The Easter Vigil

Two years ago Alice posted this beautiful plan of Easter Vigil Notebooks to help her children enter more fully into the Liturgy of the Easter Vigil. It’s so wonderful. She re-presented the plans and the documents on her blog, here and here.

I know I’m not the only one who LOVES the Triduum, especially the Vigil. It’s so rich in symbolism and beauty–every Catholic should attend it at least once to see the richness.

I mentioned in the thread that I had some resources and other ideas to expand on studying the Vigil, and my friend Carole has asked for more and has been patient in my answer. Alice’s plan is perfect — none of my input is to add to the Notebook. Mostly what I have to offer is spiritual enrichment for the adult. I haven’t had time to fully read and share all my ideas for this Easter, but I had a few thoughts and quotes to share.

Appreciating the Gift of the Vigil 

There was many centuries that the Easter Vigil Liturgy as we know it today, held at dark on Holy Saturday, was actually celebrated on Holy Saturday morning! How confusing would that be, to not have Christ in the tomb for three days? And the liturgy of light when it is light outside? So few lay people attended or knew about this liturgy. An explanation is definitely in order. This is from Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year:

Many people today find it impossible to understand how, until 1951, the Roman liturgy could have transferred this “mother of all vigils” to early Holy Saturday morning and thus have largely blunted its rich symbolic power. How (they ask themselves) could the intensely festive Easter Vigil have become a clerical liturgy attended by only a few of the faithful and celebrated during the time of Christ’s repose in the tomb? The question calls for a short historical overview.

As late as the end of the fourth century the Easter Vigil seems to have occupied the entire night, so that no further liturgy was celebrated on Easter Day. Yet we soon find warnings being issued here and there not to end the celebration before midnight. Toward the end of the sixth century it is already becoming clear that the Vigil Mass was indeed ending before midnight and that Easter Sunday now had its own Mass. Around the middle of the eighth century the Vigil Mass had been moved so far forward that it could begin when the first start had become visible. A ninth-century liturgical source (the Einsiedeln Ordo) names the hour of none (around three o’clock) as the time for beginning the Vigil Mass; this meant that the parts of the Vigil celebration which precede the Mass were beginning around noon. In other words, the time prescribed in the Middle Ages for celebrating Mass on fastdays had been reached; such Masses were to begin only “after none,” that is, around 3 pm.

As fasting regulations were increasingly relaxed in the fourteenth century, Church law allowed none to be read in the morning hours and the fastday Mass to begin immediately. This arrangement was applied to the Vigil Mass as well. But this means that the preceding parts of the Vigil liturgy were pushed back even further, to early morning. In the Missal of Pius V (1570) this arrangement was not only permitted but made obligatory, after the same Pope had forbidden all afternoon and evening Masses in his Bull Sanctissimus of 1566.

As a result of all this–and to the wonder of the older folk among us–the Easter candle was lit and carried to the altar, to the accompaniment of the threefold Lumen Christi, at an hour when bright sunshine was already filling the church; the solemn Easter alleluia was sung and the Easter message was proclaimed in the liturgy of the word and the preface, but the people leaving the church knew that the fast did not end until noon! This liturgical “experience,” which caused great discomfort to the more liturgically attuned, was worlds’ apart from the experience of people in the early centuries, as described by an expert in liturgical history: “The great antitheses of night and dawn, fasting and eucharistic meal, mourning and festive joy provided an awesome experience of the contrast between death and life, decease and resurrection, Satan and Kyrios, old eon and new eon.”

All the greater, then, was the joy that many felt when, in a decree of the Congregation of the Rites, February 9, 1951, Pius XII allowed the Vigil service to be celebrated the night before Easter (initially this was allowed as a one year’s experiment), after a few episcopal conferences and other bodies had asked for this change a short time before. At the same time, the rite was made more concise, and some parts of it were revised. What was initially allowed as an experiment soon became general law in the new Holy Week Order of November 16, 1955. The Roman Catholic liturgy had rediscovered a lost treasure.

As the result of experience over a number of years, the Roman Missal of 1970 was able to improve the Easter Vigil celebration even further and to give it central place in the Easter triduum. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year that accompany the Missal describe the Vigil thus: “During it [the Easter Vigil] the Church keeps watch, awaiting the resurrection of Christ and celebrating it in the sacraments. The entire celebration of this Vigil should take place at night, beginning after nightfall and ending with dawn” (no. 21).

The liturgy of Easter night comprises (1) the service of light; (b) the liturgy of the word; (c) the celebration of baptism; and (d) the celebration of the eucharist.

Because it was “new” in 1950s, there were many texts written to help Catholic become reacquainted, as it were, with the Easter Vigil. The National Liturgical Week focused the 1952 conference on the Easter Vigil. I enjoyed reading the notes from the Week, giving spiritual and practical direction in implementing the “new” gift of the Easter Vigil liturgy within the parishes, schools, and families. There is a section by Mother Jerome Schmitt on “Role of the School on Creating the Easter Spirit” with practical advice in presenting the liturgy of Lent and Easter to the children. She stresses the importance of the teacher “first be filled with zeal and lasting enthusiasm, fired by a true understanding of the lenten Masses, since children are quick to catch the spark from their teachers. As Father Howell says: (“Liturgical Piety,” Worship, April 1952, p. 235):

People will never worship with enthusiasm and sincerity according to a form of worship which is at variance with their own dispositions. If they are to worship liturgically, then they must learn to think and feel liturgically.

“Think and feel liturgically” — isn’t that what I’m trying to do in my Domestic Church?

The Paschal Candle and the Exsultet

The Exsultet, the candle, “Christ Our Light” — the Liturgy of Light is my favorite part of the Easter Vigil. The candle, the wax, the flame…so much on which to meditate.  I had to share this Sermon by St. Augustine on the Paschal Candle in its entirety. It’s so beautiful! It is incredible to think that something written in the 300s is still so applicable today.  Universality of the Church is such a gift to behold.

After reading seeing such eloquence on the wax and the bee by St. Augustine, note that the Latin of the Exsultet includes the praise of the bee. In the thread on Easter Vigil Notebooks, I have included some links that talk more of the bees connection with the Vigil. Sadly, our English translation excludes that mention. I was fortunate to attend a Dominican Easter Vigil, and their translation DOES include it. So below there are .pdf forms of the music notation of the current Exsultet, the Dominican and a link to the Latin.

exsultet.pdf

Dominican Exsultet

Latin Exsultet from 1970 Missal

And New Liturgical Movement also has some links.

Incorporating activities with bees, beeswax, candles would all bring out this symbolism of the Exsultet and the Paschal Candle.  Making a paschal candle and holder at home would be a wonderful activity.

Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year According to the Modern Roman Rite by Msgr. Peter J. Elliott has instruction for the candle and holder:

258. The Easter candle or Paschal candle is the central symbolic object in the celebration of the Vigil liturgy because it represents the risen Lord in his glory. This candle should be made of fine quality wax, preferably pure beeswax. Only one candle is prepared. It should be a new candle made for each year, not last year’s candle recycles, and never part of a candle mounted on a false candle or an artificial candle (a canister of fuel concealed in a plastic “candle”). It should be large, but not to the extent of being too heavy for one person to carry. The decoration of the candle varies according to the local culture, but the finest Easter candles are adorned with colored wax or hand-painted. However, the decoration should not obscure or detract from the principal symbols: (1) space fora  cross to be incised in the wax, (2) five points where the “grains of incense” are inserted, (3) space for the date, preferably set within the four quarters of the cross, and (4) above the cross, the Greek capital Alpha (A) and, below it, the Greek capital Omega. The “grains of incense” should be significant objects, made of any suitable material, equipped with a sharp pin to ensure they hold fast int he wax.

259. The candlestick for the Easter candle should be a truly noble object. It may be adorned with flowers, foliage or rich fabric. This candlestick is placed near the ambo or the altar, or at least during the Vigil rites, even at the center of the sanctuary. If  it is very high, a secure set of wooden steps should be provided so that the candle can easily be placed in it and later removed for the baptismal rites. A low stand seems inappropriate at the Vigil, although outside the Easter Season, it may be found more practical to set the Easter candle in a lower candlestick or bracket near the font.

My last visit to Rome in 2002 I was really impressed by the 12th Century Paschal Candleholder at the Basilica of St.-Paul-Outside-the-Walls. That would be a wonderful family project, creating a special paschal candlestick. Some of the designs could incorporate the readings from the Easter Vigil.

Baptism and the Renewal of Our Baptismal Promises

One area I want to enforce this week with my son is the personal renewal of our Baptismal vows, which is done on Easter. Our Church will have over 30 people coming into the Church, either as a catechumen, or receiving some of the sacraments to be in the fullness of the Faith. But those in the congregration are united in spirit, and will be renewing our Baptismal promises, and sprinkled with the Holy Water blessed that night. From The Easter Vigil: National Liturgical Week, Cleveland, Ohio, 1952, Rev. Joseph Feeney had a talk entitled “The Vigil Renewal of Baptismal Vows” which provided much food for thought. He shares the instruction from the 1951 version of the Easter Vigil:

On this most sacred night, most dearly beloved brethren, Holy Mother Church, recalling the death and burial of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, keep watch by loving Him in return, and she rejoices with great joy, celebrating his glorious resurrection.Since as the Apostle teaches, we have been buried with Christ through Baptism unto death, so now, just as Christ has risen from the dead, we too must rise up and walk in the newness of life; and knowing that our old self was crucified together with Christ, let us no longer be slaves to sin. Let us always keep firmly in mind that we have died to sin and are living for God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For which reason, most dearly beloved brethren, cleansed by the modifications of forty days, let us now renew the promises of holy Baptism, by which we formerly renounced Satan and his works as well as the world which is the enemy of God, and promised to serve God faithfully in the Holy Catholic Church.

And then the faithful renounce Satan, all his works, and renews their faith in the Church and Her teachings.

The people are sprinkled with the holy water taken from the container and this sprinkling again is significant of their re-baptism or re-cleansing from the dross of the world, the flesh and the devil. How loudly the holy water fonts at the church door speak in similar tones, telling all who enter to re-wash in the sanctifying waters before entry into the home of the Lord. Like children playing in the waters of a sandy beach, the people at the principle Sunday Mass should shout with joy as the representative of Christ passes through the aisles of the church, proudly sprinkling the water just now solemnly blessed, cleansing us from the all the ravages of the flesh and spirit.

Since most of us have been baptized as infants, we only had sponsors and parents speak for us. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to state with our tongues our love and belief in our wonderful Faith!

This is all I’ve been able to touch on this Lent. The liturgy may be repeated year to year, seemingly the same, but with grace I pray I can enter more deeply into the Paschal Mysteries.

A blessed Holy Week to you all.

Suggested Reading 

I am sharing my list of sources, most out of print from the wonderful writers during the Liturgical Movement during the 1900s. I am by no means saying you need to get and read all these books. One or two would be more than adequate, and I’m not done reading them, either!

The Meaning of Holy Week by Rev. William J. O’Shea. The Liturgical Press, 1965.

The Liturgy of the Church by Dom Virgil Michel, O.S.B., Ph.D. The MacMillian Company, 1937.

The Easter Vigil: National Liturgical Week, Cleveland, Ohio, 1952. The Liturgical Conference, Inc. 1953.

Holy Week and Easter: A Liturgical Commentary, second edition by Dom Jean Gaillard, translated by Rev. William Busch. The Liturgical Press, 1957.

The Church’s Year of Grace by Dr. Pius Parsch, Volumes 2 and 3. The Liturgical Press, 1963.

Preparing for Easter by Rev. Clifford Howell, S.J. The Liturgical Press, 1957.

The Paschal Mystery in the Christian Year by Bishop Henri Jenny, trans. by Allan Stehling and John Lundberg. Fides Publishers, 1961.

The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week, by Louis Bouyer, Orat., trans. by Sister Mary Benoit, R.S.M. Henry Regnery Company, 1950.

With Christ Through the Year: The Liturgical Year in Word and Symbols by Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B.. The Bruce Publishing Company, 1947.

Vine and Branches, Volume One, Vine by the Very Rev. Martin B. Hellriegel. Pio Decimo Press, 1948.

Selected Easter Sermons of St. Augustine: With Introduction, Text of Thirty Sermons, Notes and Commentary by Philip T. Weller, S.T.D. B. Herder Book Co., 1959.

The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy by Adolf Adam, trans. by Matthew J.O’Connell. Pueblo Publishing Company, 1981.

Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year According to the Modern Roman Rite by Msgr. Peter J. Elliott. Ignatius Press, 2002.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 2003.

Paschales Solemnitatis (The Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts). Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1988.

2 thoughts on “The Easter Vigil

  1. I think this website should not just be for you because that would make it like a blog about your life so I think you should keep that to yourself.

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