Greetings from Seoul where it is now Easter! Holy Saturday is the time of the Great Easter Vigil, one of the most demanding of all of the church’s liturgical rites. As in Judaism, where both the night before and the day of the Sabbath is one day, for us as Catholics, it is now Easter.
I had not, until tonight, attended the Easter Vigil in the Cathedral in Seoul. I’ve been hesitant to in the past, knowing the lengths that this liturgy often can reach. Three or four hours are not unheard of. Tonight, it was surprisingly short, but nice all the same.
His Eminence, Nicholas Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang celebrated the Mass this evening which began at 8PM. As is customary, the church was completely darkened right before. There is nothing quite like vast cavernous spaces for this Mass, especially if they are Gothic. And Myeong-dong Cathedral is a Gothic, or at least Gothic revival structure dating back to the late 19th century. On the front porch of the cathedral, the Easter fire was prepared. The cardinal blessed the fire along with the paschal candle, the huge candle used during Easter, as well as at all baptisms and funerals. It is meant to last for the whole year, so it needs to be big. At the entrance to the church, the deacon raised the candle and chanted 그리스도 우리의 빛 (Christ our Light) to which everyone responded 하느님 감사합니다 (Thanks be to God). Stopping in the middle of the church, he chanted Christ our Light a second time and we responded in the same manner. During this time, everybody lit their small candles from the huge paschal candle. I often tend to consider it somewhat miraculous that we don’t manage to burn the church down on Holy Saturday. Finally, the deacon reached the front of the church where he chanted 그리스도 우리의 빛 to which we responded 하느님 감사합니다 once again.
Finally came the Exultet, a longish chant calling on the heavenly powers and indeed all of us to rejoice. Many priests and deacons get a strange fixation over this chant. It actually is quite easy. But then, you are singing unaccompanied with everybody looking at you. In the case of the poor deacon today, he had to do so with all the cameras from Pyeonghwa Broadcasting Company, our local Catholic TV station staring him in the face. (PBC is featured later in this story.)
Instead of doing all nine of the prescribed readings, we only did five. We did the three readings, the absolute bare minumum allowed, before the Gloria. At the Gloria, all the lights were switched on, the tower bells rang, and Mass proceeded as usual, with another reading, the Easter alleluia, and the reading of the gospel. The Cardinal gave his sermon. Following that, we had the blessing of the baptismal water. Unfortunately, there were no baptisms this evening. It is the traditional time to receive adult converts. I was baptized on the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City in 1993. When I went through it, they did all nine readings, we had multiple baptisms, multiple confirmations, and of course our first holy communions. It took four hours. In Korea, they often receive people into the church at other times of the year along with Easter. In some places, the adult converts are not confirmed until later on, as the bishop or archbishop has reserved all adult confirmations to himself. I myself was baptized, confirmed, and given first holy communion in one night. Because there were no baptisms, this shortened matters up a bit.
At the end of Mass, Monsignor Park gave his announcements and then the Cardinal wished all the foreigners a happy Easter in English. It was right at that moment that the TV cameras focused on my face. Because the Cathedral is a Gothic building, there are pillars all over the place. Despite having arrived an hour early, I was still in an area off to the side. I could see some of the sanctuary, but some of it was obscured. There are TV monitors along the sides so that you can see what is going on. I was very surprised to see my face being broadcast on national television as the Cardinal was giving his Easter greeting to the foreigners!
It was a nice liturgy all in all and I’m glad that I went. It still seems sinful that it only took two hours and fifteen minutes for the whole Mass. I am used to it lasting three or more hours.
Here’s a bit of Jesus Christ is Risen Today from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN. Enjoy!