At the Easter Vigil last night in St James's, in common with the rest of the Church, we completed the Triduum and began the great rejoicing of Easter.
The Vigil on Holy Saturday evening has, in my experience, often been the least well attended of the Triduum liturgies. Perhaps this is down to fatigue, perhaps it is down to the lateness of the service or to the fact that it is on a Saturday night. Although St James's was not quite as packed as it had been on Good Friday, where there were certainly 500+ in church, we managed an extremely respectable turnout indeed, with perhaps 300-400 there. Not bad for a cold Saturday evening, in an eerily deserted "Bank Holiday Weekend" Central London. How pleasing to note that people still came to church despite Giles Fraser's fascinating earlier assertion on Radio 4 that people should not enter a church building on Holy Saturday.
There was limited lighting in church, but then at 9pm exactly, all the lights went out, and across the gloom, one could just make out the procession leaving the sacristy and heading to the back of church. The new fire was lit inside (an advantage of having a tall building and plentiful space behind the back rows of seating). The effect of the light on the fire on the gothic arches of St James's was beautiful.
Fr Irwin, who had sung the Ecce Lignum Crucis so well on Good Friday, chanted Lumen Christi as the newly lit Paschal Candle was borne up the centre aisle. He went on to sing the haunting, enchanting and joyful Exsultet, in the much-talked about new bee-friendly translation of course.
As the series of readings continued, the choir made their presence felt with some stunning chant singing. In the dim light of the candles, flickering around that stunning building, the beauty of the chant of the Canticle of the Red Sea, the Cantemus Domino, was overwhelming, as was the Palestrina setting of Sicut Cervus
After the Easter Alleluias and the Gospel, we moved onto a tour de force of a homily by Monsignor Jamieson. He talked of the challenge of maintaining and nurturing faith, holding on to the incredible importance of the events we marked last night in this negative and doubting world. The Devil was negative, the Devil was against things, whereas we as Catholics defined our stance in positive terms, most notably that, as Fr Colven had said on Good Friday, Jesus had died for all, and that death had no more dominion over him and need hold no fear for us.
Easter was a positive message, he said, and we as positive Catholics should hold on to its place in our lives. Not only at moments of great joy when we remember to give thanks, nor only at moments of great trial when we want to ask for help, but all the time. Unlike antitheists, who are against those who believe in God, and unlike Protestants, who define themselves by negative comparison against Catholics, we must be positive, and bear Easter in our hearts.
Around ten adults were then confirmed (a few were also baptised) in a very moving few moments. With the exception of what happened at Candlemas, which had a familiar Ordinariate-influenced feeling to it, this was the first time that some of us had witnessed the phenomenon of numerous individuals joining the Church. Come to think of it, for me at least, it was the first time that I had witnessed (as far as I remember), people being baptised and confirmed at the Easter Vigil, surely the most appropriate time for it to happen.
After communion, the opportunity to sing our first great Easter hymn of the year "Jesus Christ is Risen Today! Alleluia!". This put us in mind of the singing of the Reginae Caeli to that tune, something that we hope to have the opportunity to do soon, for that is very much Anglican Patrimony.
After mass was over, and the Vierne finale from Symphonie no 6 concluded, our little Ordinariate group repaired to the home of one of our members (along with a friend from the Oxford Ordinariate Group, one of at least two from that group who was present with us in church last night) to celebrate the Resurrection with a glass of something. We return to St James's in a few hours, when we continue our celebrations with the Mozart Mass in C K337, and with the Byrd Haec Dies.
Surrexit Christus! Alleluia!