23 March 2008

One Egg is Un Oeuf

Well, it would have been. Today, however, was an egg-free day for me. I don't just mean a day free of chocolate eggs -- it has been several years since I've had one of those -- rather it's been a day free of your regular common-or-garden eggs. I'm not quite sure why, as they'd been one of the things I gave up for Lent. Shouldn't I have been indulging today, in a frenzied orgy of yoke and albumen?

That's a mental picture you'd probably rather do without. Well, too late for you, my friend, too late for you.

So anyway, last night I went to the Vigil Mass at the Pro-Cathedral. I'd been to Vigil masses in Manchester in 2004 and 2005, but had never been to one at home; I'm glad to say that my first Irish Vigil Mass didn't disappoint, being just as beautiful and as prayerful as those I'd previously participated in.

Thomas Howard, in Evangelical is Not Enough, which I read a few weeks ago, in the aftermath of Bleak House, does rather more justice to the celebration than I could hope to, so I think it's probably best just to quote his description in full:
On Holy Saturday in most churches no rites occur until the end of the day when the highest feast of the Christian year is celebrated. It is the ancient Paschal Vigil, leading up to the First Mass of Easter.

It is a rite that seems to go back to the earliest years of the Church, perhaps even to years when the apostles were still alive. Toward the end of the day (afternoon, evening, ery late evening, or, in some churches, just before dawn on Easter morning itself) the Christians assemble in the darkened church. The procession of clergy, servers, and choir assembles at the rear of the church, in darkness. Then fire is struck, from which the Paschal Candle is lighted. This is an immense candle, sometimes as tall as a man and several inches in diameter. There are affixed to the side of this candle five grains of incense, representing the five wounds of Christ. Then the deacon moves into the dark aisle with this single, flickering light. The procession follows him. Presently he stops. "The light of Christ!" he sings, and all the people respond singing, "Thanks be to God!" Again he proceeds, and again he stops. "The light of Christ!" this time on a higher note. "Thanks be to God!" we sing. Yet a third time it happens, on a higher note still. Then, from that candle tapers are lighted, and the flame is passed to all the people, who have been given unlighted candles.

Here is the church, glimmering now with this light from candles that are themselves almost perfect symbols of what Christ is, since a candle's light comes from its own self-giving.

Presently the deacon sings the Exsultet:

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
brought with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.

All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame,
pray with me to God the Almighty
for the Grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light.

Scripture readings follow, tracing the history of Redemption: the Spirit of God moving on the face of the waters, Noah, the Red Sea, and other milestones leading to Christ.

Eventually comes the most blissful moment of all. Alone the priest sings, "Glory be to God on high!" Suddenly all the lights in the church blaze on, bells are jangled merrily by the servers, the organ thunders out its triumph, and Easter has begun! He is risen! He is risen! The First Mass of Easter!

... I grew up in a household and a tradition that loved the Resurrection of the Lord. Evangelicals felt that they were almost alone in defending the doctrine against the modernists and unbelievers. But here was the Church, celebrating this event with an amplitude of joy that finally seemed not only to answer to what I had loved and believed all along, but unfurl it for me. If we could blow horns at New Year's and wave flags on July 4 and have a picnic on Labor Day, why -- oh why -- were we denied celebration, ceremony, hilarity, and an extravagance of pageantry on this feast, next to which these mere national holidays were literally nothing -- nothing at all? What religion was it that said to us, "No. Sit still. Or stand and sing, 'Up from the grave He arose.' But your main job is to think about the event and hear a sermon about it. Don't do anything."

I have often thought, in the years since those days at St. Mary's, "Oh, my own crowd, the wonderful evangelicals, with their love for the gospel and their zeal; for God -- how they would leap for joy if ever they returned to the ancient Church and thronged in by their hundreds and thousands, singing, praising, and bursting with pure joy at the discovery of the liturgy!"
The mass itself was beautiful, with the litany of the saints being chanted at the two baptisms that took place, Archbishop Martin's homily being a real call to arms, the Sanctus -- like the Gloria -- coming from Mozart's Missa Solemnis in C, the Agnus Dei coming from the beautifully simple Mass XVIII, and the Recessional Hymn being the 'Hallelujah Chorus' from Handel's Messiah, to my knowledge the only part of the Classical canon that was first performed in Dublin.

And so, suitably fortified by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord, I filed out of the Church and pelted down O'Connell Street as fast as I could go, only to see the last bus rounding Westmoreland Street and cruising off down the Quays. If I were to make one suggestion to the Archbishop of Dublin, it'd be that he bring the Vigil forward from half past nine to nine o'clock. Considering that the whole mass ran for two hours, getting the last bus would have been a miracle.

I coped, though. I only had an hour to wait till the Nitelink. And me being me, I had a book.

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