Joy, peace as nearly 300 across diocese received into the church at Easter Vigil

There are smiles all around as Gretchen Lansford is confirmed by Father Andru O'Brien at the Easter Vigil at St. Matthew Church in Champaign.Standing behind her is her son, David, who was her sponsor. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

CHAMPAIGN — Gretchen Lansford wanted to share the faith that had become foundational to her son, David, and his family, and at the Easter Vigil at St. Matthew Church here, her prayers were answered.

She was one of six people baptized in other faith traditions who made a profession of faith and were received into full communion with the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday. Joined by four more, who had been baptized in the Catholic Church, they were confirmed.

All 10 would receive Communion for the first time during the Mass, celebrated by Father Andru O’Brien, parochial vicar.

Trisha Lengfelder (left) with her sponsor Susan Zola listens as the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil at St. Matthew Church in Champaign on April 16. Lengfelder would be received into full communion with the Catholic Church, be confirmed and receive the Eucharist for the first time that evening. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

That joy was repeated at churches across the Diocese of Peoria as nearly 300 people celebrated the Easter sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist on April 16.

While there were no baptisms at St. Matthew that night, the new water in the baptismal font was blessed by Father O’Brien. Assisting him was Deacon William Scott, who dipped the Paschal Candle — the symbol of the risen Christ — into the water three times.

Taking water from the font, Father O’Brien walked throughout the full church, sprinkling holy water on the people who had just renewed their baptismal promises.

LIGHT SHATTERS DARKNESS

The Easter Vigil traditionally starts after sundown with the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal Candle. At St. Matthew, those who would be received into the Church that night gathered around Father O’Brien in the church’s entryway as he used a stylus to cut a cross into the candle and placed five grains of incense into it to symbolize the wounds of Christ.

After lighting the Paschal Candle, he lit the long, thin candles held by each of the candidates for confirmation and Eucharist and their sponsors. As they processed into the dark church, they, in turn, lit the candles of parishioners waiting there.

When the procession reached the front of church, the Paschal Candle was set in a place of honor next to the ambo while cantor Steve Rogers sang the Exsultet, also known as the Easter Proclamation.

At St. Matthew, each of the seven Old Testament readings and psalms telling of the salvation history of the people of God were proclaimed. All of the lights in church were turned on during the “Gloria” and the purple coverings removed from statues before the epistle from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the passage from St. Luke’s Gospel were read.

NOT A FABLE

In his homily, Msgr. Stanley Deptula, pastor, said American society is rich in the language of legends and myths, such as those found in the popular “Star Wars” movies. While people enjoy those films, no one believes any of the events actually took place.

After being confirmed, Juan Huanca completes his Christian initiation by receiving Communion for the first time from Father Andru O’Brien at the Easter Vigil at St. Matthew Church in Champaign. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

He emphasized that there was nothing mythical about what happened at Golgotha more than 2,000 years ago, however.

“This is not the stuff of fables. This is not the stuff of legends,” Msgr. Deptula said as he pointed to the crucifix.

“Jesus Christ truly was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered under Pontius Pilate, truly suffered and was crucified, and was truly laid in the tomb,” he said.

And Jesus truly rose from the dead, appearing to his disciples, eating with them and walking along country byroads with them, Msgr. Deptula reminded those who sat before him.

“Then, to guarantee that these true historical events were not lost in the dusty pages of history, our Divine Savior breathed his Holy Spirit into the Church and sent the Church out to proclaim true and real historical events that had eternal significance,” he said.

Jesus’ lasting gift to the church are the seven sacraments he instituted during his earthly ministry, Msgr. Deptula told them.

“Christ really died. Christ is really risen. And the sacraments are real expressions of that power,” he said.

“We live in a world that still needs to know the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen,” Msgr. Deptula said. “We live in a world of darkness that longs for the light of the Easter Candle.”

Those who were received into the Catholic Church at St. Matthew know that personally. Mary Ellen Greifenkamp, who was still processing everything that had happened that night, offered five words to say how she was feeling: “Wonderful. Exciting. Peaceful’s a good word. Settled. Calm.”

Gretchen Lansford, who followed her son, David, and his wife, Jill, into the Catholic Church and was supported by granddaughter Jerrica, said simply, “I feel good. And I feel closer to my family.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the Easter Vigil at St. Matthew Parish in Champaign have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook

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