For the past 9 months, and especially in the past two weeks, I have been preparing for this. Studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), reading the Bible during lunch, attending 3 or four masses a week, and saying more prayers and rosaries than I can remember. I've also been getting more and more nervous. This is literally a life-altering event, and I've given it a lot of thought. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I was truly ready to enter into the Church. It wasn't a question of desire; I guess I had been looking for a reason to rejoin the Christian faith for the past 15 years. It wasn't even a question of whether the Church was right or me. It was more my doubts about whether I was right for the Church. I was, and am, a sinner of the worst kind, too attached to pleasures of the flesh to easily turn from them. I had a ton of questions about Church doctrine, I still was unfamiliar with parts of the mass after all this time, and I had, and have, genuine fears about whether my faith in God and Jesus is strong enough to overcome all of my sins.
I think I really made the decision after my first confession last month. I had a lifetime of sins to confess, more than I could truly remember, and some of them were so grave that they should warrant a one-way ticket to Hell. I almost cried when I was n that booth, admitting things to the priest that I had tried so hard to push from my mind. When that priest told me that my sins were forgiven in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Actually hearing someone tell me that the Lord had forgiven me was an incredible feeling, and it was at that moment that I knew this was the right path for me.
Fast forward to tonight. I have a bad habit of stressing myself out to the point that I get physically ill, and in some extreme occasions, actually pass out (or come pretty damn close to it). I was afraid that tonight was going to be one of those times. Kat had been needling me about it all week. In fact, she invited a friend of ours to sit with her during the Mass, and in the event that I fainted, his job was to cover her mouth to keep her from laughing out loud. Great pillar of strength I have, don't I?
The good news is that I didn't faint, or even get a little lightheaded. I was hot as hell in my suit, and I would have given my right arm for a bottle of Evian during the Mass, but I managed to loosen my collar and fan myself with the missal.
The Mass was incredible. It starts in the courtyard outside, where the priests start a fire in a steel firepot. From that fire, all of the candles are lit. We proceed into the church in darkness, and as people enter, it gets steadily brighter, an excellent metaphor for the light of Christ returning after his crucifixion. I could wax poetic about the service for quite a while, but I'd like to end this entry before sunrise.
The two big events (for me, at least) were being confirmed, and receiving communion. First, the confirmation. I and the other confirmation candidates knelt before the altar, and we were blessed by the priest, anointed with consecrated oil, and welcomed into the community of faith. As I knelt there, all of my fear and nervousness just vanished. After the priest blessed me and walked away, I was left gazing at the gold crucifix on the altar. A feeling of love and fulfillment filled me, and I started to tear up a bit. One thought ran through me, blotting out every doubt and distraction: After years of searching, I was home.
A little bit later ("a little bit" is a relative term. We're talking about a three and a half hour service, so this was sometime around 11:30pm), it was time for the new members of the Church to receive the holy Eucharist. One by one, be came before the altar, knelt before the priest, and accepted the consecrated host. When it was my turn, I had to keep from laughing. Did I mention the priest has no earlobes? Anyway, I took the host on my tongue, rose, genuflected, and returned to my seat. While trying to avoid actually chewing the wafer, it got stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I spent the next two minutes trying to pry it loose with my tongue. After I swallowed it, I tried to say one of the traditional prayers after receiving communion. The only thing I could pray was just a simple phrase, "Thank you, thank you, thank you".
The mass ended at around 12:30, and as I said my final prayers, there were very simple and very sincere. "Thank you, Jesus, for accepting me into your fold. By your grace, and the miracle of your death and resurrection, I am whole."
It's 3am. I'm finally winding down. Time for me to go to sleep. I have to be at Mass tomorrow morning, and start living the rest of my life as a good Catholic.