Tiny Lights in the Darkness

I have actually been avoiding reading much of the news lately. It’s so depressing to read how far from Christianity our culture is moving — not to mention how rapidly. When I read about small businesses being bullied for not kowtowing to the new idol of sex, I feel depressed and even worried for our future. If I pay too much attention to men and women being pushed out of their jobs because they have the nerve to hold to traditional Christian creeds and values, it sometimes makes me wonder how much longer my own husband would be able to work in this increasingly hostile secular world. I do my best to trust in God and rest easy in His care, but sometimes it’s just so hard. Sometimes it feels like an onslaught.

I was relieved to mostly tune out of the news during the Triduum, and was grateful to be able to go to church all three nights, plus spend an extra hour in Adoration after Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper. Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday was moving, and yet comforting at the same time. And then came the highlight of my entire year: Easter Vigil Mass.

The Easter Vigil is truly the most important Mass of the entire Catholic year. It’s the first Mass to celebrate the Resurrection. It’s the Mass when we remember our heritage throughout the Old Testament, hearing of the love of God and His care for His Chosen People throughout all of history. We hear about the way God prepared them — as well as the rest of the world — for the coming of the Savior. And then the bells ring again, and we sing Gloria!

But before we start any of the Old Testament readings (anywhere from three to seven, plus a Psalm for each), we begin outside in the dark.

Outside, Father lights a fire, burning off the last of our holy oils. He blesses the fire, then blesses the Paschal Candle using the following prayer:

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(1) Christ yesterday and today (carving the vertical beam),
(2) the Beginning and the End (carving the transverse beam),
(3) the Alpha (carving the letter A above the vertical bean)
(4) and the Omega (carving the letter  above the vertical beam);
(5) to Him belongs Time (as he carves the first numeral of the  current year in the upper left-hand angle of the Cross)
(6) and the ages (as he carves the second number of the current year in the upper right-hand angle of the cross);
(7) to Him be glory and empire (as he carves the third numeral of the current year in the lower left-hand angle of the Cross, for example 5)
(8) throughout all the ages of eternity. Amen. (as he carves the fourth numeral of the current year in the lower right-hand angle of the Cross, for example, 7).
The Deacon (or one of the servers) gives the grains of incense to the Celebrant, who inserts the five grains into the places prepared for them, saying:    
(1) Through His holy wounds
(2) glorious
(3) may He guard
(4) and protect us
(5) Christ the Lord. Amen.

 

The deacon then carries the candle into the darkened narthex of the church and chants, “The light of Christ!” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God!” He then walks to the middle of the church itself, which is completely dark, and, holding the candle high again, repeats the chant, and we repeat the response.

At this point, something beautiful happens. Each parishioner has been carrying a candle, unlit. The altar servers step forward and hold their candles to the flame of the Paschale Candle and light them with the holy fire. Each server turns around to light the candle of someone nearby. As people turn to light each other’s candles, the deacon walks to the very front of the sanctuary and repeats, “The light of Christ!” and we all sing back, “Thanks be to God!”

By now, the light is slowly spreading throughout the church, into the choir area, across the pews, from one person to another. Each time a candle is lit, the church grows a little bit brighter, until you can nearly read by the light of the hundreds of candles. But it’s hard to notice this until you get all the way to your pew, when you have the chance to look up from your own candle, which you’re trying to keep lit (and keep from lighting your neighbor’s hair or mantilla on fire).

There is so much to this simple action. The light is a symbol, and each of our candles is also a symbol. They show us what we are like in our world: small lights, trying to bring Christ to a dark and fallen world. Sometimes, we feel very alone in the battle against darkness. We gain our strength from Christ Himself, just as we got our little candle light from the Paschal Candle. And just like the reaction you have when you get to your pew and look up at the light in the church, if we look up and around us in the world, we’ll see lights like our own out there.

We cannot let the world fool us into thinking our tiny candles are the only lights out there. We cannot let the world fool us into thinking that what we do when we pray and work to spread the gospel message makes no difference. This world is full of deception, and some of the worst deception is that we aren’t making a difference, that we have already lost.

We haven’t lost, though we will certainly continue to struggle against the darkness as long as we live. Christ has already won the battle. We have to keep going, keep our candles lit, and seek out the other lights in the darkness. Together, we can make a beautiful light. But to see it, we must take our eyes off of our tiny candles and look around.