Saturday, February 22, 2020

Holy Week, Part 9: The 1962 Holy Week Liturgy

Previous parts in this series:


As mentioned in part one of this series, the Holy Week liturgies were overhauled in 1955 by Father Annibale Bugnini, who was later the chief architect of the Novus Ordo Mass. By the grace of God, several parishes of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter have permission to offer the traditional liturgies for Holy Week. However, it remains that most traditional parishes are bound to the 1962 Roman Missal, which includes the revised Holy Week. Many of the revisions parallel and foreshadow the liturgical reforms of the 1960s, and display the same concepts discussed in our series on the Novus Ordo Mass – a horizontal focus rather than a vertical focus, de-emphasis on the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and lesser reverence given to the Blessed Sacrament.

In addition, the Holy Week revisions heavily focus on reducing and simplifying the liturgy to make it shorter and easier to understand. The liturgies for each day are drastically shorter. Although there is merit in the people understanding the liturgy – the main point of my blog is to help people understand the liturgy – it should not be a guiding principle in liturgical reform. The liturgy is meant to be our greatest, most perfect worship to God and the lifeblood of our religion. Brevity and simplicity are not the goal. Especially during Holy Week, we should not be striving to spend less time with our Lord. Like the Novus Ordo, the revised Holy Week liturgies are inferior in form to the traditional liturgies.

Mr. Gregory DiPippo of New Liturgical Movement wrote an excellent series of articles on these revisions back in 2009. If you want a more in-depth look at the 1955 liturgical reform, I highly recommend his articles.

The first change is one that I discussed in part one. Previously, Mass was only ever allowed in the morning, so the liturgies for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday were offered in the mornings. In 1955, the times were changed. The Mass of the Lord's Supper is now offered in the evening, between 4:00 and 9:00 p.m., to correspond with the time of the Last Supper. The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday (it is no longer called the “Mass of the Presanctified”) is offered in the afternoon, about 3:00 p.m., to correspond with the time of the Crucifixion. Finally, the Easter Vigil is offered late Saturday night so that the Mass begins about midnight.

Palm Sunday
The liturgical color for the Blessing of the Palms has been changed from violet, the color of penitence and of royalty, to red. The Asperges is omitted. The Blessing of the Palms is extremely shortened. It no longer has the dignity of imitating the Holy Mass.

The palms are placed on a table in the middle of the sanctuary. To bless the palms, the priest faces the people across the table, with his back to the altar, the crucifix, and the tabernacle. Nowhere else in liturgy would the priest ever turn his back to the altar and face the people when offering a prayer to God. Such absurdity was unheardof until 1955. It was clearly intended to acclimate the faithful to the vandalism that would occur in the 1960s.

After the Introit Hosanna filio David, the priest immediately sings a single prayer to bless the palms. The beautiful canon of six prayers from the traditional liturgy is suppressed. After the blessing, the palms are distributed to the faithful “in accordance with local custom” (1962 rubrics). Alternatively, they may be held by the faithful from the beginning. After the distribution of palms, the deacon sings the Gospel, Matthew 21:1-9, with the same ceremonies as at Mass. The reading from Exodus, formerly sung at the Blessing of the Palms, is suppressed. Whereas before, the priest always read the Gospel quietly to himself in addition to the deacon singing it, here the priest is directed not to do so, but rather to stand and listen. This was made the case for the Gospel of Mass in 1962.

That is the entire Blessing of the Palms. What was once an elaborate ceremony imitating the Holy Mass is now an antiphon, a prayer, and a reading. Whereas the traditional rite contained nine prayers – three corresponding to the collect, secret, and postcommunion of the Mass, and six forming a “Canon” to bless the palms – the new rite only has one.

Once this is done, the procession begins. Before, the procession was to walk with Christ in the days before his Passion, joining the people of Jerusalem in greeting their Savior. Now, it is a procession in honor of Christ the King. The traditional chants have been replaced by hymns to Christ the King. The hymn Gloria laus et honor, formerly sung at the door of the church, is now simply to be sung at some point during the procession. The ceremony at the door is suppressed. The processional cross is not veiled, even though it is veiled the entire rest of Passiontide. Like before, the chant Ingrediente Domino is sung when the procession enters the church.

To begin Mass, the ministers change vestments from red to violet, and the table that held the palms is removed from the center of the sanctuary. One should always be skeptical of a liturgy that calls for the moving of furniture. The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar are suppressed for the Mass of Palm Sunday. This is also the case any other time a liturgical action precedes Mass, namely on Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, and the Easter Vigil. There is no reason for the suppression except again to acclimate the faithful to the more drastic reforms to come. We no longer acknowledge our sinfulness before ascending to God's holy altar to offer sacrifice. The rest of Mass is unchanged except for the Passion. The Passion is now much shorter. The account of the Last Supper at the beginning is omitted. Ironically, this means that the account of the first Mass is never read at Mass. In addition, the deacon no longer sings the last part of the Passion. Finally, for the same reason that there were no Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, there is no Last Gospel.

Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
Commemorations and prayers pro diversitate temporum are abolished. Otherwise, there is no change for Monday. The only changes for Tuesday and Wednesday is the Passions. Like on Palm Sunday, the account of the Last Supper is removed from the beginning of the Passion, and the special ceremony is removed from the end of the Passion. This is done again to shorten and simplify the liturgy.

Tenebrae
With the Masses of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday now in the evening, Tenebrae is now directed to be offered the mornings of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday rather than the preceding evenings. Although the office of Tenebrae does in fact belong to those days, there is plenty of historical precedent for anticipating Matins and Lauds the previous evening. Furthermore, Tenebrae is meant to be held in darkness, which is difficult to achieve in the morning. (In Seattle in 2019, sunrise on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday was 6:15 a.m., 6:13 a.m., and 6:11 a.m. respectively.)

Psalm 50 is removed from the ends of the hours. In 1961, the ceremony of hiding the last remaining candle and making a loud noise was suppressed.

Holy Thursday
The most significant change on Holy Thursday is one that does not affect most parishes. The blessing of the holy oils, formerly done at the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Cathedral, is now to be done at a new, separate Mass. This Mass of the Chrism is held at the cathedral the morning of Holy Thursday after Terce, with the Mass of the Lord's Supper held in the evening after None. At the Mass of the Chrism, the liturgical color is white. Psalm 42 is omitted like in the rest of Passiontide, but the Gloria is sung. The Epistle is James 5:13-16, in which the apostle commands priests to anoint the sick in the name of Christ. The Gospel is Mark 6:7-13, in which Christ sent forth his disciples to anoint the sick and drive out demons. Strangely, the Credo is not sung. A new, unique preface was written just for the Mass of the Chrism. The actual blessing of the oils is the same. (No new typical edition of the Roman Pontifical was issued until after Vatican II.) Even more strangely, the distribution of Communion to the faithful is explicitly forbidden at this Mass, as Communion may only be distributed at the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.

The Mass of the Lord's Supper is held in the evening, between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. The first half of Mass is the same as before. The Gloria is sung and the bells are rung, as in the traditional liturgy. The first major difference is that the rubrics explicitly call for the priest to preach a sermon. This is a completely novel innovation. Never before in the history of the Church has a sermon been mandatory or even mentioned in the liturgy at all. A sermon is a devotional, extra-liturgical act that, although certainly beneficial for the laity, is in no sense part of the sacred liturgy itself. If the ceremony of foot washing is to be held, it takes place after the sermon. Like at the Mass of the Chrism, the Credo is not sung, even though Maundy Thursday is a joyful first class feast of our Lord, which under any sane and consistent set of rubrics would include the Credo. One again, liturgical beauty and reverence is being attacked for the sake of brevity.

Instead of a single extra Host, an entire extra ciborium of Hosts is consecrated. Otherwise, the Mass of the faithful is unchanged until the Agnus Dei, which is changed to:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Dona nobis pacem” (“Grant us peace”) is not sung. The first of the three following prayers is omitted, like at a Mass for the Dead. As in the traditional Mass, the kiss of peace is not given.

The Confiteor immediately before Communion of the faithful is directed to be omitted in this Mass. It was removed from the Missal altogether in 1962, though many parishes retain it, including the one I attend. In addition to the regular Communion antiphon, several other psalms are appointed to be sung during Communion. After Communion, the extra consecrated ciborium or ciboria remain on the altar. The ceremony of veiling the Chalice containing the reserved Host and tying it with ribbon is suppressed. Mass ends with Benedicamus Domino rather than Ite Missa est, despite its solemnity. The blessing and Last Gospel are omitted. The ceremony of the translation of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose is fundamentally unchanged, except that a provision is made for there to be multiple ciboria requiring multiple trips. At the stripping of the altar, everything is removed from the altar, even the crucifix and candlesticks.

There is no Vespers tonight, as the evening Mass replaces it. This is unheardof before 1955, and it is particularly inappropriate for such a major hour of the Divine Office to be suppressed on such a major feast. The Mass of the Lord's Supper is followed by Compline.

Good Friday
The liturgy of Good Friday has been altered substantially. It is no longer the Mass of the Presanctified, but rather the Solemn Afternoon Liturgy. This is consistent with one of the major Novus Ordo ideals of de-emphasizing the sacrificial nature of the Mass and reducing reverence given to the Blessed Sacrament. Likewise, the day itself is no longer called Feria Sexta Parasceve (Friday of Preparation), but rather Feria Sexta in Passione et Morte Domini (Friday of the Lord's Passion and Death). The liturgy is suggested to begin about 3:00 p.m., the hour of our Lord's death, though it may begin any time between 12:00 noon and 9:00 p.m. The priest and deacon wear amice, alb, cincture, and black stole; the subdeacon wears the same without the stole. They do not wear maniples, cope, or chasubles.

The altar is completely bare, lacking even a crucifix. After a short period of silent prayer, the priest sings a newly introduced collect before the first reading from Hosea. The readings are unchanged, as is the collect after the Epistle. However, two peculiarities are introduced with this collect. First, the priest sings it from the sedilia, not from the altar, which was never done before except at a Pontifical High Mass. It foreshadows the same change being made in the Novus Ordo Mass, which disconnects the Mass from its sacrificial nature at the altar. Second, normally, when the priest mentions the Holy Name of Jesus, he bows toward the crucifix. Since there is no crucifix, he either bows directly forward (the preferable option in my opinion) or he bows toward an empty space. As with previous days, the Passion is severely shortened. After the Passion, the priest puts on a black cope, and the deacon and subdeacon put on a black dalmatic and tunicle. Before 1955, there was no reason for a black dalmatic or tunicle to even exist, as folded chasubles were always used. Two servers spread a single white linen cloth over the altar.

At the Solemn Collects, the missal is placed directly in the center of the altar – a place formerly reserved for the sacred vessels – and the deacon and subdeacon stand on either side of the priest rather than in a line behind him. The prayer for the Holy Roman Emperor has been replaced by a generic prayer for rulers. I discussed the changes to the prayer for the Jews in part six of this series.

The ministers then remove their cope, dalmatic, and tunicle. The deacon retrieves the cross from the sacristy. The Adoration of the Cross is fundamentally unchanged, except that two acolytes hold candles on either side of the Cross and that the ministers make three simple genuflections rather than three prostrations. The Reproaches are the same. Afterwards, the acolytes place the cross and candlesticks on the altar.

The ministers then change vestments yet again, this time changing into violet Mass vestments, except without maniples. The ministers and servers go to the Altar of Repose in silence. As they bring the Blessed Sacrament back to the altar, the choir sings three new antiphons. The beautiful, triumphal hymn Vexilla regis has been abolished. Upon arrival at the altar, there is nothing resembling an Offertory. There is no wine or water. Almost everything that was meant to imitate the Holy Mass has been removed. The priest immediately sings the invitation to the Our Father, “Oremus. Praeceptis salutaribus moniti...”

What follows is one of the 1955 liturgy's most obvious omens of what was to come. The rubrics direct everyone present, even the congregation, who were hitherto barely ever acknowledged by the rubrics, to say the Pater noster aloud together. The rubric of the Missal explicitly specifies that it should be in Latin, which is strange, because that never needed clarification before. The spirit of Vatican II's focus on the people's active participation rather than the sacredness of the liturgy begins to bud. The priest says the embolism Libera nos aloud (he does not sing) and then the prayer Perceptio Corporis tui silently. The priest then receives Communion himself before distributing Communion to the faithful, which was traditionally never done on Good Friday. Psalm 21 is given as an optional Communion chant.

Since there is no chalice of water and wine with which to make an ablution, the priest purifies his fingers in a small dish of water, as is usually done for assisting clergy distributing Communion. Whereas before, the liturgy ended quite abruptly after Communion with the silent prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, the priest now sings three new prayers aloud after Communion, which conclude the liturgy. The altar is stripped in silence. Like the previous day, Vespers is abolished.

Thus, the solemn liturgy of Good Friday is fundamentally changed to strip it of its association with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is no longer a Mass of the Presanctified, but rather a “Solemn Afternoon Liturgy.” In the 1970 Missal, it is called a “service,” the word usually used to describe Protestant rituals. On the day our Lord sacrificed himself on the Cross, the sacrifice in which we participate in every Mass, the Sacred Tradition of the Church gives us a solemn rite to express our sorrow and our desire to unite ourselves with Christ in the Mass. Even though it is not a Mass, it still remains centered on the Mass. The 1955 reformed liturgy is a novelty totally detached from the Mass.

Easter Vigil
Like the liturgies of the preceding two days, the Easter Vigil is moved to the evening. The Mass is to begin around midnight, as if it were some sort of New Year's fireworks. Although midnight is when the civil day begins, it has never had any special significance in the liturgy. The liturgical day begins with either Matins or first Vespers. To this end, the vigil usually begins about 10:30 p.m. Thus, the Easter Vigil does not occur after None like every other vigil, but after Compline. It replaces Matins. Thus, not only is Paschal Matins abolished (and with it the hymn Te Deum), but first Vespers of Easter is abolished. Beginning feasts with first Vespers is one of the Church's most ancient traditions, probably originating with the apostles. Every other major feast has first Vespers. Easter, however, the greatest feast of the year, now has neither first Vespers nor Matins. Such is the malice with which the sacred liturgy has been vandalized.

The vigil itself has been substaintially overhauled. The beautiful triple candlestick is abolished. Instead, the paschal candle itself is brought to the new fire. After blessing the new fire with a single prayer, the priest marks a cross, alpha and omega, and year on the candle. Previously, the missal assumed that the candle was already marked, and the new missal comments that there is no reason why the candle should not already be marked, so it remains a mystery why this was added to the rite at all. The priest blesses the five grains of incense, saying nothing, and immediately inserts them into the candle. Finally, the priest lights the paschal candle and blesses it with the prayer formerly used to bless the incense.

The deacon carries the lit paschal candle into the church, pausing thrice to sing, “Lumen Christi,” as in the traditional rite. Upon arrival at the sanctuary, he places the candle in a small bracket, not the large, dignified candlestick in which the paschal candle is traditionally placed. He then sings the Exultet without pause. Its traditional function is displaced, as the paschal candle is already blessed and lit. The traditional prayer for the Holy Roman Emperor in the Exultet has been replaced with a new prayer for rulers.

The new Easter Vigil has only four prophecies – the creation, the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, Isaiah's vision of the new Israel, and Moses's exhortation of the Jewish people to follow God's law. The remaining eight prophecies have been abolished. Stories such as Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, the valley of dry bones, and the law of Passover, which are especially relevant to our Lord's Resurrection, have been removed from the liturgy. Like on Good Friday, the priest sings the collects from his chair rather than from the altar.

After the collect following the last prophecy, the choir immediately begins the Litany of the Saints. The tradition of doubling each line of the litany is abolished. Instead of blessing baptismal water in the baptistery, the logical place to do so, the water is blessed in the sanctuary so that the people can see it. After the line, “Omnes sancti et sanctae Dei / Intercedite pro nobis,” the litany is stopped. The blessing of the water itself is not changed. If Baptism is to be administered, it takes place in the sanctuary, not in the baptistery. Afterwards, the tract Sicut cervus is sung as the ministers process to the baptistery to deposit the water. Alternatively, a footnote in the missal allows the traditional practice of blessing the water at the baptistery. However, the rubric is very vague. It says that Sicut cervus should be sung on the way to the baptistery, but also that the choir should remain in the church singing the litany, repeating the litany if necessary. The most reasonable possibility seems to be that the Sicut cervus should be sung upon conclusion of the first half of the litany. However, DiPippo suggests the alarming possibility that the choir is to repeat the litany continuously during the entire blessing of the font. This is a foreshadowing of the vague and poorly written rubrics that dominate the Novus Ordo liturgy.

Next is the Renewal of the Promises of Baptism. This was previously only done as a private devotion, not as part of the liturgy. It is all done in the vernacular. This marks the first time in history that the vernacular tongue was called for in the sacred liturgy. It is a clear foreboding of even more radical liturgical reform. The priest first reads a short exhortation and then invites the faithful to renew their threefold renunciation of Satan and threefold profession of belief from the rite of Baptism. All then recite the Our Father together.

The Litany of the Saints is then resumed, starting from the line, “Propitius esto / Parce nobis, Domine.” The ministers go to the sacristy to prepare for Mass, which is mostly unchanged. As previously discussed, the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar are omitted. The prayer Domine Jesu Christe, qui dixisti before Communion is omitted.

After Communion, instead of first Vespers of Easter, we sing Lauds of Easter at about 1:00 a.m., a strange time to sing morning praises. Lauds is abbreviated the same way that Vespers was formerly abbreviated. Psalm 150 is sung with the antiphon, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,” and then the Benedictus is sung with the following antiphon:

Et valde mane una sabbatorum, veniunt ad monumentum, orto jam sole, alleluia.
And very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they come to the sepulcher, the sun now being risen, alleluia.

We should be skeptical of a liturgy that sings about the sun being risen at 1:00 a.m. Perhaps this is the perfect liturgy for Catholics living in the northern regions of Alaska or Scandinavia, but I digress. There is no Last Gospel.

Easter Sunday
As previously mentioned, the tradition of Paschal Matins and Lauds has been completely destroyed. Matins of Easter no longer exists, and Lauds is part of the new Easter Vigil. The only change to Mass on Easter Sunday is that the final line of the Sequence is changed from, “praecedet suos in Galileam,” to, “praecedet vos in Galileam.”

Thus are the reforms of 1955. The same themes visible in the reforms of 1969 are visible here. The focus is more on the people than on God, and there is less emphasis on the sacrifical nature of the Mass and on the Blessed Sacrament. Since the liturgy is considered less sacred than before, there is less diligence in the composition of the text and ceremonies, resulting in very strange, inconsistent, and vague rubrics. I hope and pray that permisison to use the traditional Holy Week liturgies is retained and expanded.

New terms
  • Mass of the Chrism – A new Mass celebrated in the cathedral on Holy Thursday morning, at which the bishop blesses holy oils.
  • Solemn Afternoon Liturgy – The new liturgy for Good Friday, since it is no longer a Mass of the Presanctified.
  • Renewal of Baptismal Promises – A former private devotion that has been inserted into the 1955 Easter Vigil, in which the faithful reaffirm the threefold renunciation of Satan and the threefold profession of faith from the rite of Baptism.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Holy Week, Part 8: Easter Sunday

Previous parts in this series:


The exuberant joy of Easter is best described by St. John Chrysostom (AD 347407) in his Paschal Homily, read on Easter morning in many Eastern Churches:

If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings, because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.

And he showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first. And to the one he giveth, and upon the other he bestoweth gifts.
And he both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoreth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord.
Receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honor the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, he made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of his flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which it saw, and fell upon that which cannot be seen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.
Amen.
(English translation from Wikisource.)

This is the day upon which Christianity is founded. Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, was crucified and died, but because he is the perfect, eternal God, he has risen from the dead. Through his Resurrection, he has proven once and for all that his is the incarnate God and the Messiah. Jesus took on the guilt of human sins, but God's love and mercy overcame our guilt. In the words of St. Paul, “For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Because of the Resurrection, we have the sure hope of redemption.

Date of Easter
The date of Easter was very controversial in the early church. The full history and methods of computation of the date of Easter (known as computus) are a story for another time. The most recent change to the method of computation was in 1583, when Rome switched from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. Easter is on the Sunday following the Paschal full moon. This is defined as the first full moon that falls on or after the spring equinox. However, the ecclesiastical definitions of a full moon and the spring equinox are a bit different from the astronomical definitions. A full moon is defined as the fourteenth day of the lunar month, and the spring equinox is defined to be March 21. Thus, the earliest Easter can be is March 22 (last happened in 1818 and will next happen in 2285), and the latest it can be is April 25 (last happened in 1943 and will next happen in 2038). To make things more confusing, the Eastern Churches still use the Julian Calendar, so they have a different date for Easter.

The document De anno et ejus partibus, printed in the front matter of the Roman Missal, has tables and formulas for numerically calculating the date of Easter. The date of Easter is traditionally announced to the faithful after the Gospel on the feast of Epiphany on January 6 each year. In this age of technology, it is very easy to find the date of Easter for any past or future year on the internet. However, for many centuries, this was not the case, so the Church always made sure her faithful could know the date of the year's greatest feast. Furthermore, much of the Church's calendar is dependent on the date of Easter.

Paschal Matins and Lauds
The liturgical celebration of Easter begins with the Easter Vigil the previous evening, which includes First Vespers of Easter. It is followed by Compline and then by Paschal Matins and Lauds, which was considered the pinnacle of Holy Week in medieval times and was usually offered publicly with great solemnity.

The altar is adorned as for the principle feast of the year, with six lighted candles and flowers. The priest wears a white cope. (Cloth of gold may be used in place of white.)

Matins begins as usual with the Invitatory. The antiphon at the Invitatory is simply, “Surrexit Dominus. Alleluia.” (“The Lord is risen. Alleluia.”) There is a special, slightly more elaborate tone for the Invitatory at Matins today, owing to the solemnity of the feast. This is the first time the Invitatory has been sung since before the Triduum. The words of Psalm 94 apply particularly well to Easter: “Come let us praise the Lord with joy: let us joyfully sing to God our savior.”

The Invitatory is followed by a single nocturn of three psalms and three readings. There are no hymns at the Divine Office during the Octave of Easter. The psalms of Matins are Psalms 1, 2, and 3, which are the usual psalms at the first nocturn on Sundays. The first antiphon begins, “Ego sum qui sum,” meaning, “I am who I am,” words first spoken to Moses, the first of the Old Testament prophets (Exodus 3:14), fully manifested and revealed in the Resurrection. The readings are from the Homily of St. Gregory the Great on Mark 16:1-7, the Gospel of the Mass. Similarly, the two responsories (following the first and second readings) are from the Gospel. The third lesson is followed by the Te Deum, which has not been sung since before Septuagesima.

At Lauds, we sing the usual, joyful psalms for Sunday Lauds I. (This is the first time the first scheme of Lauds has been used since before Septuagesima.) Like at Matins, the antiphons are taken from the Gospel account of the Resurrection. As the fourth psalm, like every Sunday, we sing the Canticle of the Three Children from Daniel 3:57-75, 56, in which the Hebrew children praise God for saving them from King Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. We heard this story in the twelfth prophecy of the Easter Vigil. On Easter morning, we can apply this canticle to our praise to God for saving us from the fires of hell through the Resurrection.

The capitulum, hymn, and verse are all omitted. In their place, at every hour of the Divine Office during the Octave of Easter, we sing Psalm 117:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.” It is sung to a melismatic chant. This is also the Gradual of Easter Sunday. The altar is incensed at the Benedictus. Lauds ends with, “Benedicamus Domino. Alleluia, alleluia.” This conclusion is used for Lauds and Vespers throughout the Octave of Easter, but not the other hours.

Side note – Timing of the Easter Vigil and Paschal Matins and Lauds
As I have stated before, the Easter Vigil was held on Saturday morning for many centuries. At Westminster Cathedral in 1939, the Easter Vigil began at 9:00 a.m. Compline was sung later that day at 5:15 p.m., followed by Paschal Matins and Lauds at 5:30 p.m. This has the practical advantage that Paschal Matins and Lauds can easily be offered publicly. If the Easter Vigil is held on Saturday evening, ending at almost midnight, then the priest must pray Compline, Matins, and Lauds before saying the following morning's Mass, and it is just not practical to offer Paschal Matins and Lauds publicly.

On the other hand, if the Easter Vigil is held on Saturday morning, and it is indeed to be held after None as is traditional, then the priest would have to pray Prime, Terce, Sext, and None all before 9:00 a.m., which defeats the purpose of the Divine Office to sanctify each part of the day. Alternatively, the priest could say some or all of those hours after the Easter Vigil, which introduces the awkwardness of saying the Divine Office of the Triduum, when Christ is still in the tomb, after we have already celebrated the Resurrection.

My proposed solution would be to have the Easter Vigil starting at about 3:00 p.m., because like other vigils, it occurs liturgically after None. It would then end around 7:00 p.m. Compline would probably be in private, and the clergy can actually get to sleep at a reasonable hour on Saturday night. Paschal Matins and Lauds could then be offered early Sunday morning, followed by the usual slate of Sunday Masses. Of course, this is all pure speculation.

Mass of Easter Sunday
Like every Sunday, High Mass is preceded by the Asperges ceremony. Instead of the chant Asperges me that is usually sung at this time, during Paschaltide, we sing the chant Vidi aquam (page 4 of the PDF booklet for Easter Sunday). The antiphon is taken from the Prophet Ezekiel's vision in Ezekiel 47. Water flowed out from the right side of the temple toward the east, becoming ever deeper and mightier. Every manner of creature came to the water and gained life. This vision has a threefold meaning. First, it represents the four rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14). Second, it represents the water flowing from the side of Christ (John 19:34). Finally, it represents the waters of Baptism flowing from the Church, the mystical Body of Christ. The accompanying psalm verse is from Psalm 117:1: “Give praise to Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”

The Introit for Easter Sunday is taken from Psalm 138, beginning with the words of King David foreshadowing our Lord's Resurrection: “I arose, and am still with thee.” Our Lord said after his Resurrection, “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). The Introit continues, “Thou hast laid thy hand upon me, alleluia; thy knowledge is become wonderful, alleluia, alleluia.” These words of King David are a prayer of praise to God. They are followed by the beginning of the psalm, “Lord, thou hast proved me, and known me: thou hast know my sitting down, and my rising up.” This echoes what St. Peter said to Jesus when Jesus confronted him after the Resurrection: “Lord, thou knowest all things” (John 21:17).

The chant of the Introit originates from Old Roman Chant, probably around the seventh or eighth century. A scanned manuscript of the 1225 Roman Missal from the National Library of Spain shows that this chant melody was fundamentally the same then as it is today, using a primitive musical notation with only one staff line. It is shown below side-by-side with the modern chant notation, which was developed in the Middle Ages but not fully standardized until the nineteenth century by the monks of the Abbey of Solesmes in France.


The Introit of Easter Sunday is also a fine example of the divine beauty of Gregorian Chant. To a listener accustomed to modern music, it sounds as if it were in a minor key, though of course the concept of major and minor keys is far removed from any form of plainchant. It might sound too somber or gloomy and thus inappropriate for such a high feast as Easter. However, within Gregorian Chant, this is a beautiful and elaborate melody that does not convey gloom, but rather the highest praise to God. A chant such as this one, not in a “minor key” but rather in the fourth Gregorian mode, is perfectly fitting for use in the Mass of Easter Sunday. This is the beauty of Gregorian Chant. It does not reflect human emotions, nor anything else on earth, but rather our worship and praise given to God, which is why it is the most appropriate music for Catholic liturgy.

The very short Epistle for Easter Sunday is from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 (page 11). St. Paul declares Jesus Christ to be the true Paschal Lamb who was sacrificed for us. In Judaism, leavened bread represented corruption and sin. Thus, St. Paul commands us, “Brethren, purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste, as you are unleavened,” turning away from our sinful habits and becoming pure like unleavened bread. This is why unleavened bread was always commanded for the Passover and is still commanded for the Mass in the Western Church. (The Eastern Churches use leavened bread.) St. Paul echoes Jesus's command to continue the Passover feast (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:25), writing, “Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” When we assist in the Mass, we ought to offer ourselves to God, so that we may truly feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

This Epistle is followed by the Gradual, Haec dies (pages 11-12). As mentioned previously, it is also sung at every hour of the Divine Office during the Octave of Easter. Like all Graduals, it is melismatic, and like most of the Easter Sunday liturgy, it is ancient. “This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.” These words of King David (Psalm 117:24) refer first and foremost to Easter, the day of the Lord's Resurrection, the day that the Lord made for his people since the moment of Adam's fall. This verse is followed by the first verse of the same psalm: “Give praise to Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever,” which we also sang as part of the Vidi aquam. After the Gradual is the Alleluia Verse, which is taken from the Epistle: “Alleluia, alleluia. Christ our Pasch is sacrificed.”

Usually, the word “Alleluia” is repeated after the Alleluia Verse. However, on Easter, the Church extends her joyful acclamation in the Sequence, Victimae paschali laudes, composed around the eleventh century (pages 13-14). After we sing in the Alleluia Verse, “Christ our Pasch is sacrificed,” we begin the Sequence, “Christians to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises!” This Sequence is a hymn of praise for the Resurrection. In particular, it expresses the joy of St. Mary Magdalene, who was formerly a great sinner but was given the grace to be the first person to see our risen Lord. In the Sequence, an apostle charges St. Mary Magdalene, “Speak, Mary, declaring what thou sawest wayfaring,” to which she responds, “The tomb of Christ who now liveth: and likewise the glory of the Risen. Bright Angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting. Yea, Christ my hope is arisen: to Galilee he goeth before you” (Matthew 26:32, John 20:11-18). Often, the men sing the lines attributed to the apostle, and the women sing the lines attributed to St. Mary Magdalene, but this is not obligatory.

The Gospel for Easter Sunday is Mark 16:1-7, the story of the women bringing spices to the tomb. St. Mark identifies the women as “Mary Magdalene, and Mary mother of James, and Salome.” “Mary mother of James” is the mother of St. James the Lesser. She is sometimes identified with Mary of Clopas mentioned in John 19:25. Mary Salome is often believed to be the wife of Zebedee and the mother of St. James the Greater and St. John. These three women are venerated in Eastern Christianity as the “Myrrhbearers.” There are apocryphal accounts that these three were all daughters of St. Anne, but this is most likely not true.

The women approach the tomb “very early in the morning, the first day of the week.” Thus, the Resurrection is connected with the very beginning of creation. Furthermore, since Christ sanctified the first day of the week with his Resurrection, the Church continues to observe the sanctity of the first day of the week by obliging all her members to assist at Mass. Since Jesus arose in the morning, Mass is traditionally offered in the morning. Evening Masses were not permitted until 1953. When the women arrive at the tomb, they find the great stone miraculously rolled back and an angel sitting upon it. As always when angels appear to humans, the women are commanded, “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 21:17, Ezekiel 2:6, Luke 2:10). This angel at the tomb is described as a “young man...clothed with a white robe.” Just as St. Gabriel told the shepherds the joyful news of our Lord's birth thirty-three years prior (Luke 2:10-12), the angel at the tomb tells the women the glorious news of our Lord's resurrection. Jesus himself still does not yet appear in the Gospel, as he does not reveal himself to his apostles until the evening of the Resurrection (Luke 24:13-32, John 20:19-23).

After the Gospel, the Credo is sung as usual. The Offertory Verse from Psalm 75:9-10, “The earth trembled and was still,” refers to the earthquake on the morning of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2). The Preface of Easter is sung. At the end of Mass, “Alleluia, alleluia” is appended to the Ite Missa est.

New terms
  • computus – The calculation of the date of Easter.
  • Paschal full moon – The first full moon occurring on or after March 21, which determines the date of Easter.
  • Paschal Matins and Lauds – The hours of Matins and Lauds on Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Holy Week, Part 7: Easter Vigil

Just in time for Lent 2020, we have the long overdue remaining articles in our Holy Week series.

Previous parts in this series:


On Good Friday, our liturgy led up to the Mass of the Presanctified, which was silent. Afterwards, the altar was stripped in silence. On Holy Saturday, there is silence. This is the great sabbath day (John 19:31), on which our Lord Jesus Christ lay in the tomb. There is no liturgical celebration of Holy Saturday. With the exception of Tenebrae, the Divine Office is recited, not sung.

At the same time, however, this is the eve of the greatest feast of the year. On Easter Sunday, Jesus Christ conquered death and rose again. In his holy Resurrection, Jesus gave us the sure hope of salvation. Jesus is the source and pinnacle of love and life. He was tortured and crucified, but because darkness can never conquer the light of Christ, he rose again from the dead. As St. John wrote near the beginning of his Gospel, “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). Because Jesus rose, we can know with absolute certainty that he is the incarnate God, the Messiah, and that his sacrifice is the true sacrifice that finally conquered death and won for us eternal life in heaven. It is therefore the most joyful and glorious day of the year, the principal feast day of the Christian religion.

Since time immemorial, Christians have observed the night before Easter with a special liturgy. The early Christians celebrated with a vigil lasting the whole night, including readings from Sacred Scripture and receiving new Christians into the Church. This all-night vigil led up to the Mass of Easter Sunday in the morning, the first Mass offered since the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. Today, the Easter Vigil is celebrated in the evening of Holy Saturday, distinct from the liturgy on Sunday morning. It is the most solemn liturgical celebration of the year, and also the longest, usually lasting about four hours.

The ministers vest in violet, the color of Lent. The priest wears cope, and the deacon and subdeacon wear folded chasubles. They do not wear maniples.

The new fire
The liturgy begins outside the church, where fire is struck from flint. This is the new fire, which represents the light of Christ conquering the darkness of sin and death. The priest sings three prayers to bless the new fire. With a fourth prayer, the priest blesses five grains of incense. The priest then sprinkles the fire and grains of incense with holy water and incenses them. The deacon removes his violet chasuble and stole and puts on a white maniple, stole, and dalmatic. He is now vested in white, the color of Easter, because his next function is a joyful one.

All now process into the church, which is in darkness. The subdeacon, still vested in violet, carries the unveiled processional cross. An acolyte carries a taper lit from the new fire. The deacon carries a special triple candlestick. When he enters the church, one of the three candles on the triple candlestick is lit by the acolyte with the taper. The deacon genuflects, holds up the triple candlestick, and sings, “Lumen Christi.” All genuflect and respond, “Deo gratias” (page 6). This ceremony represents the light of Christ coming back into the world at the Resurrection. At the middle of the church, the second candle of the triple candlestick is lit, and the deacon sings again to a higher pitch, “Lumen Christi.” We all respond again, “Deo gratias.” When the deacon arrives in the sanctuary, the third candle is lit, and the deacon sings once more to a higher pitch, “Lumen Christi.” This mirrors the ceremony performed with the unveiling of the cross on Good Friday. At the Easter Vigil, instead of unveiling the cross, we unveil the light of Christ, made perfectly manifest in his Resurrection. The triple candlestick also has the practical advantage that, in case one of the three candles goes out, we still have the other two.

The Exultet
Still vested in white Mass vestments, the deacon sings the Exultet or Easter Praises (pages 6-14). They were written between the fifth and seventh centuries (though similar praises have been used since time immemorial) and have a similar ceremony to the Gospel of the Mass. The deacon receives the priest's blessing. The blessing is like the one for the Gospel, except the priest says, “...ut digne et competentur annunites suum paschale praeconium” (“that thou mayest worthily and fitly proclaim his Paschal praise”). The deacon then goes to a lectern on the Gospel side to sing the Exultet by the light of the triple candlestick. During the Exultet, we bless and light the Paschal Candle. It is such an exceedingly joyful chant that even if the Easter Vigil is celebrated as a Low Mass without chant, the priest still ought to sing the Exultet, or at least read it “in a clear and cheerful voice.” The Paschal candle is decorated with a cross, the year, and the Greek letters alpha and omega, representing God as the beginning and end of all things (Apocalypse 1:8, 22:13; see the illustration on page 1).

Since the Exultet is a solemn blessing, like the blessing of palms on Palm Sunday, it mirrors the Preface and Canon of the Mass. Since the Paschal Candle represents Christ and his glorious Resurrection, the most joyful event of our religion, it is even more solemn and elaborate than any Preface. The deacon begins with a long exhortation to prayer, analogous to the Orate fratres at Mass. The deacon exhorts all of heaven and earth to rejoice and sing the praise of the risen Christ. This introduction concludes with, “Per omnia saecula saeculorum.” The Sursum corda dialogue is then sung, like at the Preface at Mass.

The Exultet draws parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Most importantly, it draws connections to the Passover sacrifice and the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea. This event in the Old Testament is one of the strongest precursors to our redemption. It connects the Paschal candle with the pillar of fire with which God lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21-22). The pillar of fire never failed, just as the light of Christ never fails (John 1:5).

The Exultet even expresses joy over the original sin of Adam that caused us to receive our Redeemer. This original sin is called a felix culpa or “happy fault,” a term coined by St. Augustine, because even though it was a sin that offended God and caused mankind to fall from God's grace, it also caused us to receive inestimable grace and love, along with the hope of eternal life in heaven, a far better destiny than the Garden of Eden. The Exultet then quotes Psalm 138:12, which foretells the Resurrection: “This is the night of which it is written: And the night shall be as clear as the day; and the night is my light in my delights.”

The deacon then inserts the five blessed grains of incense into the Paschal Candle, while the Exultet alludes to Psalm 140:1 and also praises the bees that made the wax of the candle. Liturgical candles are always made primarily of beeswax, because beeswax is made by living, virgin bees (as opposed to paraffin, which is made from petroleum). This is another way that the candle represents Christ, who was also born of a virgin. (“Primarily from beeswax” often means 51% beeswax, because beeswax is expensive.) After praising the bees, the deacon lights the Paschal Candle from the triple candlestick. He then sings, “Which fire, although divided into parts, suffers no loss from its light being borrowed,” referring to the triple candlestick. After the Paschal Candle is lit, all the other candles in the church are lit, except the candles on the altar. Lamps are usually lit before the altar, but not on the altar itself. Small candles held by the faithful may be lit at this time. This represents the light of Christ radiating throughout the world after the Resurrection.

The deacon continues, “O truly blessed night, which plundered the Egyptians and enriched the Hebrews!” describing the justice of God. Strangely, this sentence was removed in the Novus Ordo Easter Vigil. Christ is then addressed as the morning star, or in Latin, Lucifer. Some anti-Catholics have misinterpreted this to mean that the Catholic liturgy is invoking the devil, which of course it is not. “Morning star” is an ancient title for Christ affirming his role as the light of the world.

Near the end of the Exultet, we pray for the Pope and the local bishop. Like the Solemn Collects on Good Friday, there is a prayer for the Holy Roman Emperor, which is now omitted because the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist in 1806. Now that the Exultet is finished, the Church is filled with light, whereas at the beginning of the liturgy it was in darkness, and the Paschal Candle burns as a symbol of the risen Lord.

The Prophecies
Since antiquity, one of the integral parts of the Easter Vigil has been readings from Sacred Scripture, particularly the Old Testament. (The tradition of the Easter Vigil predates the compilation of the New Testament.) The purpose of the Old Covenant was to prepare the Jews for the coming of the Messiah, so as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of the Messiah, we recall God's saving acts throughout history and our preparation to receive so great a Messiah. Twelve prophecies are sung by lectors that tell the story of our salvation.

The story of our salvation begins at the beginning of creation. God created the heavens, the earth, and all of mankind in a plan of perfect love, so that we could be united to him. The plan of salvation that culminated in the Resurrection began with the creation of the world. Thus, our first prophecy is the story of creation from the book of Genesis (pages 15-17). We begin with one of the most iconic verses in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Catechism of the Catholic Church published by Pope John Paul II begins, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” God created heaven, earth, light, darkness, the sky, dry land, plants, the sun, the moon, all the stars, birds, fish, all manners of creatures, and finally mankind, created in his own image, to be stewards of his creation. After each day of creation, God saw that his creation was good. God commanded mankind to “increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Thus begins our salvation.

After each prophecy is a collect, preceded by Flectamus genua / Levate like the Solemn Collects of Good Friday. The collect following the first prophecy begins, “O God, who hast wonderfully created man, and more wonderfully restored him,” quoting the prayer said at the Offertory of the Mass when the priest mixes the wine and water. Mankind was created in the image of God, designed to be perfectly good like God. However, mankind did not remain in God's grace. Adam turned against God and distrusted his Word, and humans became wicked and sinful.

In the second prophecy, we hear the story of the flood, when God showed us his justice and vengeance (pages 18-21). Only Noah and his family were found to be just. God commanded Noah to build an ark, on which he, his family, and all of the animals God created were spared from God's vengeance. This ark represents the Church, through which we can receive sanctifying grace and be spared from the punishment of hell.

In the line of Noah, a just man, God willed to bring forth a Savior. With Noah's descendant, Abraham, God made a covenant that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). Abraham had two sons: Ishmael, the son of the servant-girl, and Isaac, the son of his barren wife Sarah. Thus, Isaac is a precursor of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.

In the third prophecy, Abraham is commanded by God to slaughter his beloved son, Isaac, as an offering to God (pages 22-23). Abraham, a righteous man, obeys God's word, and takes Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him. However, an angel stops him and spares Isaac. This event foreshadows the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord, so it has an important place at the Easter Vigil. Isaac's son, Jacob, was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, to whom God revealed his Covenant.

In the fourth prophecy, God delivers the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the Promised Land (pages 24-25). On that day, God saved his people. When the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea on dry land, God let the waters loose and drowned Pharaoh and his army, who persecuted and enslaved the Israelites. In this event, God showed his immeasurable love for his people and his promise to bring them to salvation if they keep his Word. It is the strongest precursor to our redemption in the Old Testament, and thus it is arguably the most important of the twelve prophecies. It has been included in every form of the Easter Vigil since the time of the apostles. Moses began a long line of prophets, ending with St. John the Baptist, who foretold the coming of the Messiah and prepared the people of Israel for his coming.

After this reading, the choir sings the Canticle of Moses, the song of praise that Moses sang to God after their deliverance. The melody is the same for all three of the canticles sung during the prophecies, as well as the chant Sicut cervus sung later and the Tract of the Mass of the Easter Vigil. This is also the melody of the Tract Absolve Domine at Masses for the dead. It originates in the old Mozarabic Rite. After the canticle, the priest sings the collect for this reading.

In the fifth prophecy, we hear from the prophet Isaiah about the salvation that God has prepared for us (pages 26-27). He rebukes those who seek after fleeting pleasures, saying, “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doth not satisfy you? Hearken diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and your soul shall be delighted in fatness.” (Isaiah 55:2).

Similarly, in the sixth prophecy, we hear from Baruch, the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, speaking to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon (pages 28-30). Baruch reminds us of the kingdom of God, which should always be our goal. The reading concludes, “Afterwards he was seen upon earth, and conversed with men,” foretelling the coming of the Messiah.

In the seventh prophecy, God commands the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy to a valley of dry bones (pages 30-31). At Ezekiel's word, the dry bones resurrected from the dead. Ezekiel commanded them to grow flesh and skin, and finally, Ezekiel breathed the spirit of God into them, and they became living people. This represents not just the Resurrection of Christ, but also our own resurrection. When we are in mortal sin, separated from God, we are like dry bones. The Israelites under the Old Covenant were like dry bones. Through the Resurrection of Christ, we are restored to sanctifying grace, God's life is once more breathed into us, and we are raised from death.

The eighth prophecy is taken from near the beginning of the Prophecy of Isaiah, in which the prophet describes the New Israel that God has prepared for those who keep his Word. Just as God led the Israelites through the Red Sea into the Promised Land, God will also lead us into the New Israel. This prophecy is followed by the Canticle of Isaiah, roughly based on Isaiah 5:1-2, which describes the New Israel as a fruitful vineyard. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches (John 15:5).

The ninth prophecy is the Law of Passover, which we also heard as the Epistle of the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. Jesus is the true Passover lamb who was sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). Unlike the Passover lamb of the Old Covenant, which was burned and destroyed, Jesus rose again from the dead. This is the origin of the Holy Mass.

In the tenth prophecy, we hear from the prophet Jonah (pages 35-36). Jonah attempted to turn away from God's command, but he was cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish (Jonah 1:15-2:1). In this reading, he goes to Nineveh, a place of great sin and wickedness, and exhorts them to forswear their evil ways and return to the Lord their God. They do penance with sackcloth and ashes. In order to prepare for the coming of our Savior, we must turn away from sin, follow God's law, and do penance.

This leads to the eleventh prophecy, in which Moses, shortly before his death, commands the Israelites to follow God's law (pages 36-37). In order to unite ourselves to God, we must keep his word and follow his commandments. This reading is followed by another canticle of Moses, sung as an instruction to the Israelites, in which he praises God and prays that the Israelites may keep God's word after his death. The collect after this reading echoes this hope, praying that we may hold fast in God's word.

Finally, in the twelfth prophecy, we hear the story of the three children in the furnace from the Prophecy of Daniel (pages 39-42). King Nebuchadnezzar (also spelled Nabuchodonosor, the Latinized spelling) of Babylon made a golden idol and commanded everyone in his kingdom to worship it. Any who would not worship this idol would be cast into the fire. Similarly today, our society commands us to worship all manners of idols, including money, sex, and pride, lest we be cast off from society. However, the Hebrew children, Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago, remained faithful to their God, even when threatened with a torturous death, and they would not worship the golden idol. When Nebuchadnezzar threw them into the fiery furnace, heated seven times more than usual, God miraculously saved the three children, and instead struck down the men who persecuted them. Thus, God saved his people who were faithful to him.

After the previous two prophecies imploring us to do penance and follow God's law, we have this story to remind us of God's love. God will always justly reward those who are faithful to him. At the collect after this reading, there is no Flectamus genua / Levate, so as not to imitate the pagan Babylonians kneeling before Nebuchadnezzar's idol.

Thus, through these twelve prophecies, we hear the history of our salvation. We are admonished to be faithful to God's word and commandments and always to strive toward the kingdom of heaven. Through the Resurrection of Christ, we can have the assurance of salvation. The purpose of the liturgy is always to raise our minds and souls to God, and these twelve prophecies are a beautiful reminder of God's mercy and justice.

Blessing of the font
Another one of the most important parts of the Easter Vigil since the time of the apostles is receiving new members into the Church through the sacrament of Baptism. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Jesus's death, and through his Resurrection, we receive new life with him (Romans 6:3-5). The Easter Vigil is the traditional time to receive catechumens into the Church. The ceremony of Baptism of adults is a beautiful seven-part ceremony that we described in part nine of our series on the sacraments in August 2018. For practical reasons, the first six parts are done either earlier in the day or during the singing of the prophecies. Because of the special connection between the Resurrection and Baptism, baptismal water (known as Easter water) is blessed at the Easter Vigil, even if there is no one to be baptized.

After the last prophecy, the servers and ministers all process to the baptistery. An acolyte leads the procession carrying the Paschal Candle. During the procession, the choir sings the Tract Sicut cervus to the same melody as the canticles from earlier (pages 42-43). This Tract is taken from Psalm 41:2-4: “As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God,” an allusion to Baptism. Palestrina wrote a beautiful polyphonic setting of this Tract.

The blessing of the font and baptismal water is a solemn blessing, so like the blessings of the palms and the Paschal Candle, it is in the form of a Preface, imitating the Mass. The priest begins with two prayers analogous to the Secrets of the Mass. After the Sursum corda dialogue, the priest continues in the tone of the Preface, praising God for the gifts of water and Baptism. The priest divides the water in the form of a cross, because it is through the Blood shed on the Cross that we are baptized. The priest exorcises the water, commanding all powers of evil to depart from it. He also casts water toward the four corners of the earth, echoing Jesus's command, “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).

As the blessing continues, the priest elaborates more on the significance of water throughout the history of our salvation. Four rivers flowed out of the land of paradise in the Garden of Eden: the Phison, the Gehon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates (Genesis 2:10-14). God quenched the thirst of the children of Israel with water from the rock in the desert of Egypt (Exodus 17:1-6). In the New Testament, Jesus first manifested his divinity by transforming water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus walked on water (Matthew 14:25-27) and was baptized in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17). When our Lord died, water flowed from his side along with his Blood (John 19:34). Finally, Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Thus, throughout Sacred Scripture, water is a symbol of God's divine life that he shares with us. It is therefore especially appropriate to bless baptismal water at Easter.

The priest then breathes on the water three times, mirroring Jesus breathing on his disciples to give them the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). To further represent the imparting of the Holy Spirit upon the baptismal water, the priest takes the Paschal Candle, which represents Christ, and dips it into the font three times, gradually deeper each time. Each time, he sings at a successively higher pitch, “May the virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font.” After this, he breathes on the water three times in the form of the Greek letter Ψ (psi), which is the first letter in the Greek word for “spirit.” Its form also resembles the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). Finally, instead of the conclusion that ends most prayers in the liturgy, the blessing of the font concludes, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son: Who shall come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire,” giving us a stern reminder of the Last Judgment and the fires of purgatory (Matthew 3:11, 1 Corinthians 3:15).

The priest then sprinkles the whole church with the newly blessed water, similar to the Asperges ceremony before Sunday Mass, except in silence. Returning to the font, he mixes both Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism into the baptismal water, which were blessed two days prior by the bishop (page 48). If there is no one to be baptized, the Easter Vigil continues with the Litany of the Saints.

Baptism
The reception of new Christians into the Church has been an integral part of the Easter Vigil since antiquity. After the fall of the Roman Empire, when the Benedictines were spreading Christianity throughout Europe, people converted in massive flocks to the Catholic Church. In Constantinople in AD 404, three thousand people were baptized at a single Easter Vigil. The first six parts of the ceremony are done either earlier in the day or during the prophecies. This includes the renunciation of Satan and the threefold exorcisms. The seventh part, taking place inside the baptistery, takes place here, after the blessing of the font (pages 48-50). (Infants are not usually baptized at the Easter Vigil.)

Because it is a joyful occasion, the priest removes his purple cope and stole and puts on a white cope and stole. The catechumens are asked their names and then profess the faith into which they are being baptized. In ancient times, when there was great fear of persecutors infiltrating the Church, the Church leaders wanted to be certain that no one would be admitted to the sacrament without publicly professing the Catholic faith. Pagan Romans would not dare make this public profession of faith.

After professing their faith and their fervent desire to be baptized, each catechumen is baptized with the newly blessed water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If there is doubt as to whether or not they have already been validly baptized (as may be the case with converts from sects such as Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses), then the priest uses the conditional form, “If thou art not baptized, I baptize thee...” After Baptism, each new Christian is anointed with Sacred Chrism and given a white garment and a candle (lit from the Paschal Candle). These represent their purity and the fire of sanctifying grace now burning in their souls. With that, they are dismissed.

If the bishop is present, or if the priest has the appropriate faculties, the newly baptized Christians are then confirmed. See our article on Confirmation for the ceremony. If the bishop is present, Holy Orders may also be conferred.

The Litany of the Saints
The final element of the liturgy before Mass is the Litany of the Saints (pages 50-55). The priest puts back on his purple stole and cope, and all return to the sanctuary. During the procession back to the sanctuary, the litanies are begun. Upon arrival in the sanctuary, the priest, deacon, and subdeacon lie prostrate before the altar. The litanies here are abbreviated somewhat, probably because the ceremony is already very long.

In the Litany of the Saints, we invoke many of the saints by name and implore their intercession. It is also sung at ordinations and at the consecration of a church. Each petition is sung twice, first by the cantors, and then by the whole choir, to represent our welcoming the newly baptized Christians into the church.

During the singing of the litanies, all is prepared for the Mass. At the petition, “Peccatores / Te rogamus audi nos,” the servers and ministers return to the sacristy to vest in white vestments for Mass. The altar is vested in a white frontal and adorned with flowers, as is fitting for the greatest feast of the year. If necessary, the petitions may be repeated beginning with, “Sancta Maria / ora pro nobis,” while the ministers vest.

At the petition, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis...” the servers and ministers return to the church in procession, just like any other High Mass. They go to the sanctuary to begin the first Mass of Easter.

Mass of the Easter Vigil
This is the joyful Mass that ends our Lenten fast and begins the season of Eastertide. There is no Introit, as the Litany of the Saints takes its place. When the ministers arrive before the altar, the choir begins singing the Kyrie. The ministers begin Mass as always with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar (pages 55-57). Psalm 42 is said for the first time since before Passion Sunday. If necessary, the lines of the Kyrie may be repeated. The priest ascends to the altar, kisses it, and incenses it, as always, before saying the Kyrie with the ministers.

The priest now intones the Gloria (pages 58-59). This great hymn of praise is based on the hymn of the angels at our Lord's Incarnation (Luke 2:14). The glory of the Lord's Incarnation was completed by our Lord's Resurrection. While the priest and ministers are saying the Gloria for themselves, the organ is played and all the bells of the church are rung. They have been silent since Maundy Thursday, but now they sound joyfully to proclaim our Lord's Resurrection. The choir then sings the rest of the Gloria as usual. During the singing of the Gloria, all of the statues and sacred images in the church, which were veiled during Passiontide, are unveiled. This is the beginning of Eastertide.

The Epistle of the Mass of the Easter Vigil is a short passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians (page 60). St. Paul reminds us that we too are risen from our death in sin and must therefore always strive toward heaven. After the Epistle, the priest sings, “Alleluia!” This joyful word, a Hebrew word meaning, “All hail to him who is!” has not been used in the sacred liturgy since first Vespers of Septuagesima Sunday. Now that Eastertide has begun, it is returned to use in the liturgy. This ceremony echoes the unveiling of the cross on Good Friday or the ceremony with the triple candlestick at the beginning of the Vigil. The priest sings, “Alleluia!” three times at successively higher pitches, with the choir repeating each time. Thus, this ceremony is used each time something is unveiled in the liturgy: the cross, the light of Christ, or the word “alleluia.”

The choir then sings the Alleluia Verse, from Psalm 117:1: “Give praise to the Lord for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever” (pages 60-61). This is followed by the Tract. Since it is only a vigil and not yet Easter Sunday, there still remain vestiges of Lent. St. Mary Magdalene, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the other holy women are the first to see our risen Lord, but the holy apostles will not see him until the evening. The Easter Vigil and the Pentecost Vigil are the only two Masses of the year that have an Alleluia Verse followed by a Tract. The Tract of the Easter Vigil is Psalm 116, the shortest psalm, just a few brief words of praise to God. It is sung to the same beautiful melody as the canticles that follow the prophecies.

Another remnant of the sorrow of Lent is that candles are not held at the Gospel, just as they were not held at the Passion Gospels. The Gospel is from St. Matthew's account of the Resurrection of Christ (pages 62-63). However, since this is only a vigil, the Risen Christ does not actually appear in this Gospel passage. Christ is risen, but he has not appeared to us quite yet. St. Mary Magdalene, once a grievous sinner, was given the grace to be the first person to see him after his Resurrection. She goes to the tomb to mourn her Lord, whom she loved so much, and receives the word of an angel that he is risen. Jesus himself will not appear in the Gospel until the following day. As with all vigils of feasts, the Credo is not sung. This also represents the fact that, since Christ has not yet appeared to his disciples, they are not yet able to proclaim their faith in the risen Christ.

There is no Offertory Verse. The rest of the Offertory is as usual (pages 63-66). The Gloria Patri is said at the Lavabo for the first time since before Passiontide. The Preface of Easter is sung, which praises Christ as “the true Lamb who hath taken away the sins of the world” (pages 66-68). During the Canon, the Communicantes and Hanc igitur are modified to reflect the feast. The modified Hanc igitur especially prays for the newly baptized Christians: “These whom thou hast vouchsafed to bring to a new birth by water and the Holy Ghost, granting them remission of all their sins” (page 70). The same Hanc igitur is said at Pentecost, because the Pentecost Vigil is also a traditional time to receive people into the Church.

The Agnus Dei, which ends, “Grant us thy peace,” and the kiss of peace are omitted, because it is not until the evening of Easter Sunday that Jesus appears to his disciples and says, “Peace be to you” (John 20:19-21). The Church's liturgy thus perfectly reflects her faith and the events of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. In the Easter Vigil, we remember Christ's divine Resurrection and his appearance to the holy women, but his appearance to the apostles and to the multitudes is not celebrated until the next day. Thus, there is no Agnus Dei or kiss of peace. The three prayers before Communion are still said as usual. Communion is distributed to the faithful as usual.

First Vespers of Easter
Like every Sunday and major feast day, the liturgical celebration of Easter begins with first Vespers the evening before. After Communion, first Vespers of Easter is sung. Because the ceremony is already so long, first Vespers is heavily reduced, consisting of only one psalm and the Magnificat. The cantors intone the antiphon, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,” which the choir sings. (Unlike regular Solemn Vespers, the priest does not intone the antiphon.) This is the antiphon for every hour of the Divine Office during Paschaltide. The lone psalm of first Vespers of Easter is Psalm 116, which we heard earlier in the Tract. It is a short psalm of praise. This psalm takes the place of the Communion Verse.

After the psalm, the priest intones the antiphon to the Magnificat, which the choir sings. The antiphon is taken from Matthew 28:1, the beginning of the Gospel of the Mass. As usual at Solemn Vespers, the priest incenses the altar during the Magnificat. Furthermore, the fact that the Magnificat is included even in this highly reduced form of Vespers indicates that it is an essential part of the Church's evening praises.

After the Magnificat, the priest sings a prayer that serves as both the collect of Vespers and the postcommunion of the Mass (page 79). We are dismissed with the words, “Ite, Missa est, alleluia, alleluia!” Mass ends as always with the blessing and the Last Gospel. Thus concludes the Easter Vigil.

New terms
  • new fire – A fire struck from flint that is blessed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
  • Exultet or Easter praises – A long, beautiful, and ancient chant sung at the Easter Vigil to bless the Paschal Candle.
  • Easter water – Baptismal water blessed at the Easter Vigil, with Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism mixed into it.