Last Holy Week was my first time to spend the holiest days of the year away from the Philippines. For the past 21 years of my being a priest, I had always been in the Philippines... tied up with some retreats, or recollections. Our group of 31 pilgrims -- all Pinoys -- had our Holy Wednesday prayers at the shrine of the Black Madonna in Janas Gora, Poland. We spent Holy Thursday and the morning of Good Friday at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Cracow. However, what was most memorable for me was the Easter Vigil we attended at the Church of St Thomas in Praga, Czech Republic.
The attendance inside the Church was remarkable: I was expecting a half-empty church, but to my surprise the service was well attended by a remarkable percentage of young people. There were also some Pinays sitting at our back.
The vigil started promptly at 8:00Pm at the courtyard of the Church which is under the administration of the Augustinians. Everyone processed to the main church, and there in the darkened church the Easter proclamation was sang solemnly. All the readings for the vigil were read -- no fanfares, no sound effects nor background music, no powerpoint presentations. Simple, honest to goodness, good reading! But with a unique touch: the readings were read in three languages. The first reading was in Czech, the Second one was in Spanish, and the Third one was in English, and so forth. The accompanying psalms for each reading was also sang in the language corresponding to the reading. Then, the Gospel was proclaimed thrice!!! First in Czech; a second time in Spanish, and a third time in English. The three priests who celebrated the vigil then took turns giving a short, well prepared homily: the first one in Czech, the second one in Spanish and the third one in English.
The liturgy of Baptism was equally touching. The main celebrant called out and presented to the community those who have been baptized in the church during the Easter Vigils of the past 10 years. Then we proceeded to bless the water and the font located at the central aisle in the middle of the church.... in the midst of the assembly. There the baptisms of an infant and of several adults were done.
After communion, before the final blessing, a twist was done: everyone processed to a darkened side chapel where the Blessed Sacrament had been kept since Holy Thursday. The celebrant banged the chapel door with a wooden cross... the doors were opened... the Blessed Sacrament exposed with a beautiful monstrance was brought out together with a statue of the Risen Christ. With canopy, with incense and chimes the procession went back to the main altar to enthrone the statue of the Risen Christ. Then the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance was used to give the solemn Easter blessing to the congregation. After this, the Blessed Sacrament was restored for reposition at the main tabernacle of the Church. I found this procession more meaningful than the traditional Filipino "salubong." The procession I attended I believe had more deep Easter theology -- one that was liturgical, eucharistic and Christ-centered at the same time. I hope to imitate this procession in my next Easter Vigil with Buklod ng Pag-ibig. This would be next year, of course, God willing.
Indeed, everywhere we go, our Catholic Faith -- especially its rich liturgy -- has a nice way of making us feel at home. After all, our Church is both mother and teacher (mater et magistra).