This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.
This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.
Once a year in the liturgy, something unusual happens: A deacon (usually) stands at the ambo and sings for about 10 minutes straight.

This anomaly marks a moment of great solemnity in the Church. In the hush, illumined by candlelight, the greatest paradox of faith -- the mystery of our salvation -- is chanted in an ancient tone: "Exult! Let them exult, the hosts of heaven!...This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death, and rose victorious from the underworld!"

All around the world, Catholics will gather at the Easter vigil to celebrate the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead and the cementing of His promise to free us from sin and open the doors to life eternal.

It is undoubtedly the highest, most solemn feast of our faith. Easter is also one of the three most attended liturgies in the year, together with Christmas and Ash Wednesday. Often, double the number of people attend Mass.

Why is it that folks who normally don't come to Mass during the year are drawn to Easter? I think for many it is a muscle memory of sorts: something our family just does, or has done. Perhaps, we go because grandma or mom has been nagging us and we feel compelled to please her. Perhaps we do not really know why, but we just go.

For everyone who falls into this pattern and for all who dutifully go to Mass each Sunday, for everyone who has sacrificed ice cream or their favorite TV show for Lent, I think there comes a moment where we find ourselves wondering why we go. "Why Easter? Why Sunday? Why am I doing all this? It is long and boring and I just want to watch the next five episodes of 'Stranger Things.'"

For myself, at least, I go because I have had an experience of God. I felt His love, and I desire more of that experience. As wonderful as family, friends, money and nice things are, there is always a yearning for "more:" more happiness, more fulfillment, more love.

God is the only one who can fill the void in our hearts. As St. Augustine famously said, "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you." For everyone who will happen to find him- or herself in a pew at the Easter vigil, this is the fundamental reason. We want to experience God.

Fundamentally, to stand in history 2,000 years after Jesus and to believe that He really means something for us today is a real act of faith. This faith is both a gift and something we can ask for: "Lord, increase my faith!"

In that openness to God's love, faith becomes the very door by which we come to experience God. We begin to see Him at work in our lives. We experience true mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation and real communion in the Eucharist.

When did I begin to yearn to spend time with God? When did Easter become something really important in my life? When did I begin to really rejoice with the angels and saints over the return of one child of God to the faith? I can't really say. I just know that, gradually, I have come to see more clearly the amazing work God has wrought in my life.

I hope that the fire of God's love will be rekindled in each and everyone who listens to the story of God's love for us this Easter. May the joy, peace and love of God be with you all.

(Deacon Chichester, a native of Columbia County, has been studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Munde­lein Seminary in Illinois. He is expected to be ordained a priest in June.)