SIGNS OF DARKNESS
By Paul Turner
[This article first appeared in Christian Initiation 31 (August/September 1998), p. 8]
Christina knew that the Easter Vigil separated people in her parish into two groups: Those who loved it and those who hated it. For all those who loved its beauty, its many readings, and its lovely music there were many more who hated its length, the inconvenience of its hour, and the focus it placed on catechumens so few people knew.
She understood these differences but she prepared enthusiastically for the Vigil this year for a different reason. For the first time, the pastor had invited her to use her gift, her own special ministry. It would require work, but she loved the labor. She gathered all the Vigil texts so she could practice the gestures, reflect on their meaning, and tell the emotions of that night with her face. Miriam alone in all the parish was hearing-impaired, but she invited two friends for this Easter. Christina was thrilled that for the first time in her life, she could interpret the entire Easter Vigil for the hearing impaired.
She suspected something was wrong when she asked Sister Rita for copies of the choir's music.
"Why do you need those?" the parish liturgist asked.
"I look over the words beforehand so I can be prepared," Christina responded.
When she received the fistful of music from the visibly reluctant nun, Christina knew something wasn't right.
"Is this all?" the interpreter asked.
"It's everything you need," Sr. Rita replied.
Christina sorted the music at home. Although not a liturgist herself, she realized that the music for the first part of the Vigil was missing. She checked again--music for the baptisms, for the eucharistic prayer, communion, and closing. But strangely, nothing for the service of light which opened the Vigil nor the responsorial psalms. She called Sister Rita.
"Excuse me, but I think I'm missing some music."
"No, I gave you all you'd need."
"Well, aren't you going to sing anything after the scripture readings?"
Sister Rita paused a moment. "Yes we are. But you won't need that music."
Christina imagined that the music would be familiar to everyone, even to her. Still, she just wanted to be prepared. "I guess I'd like to know what it will be so I'm sure I can sign the refrains correctly." Sr. Rita responded, "Well, you won't need to sign that part of the service."
Now Christina was really confused. Would she be standing in the way? Would she distract the choir? "I don't understand."
"It'll be dark," Sr. Rita finally explained. "No one will be able to see you in the dark. There's no need to sign."
Christina smiled. "There's only a few of us. All I need is a small light. It won't be a problem."
"It will be a problem," Sister Rita insisted. "This is the Easter Vigil. We must have absolute darkness in the church. We don't turn on the lights until the Gloria."
"How will the choir see?" Christina wondered.
"We'll be in the back. If we have small lights no one will notice. But you'll be in front. We can't have any lights up there."
Christina couldn't believe what she was hearing, but she realized that no matter what she said, she would not be receiving music for the responsorial psalms.
"Well, we'll just do our best," she said, lamely ending the conversation.
As darkness fell that rainy Saturday, the assembly gathered inside the church where, indeed, the lights had been put out. Christina, Miriam, and her friends were given "the best seats," as Fr. Jim had promised, way up front. But in the darkness, they found it hard to communicate with one another.
In the beginning, eyes turned to the small flame in the back of the church. "Christ our Light," sang the deacon. Christina realized that no one could see her whether or not she signed. "Thanks be to God," sang the assembly.
So she did the only thing she could do. In the darkness of the room, in the darkness of disabilities, in the darkness of stubbornness, and in the dark part of the human heart, where no one sees another's gestures of love, she did what she could do. She signed.
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