THE PASCHAL VIGIL

Every Holy Saturday priests and sacristans throughout the world study the sky and say things like: I hope it doesn’t rain tonight.  Please don’t let the wind blow out the flame.

After almost a quarter of a century it’s certainly been my fear every Holy Saturday night.  The fire has never been a problem; it’s the candle I always worry about.  It’s great to be outdoors, its great to have a fire burning, the liturgy is fantastic.  But the candle.  Once you bless the fire you have to light the Paschal candle and that can be tricky.  And then there’s the walk from the fire to the chapel.  That small, delicate, flame.  It’s so fragile, it’s so tiny, vulnerable and small.  You want to protect it.  You feel so uncertain about it.  Will it survive that short journey?

As the procession moves into the chapel you realize just how small and insignificant that little flame is.  It’s surrounded by darkness, a darkness, it seems, that it cannot overcome, a darkness it cannot subdue.  The flame is so small, so insignificant, it’s so powerless.  And the darkness seems to be so great, so overwhelming, so threatening, and there’s so much of it everywhere.  And yet it is our little flame, our tiny light, our Paschal fire that leads the way.  And we follow.

We enter the darkness of the chapel which appears so empty and barren and cold.  Silence, stillness, and the overpowering darkness.  Into the darkness pushes our little light.   And still, we are drawn to it.  Faces in the darkness turn to see, and they smile with its arrival.  They are excited by its presence.  Their faces barely visible but this tiny light reaches out to touch and embrace them.  And we are drawn to the light.  As we stand in the darkness, in the company of the Light, we begin to realize that maybe this little light is not so insignificant after all.  In the darkness, it stands alone, and yet, it draws us to itself.

As we entered the chapel I announced: Lumen Christi (Christ our Light).  Christ has entered into the darkness, and as he promised, the darkness has not overpowered him.  His light, although small, fragile and seemingly insignificant, now burns brighter than ever, still burns strong, still burns for us.

And that light is no longer isolated.  Once it is acclaimed, once it is acknowledged, now this light, who is Christ, moves out and consumes those around him.  The Light of Christ moves into the body of the chapel, and as he moves forward, his light is shared with those gathered around.  It passes from one to another: shared, given and received.  Forward the light moves and again the priest calls out Christ our Light; again he is shared, again he is given and again, he is received.

By now the darkness cannot hold him.  The darkness cannot subdue him.  The darkness cannot overcome him.  Christ our Light moves through the darkness, and the darkness retreats as he passes.  Pushed now the darkness is exiled to the corners, the shadows, the distant places.  And one third and final time Christ our Light is acclaimed, and as he does, priest turns to look back upon his path, upon the path the Lord has just walked as this sacred flame.  And what does he see there?  A sea of light.  The Light of Christ.

What was fragile, small and isolated, what was a flickering and insignificant flame is now a burning fire that has overcome, expelled and subdued the darkness which once seemed to reign in this place.  This chapel, once in darkness, is now radiant in the warmth of his light.  The darkness exiled, and we realize that the chapel wasn’t really empty and barren; but seen through the Light of Christ it is fruitful and full of life.

Alone, the Light of Christ can be fragile, small and vulnerable, but it is never really alone, it is never really isolated, and it most certainly is never really insignificant.  We realize that the Light of Christ is to be shared, and in sharing it is strong, when shared it is powerful, when shared it lights the whole world and it overcomes the darkness.

But there’s more; in the light of the Easter Flame, in the light of the Easter Fire, the true Light of Christ can be seen; not in symbol; not in sign; but in the faces of those who have received that light, in the faces and the hearts of those who have taken this flame into their hearts.  In the faithful people of Christ who have gathered here in this place and in churches and chapels throughout the world on this holy night.  Here is the Light of Christ.

I wish you all a very happy and holy Easter.

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