This was our first Easter Vigil Mass at St. Leo Cahtholic Church in Tacoma. We were parishoners last year, but we did not attend the Easter mass because we joined with our Faith Sharing group to witness our friend's baptism at St. Theresa's, our old parish. This year I (we) participated in the Triduum at St. Leo's. The Triduum is the three days of services that culminate in the Easter Vigil where the new members are welcomed into the church.
On Thursday Mary and I attended Holy Thursday mass, the parking lot was quite full when we arrived. The gospel reading was from John and is from the Last Supper when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. The Homilist explained that at the Council of Trent washing of the feet was seriously considered as a sacrament, but was voted down if you will because they wanted to keep it to seven sacraments. Nonetheless it is a powerful sacramental event when one washes the feet of their loved one. For Jesus that was everyone of us. Holy Thursday mass ends with the Eucharist (Christ) being taken from the sanctuary.
Friday I made the late afternoon commute to St. Leo by myself. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper and several times I thought about getting off the freeway and heading home instead of arriving late as I could see I would. I am glad I did not do this, but stayed true to my initial plan to participate in the Good Friday service. I arrived late and the parking lot was overflowing, I had to park on G Street below the church and walked up the hill to arrive in the middle of the first reading. The Good Friday service was in collaboration with another (non-Catholic) faith community, Urban Grace. Members of this community participated in the readings and the Urban Grace pastor delivered the homily. The Gospel was the Passion reading from John. The theme for the homily was the words Jesus spoke when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him. When they asked if he as Jessus of Nazareth he simply said "I am". These words have deep roots in old testament scripture, suggesting God's name is so holy, so sacred ... not to be spoken ... and the solidiers themselves fell back.
The most powerful part of the Good Friday service was the presentation of the cross. St. Leo has a simple wooden cross which has been in the entry area of the church all during lent. On Good Friday the cross is walked through the streets of Tacoma in a reinactment of the Stations of the Cross. At the Good Friday service the cross is carried into the church in a sacred ceremony. At St. Leo part of this ceremony includes passing the cross through the pews, overhead hand-to-outreached-hand so all parishoners/worshipers participate in this silent tearful procession of the cross. The ceremony comes to an end when the cross is placed against the baptismal font. The celebrants then venerate the cross before inviting all to come venerate the cross.
The third event in the Triduum is the Easter Vigil. The mass begins with a bonfire which and from the fire the Easter Candle is lit, light is again in the world. The mass includes Baptism of the new members of the church, those who have elected to enter the church after some period of education and discernment. It also includes Confirmation of these newly baptized as well as others who are previously baptized, but for some reason have not become full members of the Catholic church (other Christian denominations or for some reason not confirmed with their peer group). These folks too go through a period of discernment before choosing/asking to become full members of the Church. There were 10 new members welcomed into the church last night.
The entire service is filled with drama, literally and figuratively. Many of the readings (and there are many) are sung or acted out. Allehluia is dramatically returned to the church after being taken away for Lent. The celebrants sang the entire Eucharistic Prayer, it was beautiful. Perhaps the most dramatic is the Baptism when the celebrant (Father Steve) stands in the Baptismal font and invites all of the elect, one-by-one to join him and be Baptized. The mass is a powerful symbol of community for St. Leo with many ... many parishoners coming together and being involved in every aspect of the event.
The Vigil service is long, over two and a half hours, but truly a community celebration. Next year I expect we may be more involved in some way (probably not on the drama side). For this year, Mary and I got home close to midnight and welocmed Easter, continuing the celebration by dancing to a few tunes before heading to bed.