The following is the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Easter Vigil on March 31 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne:
We began this Easter Vigil in darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, followed by the lighting of the Paschal candle. We processed into the cathedral and the light from the Paschal candle spread as our candles, one by one, were lit. We celebrate tonight that the great blessing of the light of Christ, and His victory over sin and death has come upon the darkness of the world. When the whole cathedral was illumined by the light of our candles, we heard the deacon chant the Exsultet, the hymn of victory on this feast of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.
The readings of this Vigil began with the very first page of the Bible: the story of the creation of the universe. This was followed by other readings in which we heard of God’s work throughout the history of salvation. In the reading from Exodus, we heard of God’s intervention to save His people from slavery and the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea. God is the Redeemer of His people, their Savior. In the ancient Passover, by God’s intervention, His people escaped from the power of the evil Pharaoh and his armies. After passing through the Red Sea, on reaching the further shore, they sang in the Canticle that we also sang tonight: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.”
On this holy night, we celebrate what the ancient Passover foreshadowed: the real “Passover” of God through our midst in the earthly life of His Son, the Word of God made man. The real Exodus is the one by which Jesus “passed over” from this world to the Father. The real Passover is the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. And so Easter is also our Passover, our passage through Christ from sin to grace, from the darkness of ignorance to the light of faith, and from death to life.
The Risen Christ, ever present in the Church, leads us not towards the waters of the Red Sea, but towards the waters of Baptism. In the waters of Baptism are engulfed not visible enemies like Pharaoh’s army, but invisible enemies, the dark forces and demonic powers of sin. Our catechumens, the elect, will emerge tonight from the baptismal water freed from these destructive powers, born anew in the Savior’s Resurrection, in order to enter with Him into the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God. They will die and rise again in Baptism in order to celebrate in the Eucharist the death and resurrection of our Savior.
The newly baptized and those previously baptized who are entering into full communion in Christ’s Church will be anointed with the sacred chrism in Confirmation. They will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to live the reality of their baptism into Christ. They will be anointed and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit which will empower them to live as His faithful disciples in the world.
The newly baptized will then be nourished by the new manna, the true bread from heaven, at the banquet of the Eucharist. By receiving and absorbing the Bread of Life, they and all of us become what we receive: the Body of Christ. The crucified and risen Lord comes to live in us, giving us the grace to live our lives “in Him,” loving God and one another as He has loved us.
I pray that the Lord will bless all of you and your loved ones with the joy of Easter. Jesus said that He came into the world that we might have life and have it to the full. He prayed that His joy would be ours and that our joy might be complete. Easter is the feast of life and joy, the feast of Christ’s Resurrection. It is also “our” feast, the Church’s feast, because of our sacramental union with the death and resurrection of Christ. The Lord gives us a share in His risen life and promises eternal life to those who live “in Him,” who love Him and follow Him. And so at Easter, we sing with great joy and gratitude: “Alleluia” (“may God be praised”)!
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