by Sr. Lois Anne Palkert
Preparing RCIA candidates to receive the Easter sacraments and experiencing their excitement and anticipation at the Easter Vigil remains a highlight of my parish ministry. Celebrating the Easter Vigil this year in a long-term care facility was a new experience, but no less touching and filled with emotion.
The bishop gave special permission to chaplains in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and prisons to celebrate the Easter Vigil earlier than the prescribed 8:30 p.m. time.
We were surprised and unprepared for the number of family members who joined the residents of our long term care facility for the Easter Vigil. It was truly a celebration of the season, which made it even more special for one of the residents, Anita (not her real name).
Several years ago Anita suffered a stroke leaving her totally paralyzed, unable to speak or to swallow. However, Anita is very alert mentally. She communicates with a nod, a gracious smile and the twinkle in her eyes. Anita is a deeply faith-filled and prayerful woman, in love with her God and devoted to her family who are also very devoted to her. For years Anita attended daily Mass, being fed by the bread of life. At this time in her life that remains one of her deepest longings. As a resident she attends Mass celebrated weekly on Fridays and the Sunday Vigil frequently celebrated Saturday afternoon. At those celebrations she anticipates and gladly receives a blessing from the Eucharist minister.
In a conversation with her daughter-in-law, Jane, a nurse in a long-term care facility where many retired priests reside, Jane asked if Anita could receive the consecrated wine. “We do this where I work and the residents are so grateful,” she explained. “I know it would mean a lot to Anita,” she added. We talked about the logistics and shared our plan with the priest chaplain. Jane brought the smallest silver spoon I have ever seen, but it would be just what we needed to give Anita the consecrated wine.
At least 12 members of the family joined Anita for the Easter Vigil. Anita’s face radiated an indescribable peace and joy as her niece wheeled her into the chapel. As I watched her I knew that she was prepared for what would take place at this celebration.
Throughout the Vigil Service, Anita appeared to be especially alert and attentive with an anticipatory peace-filled presence. Her eyes sparkled as Jane and I approached her with the consecrated wine. There was a beauty and radiance about her as she received the Eucharist for the first time in a long time. What a sacred moment for me and for all who witnessed it!
In his book With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life, Henri Nouwen reminds us that, “In the Eucharist, Jesus gives all. God does not hold back. God gives all. The word that best describes this mystery of God’s total self-giving love is ‘communion.’ Communion is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart, because we are made with a heart that can only be satisfied by the one who made it.” The truth of this was clearly reflected in the face and gestures of Anita, not only at the Easter Vigil, but at each Eucharistic celebration since then. “God knows that he is the only one who can fulfill the longing of our heart for communion. Unfortunately we seldom do.” I do believe that Anita has mourned her losses, and like the disciples on the way to Emmaus listened to God and invited him into her “innermost being.” I believe that she knows that the communion she has been waiting to receive is the same communion that God has been waiting to give her. I also believe that it is with much gratitude that Anita now fully participates in each Eucharistic celebration. For her this Easter Vigil, and in each Mass is an experience of new life promised in the resurrection, a “Thank you to him makes us whole.”