March 27, 2013
I love Lent! I love the feeling of getting down to basics, cleaning out the junk in our lives, and making a fresh start. I love the sense that spring is coming, and winter is nearly done; even though our yards and roads are still covered by ice and snow and our trees are bare and gray, the light lasts a little bit longer every day. Best of all, I love when Holy Week is here. When I was a child, sitting in the balcony at Assumption, I relished every minute of the solemn rituals of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. But my favorite liturgy was, hands down, the Easter Vigil. My mom was in the choir, so when my sisters and I were old enough, we sat with my dad at the front of the balcony.
My first order of business, upon arrival, was to look in the missalette and see how many pages were devoted to the Vigil. To me, more pages meant this was a VERY important night, loaded with ancient symbolism and mystical meaning. Soon the lights would go out, and for a short time, we would sit in total darkness. Then the light of the Easter candle would start spreading to the candles held by everyone in church; from my vantage point in the balcony I could watch the soft candlelight move gently up to the sanctuary and out to all the corners of the church. Someone from the choir was sent downstairs to retrieve light for the choir members, and then we, too, had a little piece of the light. Even as a kid, I loved the idea that all that light came from one candle, the Easter candle. No one had to explain what that meant, because the symbolism said it all. The world was dark, but Christ filled it with light, and the light spread by the simple action of one person sharing the light with another. This beautiful ritual then concluded with a very long, very beautiful chant: the Exsultet, sung at Assumption by a single gorgeous tenor voice. Standing by the Easter candle, the singer intoned an ancient hymn praising the saving action of God, full of mystical poetry and extravagant musical flourishes. I adored it and was always a little sad when the everyday electric lights were turned on.
Now, as an adult here at St. Richard, just a mile or two from where I celebrated so many wonderful Easter Vigils, I have the awesome privilege of participating in the singing of the Exsultet. The new translation is still mystical and poetic and even has added vivid images of the bees who made the wax for the candle. Above all, the Exsultet calls us to profound, shattering joy. And it is truly a joy to sing this hymn, surrounded by the light of hundreds of candles:
“Let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King.
Let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness….
let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.”