Vigil services have always been my favourite.
One of my earliest memories is being in the lower church with my grandmother, attending Stations of the Cross. This is done every Friday during Lent, so I got a weekly dose of chanting the Stabat Mater. I try not to miss this service on Good Friday, but this year was a no-go.
The Easter Vigil has always been my preferred service. The church I attended growing up is a huge affair and was considered as the cathedral site at one time. The service starts in total darkness- the priest carries in the Paschal candle, chanting three times "Christ the Light". Each time, we sing a response and we light out own candles from the huge Paschal candle, passing the flame from one to the next until the building is filled with flickering lights. Then with the Alleluia, the lights go on, the organ booms, and the ceremony goes full swing.
My church in Worcester-the parish where my heart belongs- did the vigil in spades. Properly done, the service includes baptism, profession of sin, and confirmation as well as the sacrament of the Mass. We always had at least 5 people being baptized and confirmed, one year we had 19 or 20. The service was usually bilingual or trilingual. Monsignor started the Paschal fire outside in a drum (the boys enjoyed the pyro aspect) and carried the flame inside. One year, the service started at 7pm and he got so carried away with his sermon AND we did ALL the readings from Genesis to St John (optional meant hell yeah)...I slunk out with the boys after Communion at 10:30 pm. We were starved- we had planned to go out to eat after. We did, but they were so surly, I never could get them to do vigil with me ever again and I had to tip the waitress big because Bren had a hissy.
I've tried hard to fit in at my little parish, but I just don't feel the sense of belonging there that I did in Boston or Worcester. It didn't help that the retired pastor was best friends with the priest who was in prison for molesting 20+ children and who got offed in prison by another prisoner. ("Why can't people who got molested just get over it and get on with their lives?") Then the parish got cut so we share the new pastor with another parish. They changed the Mass times and now it's a lot harder for me to make it to services regularly. When I go, most of the time it's at the other parish in the next town because those are the only services I can make it to.
So this year I got to do the vigil at the other church. I couldn't believe the place wasn't jam packed like my other parishes always were-only 3 families with kids under 12, mostly elders with a smattering of thirty-somethings. The altar looked very nice- they had a fountain set up, surrounded by hydrangeas, diffenbachias, and callas. The choir (beautifully robed in scarlet with white collars over their jeans and sneakers) was tuneful, but they didn't do any of my favourite Easter hymns. I had been humming "Resurexit sicut dixit" all day, so I was disappointed. At the Gloria, the fountain started to bubble, which was a nice touch, and drew my attention. Then I noticed- Beanie Babies.
Beanie Babies was a fad that totally bypassed my family, although I knew a few people who got totally into them and collected them the way my mother acquired Hummels and lottery tickets-religiously. I never associated Beanie Babies with Easter, but apparently the person decorating the altar thought that the little waterfall surrounded by shrubbery would be the perfect place to position a lion, a tiger and what appeared to be an iguana (though it could have been the Geico gekko for all I know) creeping out of the diffenbachia toward the holy watering hole. There might have been a dinosaur or two hidden in the hydrangeas of this little Jurassic Park tableau for all I know. And that pretty much blew my concentration on the sermon.
I guess if Easter can be associated with a bunny who gives chocolate, it can also be associated with little stuffed jungle animals coming for a drink.