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
One of the constant themes of my two senior theology classes is the essential link between God and humans through the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. In a liturgical context, nowhere is this combination of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty more present than throughout the Mass of the Easter Vigil.
This sacred liturgy is the crowning event of both Holy Week as well as the entire liturgical year. One is literally confronted with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The sense of transcendent mystery so associated with the liturgies of the Catholic and Orthodox East finds a place in the
Latin West on this night. It is what makes this night different from every other night.
From the very beginning of the ceremony, where the congregation assembles outside the church, gathered around a fire, to the conclusion of the Mass several hours later, there is the unfolding of the great mystery of Salvation History which culminates in the Resurrection.
Those who have attended the Easter Vigil before know that this is not your usual Sunday Mass. This lengthiest of all liturgies includes not only the procession, with lit candles, into a darkened church, but also the recitation of seven Old Testament readings, with accompanying responsorial psalms, before we get to the Epistle and the Gospel.
Despite the sheer length of this event, each prayer, each response, each symbolic gesture is such an integral part of the liturgy that when trying to describe the experience the best response might simply be the term “magnificent”. A dictionary will tell you that the term means “impressively beautiful and elaborate” and that comes pretty close to conveying the sheer immensity of the ritual. But the Latin root of “magnificent” helps to uncover what this liturgy is really all about.
The word magnus is simply the Latin term for “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.