Random non-Easter-related note: All Americans living overseas on April 1st, 2010, are not counted in the US Census. I feel meaningless, invisible. No one wants to be a number, but not being a number seems worse somehow. On the bright side: no internal quandary as to what race I am! Dodged that bullet for another decade . . .
Today is Holy Saturday. Perhaps the least exciting day with a special name on the entire liturgical calendar. The main event of Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil, is actually not technically a part of Holy Saturday. In fact, there are no Masses allowed on this day and the distribution of Communion is only allowed in cases of imminent death. It’s just this day of waiting. That’s all it’s for, waiting for Easter to finally be here. One thing I’ve never understood about Christianity is the math behind the Triduum. We say that Jesus rose on the third day, but even counting generously I can only come up with two days. The straight fact is that, 24 hours after the Good Friday service, we’re back in church for the Easter Vigil.
But I’m okay with that. I couldn’t wait any longer anyway.
The Easter Vigil Mass, like all Holy Week services, is totally unique in the Church year. It usually starts outside with a fire which is used to light the paschal candle. The flame is passed from candle to candle and the congregation enters the dark church, bring the light of Christ with them. There are a series of readings, anywhere from three to nine, outlining salvation history from creation to Christ. The Gospel is proclaimed, in which the women find Jesus’ tomb empty and tell the apostles. Then we have the sacraments of initiation! Easter is traditionally when non-infants are baptized and adults wishing to enter the Church are confirmed. Finally, we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, receive Communion, and it’s over. This whole thing can take anywhere from an hour and a half to several hours.
I’ve been to three Easter Vigil Masses, now – each very different. Msgr. Brankin is most likely sleeping fitfully tonight back in Tulsa because of the disorganized way we celebrated over here, but it’s good for me to remember that the important parts were there and that’s all that matters. It was great to sing Alleluia again, and I loved hearing the word 复活 (resurrection) over and over again. One of the weirdest parts of the Mass, though, was the Litany of the Saints that we sang while the candidates were confirmed. Percentage of saints I recognize when sung in English: 85%; percentage of saints I recognized when sung in Chinese: 15%. Wenceslaus and Perpetua and John Chrysostom are hard enough in English . . .
After the Mass, they had a special announcement – the ceremony of Fr. Cai’s ordination as Xiamen’s bishop is May 8th! I had known for several months already that he was going to become our bishop (as we are currently shepherd-less), but was waiting to hear on the date. So that was exciting, but even more so were the two facts that the announcer shared afterwards. Fr. Cai, a native of nearby Zhangzhou, is going to be the first Xiamenren (Xiamenite?) bishop, and only the second Chinese bishop of our diocese. I’m so there.
I learned two other interesting things tonight at church, but neither nearly as exciting as the one above. First of all, the nearly-universal Chinese greeting of XX快乐 (basically the same as Happy XX) apparently does not work for Easter. My greetings of 复活节快乐 were not really returned . . .
Secondly, apparently it is impolite to cross your legs in China. I first got a hint of this at the Holy Thursday service, when one of the church women came up to me afterwards and told me not to cross my legs. But the way she pantomimed it, it looked like the way men cross their legs in America – with one ankle on the opposite knee. I basically never do this, but figured I had put my leg up to hold the missal or something, and perhaps in the process flashed everyone or something. I was quite embarrassed, especially as she made no effort to tell me privately, instead interrupting a conversation with my future bishop to bring it up.
So there I was in church today, wearing a decent-length skirt and sitting with my legs crossed demurely. Out of the shadows, another church woman approaches. I figured she was going to wish me Happy Easter, so it was a few seconds before her actual words registered: “Don’t you know that Jesus is here? You’re in front of Jesus, so you shouldn’t sit this way! It’s very rude, you shouldn’t sit this way.”
I really didn’t know how to feel! At least I no longer think I flashed everyone on Thursday, but still my feelings are a combination of annoyed, resentful, and insulted. I’m annoyed because I had unwittingly been rude and disrespectful for 7 months because no one brought it up. I’m resentful of the way that they finally brought it up, with no concern for privacy. And I’m insulted that they seemed to attribute my actions to rudeness instead of ignorance.
I mean, seriously?? I’ve been here 7 months, going to this church at least once a week for most of that time. I think most of the congregation, and certainly these women, know that I’m actually Catholic and that I come as a believer and not as a tourist. I’d like to think that they’ve realized I’m making a genuine effort to be a part of their church community and to share our common faith. But based on today, maybe that’s a false assumption. I felt like I was being reprimanded the way I would like to reprimand the tourists who are so rude during Mass sometimes – as if I have no idea of where I am and what significance it has to them.
So there was a small blemish on the brightness of Easter. But I can’t be too unhappy on such a day as this, so I joyfully participated in the rest of Mass, congratulated those who entered the Church, sang Alleluia with all my might, and broke out the jelly beans as soon as the service was over. I couldn’t find most of the people I knew to share with them, so I ended up eating most of the bag myself.
This resulted in a massive sugar high. Back in my dorm, I made an ecstatic phone call home, danced a small jig, and headed back out to meet Yong Zhi for some food. We went to the XiaDa student apartments, a huge residential area for students and thus a mecca for late-night eats, especially on the weekend. I was overjoyed at the knowledge that I could eat anything that I wanted – chicken, beef, jelly beans, chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies . . . I could, and so I did. (For an incredible, theologically-sound call to Easter joy, check out John Chrysostom’s Easter sermon. Seriously – do it. It’s an oldie (3rd century?) but simply amazing.)
When Yong Zhi heard that I had never been inside a Chinese student’s dorm, he invited me up to his room. He lives with three other students in a small room containing four lofted beds with desks underneath, a small bathroom, and a small balcony. We hung out there, looking at pictures, talking to his roommates, and finding expensive software to download for free, until midnight.
How interesting. If two instances can be used to make a generalization, I seem to enjoy spending the most important religious holidays with Yong Zhi eating street food and hanging out in distinctly non-classy places.
I was still hyper when I got home – and, two and a half hours later, still am. Even two and a half hours of continuous dance party slash journaling has not tired me out sufficiently. I wonder if studying now would be even remotely effective . . .