have been a little anxious that the words haven’t come, that I might not have some written record, if only for myself, of this life-changing experience).

All I have are some impressions–some fleeting, some seared into my psyche–but all of them, all of them, precious to me.

  • The Triduum. It is one continuous liturgy. I should have known this but I didn’t. It was deeply moving to me to move deliberately through this days-long observance, recalling and reliving the arc of a story of friendship and betrayal, of imperial violence and forgiving love, of blinding grief and unbounded joy.
  • Sacred Chrism. On Holy Thursday I carried the Sacred Chrism to the altar at the beginning of mass. At the Easter Vigil I was anointed with it in the sacrament of confirmation. I liked the feel and fragrance of this holy oil on my forehead. I didn’t wash my face on Saturday night.
  • Kissing the Cross. It’s actually called the Veneration of the Cross and I was completely undone by this Good Friday ritual. Given all of the ways that many Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, tend to regard the cross in militant, triumphalist terms, touching or kissing it is such a surprising gesture–so tender, so grace-filled. Such beauty in seeing women, men, and children (especially those with infirmities) bow and bend and kneel to venerate the cross of Christ on Good Friday night.
  • The Communion Rite. On Good Friday there’s no mass. (Jesus is in the tomb, after all). But there is communion (though not yet for me): consecrated hosts reserved from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the evening before. I don’t quite understand this theologically. I mean: I know why it isn’t Eucharist. I just don’t know why we do it.
  • Friends. Throughout this journey–not just Holy Week, the Triduum, and the Great Vigil–I have been moved beyond words by the support and encouragement of friends. Cards, emails, facebook comments, phone calls, gifts (beautiful gifts). Five friends from the Sunday School class I teach at my husband’s church (and will continue to teach) came to the Easter Vigil. As did a student of mine. And my sponsor–a lovely, lovely woman who has prayed for me and cheered me on all these months. Seeing all of these faces at the Vigil, taking in their genuine good wishes for me. Still, no words.
  • My Parents. Who, having raised their daughter in the Methodist Church and who must have felt some disappointment with my decision to convert, never once conveyed anything to me but their complete love and support. More than that, they embraced the journey with me–wanting to learn more about Catholicism; waxing effusive (my dad did) about the new pope. Having them happily present at the Easter Vigil . . . this is something I will always be grateful for.
  • Bees. Is it crazy that one of the most indelible memories I have of the Easter Vigil (a service of taxing length and tremendous beauty) is that of bees in the Exsultet, the hymn of praise sung by a deacon before the Paschal candle? The revisions of the Roman missal in 2010 resulted in these beautiful lines:

. . . accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise . . .

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.

  • Eucharist. Through all the months of the RCIA process, I wondered what this moment at the Easter Vigil would be like–the moment when I would receive the body and blood of Christ for the first time in the Catholic church. I was conflicted: I very much wanted to resist sentimentalizing the experience–privatizing it, turning it into something pious and precious; but I also felt that it did hold a kind of significance, bore a kind of gravitas that I needed to pay attention to. I don’t know that I resolved that conflict in the actual moment. What I most remember is my priest’s luminous face, the blandness of the wafer, and how the taste of the wine lingered long on my tongue. I also remember that after I and the other candidates received, the rest of the congregation processed forward and it all seemed rather ordinary and unremarkable–as I think it should.

IMG_0137* * * * *

It’s been hard to find the words this week. Especially to describe the Easter Vigil.

So a few words from the Exsultet will have to sum it up:

Dazzling [was] the night for me.
And full of gladness.