By: Elizabeth Polito
Every year we gather as one community on the vigil of Easter Sunday. We stand in the Marian garden, receive a candle with a small paper shield from our faithful hospitality ministers, and wait with great anticipation. As a parent of small children, my husband and I enjoy watching this excitement build in our children as they hold their small candles, reminding them that the candles are not swords or lightsabers but in fact something very special—that we are taking part in something unique yet universal. We point out the sacred fire that is being built by the Boy Scouts, we point out the new Paschal candle as it is being prepared, we point out all the elect who will shortly be received into our Church—visible by their special robes and crosses. We watch as the clergy, the acolytes, and the altar servers prepare themselves to begin. This year, Fr. James and Fr. Doug (for the first time as a priest) will begin the liturgy. The Paschal candle will be blessed and lit, and the flame of this sacred candle will, in turn, light every candle of the people of God. In the procession, we will carry Christ and His light into the darkness of the sanctuary—representing His life that conquers death.
The components of the Paschal candle are quite impressive. Pure beeswax representing the sinless Christ and the wick representing His humanity. The familiar symbols: the cross, the year, the alpha and omega (the beginning and the end), the 5 grains of incense encapsulated in wax (representing the spices used at Christ’s burial, and His five wounds). All of these pieces point to our rich Catholic tradition, and there is comfort in knowing that in every single Catholic Church throughout the world has their very own Paschal candle that plays a vital role in the life of that parish.
This year’s candle is specific to our church, our community, and will accompany us throughout the liturgical year. It will be lit at every baptism and every funeral. The 2017 Paschal candle was lit in the celebration of 171 baptisms. This year it was even more personal as we were a part of that staggering statistic. As the Paschal candle was lit, we stood together with our godparents, family, and the congregation at the 9:30 am Mass. As one community, we professed our faith for Ignatius Charles who cannot yet profess it himself. As one community, we were tasked to be examples of faith to our child, and then the Paschal candle set Ignatius’ baptismal candle aflame.
In addition to baptisms, we have celebrated the lives of 45 people who have passed away this year. A few months ago, I was sitting in the funeral Mass for the parent of a dear friend, and the Paschal candle struck me. My gaze was continually drawn to it, knowing that it is present at every Funeral Mass. I couldn’t help but think about the ever-present flame of the candle and gift of eternal life we received through His death and resurrection.
One of my favorite liturgies of the year is the Feast of All Souls, a Mass that commemorates the faithfully departed throughout history where every Paschal candle our parish has ever used is placed on the altar. This past year during the liturgy of All Souls, my eyes were again drawn to the multitude of past Paschal candles adorning our Church—reflecting on all the liturgies that these candles have celebrated—the life of our Church over time.
By the time you read this article, the Easter Vigil will have occurred. We will have gathered in the garden, and we will have lit the new Paschal candle for 2018. We will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord as a community, and we will welcome the newest members of the body of Christ. I am excited to welcome this new Paschal candle into our church and to experience its presence in the life of our community throughout this next year.