The Easter Fire

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I didn’t know what to expect at my first Easter fire. It was nine years ago, and I still remember it as if it was this morning. I had decided on Tuesday of Holy Week to attend my first mass (thank you Tim for suggesting it), and then my second mass on Wednesday. I thought I was just getting into the groove of daily mass when I turned up on Thursday to what was a prayer service and not a mass. Holy Thursday Mass was at night. The same occurred Friday and Saturday mornings.

But Saturday morning was different. When I arrived there were already several people outside preparing the firewood, the kindling and the tall stone brazier for the lighting of the Easter fire. I didn’t know at the time that the fire is lit in the morning after the prayer service and tended to for the rest of the day by parishioners. This is done regardless to weather and I’ve seen some years in the rain, in the cold, in the wind; sometimes all three simultaneously.

At sundown, after burning all day, the fire is used to light the Paschal candle (this candle represents the light of Christ coming into the world), which is then carried into the church and is used to light all of the individual handheld tapered candles inside the church for the Easter Vigil. As an aside, the entire church is in darkness and as the candles are lit and the people in the pews are illuminated, it is a magnificent visual as well as spiritual to have the darkness overcome in the manifestation of the engulfing light, filling the entire church with the warm glow of hundreds of candles and the quiet singing (three times during the procession) of the light of Christ with the congregation responding, thanks be to G-d. After that, the Exsultet (the Easter Proclamation) is read or rather chanted.

Before any of that happens though, hours before, the priest lights the Easter fire in the presence of parishioners.

I was a few people back from the stone container that first year. I couldn’t see very well. I was wrapped up in a large scarf, trying to brace myself against the wind. It wasn’t strong enough to push anyone over, but it was just enough to be annoying to the priest and his assistants who were attempting to light the fire. It was also very, very cold. I still wasn’t sure if I belonged here.

I knew the moment the fire was lit. I felt something touch me inside. I couldn’t see it, and it was a split second or more before the exclamation of the crowd in the front let the rest of us all know it was lit. I heard the flint and stone, that sharp scraping that has to be done in just such a way to spark, and it took more than once or twice.

When the spark caught the paper and dry sticks I heard a whoosh sound, but it hadn’t come from the fire, and I felt that whoosh inside me. I was startled by it, I was chilled, and not by the cold. Something in me had changed or pulled me one metaphorical step forward. It wasn’t this moment that drew me to conversion, but this moment stands out as one of those unexplainable, miraculous openings to a wellspring of new emotions. Tears came involuntarily to my eyes.

It was deeply moving and as everyone moved back inside to the gathering space sharing coffee, bagels, and donuts, I was lost in my thoughts wondering what I had witnessed, what I was feeling emotionally, savoring the continuing shiver in my soul.

Sundays in Lent – Holy Saturday

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​I never really think of Mary as a mother. It’s right there in the Hail Mary prayer, and many if not all of the Mary prayers. And more than the Mother of G-d, she is mother to a child. She fed Jesus and taught him his letters. She told him not to run through the kitchen and to take a bath. When she asked him to assist the bridal party at Cana and his response was, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come,’ I can see the side-eye she gave hm until he relented and did as he was told. I can’t imagine how she felt watching him die on the Cross – a public renunciation of her own flesh, his pain her pain, his torture hers, never once challenging the path set out for him, but bearing it.

Last week, mys on had a medical emergency and was in hospital for three days. It felt like a lifetime. He’s an adult, but my child will always be my baby. Mismatched words became prayer and as always, G-d hears all, even what isn’t said. Not the fancy, not the prayers that come with a collection basket, not the extravagant song, but the simple. The humble. The genuine plea to set aside the pain, the heal the hurt, to comfort the parent, to help the child.

Comfort me, O Lord in my distress,
But care for my loves.
Heal the sickness;
Subside the pain.
Give rest to the weary.
As your name is on my breath,
Keep their breaths free of obstruction.
Make them whole.
Care for them as I would:
With whole being and gentle blessing.
Praise for your health restored.
Praise for your answer,
Their care and well-being.
In all this I ask
with a grateful heart,
In your name, Amen.