April 6 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Each of us must be Paschal candle

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS says that even in dark times, we must let God’s light shine through us — By FR JOHN BOLLAN

People occasionally inquire if St Joseph’s ‘live streams’ its services over the internet. This may be because a relative overseas can’t be there for a wedding or a funeral and this would allow them to be virtually present through the wonder of technology.

Glasgow University Chapel live streams many of its services and I’ve done a fair few weddings which, for that reason, have had a global reach. I’ve also watched some live broadcasts from churches around the globe and it is always interesting to see how the Roman Rite takes on a variety of local accents and inflections.

Part of me would be genuinely interested in exploring the idea, but then I stop and ask myself if I would really want folk to see what goes on here.

Believe me, if anyone had decided to give the Vatican a miss to watch the Easter Vigil up the Bow, they would have felt very short-changed.

The main problem was the Paschal candle. Every year we make sure we buy the best, most ornately decorated candles from the UK’s poshest chandler and, most years, it sets the tone for the rest of the beautiful and uplifting Liturgy which unfolds thereafter. But not this year.

First of all, it refused to light. The wick soon looked rather sickly and my heart sank as I watched it gutter out.

We made a second attempt: there was a brief flame, but it was snuffed out by the wind before I could shield it.

A third attempt was more successful: we got to the door of the church but, unfortunately, when an altar server plunged a taper into the flame—so as to share it—the dripping wax from the taper only succeeded in extinguishing it again.

The fourth solemn relighting of the Paschal candle was achieved by one of the parishioners igniting it from her own candle which had been lit only a moment before. Now we were on our way, surely.

Alas, no. By the time the procession had reached the back of the church, a little reservoir of wax had formed, choking the wick once more.

To make matters worse, there were no lit candles nearby, as the folk had come in the side door and begun to spread into the pews, rather than follow the—invisible—candle.

‘Get me a light!’ I hissed at the unfortunate Matthew, who returned seconds later with one of the gas lighters from the candle-stand in the porch.

I know it wasn’t liturgical, but I was in a tight spot and the blood was singing in my ears.

But this was also to prove ineffectual. The silence of the darkened church was shattered by the click-click-click of Matthew’s endeavours to get the lighter itself to spark into life.

After several more attempts to get the short-lived flame to hold, we were finally rescued by the arrival of another taper.

This time, the flame took and grew stronger as I tilted and turned the candle through various angles not foreseen by the rubrics of the Missal.

By the time we had reached the third ‘Lumen Christi,’ the candle was behaving itself. Its own flame had come back to it, albeit by a very circuitous route.

As I intoned the Exsultet, I kept glancing nervously up at it, struggling valiantly to sing the words on the page and not the words playing in a loop inside my head, which were ‘You’d better stay lit, or I’m walking out of here.’

That wasn’t my first mishap with the Paschal candle. One year I was presiding at the vigil—the parish priest was always very generous in delegating the tricky Liturgies—when we had a similar malfunction. This time it was the wind which was the problem. Even moving the fire inside didn’t really help.

Eventually the PP got so exasperated by my futile efforts to keep the thing lit that he let out what may have been an agricultural oath—although I later convinced myself it was Greek.

Thanks to the very sensitive radio microphone I was wearing, his Easter proclamation went echoing round the church, no doubt startling those folk who had remained inside to await the arrival of the procession. He rummaged in his pocket and fished out a lighter with which he set about lighting the Paschal candle.

I can well imagine Liturgists keeling over at this, but I wasn’t going to finesse over the details. I lifted the candle and intoned the ‘Lumen Christi’ for all I was worth. The congregation’s response of ‘Deo Gratias’ was as much an expression of relief as of Easter joy. And mine too.

After that shaky start, the rest of the vigil proceeded more or less according to plan. However, I was so preoccupied with the lighting of the candles for the renewal of Baptismal promises —and my fear the candle might be extinguished again—that I completely forgot the intercessions.

I’ve written before about the fallout that ensues from missing out the name of someone from the anniversaries or the recently deceased. I’m sure you can imagine the magnitude of the upset when all the names are omitted. So, my own ‘post-vigil’ relief was as short-lived as the first flame on the candle. It’s a bit like a pilot congratulating himself on landing a plane after a horrendous take-off and several bouts of turbulence, only to discover that he’s left the luggage behind.

Still, I’m enjoying my new life in protective custody and my therapist assures me that, once my new identity is established, the flashbacks of the angry mob wielding pitchforks and unlit torches will eventually cease.

Liturgy is bound up with life. I suppose the rough edges are to be expected, even in places like St Joseph’s, where everybody always gives of their very best. Liturgy is also bound up with death, above all the death and resurrection of Christ. We have a duty to proclaim the Paschal mystery at all times, although it naturally has a particular intensity during the Easter season itself.

I am writing this on Easter Monday. Tomorrow we have the funeral of the young mum I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, whose sudden death has left her little children orphans. My own mum died on an Easter Tuesday and the funeral was on Friday of the same week. For me, then, Easter week always feels curiously tinged with death and sadness—even though the dates are different each year— and that may be one of the reasons why I tend to be away for it. But not this year.

Presiding and preaching at my mum’s funeral rites was certainly very difficult, but I don’t mind admitting that the prospect of conducting this young mother’s funeral is filling me with even more trepidation. The Liturgy needs to acknowledge the emotions that are swirling around the mourners, and channel them to an extent, but it can never be about those feelings. Otherwise, it would collapse under the collective weight of the grief, anger, bewilderment and loss, which I’m sure will be only too apparent.

The Liturgy, especially the Liturgy of the Easter Octave, is the proclamation of Christ risen and love victorious over death. I hope it will bring some comfort to the family and friends who will gather here tonight and tomorrow. I am certainly comforted, as they have been, by the tremendous kindness of people. A reader of this column, known only as ‘a pensioner from Motherwell,’ has sent some money for the family and a card for the wee boy’s forthcoming First Holy Communion.

It’s gestures like that which remind you that the best of people is often shown in the worst of times. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter that the Paschal candle doesn’t always light first time—or several times after that. What does matter is that ‘the light of Christ, rising in glory’ burns in the hearts of his people and that this inner flame gives not only light, but warmth, to others in their darker moments.

Thank God that light is at work, not just here, or in Motherwell, but wherever it is welcomed. Maybe that’s the real point of the Easter Vigil: we raise up the Paschal candle to remind us that each of us is, or should be, a Paschal candle in our own right.

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