Maybe it was because I was seated in a particular place. Regardless, I cannot forget the sight.
It was during the Easter Vigil several years ago. It was at night. All was dark. The lights in the church were turned off. The paschal candle had been brought into the church with all the majesty of the wondrous Holy Saturday liturgy, and, as is fitting, tapers burning with flames taken from the paschal candle had been used to light small candles held in the hands of all the people in the congregation.
At the moment I remember so vividly, and movingly, everyone had a lighted candle. I noticed the candles, of course, since they were the lights in an otherwise darkened church. Most of all, however, most of all, I remember the faces of the congregation. Each and every face was aglow. It was not an utterly brilliant shade of sharp, unadulterated light, piercing and unforgiving, revealing every blemish and every line on any face. Rather, it was soft, gentle, and warm, but gloriously bright in a special, marvelous way.
For me, the sight was a lesson. The origin of light for each of the small candles was the fire atop the great paschal candle. The priest had solemnly blessed this fire at the beginning of the ceremony. It was God’s fire. The candle itself was large, strong, tall and imposing, festooned with the symbols of the Passion.
On purpose, the great paschal candle represents Jesus, the light of the world, the light shining in the darkness, breaking through the fog, destroying the power of night, bringing direction to any and all who stumble and fall, unable to see the path through life.
It is the symbol of the Lord, in whose wounds we are healed, by whose crucifixion we are redeemed, whom we encounter, risen, body and blood, in the Eucharist. The glow on each face was a lesson. The light of Christ brightens us all. It is more healing and complete than any cosmetic. Absorbed by this holy light, our faces radiate with the sunshine of the Lord. We are evident and visible. We are clean and fresh. We are open and free. We are alive because of Christ, and in Christ. He fills us with divine strength and grace.
Those faces that I saw that night, all receiving and then reflecting the brilliance and wonder of Christ, all victorious over the dark, told me that this is what Christians, each of us, are and should be. Christ is our light, as the Easter Vigil ceremony thrillingly and confidently had proclaimed to one and all.
Christ transforms us, if we allow. In the Lord, the wayward find the right direction for their lives. The hard-hearted become inviting and kind. The desperate find hope. Everything is clarified for the confused. Nothing is hopeless. Hope is well-founded. Joy is to be expected. Life, not death, is the great fact of living.
A question came to my mind. When others see me, do they see the warm, firm light of Christ gleaming in my face? When I see others, especially people less appealing to me, whose customs or circumstances are unfamiliar to me, do I see on their faces the image of the Lord?
The mystery of the Incarnation, so utterly fundamental to the Christian faith, insists that even in the very worst beings — the sinful and the despised — Jesus is there. If nothing else, our very humanity links us with Christ. He is there in the divinity that created us, individually and with love.
Every Holy Week, I remember an elderly nun who told me, “Father, I live for the Easter Vigil.” I know what she meant. What concrete lessons it teaches us — so well. This Holy Saturday, I shall pray: “God, show me the light. Make me shine with your light.”
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.