Sunday, April 08, 2007

Lumen Christi

"Lumen Christi!" "Deo Gratias!"

These Latin words come at the beginning of the traditional pre-Vatican II Easter Vigil Mass. Today, it is said in English: "Christ our Light!" and the response is "Thanks be to God!"

Holy week is the busiest time in the Christian calendar. Coming at the end of Lent, it starts with Palm Sunday, commemorating the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, then Maundy Thursday which reminds us of the Last Supper, Good Friday when we recall the death of Christ and finally Easter Sunday when we celebrate His resurrection.

In Katong, much of this activity takes place at the Holy Family church, on East Coast Road. There has been a church serving the community here since the early 1930s; I too was baptised here (not in the 1930s, thank you!). The current church building was erected in 2000 as the older building was too small for the large community. The old church building was a Katong landmark with the tall bell tower above the entrance on East Coast Road. It was a simple church building but it warmly welcomed visitors through the many doors which went all around the church.

In the old days, too, the congregation would wait outside the closed church whilst the Easter candle was lit from the newly kindled Easter fire, and follow the priest into the church. Today, the numbers attending the Vigil would make this a difficult logistical exercise. The structure of the church also makes it a little more difficult, given that we now have to climb up one storey to enter the church building as the car park is now on the ground floor. But it is still quite meaningful to sit in the dark church, listening out for the call of "Christ our Light!" and watching as the altar boys enter and move around the church lighting our candles, and then watching as the light continues to spread throughout the church.

But the highlight of the Easter Vigil mass is typically the baptism ceremony for adults. It is the culmination of a longer process stretching slightly over a year in which they have prepared themselves to renounce their sins, and cleanse themselves in the waters of new life in Christ. This Easter, the group was a fairly small one for Holy Family parish - I think just under 30 people being baptised or brought into full communion with the Catholic church. But the past groups have been rather large, so much so that Holy Family now has a pretty efficient process - the baptism with water, annointing with holy oil, the giving out of the white garment and candles were all done with true Singaporean efficiency. I recall my friend's baptism in London, when she was the only one being baptised. She wore black, was totally immersed in water, then went to a room at the back of the church to dry off (we heard the hairdryer going for a while) and change into all-white. It was a beautiful and highly symbolic service, but can't exactly be done en masse (think of the hairdryer queue).
The church itself is a beautiful place to be on Easter Vigil; the choir sings better and the congregation generally happy and patient despite the long ceremony. And although the church has changed, it is the same ceremony which has been celebrated in this place for over 70 years, and around the world for 2000 years.

The Rose Window at Holy Family Church

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