Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., preaches the homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., preaches the homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

By Georgiana Francisco and Lois Rogers, Correspondents

Churches across the Diocese assumed the look of a starry night during Easter Vigil Masses April 20 as candles held by thousands of faithful shone in the dark.

“This is the night,” faithful in Trenton’s nearly filled St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral heard as the “Exsultet,” or Easter Proclamation, was chanted. Only moments before, Bishop David O’Connell, C.M., had lit and blessed a new fire from which the newly marked Paschal candle, symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World, would process down the aisle, lighting parishioners’ candles along the way.

Photo Gallery: Easter Vigil Mass in Trenton's Cathedral

Photo Gallery: Easter Vigil in St. Aloysius Church

As in the Diocese’s nearly 100 parishes, including St. Aloysius, Jackson, Readings that followed included the story of Creation – through Responsorial Psalms and prayers – the powerful message of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, and the initiation of new members into the Catholic Church.

He is Risen

“Each year at this time, as spring makes its presence felt in new life all around us, we ‘remember his words,’” Bishop O’Connell preached in his homily at the Cathedral. “Words are powerful. … Jesus’ rising from the dead – indeed, the power of his Resurrection – is far greater and far more convincing than any words. And, yet, something within us moves us at Easter to ‘remember his words’ and to want to shout from them from the mountaintops: Jesus Christ is risen!

“Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, risen from the dead, speaks his word to us once more this Easter: a word of triumph, a word of victory, a word of life,” Bishop O’Connell continued.  “‘And we remember.’ The truth and the power of his Word shatter the darkness of death and give rise to the bright promise of eternal life. That promise is offered to us. That offer is simply an invitation to believe. And that belief, that Easter faith, changes our lives forever.”

The Bishop’s message was one in which Cathedral parishioner Andrey Reyes could relate. “I feel this Mass is the beginning of the new season. Tonight we are waiting for the one who gives us everything to be raised up. He did this for us because he loves us. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did in the past – he did it just for love.”

Joy in Faith

It was that message of love, of oneness, that called thousands of faithful in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties to celebrate the Easter Vigil in their parishes as well as welcome those who were being fully initiated into the Church.

“I was always going to do this,” said a glowing Rebecca Tomes of her reception into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in St. Aloysius Church. Tomes received the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist – from her pastor, Father John P. Bambrick, to the applause and support of several hundred parishioners, family members and friends who filled the vast expanse of the nave.

Tomes shared that the “always” began with her marriage to her husband, Richard, and that the intention continued as their children, Brian, 16, and Kayla, 11, began their own sacramental preparations.

“I always believed in the [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] process. My son received his Sacraments,” she said, explaining that this year, her daughter was going through religious education classes, too. “I started in September, and it was wonderful.”

Tomes – who comes from an interfaith family with a Jewish grandfather and Baptist mother – chose Anna as her Confirmation name after her Catholic grandmother.

Following the homily, Tomes processed up the center aisle to the baptismal pool, where as a member of the Elect, she was baptized by Father Bambrick. Moments later, she and the parish’s three other RCIA candidates were confirmed and received Holy Communion for the first time.

When the vigil came to a close, the four were surrounded by well-wishers who offered their congratulations.

Among them were Joseph Fitzgerald, his wife, Barbara, their daughter Laura Macalik and her daughter, Madison. All signaled their joy that they had been present as Tomes received her Sacraments. “We know Rebecca,” Barbara Fitzgerald said. “It was a nice surprise to be able to celebrate with her. It was a beautiful feeling.”

That feeling, they said, is magnified by the sense of community so strongly expressed throughout Lent and the Triduum, which reached its crowning moment at the vigil. “To see all the generations keeping the tradition” was very memorable, Joseph Fitzgerald said.

The vigil is a yearly must for Mary Lee Devitis. “It’s very spiritual," she said. "You feel more of a part of the process, starting with the procession out of the church in the darkness to the lighting of the fire and then coming back as the candles are lit."

The Readings, the music, the Baptisms, the Sacraments that unfold all combine to make the night a highlight of the religious year, the longtime St. Aloysius parishioner said. This year, she was especially moved when Father James Smith, director of the parish RCIA process –who was ordained last year by Bishop O’Connell – chanted the “Exsultet” at the opening of Mass. Devitis said she has very much enjoyed being there “for his new experiences” as parochial vicar of the parish family she loves.

Proud Moments

In Trenton’s Cathedral, six young men and women were baptized by Bishop O’Connell. They joined 16 others who received the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation, also bestowed by the Bishop. All were met with the congregation’s joyous applause.

Cathedral parishioner Alma Batista, who was fully initiated into the Church, said, “I was very nervous, but I also feel so blessed to be here tonight.”

Jaime Asmal Martinez of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, who was also fully initiated into the Church, said, “The most important part of tonight was being able to take the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus. I hope to continue to learn more about God and the Church.”  

For Alexander De Leon, a parishioner of the Cathedral and RCIA candidate, the journey to his Confirmation and First Eucharist stemmed out of love. “I’m dating the love of my life, and because of her I wanted to do this,” he said. “But now I’m doing it for myself. It’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve learned a lot, and it makes me feel good to finally be here tonight.”