"I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches,
and proclaims to be revealed by God."
- Judith Teresa McRae, April 14, 2001.
I affirmed the Creed, made my First Confession, was confirmed and made my First Communion on April 14, 2001, at Sacred Heart Church. Father Patrick Cramer presided.
On Vigil Day at about 10:00 am we arrived at the Church with our sponsors. The priest welcomed us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He then asked us, and I forget the exact form of the question he asked us, but it was something like, "You have been studying the Catholic faith for many weeks now, and have come to a new understanding of Jesus Christ, and you are about to begin a new relationship with Him. What do you now believe?" We responded by repeating the statement of faith that comes down to us from the teaching of the Apostles,
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
He decended to the dead.
On the third day, he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen"
After this, he read a story to us from the Bible, from Mark 7:31-37. It was the one about how Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man. You may remember that Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears, and spat and touched his tongue, and then he said "Ephphatha!", which means "Be opened!" He commented a little bit about this story, saying that we must always be ready to have our ears opened to hear the Gospel, and we must always have our tongues loosened to tell the Gospel. Then he took aside the unbaptized persons who were among us, and he put a special kind of blessed oil on their ears and on their lips, and to each of them he said, "Ephphatha! Be opened!" This was to prepare them for their baptism, later on in the day.
Once this was done, we were asked to go to confession, and to confess every sin we ever committed from the time we were baptized until the present moment. I personally was *very* nervous, since I was not certain of what to expect.
"All mortal sins are to be submitted to the keys of the Church and all can be forgiven; but recourse to these keys is the only, the necessary, and the certain way to forgiveness. Unless those who are guilty of grievous sin have recourse to the power of the keys, they cannot hope for eternal salvation. Open your lips, them, and confess your sins to the priest. Confession alone is the true gate to Heaven." [Augustine, Christian Combat (A.D. 397)]
Instead of making us go into the little confessionals, they allowed us to meet the priest face to face, because they felt that this would make things easier for us, and I think this was right, since if on top of remembering every sin you ever committed, you also have to figure out how to operate these little screens and buttons and doors and so on, I personally would probably have just burst into inconsolable tears, and then who knows what would have happened next? (It's really nothing, the priest actually does all that stuff for you, but we didn't know that at the time.)
Instead what happened was I went into the little room that they had prepared, and I found the priest there. He said "Have confidence in God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", and I crossed myself. He said, "When was your last confession?" I replied, "I have never done this before, this is my first confession." He just looked at me, put his head in his hands, and said nothing, so I proceeded to tell him everything I could remember about my past life. Then I stopped because I couldn't think of anything else, and he just looked at me for a while. Then he said, "Tell me what you know about the difference between mortal and venial sins?" I remembered having been told this at one point, but my mind went blank and I couldn't remember, so I said, "I have no idea. What is the difference?" Then he said, "Are you being received into the Church?" I said, "Yes, tonight." "Oh. Okay, then for your penance I want you to say one Our Father, and I want you to meditate on the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is found in Luke 15:11-32" and he took my Bible, which I had with me, and he marked the place for me with a bookmark. Then he extended his hand over me and said "I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." I said "Amen." He replied "Go in peace." I thanked him and went back out into the Church, where I did my penance.
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability." Acts 2:1-4
At 6:00 I went over to the Church again and sat praying for a while. Then at about 7:15 we were asked to gather downstairs with our sponsors. Once we had all gathered, we formed into a line and processed into the Church, to take our places at the front. The congregation had already arrived, and I silently waved and smiled at my friends and relatives who were already there.
The first thing that happened when the Vigil began was that they turned off all the lights. Then, we were instructed to go outside, and there we found the priest lighting a fire. Once the fire was lit, he said a prayer asking God to enlighten our hearts, and then he blessed the fire.
Then an altar server brought a large candle, which was about as tall as a 5 year old girl, and as thick around as a man's arm, and held it while the priest took a flaming stick from the fire and lit the candle. The altar server then held the candle while the priest cut the image of a cross into it, using a metal stylus. As he did this, he used words which reminded us of how Christ is the King of all space and time, and of all eternity. He also, at the same time, traced the numerals of the year (2001) into the candle.
After this, he dug five little holes in the cross he had made, and put grains of incense into the holes. As he put the grains in, he said, "By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us." Then the priest carried the candle into the Church, pausing from time to time to sing out "Christ our Light!" At this, the congregation sang out "Thanks be to God!"
We followed him back in and took our seats again, and at this point he got out the incense burner and incensed everything in the Santuary, while altar servers put the candle in its holder by the lectern. The Cantor then burst into song, singing the "Exultet", which is a song that recounts how Jesus had to come and save us because of Adam's sin, and about the meaning of the Vigil. This hymn went on for several minutes. When this came to an end, someone turned the lights on, and we all yelled out "Amen!"
Following this, we had many Bible stories, interspersed with sung Psalms, which were really retellings of the same Bible stories, and many prayers asking Jesus to help us understand everything. I think there were about seven long readings in all, together with seven Psalms. Then Father spoke for a few moments, reflecting on how Mary Magdalene must have felt to be the first to know of Christ's resurrection.
He then signalled to the altar servers to bring the candle to him, and when they did this, he took it and dipped it in a large cistern of water, which was sitting at the front of the Church. He said words of blessing over the water and reminded us of the story of Noah and the Flood, and also of how Jesus was baptized with water in the Jordan, and also of how the first Christians were also baptized with water.
When he had done this, he gave the candle back to the little boys and they put it back in its holder. In all this activity, the flame of the candle never went out, but stayed burning steadily. Immediately following this, the unbaptized were called forward, one at a time. Each one leaned over the basin, and Father used a sea shell to scoop some water out of the cistern and poured it three times over their heads and into the basin.
As he did so, he said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. At this point, all of us in our group are now equal. We are all baptized, and we are all without sin, we four who were previously baptized because of our confession earlier in the day, and the others because through the baptism they have just received, they have been washed clean of all their previous sins.
To signify this, the newly baptized now put on white garments and stand in the sanctuary where everyone could see them. Their godparents light candles from the Christ Candle (which is the one that was lit from the blessed fire and which was used to bless the water of baptism) and they give these candles to the newly baptized. Some more prayers were said, asking God to help them be good Christians, and then they came back with us.
The priest then asked us all six questions:
Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God's children?
We responded, "I do."
Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
We responded, "I do."
Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?
We responded, "I do."
Do you believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
We responded, "I do."
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. who was born of the virgin Mary, was crudified, died and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
We responded, "I do."
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?
We responded, "I do."
Then the priest got a special kind of bucket, dipped it in the baptismal water, and a long stick with a ball on the end, with little holes in it, and he dipped the stick in the bucket, and went through the whole Church, throwing the water at everyone, and everytime somebody got hit with the water, they would cross themselves.
While he was doing this, the cantor sang a song about the water flowing from the right side of the temple, and how it brought life to the people.
When the priest returned, he said a prayer asking God to renew us all in our baptismal promises (which are the six questions that we answered before) and to help us become like Jesus.
Then the priest came over to us and explained to us that since we are baptized, we are born again in Christ, and that through Confirmation, we shall receive the Holy Spirit, who will help us to become witnesses to Christ in our daily lives. He stretched his hands out over our whole group and he prayed, "All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord."
We all responded, "Amen."
Then, he went to the top of the stairs just in front of the altar and called us up. We all lined up in the aisle with our sponsors, going up two by two like the animals into the Ark. :-)
I was very near the end of the line, so I had time to watch what everyone else was doing. When my turn came, I looked into his eyes and he smiled at me. My sponsor put her right hand on my right shoulder. She was behind me. Then he dipped his thumb in the Chrism Oil, laid his hand on my head, and made the CHARACTEREM of the Cross (the mark of Christ) on my forehead with the oil, and he said, "Teresa, be sealed with the Holy Spirit!"
I said "Amen!" Then he shook my hand and he said "Peace be with you." I smiled at him and I said, "And also with you!"
Then we stood in the sanctuary and waited for those who were behind us to also be confirmed. After everyone was confirmed, the priest said to the congregation something like, "My dear people, I present to you 11 new servants of Christ, and new members of Holy Church. Teach them, guide them, love them, and welcome them!" The congregation burst into applause, and we returned to our seats.
"The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' So Jesus said to them, 'Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.'" John 6:52-58
The offering was taken, the gifts presented, and many prayers were both sung and said. The bread became the flesh of Christ and the wine became His blood. We went forward and received, first the body of Christ, and then the blood.
After this we said our final prayers, received a final blessing, and then went downstairs again, and partied the night away. My family and friends had a good time at the party, although they felt that the service itself was a little long.
At the time of this writing, I have been Catholic for three weeks now. I am entering fully into the mysteries, and finding surprising answers. Things are becoming clear now that never made any sense before.
I am availing myself of Confession and of the Eucharist as frequently as possible, and spending a great deal of time in prayer.
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