In the longest and most beautiful of the liturgies of the Catholic Church, the Easter Vigil in the early hours of darkness last night brought an estimated 200,000 converts into communion with the Catholic Church. As catechumens, these expectant persons had been studying for months the big step they were taking last night. The faces of many of them afterwards were radiant.
At the Cathedral of St Mathew in Washington, D.C., some 17 new communicants participated in the Eucharist for the first time. If one assumes that an average of about ten persons entered the church in each of this nation’s 19,000 parishes, the total number just in this country alone is 190,000.
It is a blessed night. The liturgy at St Mathew’s was one of the most beautiful I have ever participated in. The quality of its music, and the dignity and peaceful orderliness of a complex liturgy, were at a level even the most practiced Benedictine monastery would have trouble matching.
Kierkegaard once noted, of course, that just when the music is celestial, the sermon moving (and not too long), and the dignity of the proceedings is picture-perfect — that is exactly when paganism begins, and true faith flies away. It is not the human performance, in other words, that ought to hold our attention, but the real abandonment and cruel suffering of Christ on the Cross, in a demonstration of how much the Lord loves us, despite our faults and our miseries and our own emptiness.
Nonetheless, it was a great and inwardly stirring liturgy, thanks be to God.