Have you ever wondered what happens during the Easter Vigil? Father Jim Bessert explains why it’s a ‘big deal’ and more
If you plan to attend a Saturday afternoon Vigil Mass for Easter, you might be disappointed to find out that one won't be scheduled. Contrary to the custom of fulfilling our Sunday obligation at a Saturday Mass, Easter just doesn't work that way. And if you do decide to attend the Easter Vigil Mass scheduled after sundown, you may wonder "What's the big deal about this Easter Vigil?"
The "big deal" is that the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday is the third in a series of solemn rites and rituals which commenced with the celebration of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.
The Triduum (from the Greek which means "three days") is the center and heart of the liturgical year for Catholic Christians. The Triduum is to the liturgical year what Sunday is to the rest of the week. This three-day time span (counted from nightfall on Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday's nightfall) is one, unitive feast. We come together with our parish community, in solidarity with Christians all over the world, to fast, to pray and be at watch.
On this third day, Holy Saturday's Easter Vigil, we wait and watch. We wait with the Elect who long for the Easter sacraments and we wait with all generations to hear once again the story of Christ's victory over death.
The community gathers in the darkness of night with a Service of Light. We move our attention from darkness to the radiant beauty of Christ the Light of the World. First there is the blessing of the new fire and from it the lighting of the Paschal Candle. This moment is ritualized by moving from darkness (sin, death, lifelessness) to light (grace, holiness, life). And, once assembled, we hear the proclamation of the Exultet: "Exult, all creation around God's throne. Jesus Christ, our King is risen ... this is our Passover Feast, when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers. This is the night when you first saved us ... This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave ..."
Next we listen to the Word which highlights some of Scripture's significant and powerful passages. We tell our story - stories of creation, stories of our forbearers: (Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Miriam), accounts of faith journeys, and remembrances of promises. Then, suddenly, with full voice the community stands and cries "Alleluia" (a word not used in the liturgy for forty days) and we greet the proclamation of the Gospel of Resurrection and new life for Christ is risen!
Nourished by our story of salvation and praying with all the saints, the font is then blessed. Here the Elect are baptized and anointed and we too reject evil and recommit ourselves to God through the sacred promises of Baptism. The waters of our redemption challenge us to live and be God's holy people. But, lest we think this faith is for ourselves only, we share it and pass it on by welcoming those Candidates who seek to join us in full communion as Catholic believers.
The community now celebrates the culmination of the Easter Vigil: Eucharist. It is the Table of the Lord to which we bring our lives and beg our God to bless us and our gifts to make them holy. We break bread together and signify, through this act of grace, that our lives are transformed and are brought ever closer in union with God, our world, ourselves and those around us.
So, in the midst of darkness the Easter Vigil shines like the day. For this night we witness resurrection as newborn children of God - now our brothers and sisters in Christ - rise from the waters of baptism, are chrismated with the fragrant oil of salvation, and are invited to join us as we partake in the Eucharist.
This is why the Easter Vigil is such a big deal!