CHATHAM Last Friday evening, about 80 candles softly lit the altar at St. Patrick Church here, which held a monstrance that contained the Blessed Sacrament. The soft sounds of songs with titles, such as “I Come to You, Jesus,” filled the inside of the church, sung by more than 50 parishioners who sought the peace and joy of God during Mercy Night: Eucharistic Adoration that had a different style and format.
On March 31, St. Patrick’s hosted the first Mercy Night held in the Paterson Diocese — a multifaceted evening that featured rites, rituals and spiritual activities to help participating Catholics find peace, happiness, forgiveness and inspiration. The Emmanuel Community, an international Catholic community that recently started a group in the New Jersey area, sponsored the event — similar to many of the Mercy Nights it has held locally in the Newark Archdiocese.
Activities included powerful personal testimonies of faith and opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Penance from participating priests and to speak about their own concerns in life with seminarians from Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange, including two from the Paterson Diocese. Some seminarians helped coordinate Mercy Night, which helped St. Patrick’s parishioners, such Walt Voytus, feel presence of God.
“Mercy Night brought me peace, during this Lenten season,” said Voytus, who is active at St. Patrick’s as a lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a choir member. “The music was special. It was easy to sing and had a warm and welcoming tone. The testimonies were heartfelt and real. I felt the Lord’s presence and mercy in the Body of Christ, which was right there in the Blessed Sacrament. That was a comfort,” he said.
Mercy Night kept the focus on Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, while offering other spiritual activities, which started with testimonies about Confession and Adoration by two seminarians: Tim Eck of the Metuchen Diocese and Christian Scalo of the Newark Archdiocese. They spoke about “what the Lord has done in their lives” with the aim of encouraging the faithful here to “see Adoration in a new light or go to Confession,” said Lynx Soliman, a Newark seminarian and an Emanuel Community member who served as master of ceremonies for the evening.
The faithful were invited to come before the Lord by dropping their intentions in what was called the Worry Box, where they placed their concerns. They also could take a slip of paper that displayed an inspirational phrase of Scripture from the Joy Box. In addition, congregants could avail themselves to Confession — administered by Father Christopher Barkhausen, St. Patrick’s parochial vicar, and two priests from Immaculate Conception, said Andrew Dutko, one of the seminarians from the Diocese now serving at St. Patrick’s, who assisted in coordinating Mercy Night.
Around St. Patrick Church, participating seminarians gathered in what are called Mercy Groups. Worshippers were invited to visit them throughout the evening to speak about their joys and concerns in any level of detail that they wished. Then, seminarians joined the faithful “in prayer and discernment toward that concern,” Dutko said.
“People told us what was in their hearts. We talked to them. Sometimes, we broke open the Word. Then, we prayed with them,” Dutko said.
Peaceful music filled the inside of St. Patrick’s throughout Mercy Night, accompanied by Maggie Hanson, the parish’s music minister, who played organ, and a guitarist, as the congregation sang. Written by members of the Emanuel Community throughout the world, the songs included “Great is Your Mercy,” which intones to God, “Wonderful Your love…I will never cease to sing your praise.” The evening also included moments of silence to keep the focus on the Blessed Sacrament, she said.
“It is beautiful music. The songs are simple, but not simplistic. They are joyful. When you hear the melodies, you want to sing. The lyrics speak of Jesus as a personal friend, not in the abstract,” said Hanson, who noted that members of St. Patrick’s choir joined the seminarians in singing for Mercy Night. “The evening was so inspirational and filled with such joy.”
A longtime member of the Emanuel Community, Soliman called the music “Catholic praise” that “honors Our Lady and is very Eucharistic.”
Sponsoring Mercy Night was the Emmanuel Community, an international Catholic community that the Holy See has recognized as a “Public Association of the Faithful” and consists of lay people, priests, religious and seminarians, which seek to follow Christ in the service of the Church’s mission. In 1972, Pierre Goursat and Martine Laffitte-Catta founded the organization in France, inspired by experiences of a Charismatic Renewal prayer group, according to press reports.
“The Emmanuel Community has been a force of evangelization in France,” said Soliman, who listed the pillars of the community: Eucharistic Adoration, compassion and evangelization. “They remind people of their call and duties as members of the Church to work to renew the Church and society.”
Mercy Night concluded with Benediction and the Blessed Sacrament being placed in repose. Dutko said that he enjoys these evenings, because they bring him “out with the people.”
“We get to pray with the people we will serve one day as priests,” said Dutko, who requested that Mercy Night be brought to St. Patrick’s. “It gives us seminarians hope and gives us expectations of how we will act as priests.”