Non solum: The Number of Readings at the Easter Vigil

Historically, there were twelve Old Testament readings at the Easter Vigil. In the 1950s, in the reforms which moved the great Vigil back to the night where it belongs (it had migrated to Saturday morning by the time of Trent), the readings were reduced to four. Fortunately, the reforms after Vatican II increased this to seven readings, which is what we have now. But for pastoral reasons the readings need not all be done – three is the minimum.

A Pray Tell reader writes:

What would be “serious pastoral circumstances” for not using all seven readings at the Easter Vigil? “It’s already a long mass…” “We’re tired…” and “We still have a lot of liturgies to do tomorrow…” are the excuses I’m confronting at my parish. These “reasons” are coming from the clergy. How do I go about inspiring a different mindset to retain the character of the Vigil during the Liturgy of the Word?



  1. I love the readings and wish we did all of them, but we really can’t because we are multi-lingual and do one Vigil in English and one in Spanish, have baptism and confirmation for about a dozen on average in each service, have to start the first one before its fully dark (another drawback to daylight saving time) and the second one one isn’t over until after midnight. The only place to trim and get both done is in the readings.

    1. @Charles Day:
      Ever consider offering a single Easter Vigil Mass for both language groups together, with a liturgy that weaves together the languages and cultural expressions of both?

      That would not only solve the problem of having to abbreviate the Liturgy of the Word because of time considerations; it would also remove problems introduced by the very fact of *having* two Vigil Masses. The biggest one of those, of course, is a single parish community celebrating its central liturgical event of the year in separate subgroups. Starting the first one before it’s fully dark is a (distant) second. I suspect that a unified celebration at such an important moment would be a great boost to parish unity among different language/cultural groups.

      1. @Barry Hudock:


        My second US assignment involved moving the parish from celebrating three separate Holy Thursdays, Good Fridays and Easter Vigils (English, Spanish and Vietnamese) in different places simultaneously to a trilingual Triduum for everyone in the main church. It was very hard work, but worth it.

      2. @Paul Inwood:
        I agree that the extended nature of the Easter Vigil liturgy offers a good opportunity to bring together the different language groups of a parish community. In fact, one year, we did a shared liturgy with another parish (due to one of the pastors being unavailable), resulting in a combination of English, Spanish, and Kirundi/Swahili for the readings.

        For Genesis 1, we combined PowerPoint slides about the creation (supplemental images are a great tool for overcoming language barriers) with saying “It is good” in all three languages. Everyone was engaged and appreciative of the opportunity to celebrate together.

    2. @Charles Day:
      Charles, I would second Barry Hudock’s suggestion. Our parish has started making an effort to do major liturgical occasions with bilingual liturgies, and so far, so good — it isn’t always perfectly smooth, needs a bit more advance planning for translations and coordination, but it gives you a larger pool of readers, servers, etc., and brings the language communities together without asking either group to give up its regular liturgy. And we are learning from each other!

      A substantial worship aid, with written texts in the language that is not read aloud, psalm antiphons, etc., is a big help. It’s extra work, but much of that work is reusable, and it also provides orientation, especially for visitors and attenders who are not so familiar with what is going on.

      1. @Katherine Christensen:
        My parish has been doing bilingual liturgies for Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil and Midnight Mass for at least 15 years. Five years ago, as we prepared to dedicate our new church (in a bilingual liturgy), we created a choir that drew from both language communities and that sings at all the major liturgical feasts where we do bilingual Masses. Initially, planning the liturgy and preparing worship aids sometimes seemed like more than twice the work of doing two monolingual liturgies. However, over time, it has helped to bring the two communities together and much of the printed material needs only to be tweaked. When there is a large influx of new parishioners, we sometimes take a step or two backwards, but overall, I believe the effort is worth it. We do three OT readings, (the creation story, the Genesis 22 reading and the Exodus reading). From year to year, we alternate the language of each reading and print the translation of the reading in the worship aid. This year we will have 12 elect receive the sacraments of initiation (the renunciation of sin and profession of faith is the one place where we repeat in both languages). The next morning we begin at 8:30 and have four Easter Sunday Masses. The downside is that it can be difficult to have enough ministers at the two English masses because they have come to the Vigil. That’s not a problem in the Spanish community because of their larger numbers.

      2. @Katherine Christensen:
        Also Mr. Hudock. You both make good points and I don’t know why we don’t do that (I don’t get to make the decision). In fact, we do some bilingual services as far as the readings for some important but simpler services, so I am not sure why we wouldn’t do that. Probably a little late to plan for this year, but I think I might try and poke a stick in some cages and see what happens for next year. It could be that it’s just one of those ‘that’s how we’ve always done it things’.

  2. In case some commenters find more background helpful for their comments, here’s an excerpt from USCCB commentary about the Easter Vigil and the changes in requirements being reflected in the most edition of the Missal:

    “One of the unique aspects of the Easter Vigil is the recounting of the outstanding deeds of the history of salvation. These deeds are related in seven readings from the Old Testament chosen from the law and the prophets and two readings from the New Testament, namely from the apostles and from the gospel. Thus, the Lord “beginning with Moses and all the prophets” ( Lk 24.27, 44-45) meets us once again on our journey and, opening up our minds and hearts, prepares us to share in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. The faithful are encouraged to meditate on these readings by the singing of a responsorial psalm, followed by a silent pause, and then by the celebrant’s prayer. The Missale adds a sentence about the nine readings proposed, saying that “all of these must be read whenever it can be done, so that the character of a Vigil which takes place over some duration of time can be observed” (EV, no. 20). The new Missale recognizes that “nevertheless, where grave pastoral circumstances demand it, the number of readings from the Old Testament may be reduced” (EV, no 21). At least three readings from the Old Testament should be read always including Exodus 14 (EV, no. 21). The reference found previously in the Missale to the possibility of having only two Old Testament readings in extreme necessity is omitted.”

    To step back further: the nature of the preconciliar Vigil was that it was not the Mass itself. It preceded the Mass. Violet vestments were worn (and changed to white for the Mass). The placement of the Gloria in the postconciliar combined liturgy is the residue of the former division between Vigil proper and Mass proper. Thus, the seven readings are *not* an iterative form of “first reading” as in a “regular” Mass – they are part of what make the Vigil a “vigil”.

    Also, as for expectations: except for the ministers and catechumens/candidates, the congregation is largely there volitionally. If they wanted a minimalist liturgy, they’d likely not be there in the first place.

  3. Fire the clergy – talk about not understanding the core of our faith journey and using *excuses* to avoid the work of a community liturgy – and we wonder why the local church is not flourishing. It goes along with the old monsignors who refused to use the cup because it would cause traffic jams in the parking lot, etc., etc., etc. A version of mendacity and mediocrity masquerading as wisdom. Talk about relativism.

  4. The thing that I love about all seven readings is that we get the readers digest condensed edition of the history of our church. If the clergy will offer catechesis throughout all of Lent leading up to the Triduum, there would be no problems. Unfortunately, in many parishes all one hears is a brief announcement on Passion Sunday asking people to consider coming to the Triduum.

    Perhaps if the pastor would allow some of his laity to help plan and carry out the aspects of the Triduum, it would be an easier liturgy to do.

  5. I really enjoy the Vigil. It always seemed to me that the reason for not doing the whole Vigil, that it was such a busy time of year liturgically and the minsters are tired, was not such a good reason. The Triduum is the set of liturgies most important to our lives, and the Vigil is really a pinnacle. We know they are demanding, but they aren’t happening every weekend or multiple times a year. I’m a criminal defense lawyer, and that reasoning seems akin to me saying to a client that he or she won’t get a full trial because it’s too much work and I’m tired–maybe I’ll just skip jury selection, or argument, or examining a particular witness, and you’ll get most of a trial.
    There is an obvious end to that reasoning, by the way. I know of one chapel, with a stable and active community, and no shortage of lay ministers for readings and planning, that decided several years ago to skip the Vigil entirely. The stated reason to the community: it was too much work for the professional staff.
    I can imagine valid pastoral reasons. For example, I used to go to mass at the motherhouse of a community of religious women. The elderly sisters would fall asleep if the Vigil lasted much longer than an hour, and so editing was very important to aid in full participation.

  6. In college I experienced an Episcopal church where they began the Easter Vigil at sundown and continued throughout the night, concluding at dawn. Each hour there was a reading and a psalm, followed by roughly 50 minutes of silent prayer. Attendance was decent, many people would come and go at different times, some stayed through the night.

  7. I have always found Genesis 22 troubling, though I know it is thought to “pre-figure” the incarnation and Passion. I don’t know that Noah’s bow wouldn’t be a good choice with Psalm 46 as in the BCP. I wonder if attention flags because readings 4 through 7 are less narratives and more reflections on love, mercy, wisdom, etc.. Would alternate readings from Jonah (LBW and Byzantine lectionaries) and other histories be better received? Still, the Baruch reading is my personal favorite of the whole vigil.

    As for Scott’s experience, I had something similar in Indiana visiting a friend there in 1983. It was during a troubled, yet very formative time in my life. It planted deep seeds in me, and within a year I was in grad school. But I recognize it is nearly impossible to reproduce such an experience.

    Charles’s experience rings familiar. When I was in grad school I worshiped at such a parish. When I proposed to combine the Vigils, do all the readings, and intermix Spanish and English, and pull the music ministries together, the staff looked at me like I was from Mars. I don’t recall any comments, just head shakes before I finished my spiel and mutterings of “no, no.”

  8. When my mother was in assisted living I know that they did the EV (beginning at 4 o’clock, so that the supply priest could get back to his parish) because it was the Saturday evening before Easter and that’s all there is. The nature of the assembly – mostly aged and infirm with nobody being initiated – seemed to have constituted a serious reason to use fewer readings, and shorten/adapt the liturgy at other points.
    Word got out and the event got really popular – folks really liked that you didn’t have to go to that looooooooong Mass at the parish & could avoid the Easter Sunday crowds.
    I’d think that maybe communities of religious with an advanced median age might have similar circumstances.

  9. In regard to Genesis 22: My years of being a musician for Jewish High Holy Days (Reformed Congregation – “If they were any more reformed, they’d have communion.” one of my singers used to say) exposed me to a similar kerfuffle going on with that reading within the Reformed tradition – whether or not to include it in the Torah portion of the service. Where I was, they used the reading, referred to as “The binding of Isaac.” The rabbi pointed out that there is biblical scholarship seeming to concur that the story was (at least partially) there to point out to Israel that God did NOT want child sacrifice, as some of their neighbors practiced. Also, there are other narratives that we understand as being true, while not necessarily being factual or historical.

    1. @Alan Hommerding:

      That interpretation has had a homiletic currency in certain segments of Catholic preacherdom, but it’s not clear to me how well-founded it is. At least in the Jewish rabbinical tradition, there’s a strong history of arguing with Scripture texts more than treating them as oracles to be passively received.

      I love Genesis 22 for the clear emphasis on God’s providence in what is unfolding as the most unlikely and twisted of situations for which hope seems most uncalled for. I hate it when difficult texts are elided; it resonates with me as evidence of the profoundly American cultural habit of skipping over wrestling with things.

      On the other hand, I wish someone would remember Joshua 3 (& 4) among the prefiguring Paschal narratives. (Also, in a more individual prefiguring of the Christ, 2 Kings 2.) The missing bookends for Exodus 14.

  10. It’s very interesting to me that when our pastor (at the time), about 7 years ago, decided to do all the readings for the Vigil — something that hadn’t been done before, apparently — people just accepted it as the way things were. And each year, the congregation has gotten larger and larger. There’s no such thing as a magic bullet (not even Latin or chant!), but isn’t it a form of supernatural common sense to think that sometimes more is more, rather than less is more?

    1. @Scott Pluff:

      1) Gen 1:1-31; 2:1-2
      2) Gen 5:32—8:21 (excerpts; 48 vv.)
      3) Gen 22:1-19
      4) Exod 14:24-31; 15:1a
      5) Isa 54:17; 55:1-11
      6) Baruch 3:9-38
      7) Ezek 37:1-14
      8) Isa 4:1-6
      9) Exod 12:1-11
      10) Jonah 3:1-10
      11) Deut 31:22-30
      12) Dan 3:1-24

  11. Perhaps confronting this issue might require thinking long term- the possibility of less Easter Sunday liturgies to ease the burden of the clergy celebrating those liturgies in the future. Perhaps they would be willing to do a few more readings than the required number and you could continue to encourage them to add “one more” as each year comes to more fully celebrate the Vigil? I am not familiar with your specific circumstances, but in our parish one priest celebrates 9 liturgies between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday; he is the pastor of two clustered parishes who won’t share liturgies so each Triduum liturgy is done twice. As the music director of both parishes who will also do double liturgies everyday, I am realizing that “I am tired” and “there are a lot of liturgies” are not just excuses but realities. He is doing four of the seven readings, and doing some of the parts of the liturgies those days more simply than other people might, but I believe this to be not simply out of laziness, but to make the liturgies manageable so that he is still able to celebrate them fully with each parish in a manner of “noble simplicity,” shall we say.
    I have been able to sometimes encourage a more full celebration of these liturgies by offering to help to ease his burden- helping to find someone to do an additional reading, having a cantor sing the exultet or training the Deacon to do so, etc.

  12. Before 1951 it was:

    1) Gen 1:1-31; 2:1-2
    2) Gen 5:32 / 8:21 (excerpts; 48 vv.)
    3) Gen 22:1-19
    4) Exod 14:24-31; 15:1a
    5) Isa 54:17; 55:1-11
    6) Baruch 3:9-38
    7) Ezek 37:1-14
    8) Isa 4:1-6
    9) Exod 12:1-11
    10) Jonah 3:1-10
    11) Deut 31:22-30
    12) Dan 3:1-24

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Beware of a significant number of Latin typos on this site. One that amused me:

        Sicut cervus desíderat ad Pontes aquárum

        Clearly a reference to Roman aqueducts.

      2. @Paul Inwood:

        Thanks. Obviously an Ultramontane (pontifex) edit to the Vulgate.

        It was merely the first reasonable laid out hit from Google showing the placement of the tracts with texts. Not a resource I’d otherwise use.

  13. Interesting that even Pope Benedict and Pope Francis don’t do all 7 readings. Quite often Genesis 22 gets cut at St. Peter’s. I wonder what *their* pastoral reason is!

    Much like the “fire the pastor” comment above–if you need to catechize for this, I feel you really need to re-catechize for the entire liturgical year. For parishes that “have it going” (on all ends of the liturgical and theological spectrum), then this isn’t a battle. In fact, at our brand new parish, we started with 4 of the 7 readings (and always the long version of the 2 Genesis readings). The only complaints we’ve had to date: “Why just 4?!??!?! We want all 7!” So this year we’re moving up to 5.

    (Full confession: I find the Baruch reading & its accompanying psalm just a little abstract and a little too vague. Especially compared to the others that are overflowing with Easter & Baptismal imagery. It always lands on the cutting room floor for me.)

    Finally, as a wise liturgy professor at Notre Dame pointed out: the organization of the psalms suggest that those devised the lectionary are fully aware that all 7 readings and psalms won’t be used. Thus the repetitive options.

    1. @Chuck Middendorf:
      Though the Lectionary antedates the revised Missal with its clear shift in presumption about using all the readings. Perhaps the next time the Lectionary is revised, that shift in the MIssal should be considered…..

    2. @Chuck Middendorf:

      Last year I wrote a series for the Philadelphia archdiocese on all 7 of the OT readings for the Vigil (arguing to my editor that no one ever heard the whole set — the last time I did was in 1983 in a trailer in a university parking lot which housed the religious advisors for the campus — and that even if proclaimed, there is no time to take them on a substantive way in the homily)

      I heard in the Baruch reading another way in which the Word is made flesh, and continues to live among us — surely a key theme in our salvation history.

    3. @Chuck Middendorf:
      Of all the readings, Baruch is the one demanding the most preparation for proclamation, and dare I say, strong “master-class” style coaching to be intelligible. Once that happens, it is magnificent. Otherwise, it can be almost incomprehensible.

  14. We cut the number of readings at my parish last year because we had the blessing of a huge RCIC program. We (staff and families) wanted to initiate all of these kids at the Vigil, and there was just a limit to how much sitting in a dark church listening we thought they could do. We cut down the number, and sang as much as we could. A bunch of squirrely kids was captivated, and fully engaged in this proximal preparation for their initiation. More readings would have had *less* the character of a Vigil, because we wouldn’t have had our Elects’ participation as fully.

    1. Regarding #24, and the comment they would be “sitting in a dark church” — the lights should all be turned on as the paschal candle is placed near the ambo before the Exsultet.

      1. @Charles Pinyan:
        Google research seems to reveal that this is in fact true! Thank you. I think the belief that no one can tolerate having to sit through seven readings in a dark church is a major reason why readings are cut, so if the rubric says otherwise, that deserves wider publicity.

      2. @Charles Pinyan:

        At our Cathedral we leave the lights off until after the Exsultet. i consider this more effective because the darkened church is illuminated only by the Paschal Candle and those of the faithful. We also use all seven OT readings.

  15. Re: Genesis 22

    My favorite experience with this reading was in working with a youth group to try retelling/dramatizing it in a modern context. This led to a story in which one of the teens meets with friends from school after a special weekend trip with his dad. “You’re not gonna believe what happened!”

    In this retelling, the key insight from the youth group was that, when told from Isaac’s perspective, this becomes a story of the son’s faith as much as the father’s. The youth group’s modern Isaac had always relied on his father’s faith, but in this moment of crisis, he realizes that he can’t depend on his fathers’ faith – he needs to find his own.

    It was a surprising and powerful insight. Indeed, it’s a great takeaway for all of us; if we let our focus be on Abraham rather than on the question of how strong our own faith is, we miss a valuable opportunity.

  16. Regarding the selection of readings in the pre-1951 Easter Vigil, there was an essay written back in 2001 about the reform of the reform by Fr. John Parsons. It covered a wide array of topics, and it addressed the pattern of the twelve readings:

    When I took the time to study the traditional series of twelve “prophecies”, each followed by a collect summing up its meaning in the mind of the Church, and to study the sung responsories mysteriously placed after the fourth, eighth and eleventh in the series, I realised that they were not twelve readings in a row, but rather three nocturns of four readings each, and that each nocturn had a theme that was summed up in the sung responsory that marked its end. The first four; the Creation, the Flood, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and the Crossing of the Red Sea, are about God’s creation of a Chosen People; the second four are about the increasing inadequacy of that people’s response to God’s Call; while the last nocturn is about God’s solution of this conundrum through the sending of the Messiah, who is foreshadowed in three readings as respectively Priest, Prophet and King.

    The twelfth reading, mysteriously placed after the final sung responsory and unaccompanied by the penitential gesture of kneeling, is explained by the fact that the Vigil, properly speaking, is over; the reading looks forward to what is immediately at hand. In the crowded Baptistery on Easter night, the candidates descend up to their waists into the waters of the enormous font and walk about in them, saved and praising God for their deliverance from the worship of the idol of Caesar which the Roman imperial power had so recently demanded. The baptizandi are seen by the Church, through its choice of Old Testament reading, as foreshadowed by the three young Hebrews who walk about in the flames saved and praising God in Nebuchanezzar’s fiery furnace, likewise delivered from the worship of the idol of the Babylonian king and from the dilemma of physical or spiritual death. (cont’d)

  17. (cont’d from previous comment)

    The fiery furnace is a kind of anti-type of the Lateran Baptistery.

    In retaining only the opening description of the Creation, and the readings that happened to be followed by sung responsories, the changes made in 1951 were an incomprehending dismantlement of a finely crafted structure, which left behind a correspondingly incomprehensible debris. The new optional seven reading vigil of 1969, though retaining only two of the original twelve prophecies, is in itself a great improvement. The fact that the 1969 Missal requires as a minimum only the Red Sea reading and one other has meant, however, that the Easter Vigil has been effectively abolished in many churches. The Vigil deserves the restoration of its triadic structure, reflecting the dialectic of salvation in the themes of its three nocturns, which also correspond to the three watches of the night, just as the twelve prophecies correspond to the twelve nocturnal hours.

  18. #12…
    A growing congregation that coincides with the introduction of the 7 Old Testament readings (rather than 4) for the vigil…probably and hopefully had more to do with intentional care and quality of the liturgical experience rather than an added 20 minutes of readings, psalms, and prayers.

  19. While many interesting points have been made up to now, let’s not forget that each reading with its reponsorial and prayer form a unit, with the responsorial and the prayer offering a “reading” of each of the readings. Paul Turner in his commentary on the Holy Week liturgy, “Glory in the Cross” (a Pueblo book/The Liturgical Press, 2011) offers both background and reflection on the readings etc, see pages 131 -145.
    To hand I have a copy of the Missale Romanum, printed in Ratisbon, Germany in 1938, which contains all 12 readings. As a present, to mark my entry into minor sem in 1962, I received a copy of what is commonly referred to as the J. B. O’Connell- H.P.R. Finberg Roman Missal in Latin and English (1949), and it has only 4 OT readings. My father had a hand in bringing the handwritten text to print, and in the early 60’s I served Mass, in Latin, for Canon JB as he was known.

  20. Another pastoral reason for reducing the number of readings would be that those who live in the Southern Hemisphere – such as Australia and New Zealand – are still this year in daylight saving time, and for instance in my city darkness is achieved no earlier than 8:50pm (astronomical twilight) as the Vigil must begin in darkness, and areas further south achieve darkness later. Most parishes however start earlier as the sun begins to set. One benefit of a proposed fixed day for Easter might be that we are able to choose a date in April that works for most time zones, be they in standard or summer time. Reducing the number of readings from the OT is therefore good pastoral practice.

    1. @Phillip Hadley:
      Interesting comment on Daylight Savings Time. Of course, we have the reverse issue here in the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. One year our bishop recommended not starting before 10 pm. We would need a fixed date in early-March to accomplish what you need in April.

      Our solution? 8:30 pm EVERY year. Some years you win, some years you lose. Not to mention we’re a downtown parish, surrounded by lights everywhere, so it’s never truly dark. (Light pollution, anyone?) But that also means we’re usually done around 11 pm every year.

      1. @Chuck Middendorf:
        Another solution put forward by some Southern Hemisphere theologians/liturgists is to reconnect Lent and Easter with the season of Spring, therefore moving Easter in the Southern Hemisphere to later in the calendar year. However I don’t think this would solve the issue of “light pollution” or negate the pastoral reasons for reducing the number of readings at the Vigil. (Of course in my part of the world it would mean moving the four day public holiday weekend that everyone seems to be hanging out for).

  21. In my experience, people see the Easter Vigil as simply an extended form of the usual Saturday evening Mass. People who normally come then, come to the Vigil. There’s nothing ‘special’ about it as far as they are concerned, except they ask ‘Why isn’t it the same time as usual ?’

    I tried this last few months suggesting to some people (selected at random from the usual ‘vigil’ Mass congregation) that we use all the OT readings. When I explained to them what these were, what I got back was ‘You must be joking’ or variant thereof.

    Casual Visitors arrive for Mass at the usual Saturday time and wonder what has happened to it.

    Some years ago, a letter (I think) appeared in ‘The Church Times’ about this, from the Rector of Saint Bartholomew’s Smithfield, a large and ‘high’ Church in London. He made the point that people don’t think of Easter as a ‘night’ festival like Christmas, but rather as a ‘dawn’ festival. Early morning celebrations of Holy Communion are not uncommon in C. of E. circles on Easter morning. I think he had a point.

    Additionally, for most people the connection between Easter and Baptism has long gone, so what’s an extended vigil for ?

    I think this is another issue where the culture of ‘popular’ Catholicism and the culture of liturgiologists has parted company.


    1. @Alan Griffiths:
      This must be what they call a “pond difference”–i.e. a difference between the UK and the US. In the US the Easter Vigil is very much associated with Baptism. While not every parish has baptisms every year at the Vigil, I dare say that a majority of them have them a majority of the years.

      Also, I find that the Vigil draws a very different crowd than the usual Saturday Mass. In fact, Easter is the one time of the year when I see our Saturday regulars at a Sunday morning Mass.

      It is interesting to hear that these are not universal phenomena.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:

        I think, with due respect to Alan Griffiths, that what he describes is not universal on this side of the Pond. Parishes where they have baptisms, and even immersion baptisms, at the Easter Vigil know very well what the difference is between this and anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evening. But there is a proportion of parishes where they have never baptized anybody, whether at the Vigil or indeed at any other time, perhaps because of an ageing community, or lack of RCIA, or an indifferent priest; and there things may be somewhat different.

  22. Keeping the lights off during the readings from the Old Testament not only is denigrating to our Jewish heritage, it shows a rather narrow theological view of creation view of the Christ event. The lights are to be on during the whole liturgy of the Word.

  23. Because we have dimmers, our lights are half on during the Old Testament (this name of this section of scripture probably also denigrating to our Jewish Heritage) Readings and moved slowly to full with the Gloria, The altar spots come to full during the preparation of the gifts. Churches with on-off switches for the lights may not have the flexibility of using lighting to enhance the prayer. The night is all about Baptism but is also all about light and darkness.

    1. @Ed Nash:
      I had always understood the “light of Christ” (paschal candle) is what illumines the darkened church, which is why the instruction (#17) directs “lights are lit throughout the church” as soon as the paschal candle is placed. Then after the exsultet all set aside their candles and are seated (#22). The altar candles are lit as the Gloria begins (#31).

      1. @Charles Pinyan:
        Yes, the directions are clear.

        But I do know that people have moved away from ignoring the directions partly because ignoring them raises concerns about a false sense temporal reenactment (the Triduum is not a reenactment*) and, consequently, creating an impression through which, however unintentionally, old tropes regarding Judaism’s lack of illumination can come back to life:

  24. I’ve long thought that we should put back all 12 readings, with permission to cut them back to seven. 🙂

  25. Interesting comments about the U.K. I think in the U.S., even if a parish has no baptisms or receptions in a particular year, or a relatively inactive RCIA program in general, the Easter vigil is recognized as the Big Deal Mass of the year. I would be interested to hear from any Americans for whom this is the not their experience.

  26. Would 140 or so in the class of RCIA/RCIC qualify as a serious reason to eliminate a few readings? Yes, vigils are by nature kind of long, but we see many young kids up way too long already; adding another 20 minutes would not enhance anything about this experience for anyone.

    As for two vigils in two languages, based on recent experience in my parish, I can only wish we’d do it that way. The advantages cited in earlier postings haven’t really worked out according to the theory in my parish. Our Vigil has for several years been more of a circus [for a number of reasons, not all of them liturgical] than a worshipful time, to the point where I found it so hard to engage, I no longer attend, and save my voice and sanity for choir in the morning. A good portion of the choir does the same, for similar reasons.

    1. @Lynn Thomas:
      Lynn, I can only imagine the issues of such a large RCIA/RCIC group.
      To me that sounds almost unmanageable, no matter how many readings were sacrificed.

      I’m curious about what has not worked in terms of your bilingual vigils. We are still finding our way, and by no means have all the issues worked out.

      1. @Katherine Christensen:I just got back a little while ago from our Holy Thursday mass, which is also bilingual, and found myself taking mental notes about what was working and what wasn’t [I saw your comment beforehand]. The one that leaped right to the front of my mind was that the homily should be given all in one language, then the other. Our pastor goes back and forth in about paragraph-size chunks, and it just didn’t work for me – I could not hold the train of thought whilst he was going on in Spanish. He confused himself, too, at least once, and it sounded like maybe twice. Fortunately he doesn’t do that when he’s reading the Gospel; he does one language and then the other.

        It does not work to do a marriage in the middle of an Easter Vigil. {Yes, we did that once – 4 of them, actually. And then, since we’d covered baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, and marriage, the pastor asked if anybody wanted or needed any other sacraments. A person very close to me, with some 16 years of Catholic education, loves to tell the tale of his temptation to answer “No, but how about an exorcism?”] I think the bishop had a conversation with the pastor after that one.

        One thing that we did for a long time but maybe not any more is administering the full slate of sacraments of initiation to the children at the vigil. Why? Because it sets up two different sets of rules that in practice are based on a person’s language group. Those baptized as infants typically do First Communion in second grade and Confirmation in middle or high school. But, when I inquired why we’d see whole gaggles of kids of all ages doing the whole list at the Easter Vigil, the answer came back: “It’s a cultural thing. They throw a big party and so they want to do everything with everyone so they only have to do it once.” No matter how I bend my head around the notion, I can’t figure out how having two sets of procedures for such as this fosters one community.

        See my next note for the rest…

      2. @Lynn Thomas:
        Some other issues we’ve had, but these are more issues of size than anything else:

        Latecomers. Like, half an hour and more.

        Inadequately supervised children running around. Very distracting.

        Long stretches of “dead time” at the Easter Vigil while the newly baptized change into dry dress clothing. This has run upwards of 30 minutes after the last person gets out of the pool in years when we’ve had 60ish people baptized. This year it’s “only” 40 or so, out of 144 total receiving at least one sacrament of initiation.

        Donkeys in the procession. This actually didn’t go awry, but the potential is non-trivial. . .

        Seemingly random mixes of cultural cues and norms. I think my personal preference would be to choose one ‘culture’ at a time, maybe switching year to year, and then within that context alternate languages for the readings and prayers of the faithful, doing the Gospel and homily in both, sequentially. Too much jerking back and forth makes for rather turbulent mental flow, at least in my head.

        I hope at least some of this is useful as your parish works its way into bilingual vigils.

      3. @Lynn Thomas:
        Oh dear … you have had some odd challenges. Some do seem more a matter of size/attitude — supervising of children, coming late (surely they risk getting no seat?) etc. But donkeys …?

        A few things — I take your point about the homily. Our priest hasn’t tried to preach in Spanish, but our bishop goes back and forth. He doesn’t get confused, but I can follow just enough to realize he isn’t just saying the same thing twice, so each language group misses something.

        The thing about the kids receiving all the sacraments together — AFAIK that’s not cultural, it’s what the rules call for, with RCIC. I can imagine it creates issues when there are lots of them, and lots of other kids on the regular track, and especially when the divide is de facto by language/ ethnicity.

        The issue of neophytes taking forever to dress — we have had that problem, apart from the bilingual concerns. Never found a good way to handle it. If it were up to me, at least if there were infants or some not being immersed, I’d do the immersions first, so those folks could dry & dress while the others were baptized.

        Hope your Vigil goes smoothly.

      4. @Katherine Christensen:
        You nailed it exactly with the RCIC issues, which aren’t well explained, either. LOTS of kids, whole families with several kids from early grades to high school makes a big crowd. Seating? The ushers will put out more chairs in the back for kids to run around and trip on, while there are actually some seats available closer to the front. And there have been years where there weren’t but a very few seats for those not involved as ministers or receiving sacraments [in a worship space seating about 800!] I had such a hard time getting my head into it that I finally stopped participating. Eventually the choir stopped as well, letting the Spanish language music ministers have it. I don’t know any other details behind that, and I prefer it that way. A new music director has put the vigil back on our schedule, but not everyone participates. Since driving my 93-year old friend to rehearsal is the main reason I’m still there, and she doesn’t do the vigil, I’m passing again this year.

        There aren’t any who aren’t immersed. Step into the pool, have several pitchers of water poured over you. Babies maybe only one pitcher, but someone holding the baby is standing in water. OTOH, the font was in the narthex, and had major plumbing issues anyway, so it’s being rebuilt after the fire.

    2. @Lynn Thomas:
      Are all of those 140 being baptized? This would be a good reason to put forth the (already good) idea of receiving the candidates at *another* time.

      1. @Christian McConnell:
        No, only 40 or so this year. We have done more than 60 some years. And someone in the decision tree has shot down the idea of doing this at “another” time, apparently more than once. Back to the “all at once” idea in the last paragraph of my first note, it seems that many of the families involved are quite intent upon doing this at the Vigil, no matter what, because “it’s their culture.” That’s actually the reason given.

        So, the Vigil starts at about 9 PM and runs to maybe 1:30 – 2:00 AM, plus a gathering afterwards until not enough people brought food. This year we wouldn’t have had a gathering in any event, because we had a big fire in the church in September, so our parish is joining the cathedral parish downtown for the vigil.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        I take your point, BUT: We are actually a lot LESS diverse than we were before the parish identity was taken what feels like forcibly away from the community we were, and given what feels like wholesale to another group, and we’re told that we’re “one community”. At one point the number of native languages in the crowd numbered around 40. No longer. I look around, and I see only a couple of the people that made the parish a family for us not so long ago. More than a few people drove past more than one other parish to be part of this community, now, a tiny handful. What I used to love as beautiful liturgies now some days rise to mediocre, as in, if I were traveling and attended mass here, I’d figure I’d met my obligation but would not seek to return again. If I were considering joining the parish, one mass would send me looking further for something I could better engage with. Great frustration.

  27. #51 and #52

    Nope I don’t think that is it. I agree that the Easter Vigil is not a re-enactment but it does move …the Hebrew Scriptures each point us to an important issue of faith… And keeps moving the hearer of the words to a direction of Christ’s placement in the world as light. There are enough words about the Hebrew people not recognizing the light that our lighting doesn’t have to prove that point. The movement of the Easter Vigil is recognizable even if one does not undim lights or relight candles. Get some dimmers and see if it doesn’t help people understand how the Vigil moves….however 140 adult baptisms in one church would say to me that that particular community of believers doesn’t need any lighting help or GIRM numbers thrown at them.

    1. @Ed Nash:
      I think you’re mixing some bits of this thread that shouldn’t be conflated. My parish has the 140 initiates, but it’s not 140 baptisms, only 40. The other 100 have been baptized but not finished the cycle yet for various reasons. I truly have no idea what the lighting will be at the cathedral. Our church had dimmers, whether that will be true when the repairs/renovations are complete, I don’t know but surmise yes.

      Of course, perhaps you put those ideas together on purpose for the sake of that bit of discussion you were addressing, in which case none of my comments above have any point, and that’s fine.

      Happy Easter!

  28. While the numbers game cans be spirit sapping, 40 Baptisms tells me that something is moving with your community, Lynn. There are whole diocese counts where the parish with 10 baptisms leads. Easter is happening in your community continually. May tonight, with a light divided but undimmed, find all loading prayers on these people strengthened by the act of choosing to go into the Water one person and coming out of the Water a new life.

    1. @Ed Nash:
      A fair point, Ed. But, such a comparison is only fair between similar areas. For example, comparing Grand Rapids to Wyoming or New York City doesn’t say much that’s meaningful. And the “numbers game”, as you put it, still matters. Practicality still matters. Sometimes we’ve had some issues there.

      And yes, indeed, I lift my prayers for these people.

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