Friday, November 6, 2015


It occurred to me recently that most people don’t know anything about one of the most beautiful rituals we have in the monastery, even though it’s one that we celebrate every week. So I’ve decided to share with you this description of our “Service of the Light” as it unfolded a couple of weeks ago. Hope you enjoy it.


In the gathering area of the abbey church, we monks were assembled in the darkness around the paschal candle on its stand, its flame shedding a dim glow on our faces.

It was Saturday night, and were beginning, as we do every Saturday, the celebration of Vigils of Sunday. But first we had to join in the “service of the light.”

Br. Maximilian and Fr. Phil were holding lighted tapers and standing on either side of the lectern as Fr. Augustine read the greeting: “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, a light no darkness can extinguish.”  We all answered, “Thanks be to God!”

Then Fr. Philip stepped to the lectern and, holding his candle close to the book, he read, “It is not ourselves we proclaim; we proclaim Jesus Christ our lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake. For the same God who said, ‘Out of darkness let light shine,’ has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation -- the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.”

When Fr. Phil was finished, Br. Patrick stepped forward, lifted the candle out of its stand and, with Br. Max and Fr. Philip walking at either side holding their lighted tapers, began to lead the procession into the darkened church, with the paschal flame held high. Only a dim light glowed over the choir stalls ahead.

I was carrying a lighted candle too, so I could read the sheet of music I was holding. As I joined the procession I began singing:

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.

Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
Light for the world to see.

All the monks in the procession joined in the Chorus:

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church
Gathered today.

At this point I was singing for my self, asking Christ to lighten my own inner darkness, to soften my hardened heart. 


I continued,

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us
Make us your living voice.
“Christ, be our light”

When I sang “Our world is troubled,” I realized that we were also singing for “all the nations”, everyone the whole dark, troubled world. Our little candles were mere points of light in the deep darkness, yet somehow the flame of the paschal candle at the head of the procession seemed strong and confident. As we started filing into our various places in the choir stalls, the song continued,

Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
Shared until all are fed.

“Longing for food…”  Our food pantry had been open that morning, and people “longing for food” had been lined up on the sidewalk in front of the monastery’s main entrance. Our neighbors were not very far away from us that night, either as we stood in our places, still singing our prayer in the name of all of them, “Christ be our light.”

The paschal candle was now shining from a new stand in the center, in between the two sides of the monastic choir as Fr. Augustine arrived at the lectern and concluded the procession with a prayer:

“Lord God, whose Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, triumphed over death and prepared for us a place in the new Jerusalem, grant that we who gather to give thanks for his resurrection may praise you in that city of which he is the Light, and where He lives for ever and ever.”

Our loud “Amen” ended the service of light; we were now ready to begin Vigils of Sunday.

I muttered a quiet prayer that our presence and our vigil service this evening might help to make Newark just a little bit more like “that city of which He is the light, and where He lives forever and ever.”