Divided, not Diminished
"Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,ablaze with light from her Eternal King,let all corners of the earth be glad,knowing an end to gloom and darkness."
Fire so often gets the bad rep. It's always the weapon of choice for the bad guys, it's known as uncontrollable, and is often equated with anger and rage. But fire is also light, warmth, and beauty.
My favorite Mass of the entire year is the Easter Vigil. It usually starts around sunset, with the church in total darkness, with a fire burning outside. From this fire, a single candle, the Paschal Candle, is lit and processed into the dark church, with the minister proclaiming "Christ our Light." As he continues in, the rest of the church follows, each lighting their candles from this single, Paschal, candle, then passing it along to the next person.
At the beginning, people are bumping into things, trying to get to their pews, but as the light spreads, soon even those with unlit candles are able to see their way. By the time the minister is placing the candle at the front of the church, where it will remain for the rest of the year, the church is full of an ambient, peaceful glow of flickering candlelight.
"But now we know the praises of this pillar,which glowing fire ignites for God's honor,a fire into many flames divided,yet never dimmed by the sharing of it's light."
It is at this point, with the fire spreading to light the church, that the quotes above are sung. They are part of one of the most beautiful pieces ever composed. It's said that Mozart would gladly have traded all of his works to be able to claim the beauty of the exultant as his. And every year, I'm struck with the beauty of this chant. Take a few minutes and listen to the proclamation. (If you really don't like live music (though this is from our Cathedral in Tyler several years ago: this young man is now a priest for our diocese, so you should definitely say a prayer for him and all the other priests!), then here is a recorded version. And here is the text alone.)
This year, I went to a different parish than normal, and it was standing room only. So, my family and I stood in the very back for the entire Mass. It was actually rather beautiful, because I had an interesting vantage point to watch the sea of light. As the readings, beginning with Genesis and going through the Old Testament until they climax with the hope of the Resurrection and the cries of the angels that "Christ is not dead, but Risen" progressed, the landscape of the church changed. Some people's candles began to burn to nothing, others developed large deposits of wax, others seemed to look untouched despite burning brightly, some were blown out by children or parents seeking to protect their little ones, many were re-lit over the course of the readings, and some people began to hold multiple candles as others found themselves incapable of doing so. There were patches that remained bright always and some that almost instantly went dark.
I was struck, as I watched, with the understanding that this is so much like us. Christ's glory and love is the fire that burns brightly. We are the candles. Each of us, though we may look the same, burns differently. Some are consumed rapidly by the fire of love; others burn slowly but steadily. Some of us flicker, but never go out; others are constantly going out, but always seeking to be rekindled. Some of us have large deposits of wax on our sides; others burn smoothly, but drip freely. Some of us don't care to remain lit; others are constantly seeking another candle to light. Some need someone else to hold their candle for a bit until they are at a place where they can hold it; others hold and shelter those candles. But regardless of which candle we are, our strength isn't in our solitude. It is in our union. The fire of love cannot be dimmed or diminished; rather, the more it is shared, the stronger it gets! A single candle has the ability to light an entire church, if only it is taken and shared. So too does a single drop of the love of Christ have the power to transform the world, if only it is given channels through which to flow.
Glory unchecked would destroy the world, for we are not ready to be in the presence of the entirety of God's majesty and love. Moses started glowing when he glimpsed the backside of God, and he would have disintegrated had he witnessed the full glory. So, instead of flooding us with what we cannot take, the power of the Sun is channeled into a single candle, and from there, allowed to spread by other candles. He does not diminish or dim His glory; He simply allows it to be divided so that all might enter in: It is the same flame, yet many tongues. And we are the light-bearers. We are the Christ-bearers. We are the ones set alight by the witness of the Angels: Christ is Risen! Christ has conquered death. Hope endured the night and is brought light by Love.
"O truly blessed night,when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,and the divine to the human...
May this flame be found still burningby the Morning Star:the one Morning Star who never sets,Christ your Son,who, coming back from death's domain,has shed his peaceful light on humanity,and lives and reigns forever and ever.Amen"