As I’ve mentioned in the past, The Annunciation Catholic Church is one of the most beautiful churches in our area, with high ceilings, brilliant stained glass windows, and an ornate altar. It gives one the feeling of medieval worship, which a welcome relief when compared with some modern bingo-hall church designs. That fact, accompanied by the fact that we are good friends with the choir director, convinced us to go there for Easter Vigil Mass.
My father and I took our seats in a pew on the left side of the aisle just as the altar servers started to light all the candles in the church which hitherto had been darkened for Good Friday. The sight of the brightness entering the dark corners of the building filled me with a sense of wonder, as did the thick and powerful aroma of incense, so strong in fact that it almost caused me to cough! But to me, it was truly a beautiful scent that always makes me think on the power of prayer rushing up to heaven, and the unimaginable power of heaven itself.
We were soon given small candles to hold, and had them lighted by a server in due course. It was a striking sight to look across the church and all the people in the pews, their faces aglow with the Easter lights. I am not a major lover of fire, however I found myself fascinated by the way my flame flickered and dodged, as well as the way the drops of liquefied wax slowly slid down my candle and left marks on the paper holder. When the priest made his rounds of the pews, he blessed everyone with holy water which occasionally landed with a sizzle on the candle wicks. Several droplets splashed in my face but missed my candle, which shone as brightly as ever.
After the succession of Easter prayers and ceremonies (bringing the Mass into the two hour time range), we readied ourselves for the reception of the Eucharist. Of course, this was really the most appropriate time in the whole year to do so, the time when Christ proved His nearness to us and His willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes. His triumph over the thing all mortals fear, death and eternal darkness, gave us a clean slate and formed a new covenant between God and man. This heavenly contract is reaffirmed through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.
The musical choices for the mass were all truly beautiful, but the finale was the icing on the cake. It really surprised me to hear the intro of Handel's "Hallelujah" being played on an organ-keyboard in the choir loft. I thought to myself, "Are they going to go for it?" Sure enough, they went for it, and the choir belted out the Easter anthem with enthusiasm. As the music rose to its climax, the different vocal parts blended together deftly and culminated perfectly. The unexpected beauty of it so moved the congregation below, that they broke into applause, a very rare thing for this comparatively conservative parish to do.
I couldn't help but be reminded of another famous instance when the glorious piece brought about an unexpected reaction. When George Frederick Handel's Messiah was performed in
for the second time, the royal guest, King George II, is said to have
stood up unexpectedly when the "Hallelujah" was played. And when
the king stands, you know what's bound to happen: everyone is going to stand!
No one is actually positive why the king stood up to begin with. Most people like to think he was moved with emotion, but others insist he was roused from mid-concert snoozing or had a cramp in his leg or misidentified the music as the National Anthem! At this point, it really doesn't matter. A great tradition was born, and Handel's religious masterpiece has been moving the bodies to stand and souls to sing for joy from that time to this.
One final fact on the subject worthy of note is that George II's grandson and successor, King George III, was a major Handel fan. He joined the Handel society, proudly wore his membership button out and about, and always asked for the late composer's works to be played at royal music festivals. Furthermore, the king acquired Handel's prized harpsichord and kept it as a prize among his vast collection of expensive odds and ends. When he tragically slipped into a delusionary state because of his famous illness (of body, mind, or both, we’ll probably never be sure), it was said he could be heard playing and singing Handel compositions by his distraught servants, who were terrified to go too near to him for fear of altering his musical mood and risking nasty repercussions!
Anyway, getting back to The Annunciation Parish, my dad and I went up to the choir loft after the mass was over to congratulate Pat the choir director, who was in a state of electronic ecstasy at the boundless sound of the most glorious "Hallelujah" ever produced in the parish, the state, the country......we were happy to humor him, and even sincerely concur! To celebrate, the three of us tromped out to our car and devoured a few chocolate peanut butter Easter Eggs we had stashed away in the glove compartment, happily chatting about our Easter experience and future plans for launching a Bible Study at the Parish.