The church was dark but I could see the faces of my children illuminated by the light of their candles, lit from the Paschal candle. And my breath caught in my throat at how beautiful it was. This is the night, sang the priest from the Exsultet, an ancient chant only sung once a year, the night before Easter Sunday.
We have the ambitious, some might say foolhardy, tradition of bringing our children, ages 2-7, to the Easter Vigil Mass every year. It can be more than three hours long and begins after our kids’ bedtime, hence the possible foolhardiness. We prepare the kids by dressing them in their best and talking up what’s about to happen. First we’ll watch as the Paschal candle is lit from a big fire outside the church. Then we’ll hold candles in the dark church, hear the epic story of God’s salvation of humanity from the Scriptures, and then watch our new brothers and sisters in Christ be baptized and received into the Catholic Church.
Halfway through my son asked me in a whisper when the “water fight” would start. So I think we overhyped what happens after the baptisms when the priest walks around the church asperging the faithful with holy water. But it really is an exciting Mass and our kids do well despite the length of the Vigil.
This year we found ourselves back at the parish where we were received into the Church six years ago. Our first Easter Vigil there since that red letter night in 2010.
I had a great view of the statue of Our Lady that I stood next to when I was in line for my first confession. I remember trembling with anxiety over the 25 years of sins I was about to unleash upon the priest in the confessional and the prayer I sent up to the Blessed Mother was Please pray for me, Mary. Please pray that I don’t chicken out. Please help me do this.
I reached across my four-year-old daughter to grab my husband’s hand and we shared a look that contained the past six years of grace that our conversion has meant for our life together. This life we began in the same sacred space, six years ago.
As I watched the baptisms and confirmations, my heart was so full for each new Catholic. And not just the folks being received at our parish, but those entering full communion with the Church all over the world. Including people I get connected with through the blogosphere and have been emailing with and praying for–perhaps for months or years.
A woman asked me on social media why I would be so excited for people who are just “switching denominations.” “Why does it really matter? What does it change?“ she wondered. Perhaps I would have thought about conversion to Catholicism as a denominational change up a few years ago. But now, it’s hard to wrap my mind around that. So I had to think about how to answer her question.
From childhood to college I switched from Presbyterian to non-denominational to Episcopalian to Baptist. I was finding something to best fit my beliefs. I liked this about that church and that about another. What did it matter what the label was? And I don’t think I could have understood the huge shift in mindset that was to take place when we converted.
When we became Catholic, we were accepting the doctrine of the Church Christ instituted. Rather than finding a church to best suit us, we were making a promise to change ourselves to best suit the Church. We were saying “yes” to all her teachings, even the hard ones. Even the ones we’d have to turn our lives upside down to follow. We were entering full communion with that Church and receiving all the graces that flow from it. We were receiving the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus, an experience that I still cannot grasp for its beauty and gravitas.
The richness of the Catholic faith and the joy it brings to our lives isn’t something I can begin to tackle in the length of a blog post. But knowing that others are beginning the same journey thrills me. Catholic converts have not just switched denominations, they are coming face-to-face with Jesus as part of a community that stretches across the globe and into heaven. A community that goes back more than 2,000 years, unbroken. And Christ himself has promised that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
I think that’s something to celebrate and all new converts, I rejoice with you. Welcome home!