Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Power of a Bilingual Easter Vigil

All around the world last night, people celebrated the Easter Vigil in their own parishes, each in a unique way, bringing the different gifts, talents and ethnic identities that are integral to that community. Our celebration of the Vigil here at St. John the Baptist in Joliet lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes... but really I didn't think to look at my watch until about the 2-and-a-half hour mark. As usual, the readings, ritual and music were so engaging that it felt like time outside of time. the Vigil Mass was bi-lingual - with all texts in English and Spanish either in a mixed or both format - so naturally it takes longer to do this well. But we never worry about that. And apparently neither do the people in the Assembly, who were with us all the way.

The power of this celebration was evident from the opening Exsultet - with Father and I chanting the text in alternated Spanish and English - to the joyous final song: "Jesus Christ is Risen Today/El Senor Resucito." We were truly celebrating who we are as the Body of Christ at St. John the Baptist - a community in the throes of ethnic transition, where nearly 80% of the members now are of Hispanic descent, complete with all that it means to be in that kind of transition.  The choir for the night was a combo of  the English Choir with a good group of Spanish-speaking singers - which made a great ensemble. The music was from our growing repertoire of bi-lingual music - and even though some were at first tentative about making the leap to singing while playing percussion, many of them joined in doing that for the upbeat preparation song" "Our Paschal Sacrifice/El Cordero Pascual."

The Gospel was read in both languages, the homily  delivered first in Spanish, then English, and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises was also in both. Everyone in the room seemed engaged in the action - they joined in the songs and acclamations with enthusiasm - and  most went back to the font for the baptisms and to bless themselves with the water while the neophytes dressed. 

Last night we baptized two English-speaking adults and a baby - whose grandparents are Spanish-speaking - a sign of where we have been and where we are going - into a future where even more children born here will have a dual heritage.  A reality in which increasingly the children of the parish will grow up speaking English, but still have one foot in their Hispanic devotional and liturgical tradition.

One of my favorite moments last  night was a sure sign that it "took" - the newly baptized mother of the baby was in tears afterwards... no doubt tears of joy. Those of us baptized as adults can only imagine the power of those emotions. The smiles of everyone in the room when the newly-confirmed were asked to turn around and "face your friends" for the welcoming applause were proof that the love of Jesus Christ brings us together.


  1. We are facing our first bilingual Easter vigil this year and we don't have a lot to go on. Our Spanish and English masses, as well as our musicians, have been quite separate.

    Any suggestions? Especially where to find good songs?

  2. Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) has some decent bilingual music...

    We have been using the Candeo/Hurd Mass of Glory (bilingual) for a long time, which I think has been revised. Our repertoire includes music from both traditions, usually with alternation of verses. Easter songs we began with and used in earlier years popular from the Hispanic tradition are "Resuscito" and "Alabare" which we do sing all in Spanish, which are kind of their equivalent of "Jesus Christ is Risen Today."

    We started using the bilingual "Exsultet" by Pedro Rubalcava a couple years ago. (We alternate verses English and Spanish.)

    I can look up our music list from last year.. but you have to realize we have been doing this for 15 years.. and it is not where we started. I recommend you start simply.. and ask the Spanish-speaking musicians for input on what songs are popular with them.

  3. I would add that we always have a worship aide with the readings printed in the language they are not being read in. (We alternate languages, and the Gospel is always read in both languages.)