Easter Vigil: Reflecting on the Celebration

1.     Darkness.  

The Easter Vigil begins with darkness.  The darkness itself is the first movement of the liturgy, so we begin our preparations with that darkness.  It represents all darkness, and all the meanings of darkness - devoid of light; evil thoughts, motivations, deeds; all that is hidden and secret, deceitful and dishonest, divisive and abusive, immoral and sinful.  It's the darkness of our world, and the darkness in my heart.  If I come to the vigil and restlessly and impatiently fidget in the dark “until something happens,” I miss the power of what is about to happen.  So, we prepare by readying ourselves to experience the darkness.  It is distasteful and reprehensible, embarrassing and humbling, fearful and despairing. Then a light is struck.  It breaks into the darkness. “O God, who through your son bestowed upon the faithful the fire of your glory,
 sanctify + this new fire, we pray, and grant that,
 by these Paschal celebrations,
 we may be so inflamed with heavenly desires
 that with minds made pure,
 we may attain festivities of unending spendor.” 

2.     The Light of Christ.  

The candle lit from the new fire is then processed into the community, and we receive its light and experience the power of that light as it grows.  When the candle is brought front and center, we celebrate the Easter Proclamation.  This prayer sounds like a Eucharistic Prayer.  We give thanks and praise over this symbol of the Light of Christ in our midst and “consecrate” it as Christ's presence among us.  Reading this proclamation carefully and letting its joyful song into our hearts is a wonderful way to prepare to feel its exultant praise at the Vigil. 

“Dear brothers and sisters, now that we have begun our solemn Vigil, let us listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God.
 Let us meditate on how God in times past saved his people and in these, the last days, has sent us his son as our Redeemer.
 Let us pray that our God may complete this Paschal work of salvation by the fullness of redemption.”       

3.     The Word of Our Salvation History.  

There are nine readings and eight psalms or songs that have been prepared to help us with our night's vigil.  Each reading is followed by an invitation to pray in silence, which is followed by a special prayer designed for that reading.  (The help that comes with the liturgy says this:  “The number of readings from the Old Testament may be reduced for pastoral reasons, but it must always be borne in mind that the reading of the word of God is the fundamental element of the Easter Vigil.”)  If we have time on Saturday, a wonderful way to prepare for the Vigil would be to read the readings and psalms and then articulate prayer to the Lord, expressing gratitude to God for an extraordinary story of fidelity and love for us.  

After the last reading from the Old Testament, the candles are lit and the bells ring as we sing our Glory to God.  Now we are ready to hear the New Testament word in the light of Christ, and the good news, “He has been raised!”  Powerful religious experience is prepared for.  At this point in the liturgy, we want to be prepared to be exultant with joy at the resurrection of Jesus - the victory of our God over sin and death - for us.  

4.     The Liturgy of Baptism.  

The Presiders and ministers go to the font of baptism, thereby drawing us together there. (The ritual says that if the font can't be seen by the congregation, then “water is placed in the sanctuary.”)  Those who are to be baptized are called forward, along with their sponsors.  In our excitement for them, we realize that this is very much about the renewal of our whole community.  Initiation and revitalization become one this night.  

“Dearly beloved, with one heart and one soul, let us by our prayers come to the aid of these our brothers and sisters in their blessed hope, so that as they approach the font of rebirth, the almighty Father may bestow on them all his merciful help.”  

5.       The Litany  

We turn to the community of saints in glory to ask for their help.  We remember that we do this same litany before the ordination of priests.  As we turn to each of these saints we recall how these very special women and men journeyed in situations very much like ours and let God transform their lives, and that they are now in glory interceding for us.  In our hearts we might also turn to the saints we have known, who are not part of this list, whose love we have known and to whom we can turn tonight to intercede for these candidates for baptism and for our whole community.  

“Give new life to these chosen ones by the grace of baptism.”  

6.      The Blessing of the Water  

The Presider now blesses the water.  These wonderful prayers are like a mini lesson, both for those about to be baptized, and for us.  We can prepare by praying this prayer before the Vigil, at the link to the right.  When the priest inserts the candle in the water and pull it out and lifts it up, we experience the ritual that announces the meaning of our baptism into these waters - one with him in dying that we might be one with him in rising.  

7.      The Profession of Faith and Renunciation of Evil 

We have renewed our baptismal promises many times.  We can prepare to make the Easter Vigil a powerful experience of grace if we make each of the renunciations and professions with a meaning that is personal to us.
“Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God's children?”
That question begs me to spontaneously say, “YES! Of course!”  But, reflection tells me that I long to be free at the same time that I cling to some of my unfreedoms.  So the next question takes me deeper.

“Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?”
There really is a glamor to evil and it does claim a mastery over me.  The renunciation that is asked of me is about freedom, so I am asked if I will personally choose to be free and reject the rules the sin and darkness.
“Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?”
Now I am ready to profess the faith of the Church, choosing to believe in the One who gives me life.
 
8.     Baptism and the Rites Explaining Baptism.

The candidates are baptized.  Even if our church isn't able to immerse the baptized into the water, the ritual of pouring water over their heads is meant to be a sign of their entry into the waters of baptism.  We should feel the power of this moment and open our hearts to its joy, for them and for ourselves.

  The newly baptized are anointed, with the same oil used to anoint priests.

“He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation, so that, united with his people, you may remain forever a member of Christ who is Priest, Prophet, and King.”  

9.      They are then clothed in a white garment.  

“You have become a new creation and have clothed yourselves in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting life.”  

Finally, they receive a candle lit from the Easter fire.

“You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.  When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”  

10.   The Celebration of Confirmation   

 The newly baptized and those who are about to be received into full communion are ready to “share in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”  We all pray in silence, and feel the power of God's Spirit among us.  And in silence, the Presider lays hands on each person, the same sign used in ordination to the priesthood.  As they are anointed, we can imagine the gifts of the Spirit that we have received and can let ourselves feel the grace offered us to be strong witnesses to the union with Jesus in mission that we are offered.  The newly confirmed take their places in the assembly of the faithful, ready to join us for the first time at the table of the Lord.  

11.  The Eucharist.  

All our preparations, all the power of this night's rituals and sacraments, lead us to celebrate the Eucharist, to “give God thanks and praise.”  As the newly confirmed receive the final Sacrament of Initiation, the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are ready to celebrate Easter.  

The tomb is empty.  There is Light in the midst of our darkness.  We've been fed by the Word and given new life in the waters of baptism.  Now we eat his Body and drink his Blood and receive the life in him that he promises.  

Alleluia, Alleluia! 

(From Creighton University Online Ministries) 

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A Love That Cannot Wait: An Easter Reflection 

“Celebrating A Love That Cannot Wait.” 

The celebration of Easter is for all Christians the highpoint of our year of faith. At Easter we celebrate the fact that Christ has  risen from the dead and destroyed death for all who place their hope in Him. Easter means that, because of Christ’s resurrection, we shall not die but rather we are all invited to spend eternity with our loving God in heaven. At Easter we think of our loved ones who have died and we rejoice that they have been spared death because of Christ’s resurrection and are with Him in heaven for all eternity. Ultimately, at Easter we celebrate that God loves us so much that He destroyed death so that He might spend eternity with each of us. Easter is the greatest celebration of God’s unconditional and undying love for each of us; a love so strong that death cannot destroy it.

The Good News about Christ’s resurrection and His destruction of death is so overwhelmingly joyful that it can sometimes overshadow another aspect of Christ’s victory. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is so powerful that not only does it destroy death, it also destroys all other barriers which stand in the way of our encountering Him—even the barriers of time and space. Christ’s resurrection does not just  announce God’s desire to be with us in heaven; it also proclaims His passion to love and live with us today. God the Father raised Jesus from the dead not so that He could live with His disciples and apostles once they got to heaven. The Father rose Jesus up in order that all people of all times and places could live in communion with Himself and the other persons of the Holy Trinity at every moment in time and history. Easter celebrates the fact that God will not let anything stand in the way of His love for us. At Easter we celebrate that God’s love is so strong for us that He cannot wait to be with us in heaven. God loves us so much that He desires to be with us “today.” All that is required for this to happen is that we open our hearts to His presence. 

The Easter Vigil is the most powerful celebration of God’s love for us that the Church knows. In this beautiful annual celebration, the Church celebrates Christ’s victory over death and recounts all that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done to share their love with each of us today. The Easter Vigil proclaims that our God loves each of us so much that He cannot wait to be with us. He does not want to wait until we are in heaven with Him. The resurrection of Christ was intended to break down the barriers which stand in the way of us living in communion with Christ today. Understanding how this is celebrated at the Easter Vigil can help all of us to understand how Christ wishes to encounter us every day of our lives. The Easter Vigil is made up of four essential parts: 1) the Liturgy of Light; 2) the Liturgy of the Word; 3) the Liturgy of Baptism; and 4) the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is worth spending a little time looking at each of these in order to appreciate how much God desires to relate to each us today. His is a love that cannot wait to be in communion with each of us. 

1.     The Liturgy of Light: 

The Easter Vigil begins with the blessing of the Easter Fire and the Paschal Candle and the singing of the Exultet, the great hymn of our Easter victory. As the Easter Candle is lit, we celebrate that Christ has destroyed the darkness of sin and death and become the light of the world. By sending the Holy Spirit on the Church as tongues of fire, God the Father illumines the hearts of all the Baptized. We enter the Church following the Paschal Candle, which represents Christ, just as God once led His people through the desert out of slavery in Egypt with a pillar of fire. The candles that are held by the Baptized testify to the gift of the Holy Spirit that we all received in Baptism and to the fact that God wishes to dwell within us today and lead each of us by His Holy Spirit. The individual candles that we hold also proclaim the responsibility that belongs to each Christian to be Christ’s witness in the world. The Liturgy of the Light is a testimony of God’s love by which we are to be guided today by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ as the light by which we are to guide our pilgrim journeys to heaven, testifying to our brothers and sisters and illuminating the world today by our Christian witness. The light proclaims a God who is with us and active in the world today. The Paschal Candle used at the Easter Vigil is also used at our Baptismal and Funeral liturgies to proclaim the love of our God who wishes to be with us always. 

2.     The Liturgy of the Word: 

The Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil recalls the history of salvation. It proclaims God’s tireless efforts to love and live in communion with His people. While this part of the Vigil may be shortened, when the seven Old Testament readings are proclaimed, an account is given of the extent to which God will go to love and relate to all of us. Since the human person first sinned and turned away from God, He has not given up on us. Everything God has done to reveal Himself in the Old Testament has been a preparation for that final victory over all that divides us, which we celebrate at the Easter Vigil. The emphasis that is placed on God’s Word reminds us how important it is that we pray and study the Scriptures in order to know God and understand how to relate to Him today. Discerning God’s presence in our lives today requires that we all study and pray the Scriptures regularly. Attending Mass every Sunday also helps us to know God’s Word as it exposes us regularly to different aspects of God’s revelation and weekly guides us and draws us closer to God. As at the Easter Vigil, no Mass is ever celebrated without God’s Word being proclaimed from the Lectionary which contains the Scriptures readings that are used at Mass. The Word is proclaimed at the Vigil and at each Mass because Jesus does not want to wait to speak to us only when we get to Heaven. He loves each of us so much that He does not want to wait that long. He desires to speak to us today in His Word and invites us to come to Mass every Sunday to hear it proclaimed in His community, which is the Church. 

3.     The Liturgy of Baptism: 

At the Easter Vigil, the Church welcomes those adults who are to be baptized. As they are baptized they experience concretely that Jesus does not want to wait to share His life with us. All who are baptized share in the death and resurrection of Christ; they are freed from original sin; and receive the grace of the Holy Spirit so that they may live in communion with God now and for all eternity. Those who are baptized by submersion experience how close God wishes to come to them as they are surrounded by the saving water of the Baptismal Font. Those who are baptized also remind those of us who are already baptized that we have already received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and are already called to be living our lives each and every day in communion with Him. 

The renewal of our baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil and all of the other Easter Masses is a powerful reminder to all of us that, as we celebrate Easter, we are already living in relationship with the God who cannot wait to love us. While this is one of the more significant times that we renew our baptismal promises in the course of the year, it can help us to realize that we should and actually do remind ourselves of our baptisms quite frequently. Every time that we cross ourselves “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” we recall the words with which we were baptized and established in a relationship of grace with the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Water at the entrance to every church helps us to recall how it is that by Baptism we were brought into the Church and called into relationship with our God who desires to be in relationship with us today. It is through our Baptism that the Holy Trinity wishes to share eternity with us today. 

4.     The Liturgy of the Eucharist: 

The importance of the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil as the highlight of the celebration points to the importance of the Eucharist at each and every Mass. Nothing speaks more powerfully of God’s desire to begin to spend eternity with us today than the gift which Christ gives us at every Mass of His Body and Blood. We can sometimes lose sight of the fact that every Sunday is a celebration of the day of Christ’s resurrection. Every Sunday, Christ invites us to celebrate His resurrection and to receive His Body and Blood so that He might share His life with us today. 

Christians in our  society are losing sight of the importance of Sunday and what it is that we celebrate on this day. For so many people there is a mistaken notion that to be a Christian means only to be a “nice” person. Thankfully, the word “nice” is not used once in the Easter Vigil. To be a Christian is to recognize that God has loved us so much that He has sent His only Son into the world to save us by raising Him up after He died to forgive our sins. The Christian professes his or her faith in Christ’s resurrection by attending Mass on Sunday, the day on which He rose from the dead. Every Sunday is intended to be a little weekly celebration of Easter. By receiving Christ’s Body and Blood on Sunday, the Christian does what Christ has asked us to do “in memory of me.” The Eucharist at the Easter Vigil emphasizes beautifully what we celebrate at every Sunday Eucharist and shows us how we are to live our faith today in communion with the same Jesus who gave us the Eucharist because He loves us so much that He desires to be with us today. God does not wish to wait until we get to heaven to share His life with us. He wishes to do so every Sunday at the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist in our parish. Easter puts before us the question of how we are going to respond to His invitation. 

He loves us now and will always love us. He invites us to be in relationship with Him now, to give Him a place in our lives now and to open our hearts to the transforming power of His grace now. As we celebrate this Easter that God loves each of us so much that He cannot wait to be in relationship with us, let us also pray for the grace to respond to His invitation today.  

Because God desires to be in relationship with us today, He also asks us to respond to Him today. Because He does not wait to share His love, we are invited to accept His invitation to be with Him for all eternity, not when we get to heaven, but now. Easter is a celebration of God’s offer of salvation and an invitation to respond to this offer. We are not to renew our baptismal promises only in word. We are called to give God a place in our lives today. We do this as the Vigil shows us by: 1) allowing His Holy Spirit to be the light by which we are guided on our pilgrim journeys to heaven; 2) listening to His Word and being guided by the Scriptures; 3) living our baptismal faith in relation to God and our brothers and sisters in Christ; and 4) opening our hearts to Christ’s presence in our lives today by remembering Him every Sunday at the Eucharist where He gives us His Body and Blood so that we may love others as He has loved us.  

May God bless all of us this Easter with an awareness of His love today so that we might spend all eternity with Him, starting right now.

Happy Easter!  

Fr. Michael McGourty (Toronto Archdiocese) 

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Engaging Faith | 

By John Bucki, S.J.
Source: Center of Concern 

Quotes 

“Let us ask the Father of mercies to enable us to live fully the faith graciously bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism and to bear witness to it freely, joyfully and courageously. This will be the best service we can offer to the cause of Christian unity, a service of hope for a world still torn by divisions, conflicts and rivalries.”  

- Pope Francis, March 20, 2013 

“Christ is looking for men and women who will help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love.” 

- Pope Benedict XVI, “Urbi et Orbi Message,” Easter 2009  

“It would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: ‘Do you wish to receive Baptism?’ means at the same time to ask them: ‘Do you wish to become holy?’ It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount.” 

- Pope John Paul II, “Novo Millennio Inuente”  

“Rising from the waters of the Baptismal font, every Christian hears again the voice that was once heard on the banks of the Jordan River: ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
- Pope John Paul II, “Christi fideles Laici” (Apostolic Exhortation on the Vocation of the Laity)
“To experience Holy Week is to enter more and more into God’s logic of love and self-giving.”
 - Pope Francis, March 27, 2013  

“Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; Jesus is the everlasting ‘today’ of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human.” 

- Pope Francis, homily at Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013  

Thoughts for your consideration 

Easter Resurrection is about power, liberation and freedom, but not the power of dominating control or of manipulating others. It is not about the power of a large corporation or bank. It is not control by military force or the use of torture or the manipulation of the mass media or the triumph of money. It is not the power of the media or political insiders. Rather it is the power of non-violent, active, generous love and solidarity. It is the power that comes from a faith rooted in the great story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The readings at the Easter vigil highlight the great story of God working in our world over a long period of time for our liberation and life. This great story of liberation continues today even in the midst of our human frailties.  

In the baptismal promises, the catechumens (and the entire community in their renewal of baptism promises) renounce sin and all those ideologies and ways of thinking that are contrary to the way of Jesus. They (we) renounce values that are taken for granted by or imbedded in parts of our culture – racism, materialism, consumerism, sexism, militarism, wealth, political power, etc. This renunciation is a source of freedom and new life for all of us and for the whole world. From the death and resurrection of Jesus flows a challenging vision that changes and challenges the social fabric of the whole world. 

As we leave our liturgical celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, we hope to be living in a new way. We hope to be alive in the spirit of Christ, the Christ who shared our life, spoke up for the oppressed, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and even risked death. It is this spirit that we hope to share with our world. 

“Let us ask the Father of mercies to enable us to live fully the faith graciously bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism and to bear witness to it freely, joyfully and courageously. This will be the best service we can offer to the cause of Christian unity, a service of hope for a world still torn by divisions, conflicts and rivalries.”  

- Pope Francis, March 20, 2013 

Stories 

If Easter is about freedom, these humorous stories might be interesting starting point for our reflections: 

A man escaped jail by digging a hole from his jail cell to the outside world. When finally his work was done, he emerged in the middle of a preschool playground. 
"I'm free, I'm free!" he shouted.
"So what," said a little girl. "I'm four."

Prayers of Intercession 

Response: Risen Jesus, bless us with newness of life.
For an end to the violence, terrorism, and war that divide and pain our world, we pray…
For an end to all the racism and discrimination that oppresses people in our world, we pray…
For an end to the materialism and consumerism that distorts our values and harms our environment, we pray…
For the sick who are denied quality health care, we pray…
For an end to hunger and all poverty, we pray…
For equal opportunities for employment at a living wage for all, we pray…
For a new spirit of justice and peace for all God’s people, we pray…
For a new spirit of hope and joy as we work to create a welcoming community, we pray…
 
Prayers 

Let there be an end to the chain of hatred and terrorism,
which threatens the orderly development of the human family.
May God grant that we be free
from the peril of a tragic clash
between cultures and religions.
May faith and love of God
make the followers of every religion
courageous builders of understanding and forgiveness,
patient weavers of a fruitful inter-religious dialogue,
capable of inaugurating a new era of justice and peace.

 - John Paul II, "Urbi et Orbi” message, Easter, 2003
 

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 God of the universe, God of our hearts. 

We thank you for the gift of Jesus, whose resurrection we celebrate this month. We thank you for the model he was to us while on earth - a model of wisdom, loving kindness, and mercifulness. We thank you for his fierce compassion for humankind. 

We ask that we will be mindful of Jesus' example as we engage with others, whether they are powerful or powerless. We ask that we remember to pray for our enemies and to bless those who mock, criticize, and persecute us.

We pray for peace for this world. We ask you to breathe peace into those areas of profound generational conflict. Breathe your deep peace like an emergency medic breathes air into endangered lungs. Resuscitate hope for peace into the people living in these lands. Breathe hope for peace into us as well. 

We thank you for the gift of presenting these requests, these concerns, before you. We are grateful that you bend your ear, your heart, toward us. We are confident that you hear our prayers and will act on them. We praise and bless your holy name, Amen.