By JOANNE FOX
While rain poured and hail pelted Siouxland, the faithful at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City braved the inclement weather to celebrate the resurrection of their Lord and Savior.
Bishop Walker Nickless presided over the bilingual Easter Vigil Mass on April 15 at the cathedral.
Hundreds gathered in front of the cathedral, as the fire which would be used to light the paschal candle was stoked.
Bishop Nickless prayed, “Sanctify this new fire, we pray and grant that by these paschal celebrations, we may be so inflamed with heavenly desire, that with minds pure, we may attain festivities of unending splendor.”
Deacon Jorge Fernandez brought the Easter candle to the bishop who cut the lines that indicated Christ as the Alpha and Omega and the year 2017. Bishop Nickless inserted five grains of incense – representative of the five wounds of Christ – into the candle in the form of a cross, then lit the paschal candle from the fire saying, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”
Bishop Nickless entered the darkened cathedral with a lone candle as Deacon Fernandez intoned in Latin, “Lumen Christi (The Light of Christ),” to which the congregation replied in Latin, “Deo gratias (Thanks be to God).”
The standing-room-only crowd processed in and each lit their candles from the flame of the paschal candle to slowly illuminate the church. With the assembly in place, Deacon Fernandez sang the Easter Proclamation in Spanish. At the conclusion of the proclamation, the congregation extinguished their candles.
The Liturgy of the Word began with a reading from the book of Genesis, spoken in English, alternating with readings Spanish. Following the third reading, the “Gloria” was proclaimed, the candles in the sanctuary were lit and the church bells were rung in jubilation of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
‘Capture this greatness’
In his homily prior to the Liturgy of Baptism, Bishop Nickless pointed to a number of symbols that were pertinent to the Mass.
“These are the story of our faith and our salvation,” he said. “We began in darkness and then lit the paschal candle, reminding us that Christ is the light of the world.
Bishop Nickless acknowledged that everyone knows the story of Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead.
“What can anyone say to capture this greatness?” he asked, then replied, “St. Paul said, ‘If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then our faith is useless.’ Jesus showed us his love by his resurrection and because of that resurrection, I believe in something greater than me.”
After his homily, Bishop Nickless prayed for the elect and blessed the water in the baptismal font. Lowering the Easter candle into the water three times, he prayed, “May the power of the Holy Spirit, O Lord, we pray, come down through your son into the fullness of this font.”
If the joy of Easter could be personified, it was evident in the faces of three catechumens and two candidates.
Marvin Baltazar, Tanya Gonzalez and Christian Gonzalez joined other converts in the Diocese of Sioux City at Holy Saturday services – becoming members of a 1.2 billion, world-wide community.
The bishop asked them to renounce sin and to profess their beliefs in the Catholic faith. They replied, “I do,” with smiles on their faces.
Each catechumen was led to the font and while each godparent placed a hand on a shoulder, Bishop Nickless poured the water over their heads, baptizing them, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Apisay Airam and Nicole Verzani were among the candidates for full initiation in the church, receiving the sacrament of confirmation.
The bishop extended his hands over Airam and Verzani asking the Holy Spirit to “give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, knowledge and piety and fill them with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.”
Bishop Nickless concluded the service with the solemn blessing, “Now that the days of the Lord’s passion have drawn to a close, may you who celebrate the gladness of the paschal feast come with Christ’s help, and exulting in spirit, to those feasts that are celebrated in eternal joy.”
Baltazar, Tanya Gonzalez and Christian Gonzalez remained glowing in the lobby following the service. Through translation provided by Santa Fernandez, Baltazar expressed his joy at receiving the sacraments.
“It was an excellent experience,” he shared. “Now, I am preparing to get married in June for another sacrament.”
Verzani called the entire service “very exciting.”
“I was raised Lutheran, but I was ready to embrace Catholicism,” she said of her choice to convert.
Verzani chose St. Catherine of Sienna as her patron saint.
“I chose St. Catherine because of how she helped the sick and the poor,” she said. “That resonated with me.”
Baltazar elected to have St. Augustine as his confirmation saint.
“His father was a pagan who converted to Christianity on his deathbed. His mother lived to see him baptized and become a great person,” he said. “His life story was just so incredible.”