Rite You Are

L.A. Faith Communities Celebrate Easter Their Way

I love the Easter rituals that help me connect with the emotion and significance of this holiest day of the year. So I felt particularly blessed to be present for two different sets of rites as Los Angeles faith communities celebrated Easter according to traditions old and new.

Bringing the river to the city
At St. Thomas the Apostle Church, a Latino parish near downtown Los Angeles, parishioners carrying white candles spilled out into the streets during the Easter Vigil Saturday night. They witnessed more than 30 youth and adults receive the sacrament of baptism and become initiated into the Catholic faith. They are called “the Elect” since it is Catholic belief that it is God who has chosen them to tread this path.

Because Jesus was baptized in river water (the Jordan River), and because of ancient church tradition of performing baptisms in “living” (that is, naturally flowing) water, a caravan of parishioners took to the mountains earlier in the week. With empty gallon containers they retrieved mountain river water to bring back to the church baptismal font.

During the Mass, Marisol Argueta, 36, was the first to kneel in the font, while the priest poured even more water over her head and brown tunic. A few minutes later her daughter, Ingrid Palada, 12, underwent the same drenching treatment.

The ritual was a powerful sign of sins being forgiven and healed. And the two being reborn to new life in Christ, said the mother-daughter duo. Parishioners and the Elect cried watching the dramatic baptisms.

That evening the Elect also received sacraments of holy Communion and confirmation. It was past 10:30 p.m. by the time the service was complete.

Salubong-the meeting at dawn
Just a few hours later more than a thousand Filipinos and friends gathered at 5 a.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, east of Los Angeles, to celebrate Salubong .

“Salubong” or “meeting” commemorates the moment when the sorrowful Mary first encounters her son, the Risen Christ, at Easter dawn.

Holding lit candles against the night sky, the men processed with a statue of the Risen Christ from one direction. From another direction, the women processed with a statue of Mary covered in a black veil, a sign of her grief.

The two groups converged at an outdoor stage where more than 50 angel children sang. A young adult in the role of a black-veiled Mary sang about hope in the midst of profound sorrow. In the background Jesus moved the stone covering his tomb. He was bathed in a blue light.

An angel announced to Mary the good news. She pinned Mary’s black veil to a helium balloon and her sorrow was carried away into the early dawn sky. Parishioners wiped away tears.

Now Mary could see, with great joy, her Risen Son. And the angels, Jesus, and Mary broke out into more songs of Alleluia and celebration followed by 6 a.m. Easter Mass at dawn in the church.

A note about Filipino culture and history
Dramatizations of religious events are a significant part of Filipino Catholic culture?dating back from when early Spanish missionaries to the Philippines used drama as part of their preaching of the Christian faith. To bring the message of Easter to a matriarchal culture, a play developed about what it must have been like for a mother grieving the death of her son to reconnect with him.

The ritual took on more significance this year as many mothers anxiously await the return of soldiers from Iraq.

Easter hope
These Easter rituals reminded me that death and other endings do not have the last word. Whatever or whoever is dying in our lives?loves lost, friendships, jobs, good health, bad habits, even people and ideals around the war in the Middle East?Easter offers us hope. It’s a real hope based on experiencing God’s healing grace and forgiveness in our lives.

And our chance to start fresh and begin again.