The Easter Vigil is not a Holy Saturday service, but is celebrated Easter Night, as each day begins with the previous evening’s vigil. It is the solemnity of solemnities, the pinnacle of the liturgical year. It is a waiting for the coming of the Lord.
No liturgy is richer in symbolic acts and gestures. There are four parts to the vigil liturgy: The Service of Light and the Easter Proclamation; the Liturgy of the Word, a prolonged meditation on the wonderful works the Lord has wrought for his people; reception of new members reborn in baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist, the high point of the vigil.
Properly, the Easter Vigil begins in total darkness which is dispelled by the light of the new fire that is blessed outside the church, recalling “…this most holy night when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life…the Passover of the Lord.”
The new fire is blessed as a sharing in the glory of God “through your Son, the light of the world.” The new fire is used to light the Paschal Candle , symbolizing Christ. The Paschal Candle then leads the congregation in procession into the church, where “Christ our light” is intoned three times. The fire is then passed from the Paschal Candle to the congregation further dispelling the darkness in the church.
Concluding the first portion of the vigil, the deacon or priest chants the Easter Proclamation or Exultet , a poetic text that tells the story of the Easter mystery, including the “Felix Culpa” or Happy Fault, the “necessary sin of Adam which gained for us so great a redeemer.”
There follows the Liturgy of the Word, which includes seven readings from the Old Testament which give an account of the outstanding deeds of the history of salvation. The Gloria is then sung, the lights of the church turned on and the bells joyously rung after which we are reminded that God has “brightened this night with the radiance of the Risen Christ.”
Anticipating the baptism of new members, Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us that “we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might live in newness of life.”
The Gospel reading returns to Luke for the story of the women of Galilee visiting Christ’s tomb and finding it empty and being asked by the angel “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised,” the first proclamation of the Resurrection.
Baptism and confirmation of new members follows the homily, including the blessing of the baptismal water wherein the priest recalls the important role of water in salvation history and prays that the Father will “by the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son.”
Catechumens and candidates have spent a year in preparation for this night when the celebrant prays to God to “send your spirit of adoption on those to be born again in baptism.”
After the baptism of new members, the members of the congregation renew their baptismal promises and are sprinkled with water, recalling in gestures and words the baptism they had received.
Finally, for the first time the newly baptized and confirmed participate fully in the Easter Sacrament by joining in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the commemoration of the sacrifice of the cross and the presence of the risen Christ.
The vigil concludes with the great Easter Allelulia