Easter Vigil High Mass

April 14, 2004 | 11 comments
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I went to New Orleans this weekend to see my brother undergoing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (i.e., an adult convert baptism into the Catholic Church).

(Background: I converted to the LDS Church at age 16; my parents are nonpracticing Catholics who did not baptize their children in infancy.) His baptism and First Communion were part of an Easter Vigil, held the night before Easter. While my perception of the event was skewed by a burning fear that my two-year-old would explode before the service ended (two hours and seventeen minutes later!), I was impressed by the service in many ways. I have, in my childhood, been to Catholic services on many occasions, and a handful of family Masses in recent years (grandparents’ 50th, etc.). This one, a High Mass and Easter Vigil, had more to it.

We entered a dark chapel (Do they call it that? Or is it a sanctuary?). Because it was still light outside, the stained glass windows were gorgeous. I helped my five-year-old identify the stories about Jesus represented in the glass.

I told my husband later that I was pretty sure that our children would be begging to convert to Catholicism because they each got to hold, and then light (!), and then blow out (!!), a real candle twice during the service.

We think we have them beat in the doctrine department, but they have us nailed when it comes to music. Hymns generally bore me; Mormon pop offends me. Most of the music (cantor, congregational singing, small band with a few guitars, handbell choir, soloists, chanting in Latin) was folksy in character and I loved it. I genuinely felt that the Spirit was present because of the music. The service ended with a gospel-style song which didn’t do anything for me, but my kids loved clapping. What’s the history here? Is LDS music so lame because we don’t allow innovation? And, if so, is that a reasonable price to pay to keep LDS soft pop out of sacrament meeting? Do the saints in Ghana really sing our dirges, or do they innovate when no one is looking? Is that good or bad?

I was tempted, so many times, to silently mock the symbolism. (Incense. Ha. How silly.) But really, is any symbol inherently more ridiculous than another? I don’t know the background on the use of incense, but I would imagine that it has something to do with the idea of the Holy Spirit spreading throughout the world. Is this sillier than a golden angel perched on top of a building?

I am not sure of the title of the person who did this (not the priest, not the cantor) but a man in a suit did a dramatic but not cheesy reading of the creation story. It was delicious. I loved listening to the scriptures, by someone reading them ably and animatedly, without archaic language or commentary. Just the scriptures. I will be first in line to defend our use of the KJV, but I still loved this. And did I mention that there was no commentary? It was beautiful. It made me realize how often talks in our church consist of someone more or less saying, “What (Moses, Jesus, Paul, etc.) really meant to say was . . .”.

When it was time for the actual baptism, an altar girl carrying a cross led the candidates (each with a godmother and/or father and/or sponsor with a hand on their shoulder) in a procession that took them the longest possible way to the font. During this time, the cantor sang a song that basically consisted of the names of biblical bigshots and then saints, each pair followed by the words ‘pray for us.’ In other words, “Adam and Seth, pray for us . . . Abraham and Isaac, pray for us . . . Mary and Elizabeth, pray for us . . . Timothy and Titus, pray for us . . . Boniface and Ignatius, pray for us . . . Teresa and John, pray for us” Obviously, there is doctrine here that LDS don’t go in for, but I was touched by the idea that every person throughout history was sustaining and supporting the candidates. Once again, the music itself was beautiful.

The baptism was by immersion (except for one arm out of the water that the priest was holding; it also appeared that one of the other baptize-ee’s face did not completely go under; no one cared). Even my hard-core Catholic relatives were surprised that the baptism was by immersion. It occurs to me that they would have had no occasion to witness an adult being baptized, since everyone else in the family (and friends) would have been baptized as an infant.

I have no grand conclusions to draw, except that the next time someone makes an offhand remark in Sunday School in that condescending tone about the bankruptcy of apostate churches, I am going to smack them.

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11 Responses to Easter Vigil High Mass

  1. Grasshopper on April 14, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    fix bug

  2. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    Greek Orthodox also baptize by complete immersion, regardless of age, and we certainly pay attention to the whole body being immersed. That scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was actually inaccurate. Funny, but inaccurate. We never baptize in a kiddie pool! *laugh*

    It sounds like the service was beautiful!

    You are right about the incense. In the Greek Church it does represent the Holy Spirit, and as we smell the sweet earthy scent, it is also a physical representation of the blessings that the priest is asking for – an “annointing”, if you will. I can only assume it is the same with Catholics, since our faiths are so very close to one another.

    I actually burn the same incense in my home, and it immediately draws me back to the safety and security I feel while praying in my church.

  3. Bill Logan on April 14, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    Julie, it sounds like you had a wonderful experience at your brother’s initiation into the Catholic church.

    “Church” would be the general name for the building, the “nave” would be the part of the church where all the pews are, while the “sanctuary” would be where the altar is.

    Another symbolic aspect of incense is that it symbolizes prayer rising up to God.

    The person doing the reading (not the priest and not the deacon) is usually referred to as the “lector.” The Bible translation used in most Catholic churches in the U.S. is the New American Bible, Revised edition (although the version used in liturgical books has some additional revisions that aren’t in the copies of the NAB you can find in bookstores).

    The song sung during the procession of candidates sounds like a version of what is generally referred to as the “Litany of Saints,” although I’m not familiar with musical settings of this; the prayerbook versions that I’ve seen usually have the saints’ names presented singly instead of paired.

  4. D. Fletcher on April 14, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Julie, what a wonderful, memorable experience! Although if I were you, I wouldn’t be smacking people in Sunday School.

    :)

    P.S. If you get a chance, I’d love for you to listen to some of my (LDS) songs. They can be heard on recordings by Ariel Bybee, Jamie Peterson, George Dyer, Charlotte Smurthwaite, Clayne Robison, and Kathryn Little. I’d like your opinion as to their quality, and whether they sound “LDS” to your ears, or just like pablum for the masses, “soft rock” or empty academic exercises.

  5. Nate Oman on April 14, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    D. : My musical taste is not especially refined, but I very much enjoy your recordings, which I do not regard as pablum, soft rock, or academic self-indulgence.

    I was a little disappointed that you removed “Kolob” from “If You Could Hie to Kolob” ;->

  6. D. Fletcher on April 14, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    Hi, Nate!

    The “Kolob” to “heaven” change was made at the suggestion of our executive producer, Dave Checketts, who wanted to market to a broader Christian audience (though he didn’t get around to marketing at all, and the recording languished in the bins, unsold).

    I am not an artist of any note, but I made a specific consideration when I began writing these songs for Sacrament Meeting: that they should not be “pop,” they should not use ordinary language (which diminishes the divine qualities associated with respect for the Savior) and that they should “sound” LDS, if such a thing is possible. I finally concluded that an LDS sound would be a combination of hymns and a western-sounding folk-song, like a 21st century imagining of what the Pioneers would have sung on their way. So, this is how I’ve gone about doing those… with some success, but I’d like to know how people who don’t normally like LDS music feel about these.

    Sorry to take this thread away from its original and beautiful source.

  7. Kingsley on April 14, 2004 at 7:08 pm

    If you want to get a feeling for the beauty and permanence of the Catholic faith, read Graham Green’s The Power and the Glory.

  8. Julie in Austin on April 14, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    D:

    I’d love to listen to your music, but you need to know what you are dealing with here: I would wager that most Primary children know more about music than I do. (Sad but true: whenever a perky RS chorister announces that the altos will be singing something and the sopranos something else, I develop a sudden compelling need to check on my kid in the nursery, because I have no idea what these words mean or how they might apply to me. Yes, that bad.)

  9. cooper on April 14, 2004 at 9:25 pm

    Julie, thanks for sharing this experience. I like the explanation of the of the procession to the font. The symbolism is interesting. They begin by being connected to “one who is already part of the body of Christ” (the escort). Then the prayer is offered and ask the prophets and saints to “join them in this action” so to speak. It is an important part of the baptism symbolically, I believe. As the participant comes forward they keep in mind those that have also joined the body of Christ and those who pray with and for them. And interesting that immersion is complete except by the hand of the priest – the conduit to God.

    Also interesting to this point is the way we approach the sacrament. We could have a priest, such as in the Catholic church, stand at the front and those wishing to participate come forward. Instead we have the priests stand in proxy for Christ to bless and sanctify this sacrament for all who choose to make the covenant; then it is passed by the deacons beginning with the Bishop. Then one to another. I look at it as a way of each of us becoming the petitioned, then the petitioner: I covenant to follow Christ and follow the path. Then I turn and petition the next: do you join me in this covenant. Each one being able to make his or her individual choice. It is a formidable way of becoming one with Christ and sharing the burdens of all.

  10. Gordon Smith on April 15, 2004 at 3:21 am

    Thanks, Julie. Great story. Catholicism fascinates me, and I envy Adam the opportunity to be at Notre Dame for a few years. We can learn a lot from serious Catholics. As a missionary in Austria (over 90% Catholic), some of my most spiritual experiences occurred in cathedrals. I enjoyed the cemetaries, too.

  11. Jeff on April 15, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Great post Julie. It brings back lots of memories. I ‘investigated’ the Catholic church in my 20′s, and considered completing the RCIA. I was a non-practicing Methodist, I had a Catholic girlfriend at the time, etc…

    During one of the classes, I became very uncomfortable with the doctrine being taught and bowed out gracefully. (A few years later, I found and joined the LDS church.)

    I have always found Catholic and other ‘high’ masses very compelling though, because of the symbolism and pageantry of the mass.

    Often, especially during the Christmas holidays, I wish that we Latter-day Saints had more formality to our worship. I miss midnight Christmas Eve services from when I was a child. The chapel lights were dimmed, you needed to sing by candlelight. There was a lot of ceremony. The service had a solemn feel (more serious than somber though), and the spirit was wonderful.

    (That being said, it doesn’t compare to the feeling of hearing a prophet.)

    I still wish we had more candles though. :)

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