"May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” – Bishop Robert Deeley
With the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland cloaked in near darkness, Bishop Robert Deeley began the celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter. Considered the “Mother of All Vigils,” it is a time of rejoicing in Christ’s triumph over death, symbolized during the Mass by the transition from darkness into light.
“As we come together this evening, we come as believers. How do we come to understand the resurrection? We know that it is the source of our Christian hope. What it tells us is that we are not circumscribed by life as we know it now but can open into a new life in the presence of God. This is the mystery beyond words, yet somehow today, we try to explain it so that we can make it part of our lives,” the bishop said.
The Mass began in the narthex, located in the back of the church, where a specially prepared fire burned. In the glow of the fire, the bishop prepared a paschal or Easter candle, on which are depicted a cross, the nails of a cross, and the letters Alpha and Omega.
“Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever,” the bishop said. Then touching the nails, he continued, “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord guard us and protect us.”
From the new fire, the bishop lit the Easter candle, and from that flame, one-by-one, candles held by the bishop, priests, deacons, altar servers, and parishioners were lit, until candlelight filled the church, symbolic of the sharing of the light of Christ throughout the world.
Deacon Anthony Cipolle then placed the paschal candle in the sanctuary where it was incensed by Father Kyle Doustou, parochial vicar of the Portland Peninsula & Island Parishes. The candle will remain there and be lit each day through the Easter season, which concludes on Pentecost Sunday, 50 days from now.
With candles remaining lit, Father Doustou sang the “Exsultet,” the Proclamation of Easter. The poetic text, which may date back as far as the fourth century and has been part of the Roman Catholic Church since the ninth century, is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for our salvation. Divided into three parts, it begins with a call for exaltation and rejoicing. It then tells of the story of creation and salvation history. And it concludes with a prayer to God, "that this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night."
The readings during the Mass also recounted salvation history, beginning with the story of Creation and culminating in the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, following Christ's resurrection.
“The angel in Matthew’s Gospel asked the women to recall what they remembered of Jesus’ words: ‘I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.’ So, what was it that the women and the disciples saw? What did not happen was the Jesus who had been walking through the streets of Jerusalem, visible to everyone, did the same thing again. There is no report of that in the Scriptures. Jesus did not show himself to everyone. Those who saw him and testified to his appearance, believed in him and witnessed to their joy in their way of living,” the bishop said in his homily. “They believed, and they passed it on. And so it has ever been, down to our own time.”
During the Easter Vigil Mass, the Church receives those to whom the faith has been passed, welcoming new members through the initiation sacraments.
“For me, this evening, the proof of the resurrection is in what we do," the bishop said. "We baptize people here in the cathedral and throughout our diocese. We welcome new people into the community of the Church. Why have they come? What do they seek? They come seeking hope and life. In the community of the Church, they have found that hope. In the lived faith of this community, and all our communities throughout the Church this Easter, they have found people like the disciples who believe. It is Jesus. He is alive."
At the Cathedral, two people, Crystal Gaffney and Junisia Oromo, were baptized by the bishop, and three others, Thomas Garwood, Jency Liddell, and Brettney Stuart, joined them in receiving the sacraments of confirmation and first Communion. The five were among 110 people around the Diocese of Portland welcomed into the Catholic Church during Easter Vigil Masses.
"It was exciting and wonderful and a little bit surreal. I was like, 'I can’t believe this is finally happening,'" said Liddell.
"It was very humbling," said Stuart. "I’m just full of emotions right now, but I’m very, very happy."
"I think the music made it really special. It was just glorious. I enjoyed it very much,'" said Garwood. "I haven’t been knocked down by the Holy Spirit, but I’m planning on it."
The newly baptized helped to relight parishioners’ candles, and all joined in renewing their baptismal promises, promising to reject Satan and his works, while attesting to their belief in God, the Father Almighty; in Jesus Christ, his only Son; and in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection.
During the Mass, parishioners heard the bells ring throughout the “Gloria” for the first time since Holy Thursday, and throughout the Mass, they again joined in saying and singing “Alleluia,” which has been absent since the beginning of Lent.
Reflecting the diversity of the Portland Peninsula & Island Parishes, readings and hymns were shared not only in English but in French and Polish.
As parishioners left the Mass, they joined together in singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," and amid raindrops, Cathedral bells tolled, proclaiming to the world that “Christ is risen. He is truly risen!”
The triduum, the three-day celebration of the Paschal Mystery, continues on Easter Sunday with the celebration of the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord. The bishop will celebrate Easter Mass at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.