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The Night of Nights
THE NIGHT OF NIGHTS
The climax of the Triduum is the Easter Vigil, the “night of nights”, when we “remember, celebrate and believe” the dying and rising of Jesus – the Paschal Mystery – in which we share through Baptism and Eucharist.
The ceremony begins in darkness because the power of darkness must be felt before the light of Christ in the Easter candle can be truly experienced. 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.
With great solemnity a large new paschal candle of wax is lit from the Easter fire, the darkness vanishes and the resurrection is proclaimed: it is Easter, Passover. This pillar of fire then 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..!”
An extended Liturgy of the Word is a feature of the Easter Vigil. We hear 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…”.
After the Liturgy of the Word, the focus shifts to the baptismal font. Central to the Easter Vigil is the initiation of new members into the community through the waters of baptism. The practice of full immersion allows the symbol of water to speak powerfully. 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.
Then comes the climax as we gather around the Table of the Lord for the Easter banquet. Here the central symbols are the one 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 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.