The Easter Vigil

The climax of the Triduum is the Easter Vigil, the ‘night of nights’.
We come together on this night to ‘remember, celebrate and believe’ the dying and rising of Jesus – the paschal mystery in which we share through baptism and eucharist.

We begin our time together in darkness. With great solemnity the light is kindled, the darkness vanishes and the resurrection is proclaimed: it is Easter, Passover.

After readings from scripture interspersed with psalm responses we move to the baptismal font for the initiation of the elect and the renewal of our baptismal promises. Finally we come to the climax – the Easter banquet – as bread is broken and wine is poured out.

There is a wonderful flow and rhythm to the Easter Vigil. The key to a good celebration is to respect this rhythm and to let the ritual moments and central symbols speak for themselves.

The power of darkness must be felt before the light of Christ in the Easter candle can be truly experienced. Hence the liturgical books emphasise that the Easter Vigil takes place after nightfall and before daybreak. So much is lost if it begins in daylight or at the usual time for Saturday evening Mass.

The ritual calls for a rogus, a bonfire, to be burning as people gather on this night. Fire has a certain fascination; its warmth and light attract people and draw them together in a way that a tame indoor flame cannot.

A large new paschal candle of wax is lit from the Easter fire and leads the procession of people, also carrying candles, into the darkened church where the deacon or priest sings out the Easter Proclamation: “Rejoice! Sing! Exult! This is the night..!

The liturgy of the word for the Easter Vigil includes stories that make this night what it is – stories about creation, Abraham and Isaac, the escape of the Israelites through the parted waters, the prophet’s vision of the union of earth and heaven, the empty tomb. This final story begins and ends with the joyful singing of “alleluias”.

Parishes might be tempted to cut back on the nine readings given in the ritual, but on this night time is not important. So much is lost if the liturgy of the word is abbreviated. This is the only time of the year that we hear proclaimed at Mass the first words from the Bible: “In the beginning…”

Central to the Easter Vigil is the initiation of new members into the community through the waters of baptism. So much is lost if people are ‘moistened slightly into the kingdom’! The practice of full immersion allows the symbol to speak powerfully of rebirth, of death and resurrection. Immersed in the waters of the font, the candidate goes back to the womb, so to speak, to be reborn to new life in the Spirit. Immersion also symbolises our entering the tomb with Christ so as to die to sin and rise to new life with him. Everyone is touched, literally, by the baptismal water through the ritual gesture of sprinkling or signing with water.
The culmination of the initiation process is the moment when the neophytes for the first time approach the table of the eucharist. Here the central symbols are the one loaf of bread which is broken for all to eat and wine which is poured out for all to drink. So much is lost if people are fed from the tabernacle and not the table or if communion from the cup is not offered to all.

Through the light, word, water and table we enter into the celebration of the paschal mystery, a joyful celebration which continues for the entire 50 days of the Easter season.


Elizabeth Harrington