The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter
Reading 1: Genesis 1:1-2:2
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12-14, 24, 35
Reading 2: Genesis 22:1-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Reading 3: Ex 14:15-15:1
Responsorial Psalm: Exodus 15:1-6, 17-18
Reading 4: Isaiah 54:5-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
Reading 5: Isaiah 55:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Isaiah 12:2-6
Reading 6: Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8-11
Reading 7: Ezekiel 36:16-28
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 42:3, 5; 43:3-4
Epistle: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 6:3-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Gospel: According to St. Luke 24:1-12
During class on Wednesday I spent some time encouraging my seniors to take full advantage of the many liturgical offerings available during Holy Week both in their parishes and at our Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
I tried to impress upon them that these events are the highlight of the liturgical year and that to experience them is to be spiritually enriched in a very special way. The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday both prepare us for what is to come, and help us to get inside of the events of our salvation in a way that can bind us more closely with Christ. Yet, they are only the prelude. The crowning event of the week, indeed, of the entire liturgical cycle, is, as it is officially designated, the Easter Vigil of the Holy Night of Easter.
For anyone attending the Easter Vigil for the first time, a little preparation is necessary so that the Mass attendee knows what they are in for. First, be prepared because it is a very lengthy liturgy – the longest of the year by far. Only once each year do we hear seven Old Testament readings, with accompanying responsorial psalms, before we get to the Epistle and the Gospel.
Second, the length of the event should not be an impediment to attendance, and, since no other word comes to mind, we should think of this liturgy as ‘magnificent.’ Actually, I am very glad to use that word – a word that on the surface means ‘impressively beautiful and elaborate.’ It is a fitting word for this event and one that attempts to convey the largeness of the ritual. But the Latin root helps to uncover what this liturgy is really all about.
The Latin word magnus simply means ‘great.’ At its root, the word magnificent means ‘to make great’ or ‘serving to magnify.’ The Easter Vigil literally serves to magnify all of reality, all of creation, all of Salvation History. It serves as the lens that shows us what IS in such a way that we have no choice but to pay attention. From the darkening of the church building, to the lighting of the fire at the entrance of the church, to the lighting of the Paschal Candle, to the distribution of the flame to the candles of each person in the congregation, to the reading of the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation, to the initiation of those who are entering the Church through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist – all the events of this liturgy are intended to remind us of the enormity, even the cosmic nature, of the Easter event.
In a world where we can very easily fall into the trap of, as famed NYU professor Neil Postman called it, “amusing ourselves to death” it is good for us to leave behind, if only for two or three hours, the dog and pony show of modern life and allow ourselves to focus on something that, in a world addicted to hyperbole, is truly magnificent:
Christ Is Risen! He Is Truly Risen!
May you and all those you love have a very blessed Easter.