Monday, April 14, 2014

The Easter Vigil That Changed My Life

Ohhhh my gosh you guys. My inner Catholic nerd is coming way out. This next week is, by far, my most favorite week of the entire year. Way more than Christmas, even.


This is how I feel during Holy Week

For those of you who might be interested/may not know, Holy Week is the week before Easter. It is the most liturgically rich, beautiful, wonderful, and important week of the entire year. And it lasts ALL WEEK! Here's the lineup:

Chrism Mass (Tuesday before Easter in our diocese)

Taken from here:
On Holy Thursday morning (in some dioceses it may be another morning during Holy Week), the bishop, joined by the priests of the diocese, gather at the Cathedral to celebrate the Chrism Mass. This Mass manifests the unity of the priests with their bishop.
Here the bishop blesses three oils -- the oil of catechumens (oleum catechumenorum oroleum sanctorum), the oil of the infirm (oleum infirmorum) and holy chrism (sacrum chrisma) -- which will be used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the diocese for the year. This tradition is rooted in the early Church as noted in the Gelasian Sacramentary.

Holy Thursday:

Taken from here:
Holy Thursday is more than just the lead-in to Good Friday; it is, in fact, the oldest of the celebrations of Holy Week. And with good reason: Holy Thursday is the day on which Catholics commemorate the institution of three pillars of the Catholic Faith: the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the priesthood, and the Mass. During the Last Supper, Christ blessed the bread and wine with the very words that Catholic and Orthodox priests use today to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass and the Divine Liturgy. In telling His disciples to "Do this in remembrance of Me," He instituted the Mass and made them the first priests.

Good Friday

Taken from here:
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, commemorates the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. From the earliest days of Christianity, no Mass has been celebrated on Good Friday; instead, the Church celebrates a special liturgy in which the account of the Passion according to the Gospel of John is read, a series of intercessory prayers (prayers for special intentions) are offered, and the faithful venerate the Cross by coming forward and kissing it. The Good Friday liturgy concludes with the distribution of Holy Communion. Since there was no Mass, Hosts that were reserved from the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday are distributed instead.
The service is particularly solemn; the organ is not played, and all vestments are red or (in the Traditional Latin Mass) black.

Holy Saturday (aka Easter Vigil, or the LITURGY THAT TOPS ALL LITURGIES)

Taken from here:
We wait in darkness, bless a fire, process with candles, and hear re-told the stories of our salvation through the scriptures.  The emphasis is on waiting for the culmination of the story: Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  Bells are rung, and alleluias are sung as we hear the gospel account of Christ’s rising.  Then, following this proclamation of the core of our beliefs, new members are brought into the Church through baptism and a profession of faith.  The recounting of Christ’s new life is closely connected to the Church’s renewal through the reception of its new members.
This celebration as a vigil is important because it doesn’t just commemorate something God did in the past; it celebrates something God is doing today.  Although our salvation was accomplished 2000 years ago, we are also watching and waiting to see what God is doing in our lives today.  Because our past and our future are connected, through God’s saving power, it wouldn’t seem like enough for us to simply sit in our pews on Sunday morning, as we do every week.
The celebration of Easter, as a vigil, invites us to break out our most potent symbols of God’s action, and our response.  So, all the waiting, the readings, music, candles, procession, and initiation, all remind us that God has accomplished something amazing by loving us so much.  And our vigil is a statement, individually and collectively, that we are ready to be renewed and to live out of the grace we’ve received.

Then, of course, EASTER! 

Oh, the point of Easter is not chocolate bunnies....right...of course I know that...

The past few years of Holy Weeks have been emotional roller coasters for me, so I am really looking forward to having a somewhat normal experience this year (although you can never really call Holy Week "normal").

Holy Week 2012: I was still recovering emotionally from the loss of our first baby (I will dedicate another post to that). My friend and co-worker had just passed away at the age of 30 from cancer the week before. It was a very difficult time in my life. I remember going to Holy Thursday Mass with Trent and getting in a huge argument afterward (mainly due, I'm sure, to my emotional state at the time). Then, the next day on Good Friday, I found out I was pregnant with Elizabeth. This news, because of the recent loss of our first baby, brought a new level of emotion to me: fear, anxiety, trepidation. I spent the remaining time of Holy Week praying desperately to God that he would deliver me from my worries and sadness.

Holy Week 2013: Elizabeth was a few months old and was very sick. She had RSV, and the doctor ordered us to get an x-ray of her lungs on the Wednesday before Easter. I was also suffering from bad postpartum anxiety and depression. I always envisioned that the first Holy Week with my new baby would be so amazing...that I would take her to all the Masses/services and experience the wonder of the liturgies with my brand new family. Instead, we had to keep her home at all times to make sure her sickness did not get worse. Trent and I had to attend the Masses and service separately. It made me so sad to not be able to attend with my family.

This year, we are so blessed. No one is sick, my pregnancy is going very well, and we will all be able to be together. Well...most of the time...Trent is working Good Friday and Easter, but 2 out of 4 ain't bad for a hospital employee!

The Holy Week I remember most, though, is the year 2008. It is one of the most profound weeks of my entire life, and the Easter Vigil Mass contained the single most spiritual moment I have ever experienced. 

Trent and I had been broken up for about a year and a half. That period was a dark time in my life. God was not really something I concerned myself with. I went to Mass, sure, but that was about it. I was desperately searching for happiness in all the wrong places. Making bad decisions. Wondering why I wasn't satisfied. I had recently learned, to my surprise, that Trent was coming into the Catholic Church. Many people assume that the reason he converted from the Lutheran faith was because of me, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I didn't even know about it until a few weeks before Easter.

Trent and I spent the week before Easter talking. A LOT. We talked for hours after Holy Thursday Mass and Good Friday service. Trent talked with such passion and enthusiasm about the Catholic faith. He seemed so at peace. It was exactly the kind of peace I was searching for. His zeal for the faith was contagious, and it caught my heart on fire. I promised him I would attend the Easter Vigil Mass to witness his coming into the Church.

I went to the Easter Vigil, not quite sure what to expect. I watched as Trent went up to the altar to receive his blessings. Then, right before communion, the priest opened his arms wide, smiled, and said, "Come. Receive Jesus for the first time." It was almost like Trent was glowing. As I looked at him up on that altar, I heard God say to me, "This is the man I have chosen for you. This is the path I have chosen for you." And suddenly, I was no longer afraid. There was not any trace of doubt in my mind. I was going to marry this man, and that thought gave me so much peace and tranquility that I could hardly stand it. I finally knew what God wanted me to do.

From that point forward, our relationship grew and grew. We were two different people than the ones who had dated in high school. We strove to put our faith in the center of our relationship, and it gave us both peace and happiness that we did not have before. And I never again had any doubt in my mind about the path that God wanted me to take. I can say the same thing to this very day.

So, folks, that's my story. I hope that you all have a blessed Holy Week. And on Easter Sunday, we can finally say the A-word which is forbidden during lent. It rhymes with Kalleluia. So ***insert a-word*** everyone!!!!

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