Reform of the Easter Liturgy and Copyright Update

Reform of the Easter Liturgy

Having recently celebrated Easter, readers might find this question and my response about the Vigil interesting.

Q. My sister and I were discussing the vigil at Easter and wondered when the practice of celebrating the Easter Vigil after dark on Holy Saturday began. My sister remembers that when she was young the first Easter liturgy was held on the Saturday morning.

A. In the early church, the catechumens (those to be initiated into the Church) keptvigil all Saturday night and were initiated at daybreak on Easter Day. 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 century. For very many years the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the first Easter Mass on Saturday morning, as your sister remembers.

Celebrating the resurrection so soon after the crucifixion, on the 2nd day when scripture says Christ rose on the 3rd day, was rather strange and out of line with the practice of Eastern and other Western Christians. Several bishops conferences and other bodies asked for it to be changed.

Pope Pius XII, in a decree from the Congregation of the Rites on February 9, 1951, allowed the Vigil service to be celebrated the night before Easter Sunday. 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’s experiment soon became obligatory in the new Holy Week Order of November 16, 1955.

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 describes the Vigil this way: “During 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”.

Copyright Update

Since writing about the issue of copyright recently I have learnt that when Australia and the USA signed a Free Trade Agreement, we adopted USA copyright criteria and the 50 year provision for a piece to be considered as being in the ‘public domain’ was changed to 70 years.

As an example, under the new legislation the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams who died in 1958 will not now come out of copyright until 2028.

While I do not share the rather alarmist view of one reader that my mistake ‘could lead people to unknowingly commit an infringement with consequent penalties and even the possibility of a career-destroying criminal conviction’, it is important that people be aware of this change.

It is not possible to explain all the variations and intricacies of copyright requirements in two brief articles. Those responsible for organizing copyright coverage in schools and parishes need to contact the appropriate expert bodies for detailed advice.

The Australian Copyright Council is the government authority with responsibility for making the community aware of the importance of copyright. This body publishes information sheets that are always up to date and cover every conceivable aspect of the subject. They are available at

Elizabeth Harrington