The church built around the empty tomb. The church door is closed while the monks change their shift. On Holy Saturday the rock closed the tomb.
During the day, the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb. We think about how Jesus suffered and died just for us. We do not celebrate any sacraments today until we come to the Easter Vigil this evening. When the Vigil comes, we will finally be able to celebrate; and celebrate we do. I would like to go over what happens during this most beautiful service. I do not think that reading about it is enough; I really suggest that you attend one in your own parish.
The Vigil is divided in to four parts: A service of LIGHT; The liturgy of the WORD; The liturgy of BAPTISM; and the Liturgy of the EUCHARIST. Here is a breakdown of the major happenings within each part.
A service of LIGHT – The vigil begins in darkness. All of the members in the church receive their own small candle. Outside of the Church (or in the vestibule) a fire is prepared and blessed. The deacon holds the Easter candle near the fire. The priest lights the Easter candle from the fire and places five grains of incense in to the candle on a sign of the cross calling to mind the five wounds of Jesus. This Easter candle represents the Risen Jesus, the light of the world, but even in His resurrected body He shows the wounds of His crucifixion. The deacon carries the Easter candle in procession in to the Church and up to the altar. He stops at the door and sings, Christ our Light, and then again at the middle of the church and then again at the altar. Everyone’s candle is lit from the Easter candle by people sharing the light given to them. By the time the candle is at the altar, the whole church is lit by candle light. It is very beautiful to see. We can’t help to better understand how Jesus is the light that dispels all darkness and we are the ones who spread that light to each other. The Easter Proclamation EXSULTET is then sung by the deacon (or singer). This is a most beautiful ancient poetic song. The church lights are put on, but the altar candle as left unlit.
The liturgy of the WORD – The Church provides us with nine readings for the Vigil (pastoral necessity allows it to be shortened slightly). Seven are from the Hebrew scriptures and two from the New testament (one is a Gospel). The readings are followed by a responsorial psalm and a prayer. This evening we hear of the history of salvation as it leads to Jesus. The readings are very important and a homily must be given. The church candles are lit when the first new testament reading is read.
The liturgy of BAPTISM – The Easter Vigil has traditionally been the time when new people come in to the Church. Our RCIA programs prepare converts and new people for this evening. Very often Baptisms are necessary (converts from other Christian faiths do not need a baptism if the first is done with the Trinitarian formula). The waters to be used for Baptism, and the sprinkling of the people, are blessed using the Easter candle. The very beautiful singing of the Litany of the Saints is something everyone should experience. The new people are baptized and confirmation is also done when it is indicated. Not only do the new people state their baptismal promises, but all the faithful renew their baptismal promises and are sprinkled with water recalling their own baptism.
The liturgy of the EUCHARIST – The Vigil continues with the Eucharist prayers and all the faithful receive. The mass is ended with a real sense of Joy of the Resurrection.
NOTE: The Easter Candle is let at all liturgies during the Easter season. It is also lit at all baptisms and funerals during the Church year.