The Vigil

The Vigil. Everyone wants to know about the Vigil.

The reason I haven't posted is that words simply can't describe the experience. People ask me about it all the time, in real life and on the blog, and I -- a woman of so many words -- just kind of stutter and fumble with an answer. But I'll try to do it justice here, in fact, I've asked God and St. Francis de Sales (my Confirmation Saint!) to help me find words.

It was a gorgeous spring night. Warm, breezy and just humid enough to be comfortable. We began outside with a candlelight procession into the Church. My husband (who sponsored me) and I found the other Candidates and Catechumens and stuck close to them for moral support. They had reserved a block of seats for us up front, and even though I knew most people didn't know for sure who was coming into the church, I felt as if everyone's eyes were on us.

We entered the church, which was darkened, and stood in the glow of the candlelight as Father and the altar boys put the Easter Candle in place. At the first "Alleluia," the house lights came up all at once, and it was stunning. Father told us later that they had gone and replaced a bunch of burned-out lightbulbs in the ceiling earlier in the day, and as a result, it was brighter in the church than most of us had ever seen it before. Good call on Father's part -- it was amazing.

Anyway, the service itself was long but very beautiful. There were seven readings, seven call-and-response chants from the Psalms, and seven prayers. Then the blessing of the Holy Water and the Litany of Saints, and then they got to us: the Candidates and Catechumens (by the way, Catechumens are those adults who are being baptized for the first time, Candidates are baptized Christians who are coming into the fullness of the Catholic faith through Confirmation).

For a little while, I got to sit back and relax as the Catechumens were baptized. I was surprised at the groundswell of emotion that washed over me as I watched these adults washed clean of their past sins and given new lives in Christ. I'm not a crier, but as one woman from our RCIA class went up there with her young daughter and both received baptism, I burst into happy tears.

There was one woman in particular in our class with whom I'd struggled the entire time -- she seemed adamantly opposed to all of the Church's moral teachings and I'd wondered if she'd actually go through with it. I'd been in prayer for her since the first night she opened her mouth about her support for abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, and I prayed that God would lead her into the Church, but not without changing her heart to one of joyful submission to God's law. (I think the last thing we need is more people trying to change the Church "from the inside.") So I was glad to see this woman there at Easter Vigil, and again prayed for her. God has filled me with an affection for this woman that I can't fully explain, as she has spoken out in ways that anger me more times than I can count. But God has made it clear over and over again that I am to love this woman and pray for her whenever I see her or think of her. So I do.

Continuing with the service, they had us Candidates rise and state individually our belief in the Catholic faith. With that simple action, we were received into the Church. The entire class, Catechumens and Candidates alike, went forward with our Sponsors to be Confirmed. I was confirmed with the name "Francis de Sales." Francis is the patron saint of Catholic writers, and I'm definitely one of those, now. But I can also relate to his life story on many levels.

Like Francis, I have parents with big dreams for me (his wanted him to be a lawyer, soldier and politician -- he became a priest instead). I had quite the rising career myself before God showed me that my primary vocation, at least for now, is motherhood. My parents, while they love my son, were woefully disappointed when I announced my pregnancy shortly after our wedding and honeymoon. They thought I was throwing my life away. Francis faced the same reaction when he announced his calling to the priesthood. So I can relate to Francis, or he to me, or something like that. At any rate, since he's been through it all and come out on the other side not only successful, but sainted, I desire Francis de Sales's lifelong help and intercession.

Another interesting, pertinent tidbit about Francis is that he converted tens of thousands of Calvinists in reformation-era Europe back to Catholicism. I was never a Calvinist, but as a convert, I hope to be able to follow in Francis's footsteps and help God to show my Evangelical brethren the truth about His Church. And last but not least, Francis was renowned for his incredible PATIENCE. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that patience is a virtue I utterly lack. So I'm hoping, through his intercession, that some of Francis de Sales's abundant patience will rub off on me.

I need to pause again here for a moment to mention that the thing I was most nervous about before the Vigil was First Holy Communion. I'd been praying to God for weeks that He would give me a tangible sign of His presence in the Eucharist, a feeling, a vision, a word, anything! I wanted Him to leave me completely free of doubt that the Eucharist IS Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. Well, as I was confirmed (before Holy Communion), and Father P. put the Chrism Oil on my forehead, I was overcome with an incredible feeling -- I was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. If I were of the charismatic persuasion, I probably would have fallen on the ground and started speaking in tongues or something. It was like being drunk, only with perfect clarity of thought. I felt like I was miles off the ground, and suddenly understood why the book of Acts says the Apostles were accused of being drunk at 9 A.M. when the Holy Spirit entered them at Pentecost. And as I returned to my seat to pray before Communion, I realized I didn't need a sign anymore. This was it, the real deal, and whether I felt anything or not at Communion, I knew I was truly Home.

But God is good and his lovingkindness never ceases, so as unexpectedly wonderful as Confirmation had been for me, the Eucharist really put me "over the top," so to speak. The actual act of receiving the Eucharist was thankfully uneventful (I'd messed up the order of things at rehearsal, so I was worried about doing that again), but when I got back to my kneeler, I got a real treat -- infused prayer.

Father had told us at rehearsal that the very best time to pray is after receiving the Eucharist, because Jesus is physically with you. So I had a laundry list of Important Things I wanted to pray about in those special, holy moments of communion with my Savior. I didn't get but two items into it before (and here is where my vocabulary gives out and I find I really can't describe it) Jesus just took over. I couldn't think of anything on my own, the only word in my mind was JESUS, like a mantra, and I was nearly knocked over by an incredible feeling of warmth and intimacy that I can only describe as better and closer than any sex anyone in the world has ever had. Not that it was arousing, mind you! But the feeling of just being one, united, and totally consumed with the presence of the Divine Person was absolutely incredible in a way that really can only be compared in Earthly terms to the marital embrace. For a few blessed moments, I didn't need air, I didn't need water, I didn't need food -- Jesus would sustain me forever, I was sure of it. And then the feeling gradually lifted, and all that was left was a happy afterglow, just an echo of the intense peace and joy I'd experienced in those first few moments after receiving Jesus.

And then the Vigil was over. I was Catholic. I had my husband's two sisters, his mother and two of our nieces wrapped around me, crying joyful tears. I cried a few tears myself. We took some photos with Father P., and headed home to relieve our babysitter of her duties and celebrate with a late-night snack and a glass of wine.

And since then? Well, I have a lot to say about the incredible graces poured out in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I have quite a bit to say about vocations. I have some thoughts on St. Francis de Sales's classic book that I've been reading, "Introduction to the Devout Life." But it will all have to wait for next time, because my son just woke up and it's time to go be Mommy.

Blessings to everyone who joined me on the journey across the Tiber this year! I hope you all found as much joy as I have -- and there's so much more to come.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU---for sharing this very special moment with us! You are such an incredible writer and have the gift of making your readers feel that we were right there with you. I hope that you will continue to write and I pray that God will use you to do very special things in the church.

4/27/2006 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Rejoicing with you! Thank you for taking the time to write! I know what you mean about being speechless... it is so hard to write about, but I thought of you as you were 'crossing the Tiber' and am so glad that you have taken your place at the table!

4/27/2006 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger streetwise said...

Thank you so much for posting your experience of Easter vigil. I was confirmed at the vigil myself (do you live in Arlington, VA, too?), also with the saint name Francis de Sales, and am also a former Protestant (Calvinist). Your words gave expression to what I'd felt about the vigil but had been unable to convey until now. Thanks so much for your witness and for using your gifts...welcome home! Blessings to you.

4/28/2006 01:00:00 PM  

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