Good Friday’s darkness and Saturday’s silence of the tomb are supplanted by the unbridled joy of the Easter Vigil when the Church rejoices at the Resurrection of the Lord and celebrates the sacraments of Christian initiation.
Celebration of the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening recalls the Jewish custom that the day begins with sunset rather than at midnight. Vigil in Latin means “wakeful”. Traditionally a vigil is a time of wakefulness in anticipation of an event. The Easter Vigil is the time that we await the Resurrection that occurred early on Sunday.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council the Easter Vigil service was frequently celebrated Holy Saturday morning, often with only the priest and other ministers present. Today the Easter Vigil is a very important celebration for the entire parish community.
It is rich in symbolism, beginning with the kindling of the Easter Fire outside the church used to light the Paschal Candle. The new fire signifies the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. Christ, the light of the world, has risen from the tomb. As the candle is carried into church in procession, the antiphon “Light of Christ,” is sung by the priest or deacon, to which the congregation responds “Thanks be to God,” The spreading of the light from the Paschal Candle reminds us of how the Light of Christ spread throughou the world puncturing the darkness of evil.
Once inside the Exultet or Easter Proclamation is sung by the deacon or the priest, recording in poetic form the history of salvation, recalling the Felix Culpa, or Happy Fault, the sin of Adam and Eve, described as happy because it necessitated the Incarnation to reconcile humanity with God. “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
With the singing of the Gloria, the silence of the tomb is broken by the joyful ringing of churchbells and the darkness is completely dispersed by the illuminating of the church.
In a bit of anachronism, the liturgy returns to the Herew Scriptures, which trace the history of salvation through seven Old Testament readings and psalms leading us in word to the coming of Christ concluding, appropriately, with Roman’s 6, St. Paul’s magnificent description of baptism as sharing in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
In the Gospel Matthew relates how Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” discovered the empty tomb on Easter morning and are told by an angel “He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” They are then confronted by the Risen Christ who comissions them to be the first bearers of the Good News when he charges them to “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Following the homily is the baptismal liturgy where Jesus’ Passover from death to life, makes possible our Passover through the waters of Baptism. Catechumens are baptized and confirmed, and those being professed are confirmed, and all are welcomed into the Body of Christ. Next follows the renewal of baptismal promises with the sprinkling of the Easter Water recalling our own baptismal Passover.
The celebration of the Eucharist marks the high point of the Easter Vigil. The new members of the community receive their first Eucharist. The joyful alleluias that conclude the Easter Vigil mark the beginning of the Easter Season during which the Paschal Candle will be a continuous reminder that Christ is among his people.
Resurrexit sicut dixit. He is risen as he said.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia