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The Triduum is ended with the holiest night of the year and the most sacred and splendid of all liturgies: the Easter Vigil.

The liturgy begins in darkness.  The sun has set, and all the lights in the church are out.  And then a new fire, begun from a spark of flint, emerges.  The great Paschal Candle is lit, and from it scores of other candles, the flame being passed throughout the church.  A new dawn breaks!  Not with the light of the natural sun, but with the light of the Sun of Justice, Christ, our risen Lord.

And then, in the golden, dancing glow, the chanting of the sublime Exsultet (or Paschal Praeconium) begins:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Oh, the Exsultet!  It is truly one of the highlights of my entire year.  One of my favorite parts is:

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

“O happy fault”!  Sure, life would no doubt be easier and better had Adam and Eve not eaten that fruit.  But their fall didn’t only bring about hardship.  Their fall ultimately brought Christ to us.  Under the circumstances, what more could we hope for or desire than for God to become one of us, to come in Person to pay our debt and raise us up, to restore us to divine life?  To allow us once more to behold the face of God!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

These are just a few excerpts from the Exsultet.  But I’m sure you can see how enchanting it is and why it is something I look forward to and cherish deeply each year.  It always brings tears to my eyes!  It summarizes so beautifully and perfectly what this night means… and, really, what our Christian faith means!

[UPDATE]: Father Z has an excellent post dedicated to the Exsultet, including an audio file of him chanting it in Latin.  Truly beautiful and not to be missed!  [END UPDATE]

This is also the night when many people become new Christians and new Catholics.  Bearing witness to that, standing in support of them, and welcoming them into the Holy Church is always a profoundly moving and humbling thing.  I had the special privilege of sharing in the joy of my friend Susie and her husband as their son was confirmed and received Communion for the first time tonight!  God bless him and all of our new brothers and sisters!  They’ve been on quite a journey, and it won’t be ending any time soon!

It’s the most powerful possible testament that, despite what our society might look like and what our media might tell us, the Catholic Church isn’t old and dying.  Every year she becomes younger and fresher.  The Church may not be “popular,” but she still draws people to herself and to the Lord.  She still has power over people.  People still long for her, desire her, and strive after and pursue her.  People still embrace her.  She makes human beings more, much more, than just Homo sapiens sapiens.  Calls us to sublimation and heroism.  And people still want to be heroes and heroines, not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of God and His Church!  She makes the weak strong and the humble glorious.  Who wouldn’t want that?

The neophytes aren’t the only new, fresh blood in the Church.  The Easter Vigil renews all of us!  It certainly renews me.  I was telling Susie as we walked to our cars that I always feel so alive after the Easter Vigil Mass!  It breathes new life into me.  I come from it an entirely new person.  We all do.

Let us praise and thank the Risen Lord for His tremendous blessings!

Christus resurrexit!  Alleluia!

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Profound silence falls over the world when Christ, the Word of God, descends to the realm of the dead.  My heart is close to bursting with prayer and supplication… desperate to fill the silence and the void.

Despair is closer than ever, easier than ever, on this day.

And yet a small spring of hope still wells forth in the heart’s deepest, darkest recesses.

For the realm of the dead cannot confine Him who is Life Itself, Him through whom all life was created.  And even now, in the deepest, darkest recesses of the universe, He is very much alive and constantly at work, reviving and liberating the souls of the just from all previous ages, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Our silence is their jubilation.  Our closeness to despair’s chilling breath is their hope and their breath of life.  He whose empty body we on Earth saw laid in a tomb is the living and mighty champion of those in the underworld.

And even for us, Easter’s promise, so close at hand and sensible, sends up that little rivulet of hope.

What else is there to say?

bouguereau-pieta

Except perhaps: Lord, have mercy. And: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

This was my 3rd Holy Thursday observance.  And the first when I did not stay in the church with the reposed Blessed Sacrament until midnight.  I would love to have stayed, but one must be prudent about these things… I had nobody to drive me home should I grow too exhausted.

Of all that could be said of Holy Thursday–the magnificent liturgy, Father L’s typical stirring homily, the incense and the bells, the five, yes five, fine young seminarians who assisted at Mass–the one thing that strikes me year after year (all 3 of them so far) is that Holy Thursday always leaves me empty… and yet so very full.  Empty of myself, and full of Christ.

I know that Christ is always at work in me.  That was part of Father’s lesson to us tonight.  But how often do I allow myself to be emptied out?  Not nearly enough as I ought.  And never to this extent that occurs one Thursday a year.

Clearly, it is a most intimate encounter, and identification, with Christ.  Christ, Who emptied Himself so that we men and women might once again take our place in the heart of God and in the divine life of God.  So was I emptied tonight so that Christ might take His proper place in my little heart and my fleeting life.  When this union, this profound convergence with Christ occurs, everything changes!  The entire world becomes so very precious in my eyes, and I love deeply everything and everybody I see.  It comes to be as if I am looking at everything through His eyes.

I can’t describe what a marvelous gift that is!

The stripping of the altar also takes on a haunting new dimension.  As I stared into the cavernous dark sanctuary, the empty tabernacle laid open, the bare cold marble of the altar…  I felt such great compassion.  I thought to myself, There are churches that are like this all the time.  There are empty tabernacles in the world.  There are altars at which no priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  There are fellow Catholics, brothers and sisters, who face such desolation and yearning on a daily basis.  In some cases, it is due to war, persecution, or other disasters, either natural or man-made.  It may be due to simple and unavoidable changes.  But in other cases, it’s due to far worse things: human selfishness and disobedience, saying yes to the world and ourselves and no to God and His Church,human negligence, betrayal, and abandonment.

To experience that one Thursday a month is fortunate.  And it fills one with gratitude for the worthy things we always take for granted: church, priest, Sacraments.  Having Christ really and truly present before us.

Everything looks different on Holy Thursday.  I pray that maybe I will reach a point one of these days where such perspective is not limited to Holy Thursday… a point where I am more emtpy of myself and more full of Christ.

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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