As hundreds of people held small flickering candles in the darkened, majestic Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. during the Easter Vigil on April 16, a deacon sang, “The Light of Christ.” 

Later in his homily, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory said the light of the risen Christ dispels darkness in the world and in people’s lives, offering new life and hope.

In challenging times, when people might be facing fear, doubt and confusion, the risen Lord comes “with His light that conquers all,” the cardinal said. “He (Jesus) speaks the same words to us that He first said to the frightened disciples: ‘Peace be with you.’”

Natalie Liu is baptized by Cardinal Wilton Gregory during the April 16 Easter Vigil at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

A sign of new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil came when 11 people came forward to be baptized by Cardinal Gregory, and afterward they donned white baptismal garments and were handed lighted candles by their godparents. Later, they received the sacraments of Confirmation and Communion, as did six candidates for full Communion in the Catholic Church and two Catholics completing their Sacraments of Initiation.

That night at Easter Vigils in parishes across The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, 824 people became full members of the Catholic Church, receiving or completing those sacraments.

In the photo above, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory says a prayer over the fire before lighting the Paschal Candle at the beginning of the April 16 Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. In the photo below, the cardinal holds a candle as he processes into the cathedral at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Walking beside him is Father Charles Cortinovis, the cardinal’s priest secretary. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

At the cathedral, the lights had been turned off as the vigil began. Outside the entranceway, Cardinal Gregory said a prayer of blessing over a fire in a brazier, and then the Paschal Candle was lit and brought into the cathedral in a procession, and from that flame, people’s small candles were lit one-by-one to symbolize Christ’s light being brought to the world. Then the joyful Exsultet was sung to proclaim Jesus’s resurrection.

As the Easter Vigil begins at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on April 16, people hold lit candles that symbolize the light of the risen Christ. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

In an English translation of remarks that he gave in Spanish in his homily, Cardinal Gregory spoke about the impact of the light of the risen Christ who conquered sin and death by his sacrifice on the cross that was commemorated one day earlier on Good Friday.

“Each year, the Catholic Church welcomes its new members on this most sacred night,” he said. “We come together in the darkness that holds no terror for us. We have the light of Christ before us. We are not people who need to be afraid. There is nothing in our pasts that should frighten us. There is nothing in the future that should frighten us. There is nothing in the present that should threaten us. Christ has overcome all the terrors of our yesterdays, our tomorrows, our here and now.”

Cardinal Gregory opened his homily noting how almost every child at one point has a fear of the dark, and finds comfort in a nightlight, the hall light or knowing that his or her parents are down the hall. Even adults can feel uneasy after sundown, he said.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory gives his homily at the April 16 Easter Vigil at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

“The Church begins its most solemn feast in the dark of night,” he noted. “In the darkness that fills our world, the Church beckons her children to gather together near the tomb – now empty –  to see that Light (of Christ) that fills the world with peace and security.”

The cardinal pointed out how the women in the Gospel reading from Luke who came to weep at the tomb of Jesus found it empty, because Jesus had risen.

“In the darkness of dawn, they came to understand that nighttime had become a new day,” he said.

Washington’s archbishop noted how that night as the Easter Vigil began in darkness, he had recited a prayer when the Paschal candle was blessed, “a prayer that the Church never wants us to forget:

‘Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to Him and all the ages, to Him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen!’”

Concluding his homily, the cardinal said, “You see, there is no need to be afraid of the dark anymore.”

The three-hour Easter Vigil included six readings from the Bible recited in English or Spanish that marked key events in salvation history, beginning with the creation story in Genesis, followed by dramatic singing of the Exodus account of how God led Moses and the Israelites to freedom through the parted waters of the Red Sea, which later engulfed the pursuing Egyptian charioteers. 

That was followed by a reading from the prophet Isaiah encouraging people to seek and call on the Lord, and a reading from Ezekiel 36 that included God’s promise that “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you… You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

Then the sanctuary candles were lit, the bells were rung, and the cathedral was illuminated as the Gloria was sung. Next the epistle from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans stated that “…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life… Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

After the choir and congregation sang the Celtic Alleluia, the gospel reading from Luke 24 described the women finding Jesus’s tomb empty and telling the Apostles and disciples what they had seen, and how St. Peter ran to the tomb and was amazed to see only burial cloths there.

After Cardinal Gregory’s homily, the candidates for Baptism were presented. Following the singing of a litany of the saints,  the cardinal blessed the baptismal water. Then the candidates made a profession of faith, and they were baptized, clothed with their baptismal garments and presented with a lighted candle.

Cardinal Gregory baptizes Nicholas Martin during the April 16 Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Moments later, Cardinal Gregory conferred the sacrament of Confirmation that included the laying on of hands and anointing with chrism on those 19 people becoming full members of the Catholic Church at the cathedral during the Easter Vigil, who also received Communion from the cardinal later in the vigil.

In the photo above, Samuel Giraldo receives the sacrament of Confirmation from Cardinal Wilton Gregory during the April 16 Easter Vigil at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. In the photo below, the cardinal confirms Edwin Flores at the vigil. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

The Easter Vigil concluded with the cathedral’s Schola Cantorum leading the congregation in joyfully singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

Two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to an initial shutdown of public Masses due to public safety guidelines that caused then-Archbishop Gregory to celebrate the 2020 Easter Vigil in the cathedral without a congregation, the 2022 vigil featured a large gathering of people coming together in prayer for the holiest day of the church calendar, most not wearing face masks after high rates of vaccinations and sharply decreasing rates of hospitalizations, serious illnesses and deaths from the coronavirus had led to the lifting of mask mandates in public indoor spaces in the Washington area.

As the Easter Vigil begins at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on April 16, people hold lit candles that symbolize the light of the risen Christ. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

In a statement posted on the archdiocese’s social media one day earlier, Cardinal Gregory noted how this year, holy days for Christians, Jews and Muslims are happening in the same time frame, marking days of prayer for people of those three faiths:

“As Roman Catholics prepare to celebrate Easter, we wish many blessings to our Jewish brothers and sisters as they begin their celebration of Passover this evening.  We also wish a fruitful Ramadan to our Muslim brothers and sisters,” the cardinal said.

On Easter Sunday April 17, the cardinal will celebrate a livestreamed (https://youtu.be/jlUVgak5uh4) Mass at the cathedral at 9 a.m.

Later on Easter Sunday, Cardinal Gregory will celebrate a noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that will be televised on the Eternal Word Television Network and livestreamed on the basilica’s YouTube channel that can be linked through the National Shrine’s website at www.nationalshrine.org.