It's a cloudy morning here, with rain moving in, but I find my excitement is building in spite of that, as I get ready to go to my parish church to help prepare for the great liturgy of the Easter Vigil tonight. This is the way every Catholic community gets ready for the moment when the words of the Exsultet will ring out: "This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death..." The annual 3-hour frenzy of decorating and laying out all the items needed for the liturgy is an important ritual for me and for a dedicated group of people who do this every year. This has been true in every parish I have been in.
These are the people who know that the community's celebration demands their time and talent - members of the Art and Environment Committee, decorators, and people of all ages who just want to help. We will adorn the altar with a special white altarcloth, surround it with flowers and candles, place the Easter Candle and the people's candles in the back of church, lay out towels and the holy oils for tonight's full immersion baptisms, replace the vigil lamp for the tabernacle in anticipation of the return of the Eucharist to the worship space, and more.
Like the women in Scripture who prepare and go to Christ's tomb to anoint his body, these faithful helpers rise early and set aside their personal and family needs, knowing the needs of the community's ritual are greater than their own. The "regulars" would never consider not being there every year to help. It is a call they hear in their hearts - and their response is not an option, it is a necessity.
There is a special atmosphere in the church, too, as this preparation takes place - business-like, but mildly celebratory - lots of mutual good will, with everyone's good ideas welcome. There will be leadership from some, and cooperation from all. It is somewhat like what people do when they are preparing for a party - everything is made ready for the guests - and for the guest of honor.