Sitting in the front pew at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Lancaster, where she and her husband Dean entered the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil, Roxanne Wenrich remembered the first time they stepped foot inside.
It was to see their granddaughter in Sacred Heart School’s Christmas tableau.
Roxanne recalled that looking at the beauty of the church as her granddaughter participated in the school’s Christmas tableau and thinking, “Wow, to be Catholic!”
“I was trying to think of anybody I might have known who was a Catholic,” she said of that first visit. “It was probably the furthest thing from my mind to think I would be joining the Church, to be honest.”
On Holy Saturday, April 3, in front of family members and parishioners, Dean and Roxanne joined fellow candidate Tim Erdman in receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion to officially become members of the Body of Christ.
Their attraction to Sacred Heart Church and their positive impression of its parochial school were the gateways to the RCIA process for Dean and Roxanne, who were eager to learn about the Catholic Church after meeting Father Michael Metzgar, pastor.
During a tour of the church, the priest spoke passionately about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“Father Metzgar sealed the deal for me,” Roxanne said. “I wanted that enthusiasm, I wanted that excitement. I thought, ‘He thinks that’s really the Body and Blood of Christ.’ That sealed the deal, and I knew that’s where we wanted to be.”
Receiving the Sacraments
Former members of Lutheran and Methodist congregations, Dean, Roxanne and Tim said they were overwhelmed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time during the Vigil.
“Before, it was just symbolism,” Tim said of receiving communion in his previous congregations. “This time, it just meant a lot more, knowing that it is actually the flesh of Jesus. It was an overwhelming feeling, and very joyous. I can’t really describe the way I felt, but for the first time in I don’t know how many years, it actually meant something to me.”
Dean said he noticed a stark difference when gazing at the tabernacle on Holy Saturday: it was the first time he had seen it empty, a visual reminder that Christ had died.
“The reality of seeing the tabernacle open, was ‘Wow, He’s not here.’ For me, it set in: He’s not here, but He will be here. Knowing that was comforting,” he reflected.
For Roxanne, receiving the Eucharist “was deeply emotional as far as knowing now that you are actually consuming the Body of Christ.”
“It was nothing like I had ever experienced before when taking communion in other faiths,” she said. “I really took a pause to experience it, which I never did before. Before, I just kind of did my thing and went on.”
Tim, Dean and Roxanne also received the Sacrament of Confirmation. As baptized Christians, they received two of the three Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.
They chose St. Timothy, St. Hubert and St. Francis of Assisi, respectively, as their Confirmation names. Tim selected Timothy, not only for his name, but also because he identifies with the frail yet faith-filled saint. Dean chose Hubert, the patron of hunters and tradesmen. Roxanne selected Francis of Assisi, a connection for her love of animals and gardening.
The Liturgy of All Liturgies
“I really thought it was a beautiful service, and very moving,” Tim said of the Easter Vigil, which began with the lighting of the Easter Fire outside of the church. Known as the “Liturgy of all Liturgies,” it includes the reading of the Easter Proclamation, seven Old Testament Readings, the blessing of the Baptismal Water and the renewal of Baptismal Promises.
“This was my first time being at an Easter Vigil, but it won’t be my last,” said Tim, whose wife Barb joined the Catholic Church three years ago while Tim stayed home with their great-granddaughter, Haylie, who is now in second grade at Sacred Heart School.
Barb and Haylie joined Tim at the Vigil this year. Dean and Roxanne were accompanied by their youngest daughter and grand-daughter, Isabelle, a fourth-grader at Sacred Heart School.
The trio found support from parishioners too, many of whom they haven’t met yet.
“What really got me was, not only being part of my family now as a Catholic, but the joy of being part of the larger family,” Tim reflected. “It amazed me how many people came up to me and congratulated me and welcomed me into the Church. That really meant a lot.”
“You felt like you belonged and are connected with people,” Roxanne said. “There are so many people we don’t know yet, [but] a lot of people did congratulate us after it was over, which was extremely nice. It was really nice being in the front, and everybody was coming around afterwards and congratulating us.”
The beauty and symbolism of the Holy Mass left an impression on Dean, who is looking forward to attending the Easter Vigil in years to come.
“There was so much going on: the Litany of the Saints, the blessing at the baptismal font, the incense and the smells. Just so much going on that I wanted to watch, but we were also part of it,” he said.
“I can’t image, in non-COVID times, what it would be like with a full congregation and everybody in the church,” he continued. “It would have that much more awe, but it was still so spectacular.”
The journey Tim, Dean and Roxanne set out on several years ago continues; it does not stop here.
“As I started going through this journey, I started getting more in touch with the Church. The more I’ve gotten involved, the more I wanted to do. I feel the same that I’ve always had from the first day I walked into Sacred Heart Church,” said Tim, who is eager to resume volunteering as a playground monitor when COVID restrictions are lifted.
“I’m so glad for the RCIA classes, because they taught me a lot. Some things that I had questions about, the process cleared up,” he said. “The overall journey and the experience have been super for me. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Dean compared his journey to the many layers of an onion: “We’ve only taken off the outer shell,” he said.
“So far, it’s like we’ve been given a trickle, like, ‘Here’s a little bit, but there’s more. Did you hear about the Rosary? How about these prayers?’ There are different things that are intriguing to explore,” he continued.
“Next year, when the next set of RCIA classes start…we can sit in on hopefully classes that will be live with more discussion and interaction. I’m hoping that once restrictions start to ease and we start to go back to normalcy, other Bible studies and classes will start up again,” he continued.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’m ready for more,” Dean said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness