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.

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