March 10, 2018

Easter Vigil by Sharon Espeseth

 What is it about Easter Vigil that grabs my heart, soul and imagination? In the Catholic Church, we have the option to attend the Vigil on the evening of Holy Saturday or the Easter Sunday Service or both. Because I am in music ministry, I often participate in both of these services.

Both masses honour our Risen Lord and end on a high note of Alleluias, but Easter Vigil features more drama, history, music, canting, and background to the Easter story. The liturgy on Holy Saturday makes the transition from Lent to the Season of Easter. The Easter observation goes from the solemnity to eucharisteo, meaning joy and thanksgiving..

Through Scripture readings, psalms and a cappella singing, we review the sequence of God's people through tough times and good times. Beginning with creation and humankind's fall into sin, we hear of the Israelites wrong turns and God's forgiveness. (I can relate.) We hear from the prophets and visualize the unfolding of God's merciful and loving plan of salvation.

Easter Vigil starts at 9:00 p.m., when darkness falls. You may be lucky to get home before midnight. Many of us still love this full spiritual "meal" even if it takes time to savour and digest what we are taking in.

Easter Vigil Comes in Four Parts.

I could go into great detail  about each segment of the service, but instead I will share my experience of the Vigil.

1. Service of Light:

A different atmosphere is set. Lights in the church are off. The holy water fonts have been drained. The tabernacle that contains the holy eucharist is empty. In our parish, we assemble in the courtyard where a new fire is lit and blessed. Most years it's chilly out there as we huddle around a BBQ.

The priest lights the Paschal Candle from the new fire as he prays, "May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds." The candle is then processed through the church. The priest or a deacon--but we don't have a deacon now--lifts the candle at three different times, while singing, "The Light of Christ." The congregation sings in reply, "Thanks be to God. "

The Pascal Candle

Inside the dark church, the priest lights the candles of the altar servers, who then go down the rows
lighting candles. We each share the light and in a short time the whole church is candlelit.

I enjoy the symbolism of our sharing the Light of Christ and seeing what a difference we can make by doing so. When the church is thus aglow, our cantor, unaccompanied, sings The Exsultet, or the Easter Proclamation.

(By googling you can also find the magnificent lyrics of this proclamation.) The Proclamation ends the first portion of the liturgy for Easter Vigil.

2. Liturgy of the Word

Nine readings--seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament--are provided for the liturgy, but the vigil gets lengthy when you use all nine readings. The priest determines the number of readings to be done, but there must be at least three of these readings. And yes, we have done all nine.

Pixabay Free Image

We follow a pattern: reading, psalm, prayer, for as many readings as we are doing. Members of the Music Ministry cant a responsorial psalm as a solo or, perhaps, a duet. The congregation responds with each refrain.

The Mass Begins

Right here we experience a shift. The overhead electric lights are turned on and altar servers begin to boldly ring the bells at the altar. During our opening hymn, replete with Alleluias, which have been absent during Lent, the pianist commands the keyboard. Our floutist plays the flute. Guitarists strum their strings and singers sing with joyful hearts.

A number of members of varying ages process down the aisles carrying Easter lilies and placing them on the steps leading to the altar and at also at the foot of the altar. These Easter symbols will remain there during the Easter season. Our mood has changed from sombre to celebratory. We are honouring and praising Christ, our Risen Lord.

3. Liturgy of Baptism

Often when our church receives adults or older children into the church, this happens at Easter Vigil during the Liturgy of Baptism. The Easter water is blessed. New members are baptized into the church. As the candidates say their baptismal promises, we the congregants join them, thus renewing our own commitment.

The priest then proceeds down the aisle sprinkling the congregation with water that has been blessed. As we receive the sprinkling we each do the sign of the cross, signifying, "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The musicians sing a "water song" such as "O Healing River," with great joy and little restraint.

4. Liturgy of the Eucharist

We are invited to join in partaking of the body and blood of Christ, which, to me, becomes all the more meaningful because of my reviewing my faith during the Easter Vigil.

The mass concludes with our priest intoning the words, "The Mass is ended, go in peace, Alleluia, Alleluia. We respond singing, "Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia."

The Mass is ended and I affirm in my heart, "I know my Saviour lives, because he lives within my heart." We go out greeting one another with a handshake or a "holy hug," a "Happy Easter!" or "Christ Is Risen."


  1. There is much beauty in many of the liturgical traditions that many denominations have lost. When taken to heart these can be so meaningful and expressive. Thank you for sharing so vividly how you celebrate.

  2. You are welcome. Yes, I do take these traditions to heart and I'm happy you could appreciate what I was saying, Tracy.

  3. Thank you for sharing the details of the Easter Vigil celebration, Sharon. I love the significance of this tradition. You describe it beautifully.

  4. You're welcome, Karma. I find such meaning in the Easter Vigil that I wanted to share it. Thanks for your comment.


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