Although celebrated Holy Saturday evening, it is the dramatic Easter vigil liturgy that marks the beginning of Easter. We are awaiting our master’s return with our lamps full and burning, so that he will find us awake and seat us at his table (cf. Luke 12:35). All Catholics should try to attend this beautiful service. The vigil is divided into four parts:
- Service of Light,
- Liturgy of the Word,
- Liturgy of Baptism, and
- Liturgy of the Eucharist.
1) Service of Light The atmosphere in the church is different: the holy water fonts are drained, all the lights are out, the tabernacle is empty. The service begins outside the church. A new fire is lit and blessed.
A Paschal Candle is prepared with these words while the priest marks the candle:
Christ yesterday and today (vertical arm of the cross)
the Beginning and the End (horizontal arm of the cross)
the Alpha (alpha above the cross)
and the Omega (omega below the cross)
All time belongs to him (numeral 2 in upper left corner of cross)
and all the ages (numeral 1 in upper right corner of cross)
To him be glory and power (numeral 4 in lower left corner)
through every age and for ever. Amen (numeral 0 in lower right corner)
Then the priest may insert five grains of incense into the candle in the form of a cross, meanwhile saying:
1. By his holy
2. and glorious wounds,
3. may Christ the Lord
4. guard us
5. and protect us. Amen.
The priest lights the candle from the new fire, saying:
May the light of Christ, rising in glory,
dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
The candle is then processed through the church, with the deacon lifting the candle at three different times, singing: The Light of Christ. (or Lumen Christi) and the congregation sings in reply: Thanks be to God (or Deo gratias). Everyone lights their candle from the Easter candle and continue in procession until the whole church is alight. The Paschal candle symbolises Christ, the Light of the World.
Next follows the glorious Easter song of the Catholic Church: the Exsultet (Easter proclamation). “This magnificent hymn, which is remarkable for its lyric beauty and profound symbolism, announces the dignity and meaning of the mystery of Easter; it tells of man’s sin, of God’s mercy, and of the great love of the Redeemer for mankind, admonishing us in turn to thank the Trinity for all the graces that have been lavished upon us” (©1947 With Christ Through the Year, by Bernard Strasser). This is usually sung by the deacon.
2) Liturgy of the Word
During the Easter vigil, nine readings are provided: seven Old Testament and two New Testament. Not all are required to be read due to time constraints, but at least three Old Testament readings must be read, including Exodus 14. These readings help us meditate on the wonderful works of God for his people since the beginning of time. The readings are:
- the story of creation, Gen 1:1-2; 2;
- Abraham and Isaac, Gen 22:1-18;
- Crossing of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:15–15:1;
- Isaiah 54:5-14;
- Isaiah 55:1-11;
- Baruch 3:9-15.32–4:4;
- Ezekiel 36:16-17.18-28;
- Romans 6:3-11; and
- Gospel reading Mark 16:1-7.The Gloria is sung before the reading of the Epistle of the Romans, and the Alleluia is sung before the Gospel.3) Liturgy of Baptism
During this time the Easter water is blessed, new members are brought into the Church through baptism, part of the liturgy includes the Litany of the Saints. There are also those who were baptized, but haven’t received the other sacraments of initiation. The catechumens and these faithful are confirmed and will later receive the Holy Eucharist. Afterwards the faithful are blessed with water and all renew their baptismal promises.
4) Liturgy of Eucharist
So resumes the Mass, with the special prayers inserted during the Eucharist Prayer. The whole church is called to join at the sacrificial table that Christ prepared for us through his death and resurrection. The Mass ends with the glorious
V. The Mass is ended, go in peace, alleluia, alleluia.
R. Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.