Michael Jackson, Staff Writer
When I arrived this past Good Friday in Norfolk, where Old Dominion University was hosting the Women’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds, I immediately began to search for a church where I could attend the Easter Vigil. I went in search of lunch the next day and stumbled upon a white-walled church the steeple and cross of which oddly resembled the Basilica of Sacred Heart’s. The church seemed to be in a recovering part of town, but I knew I needed to attend Mass there when I was personally greeted by the groundskeeper Mr. Eric Labat, who was extremely inviting. I was informed that Mass would be at 8 p.m. and that the doors would open at 7 p.m., a little late I thought, but then again this was not Notre Dame. What would transpire between my entry into the Church and my exit some few hours later can only be described as soul-riveting.
About 30 minutes before Mass was to begin there were seats available all around, and I began to miss the intimacy of Notre Dame. Then, almost in an instant, five minutes before Mass began, the seats were filled and the Easter candles were distributed. After a brief procession from outside the church back to the inside, the Mass began and the few of us Notre Dame students at the Mass realized that this was going to be a fantastic experience. I have once or twice in the past attended a Gospel Choir based Protestant Church, but I had never experienced the same ardent spirit at any Catholic Church. Goodness, from the start of the Mass to its joyful close it was filled with more life and lay participation than one could believe. In between the multitude of readings the lovely cantors who were supported by a full 40 member choir just to the left of the main altar, sang with the passion that allows you to visualize the psalm. And when the lights came on and the bells began to ring to signal Christ’s Resurrection, we were all on our feet, clapping in unison, rocking from left to right. Not only did he rise, we sang, but he rose “gloriously, triumphantly, and with authority!”
We were then inspired by a story during the priest’s homily that detailed the amazing recovery of a college student who had collapsed in his girlfriend’s dorm room on Good Friday some years before. After visiting the student’s family to pray for him on Good Friday, the father proceeded to celebrate the Easter Vigil the following night. When he checked his phone following the Mass he learned that this student, who should not have survived because of his difficulty in breathing following his collapse, awoke from his coma and walked out of his hospital room at approximately 9 p.m. on Holy Saturday—the same time that the Resurrection is proclaimed to have occurred. Not only had this ushered the shouts of “Amen” and “God is good” from the crowd, but the story took another twist.
At the 7 a.m. Easter Mass the morning after this amazing occurrence, the priest again explained what had happened during his homily, which drew the same amazed mumblings. However, it was the woman who was streaming with tears after the Mass that drew the attention of the priest. He approached her, and she then revealed that after many years of being away from the Church she came back. Her reason? She was the paramedic who had transported that student to the hospital the night before, and she knew there was no reason that he should have survived with no adverse effects. This portion of the homily during our Easter Vigil drew a standing ovation from the crowd, which was only then eclipsed by the applause following the baptisms of five new Christians and the initiation of 6 Catechumens. Of course the baptisms occurred in a full baptismal font with the individuals being thrust into the water “with authority.”
Then there was a sign of peace that made a dorm Mass sign of peace look like a meeting with strangers. The irony was that I was the one being hugged and kissed by strangers who treated me as an absolute brother in Christ. To further the irony, one of the women behind me quietly whispered to me during the sign of peace to ask if the one white guy who was initiated was my relative. I responded by saying “no, I’m not from around here.” Had she asked me at the start of the Mass I likely would have left it at that. But because I felt so at home and welcomed, I turned back to her and said, “no, we’re not related, but he’s my brother [in Christ] now.” She chuckled and we hugged again.
All during the Eucharistic prayer and communion, I could not help but think that even though I missed Easter at Notre Dame, the Holy Spirit worked to put me in the right parish for the Easter Vigil. And so I reiterate the words we sang to end the Mass, “Thanks be to God, oh yes, Thanks be to God.” Alleluia, He is Risen.
Michael Jackson is a cool dude and spry on crutches. Contact him at email@example.com.