Parishioners gather around Fr. Timothy Mockaitis, pastor of Queen of Peace Parish in Salem, at the Easter fire, symbol of light and renewal. (Courtesy Daniel Black)
Parishioners gather around Fr. Timothy Mockaitis, pastor of Queen of Peace Parish in Salem, at the Easter fire, symbol of light and renewal. (Courtesy Daniel Black)
SALEM — The baptismal font at Queen of Peace Church in Salem, bone dry on Good Friday, was filled with clear water for five baptisms at the Great Easter Vigil here.

An even greater change, compared to the church at Easter last year, were the people, the music, the service of light, actually receiving the Eucharist and the physical sense of being, once again, in community with other believers.

In his homily, Father Timothy Mockaitis shared that on Easter morning in 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had walked across an empty parking lot to the empty church, settling into a pew to pray.

“I sat there, almost in tears, and I said, ‘Lord, you can’t be happy with this. You didn’t die for an empty church.’”

Then, Father Mockaitis said, the thought came to him: “You’re sitting in an empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. What better place to be? Friends, we all sit in an empty tomb at this time. And like the women we wonder, ‘Lord, what is this about?’ They ask that question as we do today in the face of this Easter mystery. What is this about? What does it mean that the Lord Jesus has risen and is alive again?”

Father Mockaitis spoke to the importance of the resurrection in each Christian’s heart, how faith changes lives, gives hope in the time of despair and “turns an empty tomb into a living presence.”

Easter, he said, is about “being amazed and touched deep in our hearts.”

He also described how the power of the risen Christ continues in the sacramental life of the church.

At the Easter vigil, the sacraments are threefold: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. The parish welcomed five newly baptized Catholics: Ivorie and Evanie Delgado-Gonzalez, Calli Hardwick-Wood, Danny Evans, and Keith Thompson. There were four candidates for confirmation, Elizabeth Kelly, Yezenia Flores, Charlene Heldart and Tatiana Rodriguez-Provost.

The Easter vigil began with the service of light, at the Easter fire in the dark outside. After the Pascal candle was blessed and set alight, those in the pews, in turn, lit their candles from it. Gradually the sanctuary was filled with the glow of candlelight, the golden hues in the image of the Last Supper behind the altar seeming to practically glow.

After the Liturgy of the Word, together with the entire congregation, the five Elect made their baptismal vows, renouncing sin and proclaiming their faith. Father Mockaitis then led them to the large, octagonal baptistery where he blessed the water before they knelt in it as he baptized them, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Once baptized, the neophytes changed to white robes and joined the candidates at the altar, where all were anointed with the chrism oil. The people applauded the new Catholics’ journeys to their new faith and family of believers.

“Welcoming people into the church and helping them find their place in the church is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” said a satisfied Eddie Caudel, director of faith formation at Queen of Peace.