Five Memories of Easter Vigil

April 24, 2007 | Conversion | 16 comments

There’s so much to say about entering the Church at Easter Vigil. Any post covering every aspect of it would be unreadably long, and even then I’m sure I’d miss something. So, to give you the feel of the evening in less than a zillion words, I’ll offer a few highlights that stand out in my mind when I look back on the beautiful Easter Vigil Mass of 2007:

The church

No post about any Mass at our parish would be complete without a mention of the beauty of the church itself. Only completed in late 2006, this is the first Easter celebrated in this building. When we originally decided to start going to this church it was in a dated, unattractive building an we were unaware that there were plans to build a new one. I actually commented to my husband that it was a shame that it was in such an ugly building. Imagine my delight when I saw the first plans to build this new one.

Every time I step inside I feel inspired. Not just because of the obvious beauty, but because I know what is behind it. Our pastor and the church staff are incredibly devout, orthodox Catholics who love their faith and wanted to build something beautiful for God. Our parish is not particularly wealthy, so it was no easy thing to get this church completed.

Friends and family

Because of the chaos of moving — and some general social awkwardness on my part — I hadn’t invited anyone to Easter Vigil. In typical me fashion, I got too caught up in over-analyzing who I should invite (“Only Catholics? What about Protestants? Would my agnostic/atheist friends be offended if I did or didn’t invite them? What about lapsed Catholics who aren’t practicing?”), and I never got around to inviting anyone. In fact, I hardly mentioned it.

So I was really touched when so many people showed up to support us. My aunt and uncle flew in from Atlanta; my dad came back from his job overseas; my mother-in-law (a Southern Baptist) came in from Houston; two couples whom we’re good friends with (the Darwins being one of them) came with their children and a friend from out of town; a good friend I met through RCIA was there, of course; and my mom, a lapsed Catholic, re-evaluated her faith and went to confession in order to be my husband’s sponsor.

After the Mass there were calls for celebration, so all of us gathered at my mother’s house for an impromptu cocktails and pizza get-together that lasted well past midnight (no small feat since most of us are the parents of young children).

Being surrounded by such kindness and support from our friends and family made the night feel all the more like it was a homecoming, that we were finally where we’d belonged all along.

The feeling

The Lent leading up to Easter Vigil was the most spiritually fruitful time of my life. I felt like I’d finally reached a calm understanding of God and could just relax, and trust. Through the grace of God I received some key insights (like this one) and some answered prayers (like this and these) that opened the floodgates for the peace of Christ.

When I walked into the warmth of the church on that bitterly cold, rainy Saturday evening, it was one of the first times I entered a religious building and felt really comfortable. Years and years of bad experiences at Christian churches left me with a deep feeling of discomfort, of always needing to be on my guard whenever I walked into a church. Even up until a few weeks ago I would look around the pews each Sunday and feel like for some reason I just wasn’t one of “those people, ” the Christians. But that evening as I greeted my friends and family in the narthex, I welcomed them to my church, and it didn’t sound odd. It felt like my place.

And as I sat in the pew and watched it all unfold, from the beauty of the candlelight-only beginning to the final blessing, I felt like I was, well, in communion with God and his Saints. It was beautiful on all levels.

St. Monica

As I mentioned, I chose St. Monica as my confirmation saint. As soon as I made the decision I was certain that this was the perfect saint for me, and I felt like she was watching over me. Over and over again when I asked for her intercession I received guidance and comfort. Also, I had been reading a lot about her character and her life and trying to use her as an example to live up to.

So when the priest walked up to me as I stood in front of the congregation and anointed my forehead with that exotically fragrant oil, I was caught off guard when he addressed me as “Monica”. It’s one thing to think about wanting to be like a saint and using their life as an example, but when someone looks you in the eye and addresses you by that person’s name, it changes for a moment the way you think about them. I suddenly internalized her in a way I had not previously. For a fleeting moment I realized on a gut level that I really could be like her, that she was a mere mortal like myself, and that there is nothing that makes it impossible for me to be as holy as a living St. Monica. Of course I quickly reverted to my very un-saintly ways, but for a split second I knew with all my heart that we all have the potential to be Saints.

The Eucharist

I will skip to the moment you all want to know about: receiving the Eucharist for the first time. Unfortunately my worry of having a “Jen moment” (as my husband calls them), committing some embarrassing and possibly sacrilegious faux pas, overshadowed the moment. We hadn’t covered the technicalities of receiving Holy Communion in RCIA and it had only been discussed in passing at the Monday rehearsal, so I was very nervous about doing it wrong. Seriously: it is not out of the realm of possibilities that when the priest said “body of Christ” I would have responded with “thanks” or “cool” as I grabbed the consecrated host from his hand. So, yeah, I was on edge.

Also, the physical sensations of the Body and Blood were distracting. Not that it was good or bad either way, just interesting, and not what I expected.

The biggest moment of the evening actually came right before I was about to receive the Eucharist. I was standing there, waiting for my husband to go up before me, and was hit like a ton of bricks with the profundity of the moment. “I cannot believe I’m standing here, ” I thought. How did I, a person who never even considered the possibility of God until my late 20’s, who was a content atheist surrounded by worldly pleasures, who shrugged off most religions as irrelevant silliness and disdained Christianity, get here? I had a sort of “life flashing before my eyes” moment and began sobbing when I realized how close I came to not being here; how very easily I could be spending this night in a very different place, in a world without God.

And though I was mostly focused on myself when I actually received the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time, I did feel a noticeable difference afterwards. A few situations came up later that evening and the next day that would have normally resulted in snide comments and anger on my part, and I found it far easier than normal to be kind and charitable in situations where I’d normally fly off the handle.

Since then, every time I’ve received the Eucharist, I feel a subtle change. It’s just a little easier to be kind, to be patient, to be selfless. Perhaps the change I feel is all in my head. It’s possible. And that’s OK, because I don’t receive Holy Communion because it’s some sort of drug that will give me instantaneous results. I do it because I believe that God exists, that this is his Church, that this is what he wants me to do, and that I will receive his sanctifying grace — whether I feel it immediately or not.

Pope Benedict recently said that the great convert St. Augustine (son of St. Monica) recongnized “that the bountiful mercy of God was continually necessary for himself and the entire pilgrim Church.” If I’ve learned one thing over this past two years, it is this. Without God’s grace, I’m lost.

This quote reminds me of why it’s been so difficult for me to write this post. I felt like readers were probably expecting some sort of thunder-and-lightning experience; and while it was one of the best days of my life, it was wonderfully uneventful. It just felt like I was finally coming in out of the cold, back to where I should have been all along.

And, per St. Augustine’s thought above, after all my struggling and despair and searching, when I finally got to the place where I had access to God’s grace through the Eucharist, it was very clear to me that it was not the end of my spiritual journey. It was only the beginning.

16 Comments

  1. Father Stephanos, O.S.B.

    THANK YOU for this lovely testimony!

    I see that you are presently only six votes away from outrunning the atheist (and overtly anti-religion) blog for sixth place in “Best Religion Blog” at Blogger’s Choice Awards.

    How ironic if YOU did outrun that one.

  2. Martin

    Thank you for sharing this. I have been anxiously awaiting to see what your thoughts and impressions were.

    My mother-in-law was just confirmed during this Easter Vigil as well!

  3. Kiwi Nomad 2006

    Thanks for sharing all this Jen. For me, as a lapsed Catholic, it is a soul-provoking account to read.

  4. :o)

    Congratulations. Your recollections are moving and heartwarming.

  5. SteveG

    This statement from the pen of a new Catholic…

    If I’ve learned one thing over this past two years, it is this. Without God’s grace, I’m lost.

    …is all the thunder-and-lightning that a fellow Catholic could hope for. It’s one of the most profound truths that we can recognize, and it shows very well that your steps on the spiritual journey are most certainly taking you in the right direction.

    God Bless you for this wonderful post.

  6. Christine

    Jen,

    I am actually happy it isn’t a “thunder and lightning” kind of post. When Hubby was Confirmed last Easter Vigil, I had the expectation that I’d have a “Chris” evening. I am VERY emotional (always have been), and I figured I’d go through a ton of tissues between his Confirmation and Big Girl’s First Communion (first anniversary is this Sunday, April 29). But I was not in tears. I was supremely happy and contented. I did tear up a couple of times at each Mass, but overall, it was a happy and contented feeling that was upmost in my heart.

    I think it’s probably because it was just how it’s supposed to be for us, you know? Like, THIS is where we all belong. And here we are. The only one left for First Communion is Little Girl now, and she’s a-rarin’ to go!

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I’m so very happy for your whole family, and I am really glad that your father was there, too. If it helps any, I was there in spirit. Thought of you through most of the Vigil that night. 🙂

  7. onionboy

    This is what He does each time we receive Him, body, blood soul and divinity. It can only be decscribed as a miracle. A miracle that I, a former Protestant minister of 20 years, see as being saved by grace and born again, again and again and again…

    God bless you as your exciting journey continues.

    O
    ::thrive
    luminousmiseries

  8. Derek Rotty

    Jen,
    From one convert to another…AMAZING! Thank you for sharing your story. I will post this on my blog and will blogroll your site. Peace be with you and your family.

  9. jrg

    Jen,
    The best advice I was given by my spiritual director was “let your manner be ordinary; God will do the rest.” That came to mind when I read your latest post. Thank you for sharing your journey so openly on the bloghsphere. You have strengthened me in my own walk with Christ.

    One quick thought on having faith – it a gift that I believe God renews with each ascent of the will to say with conviction, “Jesus, I Trust In You.” I always follow it with, “help me to trust You more.”

    May Our Lord continue to bless you and your family.

  10. Father Stephanos, O.S.B.

    Now you’re six votes AHEAD.

  11. beez

    Thank you very much, Jen.

    This was great to read. I am so happy that you and your family have started on this path (remember that this is a journey and the destination is a ways off!)

    I chose Augustine when I finally got my confirmation, so I understand what you mean about the “accessibility” of the saints.

  12. mrsdarwin

    It was a beautiful and inspiring occasion. We were glad to be there.

  13. Anonymous

    Jen, I didn’t have thunder and lightning either with my reception and first holy communion, either. Just moments of that peace that passes understanding……
    Although I did not enter the church at the Easter vigil, it has always been my favorite liturgy of the whole year.
    alicia (fructusventris)
    (for some reason, blogger won’t let me sign in!)

  14. HanseaticEd

    What a magnificent description of your reception into the Church. It rather reminds me of the icon of Mary called the ‘Oranta’ where the Lord can be seen in her womb. It seems to be all about the incredible generosity of God, and the wide open arms of his Church.

    Congratulations. God be with you.

  15. GuyMarla33

    When you are in not good state and have got no money to go out from that point, you will have to take the personal loans. Because it will aid you emphatically. I take term loan every time I need and feel OK just because of that.

  16. Amy

    I’m so glad I finally found this post. I have been wanting to read about your first Easter Vigil experience. I will be entering the church this Easter Vigil and I am quite excited (and nervous) about it. I’m happy to read about your experience 🙂

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