John Geronilla / Contributor
This photo essay documents a night at Cathedral Chapel School on April 7, 2012. Church communities from Cathedral Chapel, St. John’s, and St. Elizabeth came together to celebrate their Easter vigil in preparation for the most important holiday in the Christian calendar: Easter. It marks the end of the Lenten season of fasting and sacrifice. Most of the children have been fasting from food since 3 in the afternoon. The adults fasted since Good Friday the previous day.
The celebrants are part of the Neocathechumenal Way, a group within the Catholic church focused on the formation of Christian adults and families. Unlike most parishes, the Way is split into smaller communities in every church. The smaller congregation setting allows for more time and intimacy during their mass; there is time for reflection and sharings. Easter is a time when the communities of the immediate area come together to celebrate their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each member of the community is a “brother” or “sister” in Christ. The English communities in Los Angeles and Van Nuys are relatively small compared to the Spanish communities (their Easter celebration is held at a different location).
The Way began in 1964 led by Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez to “evangelize the slums of Madrid.” Only recently in 2008 were the statutes of the Way and their place within the church formalized in a written form and approved by the Holy See. Arguello was a student of Pablo Picasso in painting and has recently created a symphony titled “The Suffering of the Innocents” for and well-received by the members of the Jewish community as it expressed their pain throughout the years. The communities are handed down catechisms, or summaries of the teachings of the church, from Arguello to the leaders, or responsibles, of every country, and eventually down to the responsibles and communities of every parish.
Most of the traditions of the Easter vigil originated from Jewish and early Christian traditions. One of the first songs proclaimed at vigil was entitled “Shema Yisrael” meaning Hear, O Israel.” It is one of the most important parts of prayer in Judaism. Another song was “Evenu Shalom Alehem,” meaning “peace be with you.” In the Jewish tradition, the celebration of Passover commemorates the freedom of the people of Israel from Egyptian Slavery. As a sign of thanksgiving, an unblemished lamb is usually sacrificed as an offering to God. The Christian tradition extends this celebration where instead of a lamb, Jesus sacrificed himself in order to save the people from sin.
In these communities, there is an emphasis on family and children. Easter vigil is a special moment to pass on the faith to the children. Traditionaly, this is a day where people (children and adults) are baptized and welcomed into full communion with the Church.