More Liturgical Q&A

Q. When will St Patrick’s Day be celebrated this year since 17th March is a Sunday?

A. Although the feast of St Patrick is ranked as a solemnity in Australia, it still cannot replace a Sunday in Lent, so as far as the Church’s liturgy is concerned, St Patrick is celebrated this year on Monday 18th.

Q.  Does the Paschal Candle remain in place at the font during Lent?  One member of our liturgy group said that we are supposed to remove it and I have a feeling it should stay but can’t exactly formulate why.

A. The Missal rubrics state that the paschal candle is located in the baptistery (p496) all the time except for the period from the Easter Vigil until evening prayer on Pentecost Sunday when it is “next to the ambo or in the middle of the sanctuary” (p381).

Q.  When did we begin having an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, including the Festival of Light, in the Catholic Church? My sister who is 16 years older than me remembers a service very early on Easter Day; at daybreak in fact. My parish priest who is in his fifties, as I am, thought it started in the 50s but that it was a rejuvenation of a ritual from centuries before.

A. Your sister's memory is fairly accurate but it was probably Holy Saturday rather than Easter Day that she remembers. Your parish priest was correct when he said the change was made in the 50s.

In the early church, the catechumens kept vigil all Saturday night and were initiated at daybreak on Easter Day. The night before Easter was celebrated by the illumination of the churches and even whole cities. In the western church the original night Vigil was put back to the afternoon on Holy Saturday in the 10th century and to the morning of Holy Saturday in the 14th, so that the first Easter Mass came to be celebrated on Saturday.

After several bishops conferences asked for this strange arrangement to be changed, Pope Pius XII in 1951 allowed the Vigil service to be celebrated the night before Easter. At the same time, the rite was made more concise, some parts of it were revised, and initiation of new members became a central aspect of the celebration.  What was initially allowed as a one year experiment became obligatory in the Holy Week Order of 1955.

The Roman Missal of 1970 was able to improve even further the Easter Vigil celebration, which begins with the Lucernarium, or the service of “lighting of lamps”, and to give it central place in the Easter Triduum.

Q. Could you please explain the reason for omitting “The Word of the Lord” after the third reading (from Exodus) at the Easter Vigil?

A. If you look at Exodus 14: 15 through to Exodus 15: 18 in your bible you will see that the third reading and the psalm that follows it at the Easter Vigil are one continuous passage from scripture, which is why it is not interrupted with ‘The Word of the Lord’.

The last words of the third reading are “It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord”. What follows is the song they sang. It would make no sense to insert words at this point.


Elizabeth Harrington