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Paschal candles, grains of incense treasured in Vietnam

Vietnamese Catholics revere symbols of Christ's resurrection during Easter

UCA News reporter, Quang Tri

UCA News reporter, Quang Tri

Published: April 09, 2021 06:43 AM GMT

Updated: April 09, 2021 06:49 AM GMT

Paschal candles, grains of incense treasured in Vietnam

Thaddeus Truong Minh Than lights candles at his home on Holy Saturday night in Thua Thien Hue province. (Photo: UCA News)

On Holy Saturday nights, Thaddeus Truong Minh Than lights candles in his home and recites prayers to thank God for saving him from a road accident.

He was found lying unconscious under a truck which hit him while he was riding a motorbike on the way home from Da Nang to Hue on the night of Holy Saturday in 2006.

“In my consciousness I dreamed about myself surrounded by bright light,” Than, then a college student, said. Two days later he regained consciousness at a hospital in Hue.

“I believe I was saved by a grain of incense wrapped in cloth that I wore around my neck all the time,” the father of two recalled. His parish priest had offered him the grain made of wood in 2000 when he served as an altar boy.

Than, a member of Vinh Hoa Parish in Phu Vang district of Thua Thien Hue province, said the priest told him that “the grain of incense is one of the five ones inserted into the Paschal candle during the Easter Vigil, representing the five wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet and side. You should keep the grain as you will need it in the future. And it really helped me.

“Now I keep the grain wrapped in white round-shaped cloth on the God altar in my house, regularly clean it and regard it as my protector,” he said.

Peter Le Ngoc Trieu from Ha Loc Parish in Quang Tri province said local fishermen always take grains of incense with them when they go out to sea since they believe that the grains bring them good luck.

Trieu, 51, recalled his experience last September when his fishing boat with five people ran out of diesel while they were sailing to land to steer clear of a tropical storm.

“I held the grain in front of my chest fervently praying with God, Mother Mary and St. Joseph to come to save us. Fortunately for us, 30 minutes later a rescue vessel came and carried our boat to the harbor safe and sound,” he said.

The fisherman said he inherited the wood grain from his father, who was given it by the parish priest in 1970. His father served as a lay leader.

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He said he puts the blessed grain by a statue of Jesus on his home altar. “We always gather to recite prayers in front of the altar when we get baptized, hold wedding parties, funerals and celebrate the feasts of our patrons.”

He said local people traditionally take home water blessed during the Easter Vigil and sprinkle holy water on patients, boats, new houses and even graves.

After the second Easter Sunday, the five grains are taken out from the Easter candle and broken into pieces. Local households cast lots for the right to get the pieces. Twenty households win the grains each year.

Trieu said the grains are believed to have the power of the Risen Christ who defeats death and brings peace to people. “None of the local fishermen die in accidents at sea and they always catch fish even in rough conditions,” he said.

Many women put the grains on their babies’ bodies so that they will grow well and get no illnesses.

Joseph Le Ba Mau said Catholics from his home parish of La Van have candles blessed during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night and use them for their ceremonies during the year.

“This year we have six blessed candles and will light one of them when we gather to pray at home,” the father of four said.

Mau, 56, said he plans to build a new house in May and will hang a palm frond under roof beams.

“By tradition, we believe that blessed palms represent strength, power and prosperity that sound right up our street,” he said.

Mary Duong Thi Dieu Ha said she still keeps the white garment of her baptism during the Easter Vigil in 2013. She converted to marry a Catholic.

Ha from Phuong Duc Parish said that in 2014 doctors told her that she suffered from heart failure and had to have an emergency caesarean delivery which could kill her or her child.

“I set the garment on my belly and prayed. Later I gave birth to my son safely without any caesarean section. We thanked God for saving us,” she said.

Redemptorist Father Francis Xavier Dau Thanh Hung held a Lenten retreat for 50 married women on March 30 in Dan Sa Parish in Quang Tri province.

Father Hung offered participants pieces of a 2020 Paschal candle, pieces of grains of incense and pieces of white cloth on which Christ of yesterday, today and forever are embroidered.

He said the cloth represents Jesus’ innocence, Paschal candles show the Passion and resurrection, and grains represent the five wounds in his hands, feet and side that produce salvation.

“I would like to offer them the holy gifts that will strengthen their faith so that they can enjoy peace and quiet every time they are faced with grave problems. God is with their families and they never fear,” he said.

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