At some point in the year, the pastor of a parish finds himself getting the church building ready for Ash Wednesday. The ashes are found hiding in the back of the sacristy cabinet and the containers to put them in are pulled out of storage, the purple vestments are readied and the purple altar clothes are put out.
The cross that will lead the parish throughout the season is dusted off and put out for devotion. And this pastor, flurrying through Mardi Gras with the details of the coming season, will begin to think about the days that are just five short weeks away.
The days of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, and leading to the Paschal Triduum is a whirlwind of preparation and planning, punctuated with hours in the confessional. It is a beautiful dance of a thousand steps, and a thing of joy. It, however, does not just happen without dealing with the details, and that is why a pastor begins thinking even before Lent begins.
The oil containers are cleaned, the Easter Candle and palms ordered, volunteers begin to be organized and scheduled, and the decorations planned for each day. It all happens and, when it happens, people come in to pray and don’t give those details a single thought and that is the way it is supposed to be.
Until you walk into the office on the Monday of Holy Week and you ask, “Did we get the Easter Candle? Did it ever show up?” and everyone started to look at each other and this odd feeling starts to grow in your stomach. So we called the company from which we had ordered our candle weeks before and they said they would do some checking.
We received a phone call later telling us the candle we ordered was sent to Michigan by mistake and, somehow, got destroyed there; although I suspect someone has it stored in their basement so they can have a procession if the Lions ever win the Super Bowl. We were told a new candle could be shipped overnight to us, but it would not be the one we ordered, and would you please pick out an ugly, unwanted candle we happen to have on stock because no one wanted it in their church for a year?
We ordered the candle and it was shipped and arrived on Holy Wednesday afternoon and the box was opened and it was too small. For a second, I had a thought, a strange thought I had never thought before, ever. But after that thought, I began to work out new options; would it be possible to reuse last year’s, now, stubby candle? Could I fancy it up? Is there time to order an even less desirable candle before Saturday evening?
We decided to start over and made a frantic call to our friends at Lux Candles in Ipswich, who assured us they could get us a fine, beautiful and noble candle by Friday morning. They kept their promise and it is beautiful and they saved our Easter Vigil. But I expected nothing less, their products are beautiful, fairly priced, locally made and always the highest quality.
Does this sound like a commercial for Lux Candles? It should, because it is; they have earned it.
So, after all these issues, everything that needed to arrive had arrived, the decorations were done, the thousand details completed and it was time to start the fire for the Vigil.
As we walked to the door of the church where the crowd had gathered around the fire, I briefly remembered the thought I had days before when we discovered our Easter Candle would not work. I was glad I did not really have to give it any thought; at least not until everything was done.
The thought I had never thought before was this, “Would it still be Easter if there was no Easter Candle?”
The obvious answer is, of course it would because Christ is Risen regardless, but when you are facing an Easter Candle-less Vigil, a pastor is not so sure. The candle is an important part of the ceremony and the life of the parish, it lights our way throughout the Easter Season, is lit for every funeral, shares its light to every newly baptized Christian, it is that about which the first song of Easter, the Exsultet, is sung; yes, the candle matters.
It starts out tall and majestic and gives itself away throughout the year, as do we. It casts out the darkness with its joyous light, as do we. It shines with the glory of hope in life’s darkest hours, as do we.
And so we sing:
But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious. (Exsultet)
Therefore, we offer it to God, as we do ourselves. It would not be Easter without the candle, because it would not be Easter without us.