Easter Vigil joy 'beyond words' in Danville, across diocese
DANVILLE — There was a glow that filled St. Paul’s Church at the Easter Vigil last Saturday night and it didn’t come from the newly blessed Easter candle alone.
Mitchell Crist, a second-grader at St. Paul’s School, could barely stand still before and after his baptism by Father Gregory Nelson, pastor, and his joy was still evident as he helped to present the gifts of bread and wine later in the liturgy. He will receive them as the body and blood of Christ next weekend when he celebrates his first Communion with his classmates.
Giving the family another reason to rejoice was the profession of faith made by Mitchell’s parents, Don and Liz Crist, and their confirmation and reception of the Eucharist.
Also baptized that evening were Candy Bennett and her son Seth, a kindergartner at St. Paul’s School, and Dr. Eleanor Peters. Already baptized but making a profession of faith were Rob Black and Carol Wade.
While Seth will continue his faith formation with his classmates, the adults went on to complete their Christian initiation through the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist.
Veronica Seidl, a Catholic who had been baptized and celebrated her first Communion, was also confirmed.
Adding their glow to the church were those who had celebrated the Easter sacraments years ago and now stood in support of their new friends in faith.
It was a joyous scene repeated in dozens of parishes around the Diocese of Peoria last weekend as hundreds of catechumens and candidates were welcomed into full communion with the church.
“The Vigil is beyond words for me always,” said Sister Charles Allen Reynolds, CSC, pastoral associate at St. Paul’s and RCIA coordinator. “I love all the liturgies of Holy Week and we’ve had a great opportunity with our pastors past and present to develop them. I think we’ve built very good liturgy around all of that.”
While the parish choir led most of the singing during the evening, Father Nelson’s voice was the first one heard as he sang the Exsultet. This Easter proclamation tells of the many ways God interceded on behalf of his people throughout salvation history and ultimately delivered them through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Those themes continue to be heard in the seven Old Testament readings and psalms that are proclaimed throughout the Liturgy of the Word, as well as St. Paul’s words to the Romans and the Gospel of Mark.
In his homily, Father Nelson said certain events in life seem to change everything.
“While we could say that no event stands by itself, some events, especially when they’re positive or negative, impact the future so much we could say we live out of those events,” he said. “This is the impact that the resurrection had on the disciples. They changed from men who were hiding in the upper room to people who were willing to become martyrs.”
Mary Magdalene, Peter and John never would have run from the tomb if they thought Jesus’ body had been stolen, Father Nelson explained.
“To them, the empty tomb meant a totally new life — the one that Jesus promised,” he said.
St. Paul, the patron of the Danville church, is a prime example of one who was changed forever by his vision of the resurrected Christ when he needed it most.
“Nothing was the same for Paul in light of that beauty he had seen on the road to Damascus,” Father Nelson said.
“As Christians we believe that the beauty of the past is with us in the present,” he told those gathered in the church, now filled with light. “The beauty of the past is with us now and Easter is about recognizing this and facing the future with new confidence that (Christ) will be with us, no matter what the need is.”
People of faith are able to celebrate that future in the present, he emphasized, “because our hope in the future is found in Christ.”
“This reality and this person promises us in this moment, in this event we gather for, that all beauty and all power and all hope is contained in that event that made the disciples run and wait at the tomb and even become martyrs,” Father Nelson said. “We rejoice that in this person truly is the event of our lives.”
While he was thanking people before everyone departed for their Easter celebrations, Father Nelson expressed his gratitude to the RCIA team who journeyed with the newly initiated Catholics and he thanked those who had been received into the church for their faithfulness to the formation process.
That process included six joint sessions with the candidates and catechumens from Holy Family Parish in Danville. In addition to Father Nelson and Sister Charles Allen, presenters included Canon J.J. Flattery, a senior priest from Danville; Father Dennis O’Riley and Father Robert Hoffman, senior priests from Oakwood; and Father Bo Schmitt, pastor of St. Anthony’s in Hoopeston and chaplain at Schlarman High School in Danville.
The RCIA coordinator from Holy Family is Jo Ellen Stuebe.
Sister Charles Allen, who credited parishioner Jenny Causey for her assistance and hard work throughout the year, said the RCIA team and the neophytes from St. Paul’s would continue to meet through early May. The first session after Easter was to be devoted to “breaking open” what had happened at the Easter Vigil.
“Before that night we told them, ‘Don’t worry about books. Just experience it and take it all in,’” she told The Catholic Post.
“It’s special every year,” Sister Charles Allen said.