Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Part of the Path, Part I

For the first 18 years or so of my life, I considered myself a devout Roman Catholic. After all, I'd been raised in the Catholic Church since birth, I rarely missed a mass, and I sang in the choir. I'd been baptised, had my first Eucharist, said penance, and I'd even willfully been confirmed. Everyone on both sides of my family were Catholic; it had been that way for many generations.

My favorite time of the church year was Easter week and I usually attended all masses, from Holy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter Vigil and mass. Many times I attended these masses alone, since my family, as well as a majority of Catholics, only went to mass on Easter Sunday. Aside from the obvious reason for attending these masses - to mourn the crucifixion and death of Jesus and to subsequently celebrate his resurrection - there was something in the formality of it all that really spoke to me, that moved me in a way that nothing else had.

During Holy Thursday mass, as the priest, dressed in ornate vestments, silently walked up and down the aisles, incense billowing from his staff, solemnly chanted ancient, Latin hymns, I was always overcome with intense emotion. I could practically feel my heart ripping away from its cavity as the same priest, his mournful face tear-streaked and red, lay his body on the floor before the altar, offering himself to the crucified Christ. I found it nearly impossible to hold back my own tears on Good Friday, the day of Jesus' death, when the priest and congregation slowly marched from the pews of the church to the bell tower in reverence of the fallen Saviour.

After all of that sadness and gloom, there was the Saturday Easter Vigil, which begins in darkness and is slowly illuminated by the candle light of parishioners, each lighting her candle from the person before her. At no other time did I feel such solidarity, not only with my congregation, but with Catholics across the globe, as we lit our candles together, literally being the light for our Church, our priest, our God. Finally, Easter Sunday ensued, where everyone joined together in celebration, all of us invigorated by ideas of hope, faith and rebirth.

These were powerful days, to say the least; days in which you undoubtedly believed in your church and its teachings. I can recall these events as if they occured today. Even though it has been nearly a decade since I have experienced this, since I've believed, I still get choked up as I type this, chills creaping up and down my spine.

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