The Holy Season of Lent reaches its high point or climax with the celebration of Holy Week. Then the heart of Holy Week is the Easter Triduum—which comprises Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and that very night the Easter Vigil Mass introduces us into the celebration of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly risen from the dead—Alleluia!
Of all the Liturgical celebrations during the course of the Church Year, the celebration of the Easter Vigil Mass triumphs as the most glorious of all. For that reason, it is called “The Solemnity of all the Solemnities.” Indeed, it is the crowning point of the Liturgical celebrations.
The Easter Vigil Mass, being so rich in Readings, symbolism, Sacraments, and an overflowing joy, merits a deeper pondering and meditation to glean an abundant spiritual harvest. Therefore, let us enter this abundant reservoir of graces which spring from the loving Heart of Jesus and drink the waters of eternal life.
We will walk through some of the most salient rites in the Easter Vigil and strive to penetrate both the meaning and message that God has ready to serve us in this exquisite spiritual banquet.
1. Lucernarium: Solemn Beginning of the Vigil
A blazing fire is prepared in a suitable place outside the Church. People gather around the fire and the priest approaches along with the ministers. One of the ministers carries the Paschal Candle. The priest and the faithful sign themselves and the priest greets the people. Next, the priest instructs the people about the Easter Vigil. Then the fire is blessed.
The symbolism is indeed rich. As the world resides in the darkness of the errors of sin, Jesus is the true Light who has come to dispel and cast out the darkness. Jesus is truly the Light of the World.
2. The Paschal Candle
A vertical line is cut and then the horizontal line—Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega—the prayer continues, all time belongs to Jesus and all of the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age and forever. Then five small nails are inserted into the Paschal Candle. (Five grains of incense can be inserted also). These five small nails represent the five wounds that were inflicted on Jesus in His Crucifixion.
Next, the priest lights the Paschal candle from the newly blessed fire, and he says: “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard and protect us. Amen.” He proceeds, saying: “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”
The priest, or deacon, enters the Church solemnly, raising the Paschal Candle and sings three times as he approaches the altar: The Light of Christ… The people respond: Thanks be to God!. The Procession reminds us of the fact that we are all Pilgrim People heading towards our eternal homeland, which is Heaven.
4. The Church in Darkness, Now Sparkles With Lights
All those participating in this Easter Vigil Mass are given a small candle and whoever has their candle lighted, shares their light with their neighbor. Jesus is the Light of the world, and we are called to share His light that is within us with others. Indeed, Jesus stated that He is the Light of the world, but that also we are called to be a light in the world.
5. The Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)
After the Easter Candle has been placed on a large candle stand prepared next to the ambo, the Easter Proclamation or the Exsultet is sung. This is indeed a beautiful and glorious hymn and prayer of the victory of God over the evil that surrounds us in the world. This hymn emphasizes the fact that Adam sinned, but this was the cause and advent of the coming of Christ, His Life, death, and Resurrection. Indeed, God allows evil to bring a greater good!
6. Spiritual Atmosphere: Light, Peace, and Joy
The spiritual ambience radiates light, peace, and joy. Blazing candles, fragrant incense, flowers galore, jubilant songs of triumph—all set the stage for the celebration of the key moment in the world’s history: the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are all invited to enter this spiritual banquet.
7. The Liturgy of the Word
In this Vigil, the mother of all Vigils, nine readings are provided. Seven are taken from the Old Testament; two from the New Testament. After the Readings from the Old Testament, a Psalm verse is read or chanted. A Reading of the Word of God is a fundamental part of the Easter Vigil. For Pastoral reasons, the Readings from the Old Testament can be reduced. However, Exodus 14 and its corresponding canticle should not be omitted. The Readings present a short History of Salvation. It would be very helpful to read these beautiful readings even before the Easter Vigil starts.
8. The Gospel Acclamation: Alleluia!
After the long journey of forty days, finally the Alleluia breaks forth in glory. With all of our hearts, minds and souls, with the choir we resound the Alleluia. The priest solemnly intones the Alleluia three times. The Psalmist or cantor proclaims Psalm 118, with the people responding Alleluia.
9. The Proclamation of the Gospel
The priest, or deacon, proclaims the Gospel of the Risen Lord Jesus. In his homily, he explains the meaning of the Paschal event—the Passion, death and especially the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is the central event of the life of Jesus and our life united in His.
10. Baptismal Liturgy
We proceed to the third essential part of the Easter Vigil Mass, and it is the Baptismal Liturgy, as well as the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The catechumens have now reached the end of their journey toward the purifying waters of baptism. Adults who have gone through the RCIA program—Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults—are ready for the happiest day in their lives. In this one glorious celebration they will receive three Sacraments, known as the three Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation with the sacred chrism, and then, at the Eucharistic Table, they will make their First Holy Communion.
Godparents accompany their Godchildren in this wonderful celebration. Not only will the Godparents pray for those under their spiritual guidance, but they will strive to give good examples of saintly Christian living.
13. Litany of the Saints
The whole assembly invokes, in song, the Litany of the Saints. We invite our friends from Heaven to be with us and to pray for us.
14. Blessing of the Water
The Baptismal font has been empty during most of the forty days of Lent. Now the priest blesses the water that will be used to baptize these neophytes or catechumens soon to become Christian Catholics forever.
Adults just baptized will receive another Sacrament: The Sacrament of Confirmation. This is administered by imposing holy chrism on the forehead with these words: “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit.”
16. Clothed With a Baptismal Garment
Usually, the color is white. The celebrant says: “Receive this baptismal garment” and then the godparents place the garment on the newly baptized. The celebrant says the following words: “(Name) you have become a new creation and have clothed yourself with Christ. Receive this baptismal garment and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ so that you may have everlasting life. Amen.”
17. Presentation of the Candle
The celebrant says to the newly baptized: “You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes may you go out to meet Him with all the saints in the heavenly Kingdom.” This calls to mind the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The Wise Virgins kept their lamps and oil full as they awaited the Bridegroom. We are called to be awake and vigilant!
18. Baptismal Vows Renewed
The Celebrant then invites the assembly to renew their baptismal vows.
19. In Full Communion
Now those who have already been baptized proceed to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation by the imposition of hands and the anointing with Holy Chrism.
20. Liturgy of the Eucharist
The celebrant proceeds to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Praying over the bread and wine, and reciting the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, the Great Miracle occurs, Jesus truly becomes Present in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
21. Holy Communion
Those who are well-disposed—the newly Baptized, as well as those just confirmed, will complete the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation by receiving the Most Holy Eucharist. Those baptized that night receive three Sacraments in this one celebration.
Then Easter day actually lasts not 24 hours, but a full eight days. True! The week following Easter day is actually Easter. This lasts a full eight days! It is impossible to celebrate such a sublime, glorious and exalted Solemnity in one day. Eight days we rejoice exultantly in Jesus, who truly rose from the dead to give us life and life in abundance.
Rejoice and Be Glad!
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps 118:24) Jesus Christ has truly risen from the dead, opening up the gates of Heaven for us. Alleluia! Heaven is our eternal destiny. Jesus’ Resurrection paved the way to our eternal goal—Heaven, our true and permanent Home. May Our Lady stay close to us in this life and help us to attain our goal for the next!
image: People hold candles during an Easter vigil mass in St. Catherine’s Church in Brussels, Belgium on April 15, 2017 / photo by Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock