Forgive me for the relative lateness of this post; our Internet service was interrupted for most of the weekend. Normally I’d be pretty mad about this, but Verizon DSL has been extremely reliable for us over the last several years (unlike ‘down twice-per-week’ Cox cable Internet), so I’ll give them a pass . . . this time.
Regardless, it’s been an amazing few days. The forty-day period of Lent, a solemn time of repentance and self-examination, culminated in the celebration of Holy Week. This period calls to mind the last days of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry before his brutal crucifixion and, celebrated today on Easter, his resurrection from the dead. This week is one filled with absolute darkness—the murder of our Lord on the cross. It also ends with absolute joy—His triumph over death and sin on Easter.
For us, personally, this season took on special meaning this year. As I posted in my lengthy three-part series ‘Changing Religious Direction’ (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), Melissa and I have joined the Roman Catholic Church and, specifically, St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia.
In the Catholic tradition, following in the footsteps of Jewish tradition, the day begins at sunset. Thus, the first celebration of Easter and Christ’s resurrection is held on the evening before Easter. This ‘Vigil Mass’ is called the ‘Mother of All Vigils.’ In our parish it begins at 8:30 p.m. and runs until 11pm. It begins with a darkened church, slowly being lit by candlelight. In a semi-lit state, seven Old Testament readings are read recounting the salvation history of God. Then, the Mass truly begins, the ‘Gloria’ is sung, the lights go on, and the resurrection story is read. He is risen!
Following this extended Liturgy of the Word—nine readings in total, interspersed with responsive Psalms and prayers—are the rites of initiation. This is where ‘catechumens’ (those to be baptized) and candidates (those, including Melissa and I, already baptized but now entering full communion with the church) are formally brought into the church. We were brought into full communion, received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and—after all of this—we all received our first Sacramental Holy Communion.
As with so much in the world of faith, most of my readers probably don’t ‘get’ any of this. It was aptly pointed out to us in one of our recent preparation classes that joining the Catholic Church is very counter-culture these days. It’s not trendy to be a Catholic, and on the contrary it often opens one up to ridicule even more so than membership in most other forms of Christianity. While most Christian communities are eager to revise their beliefs to align with society, the Catholic Church is more interested in maintaining what it knows to be true. This makes it the object of hatred among atheists, non-Christians, and most-depressingly even among other Christians.
But there is a reason why people who join the Catholic Church—whether they come from faithlessness, other faiths, or one of the splinters of Christianity—often say they feel they have ‘come home’ upon coming to Catholicism. It is difficult to quantify or explain, but there is a reason for it. If you entertain its practices and doctrines with an open mind, you are likely to come to understand it yourself. After all, an organization doesn’t survive 2,000 years without there being something to it.
Regardless, it has been a big weekend. I hope you have all had a wonderful Easter.