Rome, Holy Saturday evening, 2010.
Holy Saturday Evening in Rome. Most of my brother priests have left for the Vigil service at St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s so close they will arrive at St. Peter’s Square in just a few minutes. Since I am not feeling well, I’m staying back to rest before tomorrow’s Easter Sunday Eucharist.
I am thinking of the new fire, the sacred fire that is lit outside Catholic churches as the Holy Saturday Vigil Service begins. Lighting a fire in the darkness of night is the way Catholics announce that Jesus Christ is still the Light of the world. Every light was extinguished in Catholic Churches at yesterday’s remembrance
of the passion and death of our Savior. The churches have been dark ever since. Now it’s time for the light to return.
In the darkness of our own human weakness and sin, we remember Our Lord who once shouted out that He had come to “cast a fire on the earth.” And, then He said: “How I wish it were enkindled!” So, we Catholics light a bonfire outside our churches on the Vigil of Easter to remind us of what He expects of us. No timid, weak flame for us! We are meant for great things.
That fire scene will play out at all Catholic Churches throughout the world. Here in Rome in front of St. Peter’s in a half-hour, Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the lighting of the new fire. I will be able to see the glow from where I am since St. Peter’s Square is just down the street.
Once the fire is blazing, a huge Easter Candle representing Christ is dipped into the fire until its wick catches a flame. Each of those present light their small candles from the great Christ candle. As the deacon lifts high the candle of Easter, now shining its light and dispelling the dark, we Catholics lift our tiny lights together and make enough light for us all to see. The lit candles are witnesses of our hope in Jesus Christ. In Him, there is no darkness.
Once in Church, the announcement of God’s plan as it has played out in history is chanted by the deacon as Catholics hold burning candles and listen to the words which proclaim our salvation. Our Lord instructed us that our lights must be kept burning brightly so that our good works will be seen and give glory to the Father.
“You are the light of the world,'” he said.
Scriptures are read, songs are sung and the announcement of Easter continues with alleluias and glorias. Organ and brass, along with stringed and reed instruments are given full voice. Christ is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
I just came down from the roof on the sixth floor of my building. St. Peter’s Basilica is ablaze in light. It’s bells are ringing, announcing the Resurrection of Our Lord. The bells, the old huge deep clanging bells are joining their alto and tenor sister bells. They are ringing out loudly, Christ is Risen! Now, the bells of other churhes are ringing, too. Rome begins its celebration of Easter.
Tomorrow, the scriptures will be read recalling the moment that Jesus was recognized by two of his disciples who were returning back to their village after the death of Jesus. A stranger joins them along the road and explains to them that all is not lost. The messiah was to suffer to show God’s love for the world.
They recognize Him at dinner when he broke the bread and then left them. “Were not our hearts burning within us as he explained scripture to us?”
Tomorrow, at dawn on Easter day, Rome will still be Rome with its history of ancient sins and ruins, its intrigue and its noise. Nevertheless, the alleluias will rise from its hundreds of churches. I will be in one of those churches singing my alleluias with all of the other believers in Jesus, the Light of the World.