Contemporary Romanian Easter Midnight Mass

Informant Data:

The informant is a Romanian American who was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1957. At age 19, my informant left Ceausescu’s Romania and arrived in the United States in 1976. She is a real estate agent who currently resides in Los Angeles, California.


Contextual Data:

My informant attended a midnight mass at a Romanian Church in Los Angeles in celebration of Orthodox Easter with her mother. She enjoyed the ceremony. About an hour or so after she attended this mass, I asked if I could record her as she recounted what she remembered about the ceremony, to which she agreed. The following is a transcript of the recording of her recounting that night’s religious ritual for Easter midnight mass.



(Audio recording transcribed)

“It began with the church all in the dark, symbolizing…it’s all dark. You have to look back in the Bible and see what happens when they…because basically this is when they went to the tomb and didn’t find Jesus. So then it was dark, and they were reading from the Bible. The priest brought the light, a lit candle out, and then he had everyone, and everyone had their own candle, come and take the light. To me it’s almost like he was saying he wanted everyone to come to partake in this happening, in this good thing that just happened, and come and take light. And then everyone went outside of the church and everyone went around the church three times. And I think that represents the stations of the cross. And then the singing. And everyone sang, ‘Hristos a înviat din morţi, cu moartea pre moarte călcând, si celor din mormânturi, viaţă dăruindu-le’ … which means ‘The Christ came back from the dead, stepping on death, and gifting forever life to us.’ And then they knocked on the church door asking the priest to open the door. And the priest asks ‘Why?’ and the people say ‘because Christ has risen.’ And they knock on the door three times before the priest opens the door because it represents the trinity. The trinity is always present in these sort of things. It’s the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. That’s the trinity.”



I thought that this Romanian Easter tradition was very interesting and very well-explained by my informant. When the church becomes dark and the priest brings in the light, it makes sense that that would be symbolic of the dark tomb Jesus Christ was buried in according to the Bible. The lighted candle component seems to be symbolic of the good found in how Jesus died for our sins but then was born again on Sunday. The prevalence of the number three (whether it be walking around the church three times or knocking on the church door three times), as my informant said, seemed symbolic of the Holy Trinity, which is an important symbol in Christian belief.