It was dark when he awoke. This is not where I went to sleep. I don’t think, the little boy thought, looking around. He was laying on something hard, and there was a coat under his head, and another over his legs. A spicy smell filled his nose. He knew what it was, but he didn’t know why. Where was he? Strange singing filled his ears. People were standing over him, but they weren’t looking at him. They were looking at something he couldn’t see. He sat up, and looked to see what they were seeing. Through the darkness, there was a light. It was a cauldron, with flames leaping towards the ceiling, casting strange shadows on the wall. Standing over the cauldron was a big man in strange clothes. He was waving something over flames, chanting. Other, smaller figures surrounded him. Huh, the little boy thought. He watched for a moment, leaning against the wood back of the bed he had somehow found himself in. He blinked a few times, yawned, and lay back down on his makeshift pillow. Must be dreaming, he said to himself, falling back asleep. He rolled over, not noticing a quick movement beside him, keeping him from slipping off the pew.
The young mother looks down at her three-year-old. How would this first Easter Vigil be remembered? She smiles, wondering what thoughts were drifting through his little mind, and wondering what dreams the strangeness of those few minutes would bring. Standing to hold the boy on the pew, she turns her mind back to the priest, and the beautiful, ancient ceremonies she was blessed to witness.
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This year was the first in three or four years that I was able to attend the vigil AND I wasn't in the choir. It was great! I could see what was going on, and follow along without having to worry about the next song or response. It also helped that my missal had both the Latin and the English for all of the readings, but I digress.
I love each of the services of the Triduum, and I love the way each builds on the last. Holy Thursday begins everything now, as it did then. It is a service both joyous and serious. In the beginning, we have the bells and the organ and the Gloria. In the end, the alters are stripped and Christ is in the garden, preparing for the sacrifice of the next day. Did you know that the Mass on Holy Thursday does not officially end? There is no dismissal. Good Friday, there is no Consecration, as it is the continuation of Mass on Holy Thursday, just as Christ's offering of His Body and Blood in the form of the bread and wine of the Passover on Holy Thursday was the same as His sacrifice on the cross on Good Friday.
The service on Good Friday is not technically a Mass, as there is no consecration. That said, I've always loved the solemness of the Mass of the Presanctified, as it is called (for the record, the "presanctified" refers to the reserved Hosts, not to the state of the people's souls.) The Tabernacle is empty, and the whole church feels empty. It is a reminder to us of the emptiness of the world after Christ's death. The organ and bells are silent, the alter is still stripped, and the choir is somber. Even the candles and holy water are gone.
Holy Saturday, there is no Mass until the vigil. The church stands empty. Then, after sundown, is the vigil. It begins with the blessing of the Easter fire. I love the way the light spreads through the church as the candles are lit from person to person, the flame growing and spreading without diminishing, like our faith. I admit, it makes me nervous watching the little kids with candles! Especially remembering how I nearly set myself on fire a few years ago! But that's another story....
After the blessing of the fire, there is the blessing of the holy water. Here again, we see the rich significance of everything, from creation to now, and how it ties together. The prayers talk about how in the time of Noah, the water purified the earth, and it talks about the water from Christ's side purifying our souls. There are so many things we take for granted, yet they have so much meaning!
Gradually, what was missing for the days and weeks leading up to Easter is brought back again. I realized this year how usually when we go to Mass, Christ is sacramentally there when we get to Church- in the Tabernacle. But at Easter, the Tabernacle is empty, even through all of the prayers and blessings. It is not until the consecration of the Mass that He is there again, fully present with us...as in the Resurrection.