Signs, symbols, traditions invoke five senses at Easter Vigil

Before the homemade buns, ham, bunny-shaped cake and colorful Easter eggs appear on the table in the Koketts’ home, the family attends both the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Mass at their parish of St. Edward in Elmdale.

Among John Kokett’s favorite memories of attending the vigil as a child is singing the hymn, “Jesus Christ Has Risen Today,” at the end of the Mass.

“It gives you goose bumps,” he said. “I also remember as a kid getting the little candle and trying not to blow it out. And there was the fire outside. There were all these rituals that weren’t part of the regular Sunday Mass. It is always a very special Mass.

John and Lori Kokett and three of their seven children, Raymond, right, Daniel and Lynda, are members of St. Edward Parish in Elmdale, part of a cluster with St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis and St. Mary in Upsala. John and Lori have attended the Easter Vigil every year since they got married in 1986.

“It’s kind of like the highest Mass of the whole church year,” he continued. “I like all the readings because it includes all of salvation history, starting with Creation and going through the Fall, God delivering the Israelites and at the end you have the empty tomb.”

“It’s the culmination of our whole faith,” his wife, Lori, added.

Lori grew up attending Mass on Easter Sunday rather than the Easter Vigil and once she and John married and started their family, the Koketts began attending both Masses.

“It’s just something we wanted to do with our family,” Lori said. “We do the whole Triduum celebration.”

As dairy farmers, that means very little sleep in between.

“Life in the church is about sacrifice,” John said. “People now want things to be too convenient. If Christ is first in your life, you plan to do chores before Mass or after. That’s just what you do.”

The Koketts have seven children, three of whom still reside on the family’s farm. St. Edward is part of a cluster with St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis and St. Mary in Upsala, where Father Jeremy Theis is the pastor.

Father Theis also remembers attending the Easter Vigil as a child.

“It was one of the rare Masses where, as little ones, if we fell asleep, we didn’t get nudged,” he laughed.

He also recalls everyone receiving a baby food jar of holy water to take home.

“That was always neat as a kid,” he said. “I remember the Easter Vigil being a big deal, going with my family and that there were a lot of people at Mass.”

This will be Father Theis’ third year celebrating the Easter Vigil as a priest. The vigil usually starts outside with a fire and is intended to begin at nightfall.

As a priest, he especially enjoys the opportunities the vigil gives him to do things he doesn’t often get to do. Last year, he had the opportunity to confirm someone for the first time, a sacrament typically reserved to the bishop. “That just made it even more special,” he said.

He also chants the Exsultet, or the Easter proclamation, which marks the movement from darkness to light, typically before the Liturgy of the Word begins.

“As Catholics, we are very sacramental,” Father Theis said. “All of our senses are involved in worship. The Easter Vigil really incorporates all five senses, especially with the fire, the incense, the music, all of which are beautiful.”

Michael Retka, a lifelong member of Our Lady of Lourdes in Little Falls, will be helping with the music ministry at Elmdale’s vigil this year. He agrees that combining the five senses is a strong part of the Easter Vigil, as it is with every Mass.

“At the Easter Vigil, there are more of what I would call ‘sacramentals,’ like the fire and water, and symbols of our faith. You can hear the music, smell the incense, taste the Eucharist,” Retka said. “These sacramentals enhance the liturgy and remind us to take the Paschal Mystery with us every single time we go to Mass. Through the Easter Vigil, we really come to realize how the ritual moments work together in almost a mystical way.

“You can hear Word of God, but there’s something to be said to touch, taste, hear, smell and see that really help you to fully grasp the Paschal Mystery,” he said.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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