The Easter Vigil is Baptismal in Character.
After Dark, the community gathers. Once again, as part of the three great days of prayer that are one prayer, the Service for the Vigil begins in silence with the arrival of the ministers at a place where a fire has been prepared. The priest greets the community and explains the reason for our hope. It is normal practice for all the lights in the church to be switched of and for the Church to be in complete darkness at this time.
The Fire is lit and blessed. The Easter Candle – symbolising the ‘Pillar of flame’ that lead the Isrealites out of slavery is blessed. Thecandle is marked with the date and often 5 wounds, symbolising the wounds of Christ. Into these ‘wounds’ are pressed Gold studs or Grains of Incence.
The Candle is then lit from the fire and the Priest sings – ‘The Light of Christ’ – to which the community answers – ‘Thanks be to God’.
From this single flame, all the candles of the community are lit as a procession makes it’s way into the church. Look out for the very powerful symbolism of the light spreading – from one to many – as with grace and baptism. It is this light that enlightens the Church.
On arrival in the Sanctuary, deacon or the priest sings a very ancient Hymn, called the Exultet – a hymn praising God for all his works and wonders – first among them the Life of Jesus Christ. Listen for the many different word pictures that are constructed into motives for praise.
It is then by this light that the story of salvation is told – from the story of creation to the sacrifice of Isaac to the Prophets. Being the ‘Mother of all Vigils’ this vigil takes time and should never be rushed. The community waits and prays, is taught and grows in anticipation.
After readings from the Old testament, telling the story of the People of Israel and of the People of Faith, the Priest intones the Gloria in excelsis, the Church bells are rung and the Altar candles lit. This marks the Change from the Vigil or waiting to the First Mass of Easter.
The Opening prayer is sung, a reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans about Baptism is read and then the great Easter Alleluia is intoned. For the Period of Lent, there has been no Alleluia, but now in the context of the exultation of the Resurrection, the very special shout or song of praise is reintroduced into the Liturgy.
This is an introduction into the singular cause of our Joy – the resurrection Gospel is proclaimed – Our Lord Jesus is no longer entombed, but alive. We, like the disciples are filled with awe!
After the Gospel and a brief Homily, preparations are made for Baptism. In the early Church, most baptisms were of adults. In the restored Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the proper place for Adults to be received into the Church by Baptism or profession is at the First Mass of Easter.
There are three categories of people who are initiated:
• Those who have never been baptised (properly called Catechumens)
• Those who have been Baptised in other communities or churches who have a valid, recognised Baptism and now want to be received into the Church.
• Those Baptised Catholic who never made first communion or who were not confirmed – both the above called Candidates for full communion.
Those to be Baptised are Baptised after a profession of Faith. Once they have been Baptised and are being re-dressed, those who need to profess their faith make their Profession. The Baptised and the professed then are joined by those adults that need to be confirmed and are confirmed, completing their initiation. All then proceed to the celebration of the Eucharist once the whole community has professed faith and been sprinkled with Holy Water.
The Final part of the First Mass of Easter is the Celebration of the Eucharist. The Whole community (which is made up of those newly baptised, the professed and confirmed and the rest of the community having fulfilled their Easter obligation of Confession) now proceed together to present the gifts of bread and wine for the Eucharist.
Eucharist is a Greek word meaning ‘Thanksgiving’.
The whole community is united with one motive of giving thanks to the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit for the gift of new life and the Resurrection.
The Altar and sanctuary is decorated at its festive best. The Best Vestments are worn, the best Church Plate is used. This is the High point of our faith.
All depart after the Vigil and First Mass of Easter with ‘minds and hearts renewed’.
How do I prepare:
• Bring a Candle and something to stop wax spilling. The tophalf of a 2l soft drinks plastic bottle upended back into the bottom half makes a good stand.
• Bring old palm crosses to be added to the Easter fire – by custom, anything that is blessed is not thrown away, but is burned or buried.
• Dress warmly – Vigils are long.
• Come with an open spirit to experience the wonder of this most ancient and beautiful rite.
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