THE EASTER VIGIL MASSThe Easter Vigil is celebrated on the eve of the resurrection of our savior, JesusChrist. Easter is the holiest and most important event in the Christian religion. The Easter Vigil Mass is celebrated in a deep, spiritual, solemn way. Although different Churches and Christian orders may have minute differences in some of the rituals during the mass, but the over all feeling in the Easter Vigil liturgy is of solemnity and holiness. The ceremony begins in almost complete darkness and is slowly lighted by the flames of the congregation’s candles paralleling Jesus symbolically lighting the world we live in. Also all Easter Vigil liturgies include four parts, the Service of Lights, the Liturgy of the Word, Celebration of the Rites of Initiation, and Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Service of Light is composed of three parts. The Service of Light opens the Mass. The first part of this ceremony is the lighting of the Paschal Candle. The minister sprinkles the candle with holy water and blesses the fire. The minister carves the letter for the Greek word “Alpha” on the top of the cross, and the Greek letter for the word “Omega” below the cross. These letters symbolize the beginning and the end of the life of Christ. The Paschal Candle is then lit and brought to the front of the Church as the Catholics cry out in harmony, “The Light of Christ!” The harmony of the Christian community’s hymns and songs illustrate the events we are celebrating.
For example the “Exultet,” proclaims the salvation that Christ rising from the dead brought about. From the lit Paschal Candle all the members of the congregation light smaller, individual candles.The lighting of the candles symbolizes Christians led by Jesus, the light, overcoming evil, which is represented by darkness. The Trinity overcoming darkness is represented by the Christian community overcoming the darkness that filled the Church. In this ritual of the Easter Vigil we celebrate the triumph Jesus Christ had over sin, evil, and death. The next part of the mass is the Liturgy of the Word.
The readings are read by the lector and each is followed by a Responsorial Psalm. There are seven readings in the missal but only three of them were used at the mass: Genesis 1:1-2:2 (“the story of creation”), Exodus 14:15-15:1(“through the Red Sea”) and Romans 6:3-11(“dying and rising with Christ”). The readings seemed very appropriate to me relating back to that theme of coming out of the darkness into the light. The story of creation, I believe, has the most significant example of this theme. The idea of God bringing everything in the world out of total darkness relates especially to the new members of the Church about to be baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist. God can bring something out of nothing and soon he will make these people of whom some have not received a single sacrament into fully confirmed Catholics. It is truly an amazing thing to think about and allows you to think deeply about the mystery and power of God.
At the next part of the Vigil, the Rite of Christian Initiation, the priest called the catechumens to the back of the church where the Baptism would take place. Once they were back there, and separated from the congregation, the priest asked each person the questions of the creed individually. Then, after each one had answered them, he immediately baptized each one. I remember the instructions in the missal saying to do just that. After the Baptism was concluded, the newly baptized were met at the front of the church by their sponsors to receive Confirmation. The priest then laid hands on them and confirmed them in their faith.
After this, the priest said, “Now, lets hear it for our newly confirmed men and women.” The congregation gave them a big round of applause and they took their seats for the first time as true members of the Church.The final part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In this portion of the Mass the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus is celebrated with communion (only in the Catholic Church is communion celebrated).
We remember again in this section; that Christ gave us his body and blood to save us from sin, darkness, and evil. The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the presentation of the unconsecrated bread and wine that will, with a blessing, become the gift of Jesus’ body and blood. The minister then blesses the bread and wine. Next the Church community receives the sacrament of the Eucharist, and returns for a silent prayer in their aisle (not necessary). By the time the Liturgy of the Eucharist comes to an end, the time is midnight or shortly after. This is a particularly long Mass, purposely, to be a bit of a struggle, to end Lent, the 40 days we are supposed to sacrifice for our savior.
The Easter Vigil helped me to experience the true idea of Easter in a new way. I must admit that during the beginning of the service I was somewhat preoccupied with how long this mass was going to be. I felt a sudden urge to fall asleep, however, as the service went on and especially afterwards, I began to realize the immense significance of this very special Easter celebration. All of the parts of the mass seemed to relate back to the same theme: coming out of the experience the Light of Christ. The catechumens shared the most in this idea as they came out of the darkness into a new level of faith and a strengthened relationship with God. We, the congregation, celebrated the dying and rising of Christ to bring us out of the darkness of sin into the light of salvation.
The Vigil was the ideal celebration of the gifts that have been given to us by a both mysterious and loving God. One that sent up his son, so we can be set from sin and evil.