By MARY JEAN WHITE, Special To The Bulletin | Published April 16, 2009
This Easter, The Georgia Bulletin asked members of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Alpharetta to share their thoughts on the season of Easter in words and images. Included are six short essays on what makes Easter memorable, along with photos taken by two members of the parish’s new photography ministry. The experiences and feelings expressed here paint a picture of the strength of the faith of Catholics here in the archdiocese.
My most memorable Easter was when I first attended an Easter Vigil Mass nine years ago at St. Thomas Aquinas. I was born and raised in the Catholic faith, pre-Vatican II, including an all-girl Catholic college. After college, I gradually drifted away from Catholicism, attending church off and on for the next 30 years.
I don’t know what exactly drew me to start attending Mass again at St. Thomas Aquinas, but once I started, I began to feel I was on a journey of sorts. It was a somewhat uncomfortable journey at first because I didn’t really understand all of the Vatican II changes in the Mass.
The church bulletin had a notice of an inquiry class for Catholics on Sunday nights. I thought I needed a quick Catholic 101 refresher course. This class sounded like just what I needed! I loved the class. The facilitators, Tom and Karin Horst, were welcoming and wonderful, encouraging teachers. They were also on the RCIA team. They asked me if I would like to come to the Easter Vigil Mass. I didn’t even know what that was, but I accepted the invitation to go and sit with them during the Mass. I had no idea what a wondrous experience I was being drawn into.
When I arrived at church that evening, candles were handed out as we waited outside in the gathering area under the trees waiting for darkness to fall. In the center of the gathering area, I saw twigs and branches beautifully woven, waiting to be lit. Then it began. The fire was lit, the Paschal candle was lit from the fire, and its flame was passed along, candle to candle. We proceeded into the dark church, our glowing candles lighting the way.
I found my seat. Parts of the Mass are a hazy memory of seven readings of stories of creation and salvation—familiar and yet as if I was hearing them for the first time. I remember the cantor’s beautiful voice, our responses sung as one voice, the dim lighting of the church, the joyous singing of the Gloria, incense rising, the Litany of the Saints, the bowls of water carried high and poured into the baptismal font to be blessed before baptizing began, anointing with holy oil at confirmation, our candles lit again.
My eyes filled with tears and my voice trembled when I tried to sing. When it was all over, I found myself standing in the back of the church, stunned and somewhat numbed by the whole experience. Tom, my teacher, found me and asked me to go to the reception in the church hall where cake was being served. I mumbled something about not wanting food to interfere with this feeling, this experience! I didn’t realize at the time that I had just experienced a wonderful spiritual banquet.
What a gift! On that night, I started my ongoing faith journey as an adult, with my welcoming family of St. Thomas Aquinas leading me, lighting my path home again.
Mary Jean and her husband, Richard, are members of the RCIA hospitality team. They live in Milton with their two dogs, Moxley and Pumpkin. They have attended St. Thomas Aquinas Church since 2000.