For the first time in years, this weekend I attended the Easter Vigil service, known to experienced church goers as the Extended Dance Mix of Masses. I had to sit behind a woman who used a chemical safety shower to apply her perfume, and the candles supplied were so exceedingly cheap and thin that the heat of my hand bent and formed it into a Belgian fencing grip.
Compared to Easter Masses of years past, this was a veritable cake walk.
The last Vigil I went to was a night my wife and I were shopping for furnishings for our then new home. My folks were watching our daughter, and we were delayed because we accidentally bought a flat screen plasma television. (Ask any guy, this is a perfectly rational and logical occurrence.) They took the baby to the Mass we had all been initially aiming for, and we found one nearer to the store.
Our first surprise involved finding an enormous bonfire in the parking lot. This is a fairly uncommon occurrence for churches outside of certain urban areas and not following a sports championship. We ended up shivering outside (as we were in the back of the Easter throng, away from the blaze) for quite a while before going into the church proper. The service was interminable. I know I went outside twice to call my Dad with updates, and possibly once for pizza to keep from starving to death. We had to leave to pick up our child after more than three hours, and the thing was still somewhere in the middle. We timed arrival at an appreciably more sane church the next morning to hear the important ending parts we’d missed the night before.
My troubles haven’t only been connected to the Directors Cut version of Easter Mass the night before. I had a few Sunday morning shockers as well.
One year I ended up going twice in one day. I was visiting a girl’s family who didn’t go to Catholic Mass, but one of the other, varied flavors of Christiantiy. I caught my service at 7:00 A.M. (Known to experienced church goes as the “Early Bird Quick and Painless Special”.) Then we all went to the First Pedestrian Church, or whatever it was called, at a more normal time. I wasn’t prepared for the lighter style. There were no Saints, a great deal of readings from secular sources and no transubstantiation. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the showmanship of the Catholic Church all these years, but frankly - if I have to sit there through the whole shebang, I expect the full magic show for my donation.
Another fun Sunday morning Easter festivity happened in college. I learned very quickly to never show up at the Mass connected to the school at anything resembling an early arrival. This was because, instead of relying on trained Eucharistic Ministers, they would pull random “volunteers” from the first people seated. I got drafted into holding the last wine cup in a row of three one Sunday. Staggering back to the dining hall for breakfast was a challenge after having to finish the giant goblet, which none of the parishioners made it past the other two draftees to partake in.
On Easter, I entered the back area of the auditorium used when I heard odd noises emanating from the sound system. The pastor thought it would be a wonderful and truly symbolic idea to deliver his Easter Sunday service while holding an actual live lamb.
The lamb, on the other hand, thought it was a far less wonderful idea, and appeared to be shocked and horrified by being held restrained in robed arms within a confined room packed with chanting college students.
From start to finish, it sounded like this:
In the name of the Father, and…
Let us give thanks to…
All the way until:
Go in Peace to love…
Obviously, we all got a great deal of enlightenment out of that morning.
Despite the appearance of livestock, the largest disasters were still at the Vigil Mass we went to at my Grandmother’s church in the Bronx when I was a kid.
Back then, I actually enjoyed the Easter Mass. Partially it was for the added spectacle and showmanship. Mostly, though, it was probably for the “Chariots and Charioteers” reading. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ancient Egypt, and in fact found myself rooting for Yul Brenner during the yearly television screenings of The Ten Commandments. (And then wondering if I should go to confession for it afterwards.)
Enhancing the appeal was that the Easter Vigil started at normal time, instead of well into the evening, and was not the insane, never ending extravaganza it has become.
I do understand that it is commemorating the most holy of events. It is on this day we celebrate the rising from the dead and coming out of the sealed tomb of the one true savior…and if he sees his shadow we have six more weeks of winter.
(Some jokes are too good not to steal.)
In any event, it’s gotten out of hand. Between the baptisms, confirmations, consecrations, benedictions, re-affirmations, re-upholstery, and revascularizations that go on, some of these Masses don’t let out until Ascension Thursday. When I was a young ‘un, it had extra pomp and circumstance, but was only marginally longer than a normal weekend’s service.
It was in one of these Masses, that the small child destined to become the lunatic blogging today managed to focus a little too intently on his candle.
Thanks to Up the Lake, I’ve always had a healthy(ish) fascination with fire. During the darkened part of an Easter Vigil, while everyone else was singing “Christ our Light,” I found myself captivated by the small flickering flame in my hand.
I was hypnotized…
Until, all of a sudden…
My right eyebrow vanished in a flash leaving tiny bits of ash on my forehead. I can only thank God that I did not then possess the size and volume of eyebrows I have now, or there would have been a five alarm blaze that required assistance from all the other boroughs’ fire departments and possibly Mount Vernon.
The next event may or may not have happened the same day. However, since it definitely was the same church, definitely was the same holiday, and definitely was the same me. I’m going to say it was the same Mass, because it is funnier that way.
Sitting with my family in the front row, I once again found myself distracted, this time by my newly shined dress shoes. I was admiring their gloss, and not paying attention to the flow of the evening, leaving my foot directly in line of the kneeler when it came down after the grownups returned from communion. I’m pretty sure my initial screams drowned out the next few “Body of Christ”s when an entire row of Italians from the Bronx kneeled on my toes.
I probably would have also drowned out the entire congregation singing the remainder of the communion hymn, if Mom hadn’t reacted with the typical Bronx Italian church going Mother’s response.
She forcibly clamped her hands over my mouth, managing to restrain my arms as well, preventing me from freeing myself. As I was frantically trying to gesture with any parts of me which remained mobile, she began informing me of the bodily harm she was going to inflict on me if I did not calm down. (I believe there’s at least one commandment that was violated that night.)
Luckily, shortly before the final blessings, when they would have gotten up anyway, I managed to somehow convey my plight. I then was able to retrieve my still shiny, but now peculiarly flattened foot from its prison.
Believe me, having only to deal with perfume asphyxiation and waxy fingers was quite the Easter blessing.