by Elizabeth Harrington. This article originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on April 20th, 2014.
The climax of the Triduum is the Easter Vigil, the “night of nights”. The Christian community gathers 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.
The celebration begins outside the church in darkness. With great solemnity the light is kindled, the darkness vanishes and the resurrection is proclaimed: it is Easter, Passover. We process into the church and hear readings from scripture interspersed with psalm responses. The next movement is to the baptismal font for the initiation of the elect and the renewal of our baptismal promises. Finally the climax – the Easter banquet – as bread is broken and wine is poured out.
The Easter Vigil can be an awesome and inspiring time of worship if we immerse ourselves in the unique rhythm and flow of the liturgy on this night and allow the powerful symbols of the celebration to speak to us.
The liturgical books emphasise that the Easter Vigil takes place after nightfall so that the light of Christ in the Easter candle can be truly appreciated in contrast to the darkness all around.
The ritual calls for a rogus, a bonfire, to be burning with warmth and light that attract people and draw them together.
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 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. It might seem light a lot of readings, especially in comparison with the usual Sunday Mass, but on this night we need to hear again the pivotal stories of our rich salvation history. And the Easter Vigil is no ordinary Sunday Mass!
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 speaks powerfully of rebirth and 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 with him to new life. Everyone is touched, literally, by the baptismal water through the ritual gesture of sprinkling or signing with water.
The culmination of the process is the moment when, for the first time, the newly initiated approach the table of the Eucharist. Here the central symbols are bread that is broken for all to eat and wine that is poured out for all to drink. The symbolism is weakened 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.
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