One of my earliest and most beloved memories of our parish is the annual tradition of attending the Easter Vigil Mass and singing with the choir. My mother sang in the choir and served as the director for many years. I was always in the choir loft with her. From the days I served as the littlest member of the alto section, to being the organist, to finally serving as the director of music and liturgy for the parish, I have always loved the unique experience of the Easter Vigil Mass.
As the liturgy begins, the parishioners stream out the front doors of the church for the blessing of the fire, while the musicians wait in the pitch-black church. It is too dark to move safely, and though I know I’m surrounded by two dozen others, the oppressive silence makes me feel like I’m alone in the world. The dark of the tomb becomes uncomfortably real in those few moments, and then, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. The doors are thrown open, the people stream in and a flickering light shines faintly in the darkness, like the first tenuous rays of the dawn. Individual people and candles are not seen from where we sit upstairs; only the diffused glow of a seemingly supernatural light shining up from below the edge of the balcony. As the procession continues into the church, the light spreading slowly across the entire church below, the glow grows stronger and stronger, until the last of the shadows are chased from the highest corners of the ceiling. Dawn has come, and death is defeated! Alleluia!
As the years have progressed, so has the average age of our parish musicians. The steep stairs and uneven floors of the choir loft have become a deterrent for many of our members. And so, with great sadness and much prayerful consideration, we abandoned our beloved loft and moved down into the sanctuary of the church. It was with a sense of disappointment that I prepared for our first Easter Vigil Mass out of the loft. For the first Easter Vigil of my life, there would be no sunrise from the depths of the tomb.
As the lights are clicked off one by one and the parishioners stream out to the waiting fire, I once again find myself in the dark, silent, empty tomb of the church. The blessing of the fire concludes, the crowd begins to process and I pass the light along the rows of choir members. Confident that we are ready, I finally turn to face the congregation. And in that moment, after nearly 30 years of experiencing this holy night, I gain a whole new understanding of the Easter Vigil. No longer a diffuse glow from far away, I now am staring into the light of hundreds of candles, each shining up into the face of a fellow human being. Old and young, male and female, rich and poor, lifelong Catholics and Catechumens awaiting tonight’s Baptism … these are the bearers of the light. Every face in the pews, at the Easter Vigil and every Sunday of the year, is a reflection of that Light personified. It is not only with awe-filled respect for the Risen Savior, but also with deep appreciation for the generations of believers that have kept that light burning that I will continue to worship at this beautiful liturgy for years to come. The light of Christ! Thanks be to God!
Story by Beth Wacek
Director of music and liturgy at St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie
I gain a whole new understanding of the Easter Vigil. No longer a diffuse glow from far away, I now am staring into the light of hundreds of candles, each shining up into the face of a fellow human being.”