Story by Lois Rogers |Correspondent
Across the Diocese, churches were full March 31 with countless faithful eagerly awaiting the moment when the dark hours of Jesus’ Death would gave way to the light of his return.
In just two of those churches – Trenton’s St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral and St. Barnabas, Bayville – the jubilant sense of expectation was palpable during the Easter Vigil.
“This is the biggest night of my life,” said a tearful Shannon Carney upon receiving all of her Sacraments of Initiation in St. Barnabas Church.
Those sentiments were echoed by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who celebrated Mass in the Cathedral. “For all of us here, Easter is the heart of our faith – its life, its breath, its everything.”
Photo Gallery: Easter Vigil in Trenton's Cathedral
Photo Gallery: Easter Vigil in St. Barnabas Church, Bayville
Across the Diocese, the Risen Lord was proclaimed and new members were joyfully welcomed into the fold. These members – elect who received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – completed their faithful journey through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
In the Cathedral, Bishop O’Connell baptized three young men and confirmed 22 faithful of many generations. In Bayville, Father Stanley P. Lukaszewski, parish pastor, baptized seven and welcomed two new members into full Communion.
Heart of Faith
Services in the Cathedral began with Bishop O’Connell blessing the Easter fire and the Paschal candle being lit outside the church. It continued with a procession into the church, where that flame was passed from person to person by way of small candles.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell preached on how though the Gospels talk little of Jesus until he begins his public ministry around the age of 30, the Old Testament writings and traditions keep the Messiah before the minds of the faithful and in their hopes and expectations.
“We can trace the development of those writings and traditions tonight in the readings selected for the Easter Vigil: from the creation story and the call of Abraham in the book of Genesis, to the liberation of the chosen people of God … through the great Hebrew prophets, salvation history is mapped out, leading to the promised Messiah, he said.
The events of Holy Week make that abundantly clear, he said, explaining how the week begins with Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem and ends with his Death.
“Although Jesus was an ‘unknown’ for most of his life, he certainly attracted enough attention in his last three years to lift people’s hopes that 2,000 years later, it is remembered that the Messiah had come, and the Messiah was he! But now, he was dead, put to death in a most horrible way, dashing the hopes of his followers that he was anything but the Messiah,” the Bishop continued.
However, he said, that was not the end of the story. “When that happened, the Apostles lost hope. [But] Mark’s Gospel tells us tonight that when the women came to the tomb in which Jesus was buried, the stone was rolled back; his body was not there; the tomb was empty. ‘He has been raised, he is not here,’ they were told by an angel. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah – everything that had been said and predicted about him had been fulfilled, had come true.”
“Easter is that moment in the history of the world when the world was changed forever; changed by an obscure Jesus of Nazareth who lived and died but who rose to new life, Jesus Christ the Messiah of God! Alleluia! Amen!” Bishop O’Connell said.
Following the Liturgy of the Word, the three young men were called forward and baptized by Bishop O’Connell. Moments later, the congregation renewed their own baptismal promises and were sprinkled with holy water as the church once again became illuminated with light.
A Time to Reflect
In all, there were 188 elect from throughout the Diocese who were baptized, confirmed and received First Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. In addition, there are 460 candidates who were to be confirmed and receive First Eucharist either at the Vigil or another time.
Some who received their Sacraments or participated in the liturgy spoke on the meaningfulness of this holy rite of passage.
In St. Barnabas Church, Carney – who was basking in the glow of “joining the family team” –explained how her sisters received their sacraments 12 years ago. She said that over the years, she decided to follow her sisters’ example.
“I believe this is just the beginning of my journey. It is very new, and I’m still learning,” she said.
While this was far from the first Easter Vigil for Mary Anne Leclercq, the 26-year member of St. Barnabas Parish said she always finds something new that is inspiring. This year, it was the chanting of the Exultet by Margaret Price of St. Denis Parish, Manasquan.
“I am telling anyone who will listen that [hearing Price] was amazing,” said Leclercq, who said this year marked the first time she had ever heard the chant sung by a female voice.
She added that her ultimate inspiration for attending the Easter Vigil is knowing that her everlasting life is insured. “We believe in the afterlife. We have to remember it is forever.”
However, what continues to move her the most, she said, is “seeing young people and adults making the choice [to become Catholic].”
One such young person who made that choice was Ronnie Matos, 17, a Cathedral parishioner who attends Trenton Central High School and has been accepted into LaSalle University, Philadelphia.
He has been on his faith journey for three years with the support of his Confirmation sponsor, girlfriend Emily Sgro. With both of his parents deceased, he credits his grandmother, Alma Matos, for encouraging him to embark on the RCIA journey.
Though baptized as a child, he never attended religious education classes. He said he was energized by the insights he had gained through the RCIA process.
“I grew up being a helper, and once I got back into the Church, I realized that Christ’s teachings revolve around helping,” said Matos, who wants to become a teacher.
Video taken by freelance photographer John Blaine contributed to this report.