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Catholic Activity: Easter Vigil

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The Easter Vigil liturgy is the most beautiful liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church. This walks through the Easter Vigil, and includes the words to the Exsultet.

DIRECTIONS

Although celebrated Holy Saturday evening, it is the dramatic Easter vigil liturgy that marks the beginning of Easter. We are awaiting our master's return with our lamps full and burning, so that he will find us awake and seat us at his table (cf. Luke 12:35ff). All Catholics should try to attend this beautiful service. The vigil is divided into four parts:

  1. Service of Light,
  2. Liturgy of the Word,
  3. Liturgy of Baptism, and
  4. Liturgy of the Eucharist.

1) Service of Light The atmosphere in the church is different: the holy water fonts are drained, all the lights are out, the tabernacle is empty. The service begins outside the church. A new fire is lit and blessed:

Dear brethren,
on this most sacred night,
in which our Lord Jesus Christ
passed over from death to life,
the Church calls upon her sons and daughters,
scattered throughout the world,
to come together to watch and pray.
If we keep the memorial
of the Lord's paschal solemnity in this way,
listening to his word and celebrating his mysteries,
then we shall have the sure hope
of sharing his triumph over death
and living with him in God.

Let us pray,
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 splendor. Through Christ our Lord.

After the blessing of the new fire, one of the ministers brings the paschal candle to the priest, who cuts a cross into the candle with a stylus. Then he makes the Greek letter Alpha above the cross, the letter Omega below, and the four numerals of the current year between the arms of the cross, saying meanwhile:

Christ yesterday and today (he cuts a vertical line);
the Beginning and the End (he cuts a horizontal line);
the Alpha (he cuts the letter Alpha above the vertical line);
and the Omega (he cuts the letter Omega below the vertical line);
All time belongs to him (he cuts the 1st numeral of the current year in the upper left corner of the cross);
and all the ages (he cuts the 2nd numeral of the current year in the upper right corner of the cross);
To him be glory and power (he cuts the 3rd numeral of the current year in the lower left corner of the cross);
through every age and for ever. Amen (4th numeral of the current year in the lower right corner of the cross).

Then the priest may insert five grains of incense into the candle in the form of a cross, meanwhile saying:
1. By his holy
2. and glorious wounds,
3. may Christ the Lord
4. guard us
5. and protect us. Amen.

The priest lights the candle from the new fire, saying:

May the light of Christ, rising in glory,
dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.

The candle is then processed through the church, with the deacon lifting the candle at three different times, singing: The Light of Christ. (or Lumen Christi) and the congregation sings in reply: Thanks be to God (or Deo gratias). Everyone lights their candle from the Easter candle and continue in procession until the whole church is alight. The Paschal candle symbolizes Christ, the Light of the World.

Next follows the glorious Easter song of the Catholic Church: the Exsultet (Easter proclamation). "This magnificent hymn, which is remarkable for its lyric beauty and profound symbolism, announces the dignity and meaning of the mystery of Easter; it tells of man's sin, of God's mercy, and of the great love of the Redeemer for mankind, admonishing us in turn to thank the Trinity for all the graces that have been lavished upon us" (©1947 With Christ Through the Year, by Bernard Strasser). This is usually sung by the deacon.

Exsultet:

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exults,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle's perfect praises).

(V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.)

V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.

V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.

It is truly right and just,
with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.

Who for our sake paid Adam's debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.

This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and your servants' hands.
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God's honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when thing of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night,
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death's domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

For more information about this ancient part of the Easter Vigil Liturgy, please see The Exsultet from the Catholic Culture Library.

2) Liturgy of the Word

During the Easter vigil, nine readings are provided: seven Old Testament and two New Testament. Not all are required to be read due to time constraints, but at least three Old Testament readings must be read, including Exodus 14. These readings help us meditate on the wonderful works of God for his people since the beginning of time. The readings are:

  1. the story of creation, Gen 1:1-2; 2;
  2. Abraham and Isaac, Gen 22:1-18;
  3. Crossing of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:15–15:1;
  4. Isaiah 54:5-14;
  5. Isaiah 55:1-11;
  6. Baruch 3:9-15.32–4:4;
  7. Ezekiel 36:16-17.18-28;
  8. Romans 6:3-11; and
  9. Gospel reading Mark 16:1-7.

    The Gloria is sung before the reading of the Epistle of the Romans, and the Alleluia is sung before the Gospel.

    3) Liturgy of Baptism

    During this time the Easter water is blessed, new members are brought into the Church through baptism, part of the liturgy includes the Litany of the Saints. There are also those who were baptized, but haven't received the other sacraments of initiation. The catechumens and these faithful are confirmed and will later receive the Holy Eucharist. Afterwards the faithful are blessed with water and all renew their baptismal promises.

    4) Liturgy of Eucharist

    The Mass continues, with the special prayers inserted during the Eucharist Prayer. The whole church is called to join at the sacrificial table that Christ prepared for us through his death and resurrection.

    Proper Form of the Communicantes:
    From the Mass of the Easter Vigil until the Second Sunday of Easter:

    Celebrating the most sacred night
    of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh,
    and in communion with those whose memory we venerate,
    especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ....

    Therefore, Lord, we pray:
    graciously accept this oblation of our service,
    that of your whole family,
    which we make to you
    also for those to whom you have been pleased to give
    the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit,
    granting them forgiveness of all their sins;
    order our days in your peace,
    and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation
    and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.

    The Mass continues. After Communion and the Prayer After Communion the Mass concludes with the Solemn Blessing:

    May almighty God bless you through today's Easter Solemnity and, in his compassion, defend you from every assault of sin.
    R. Amen.

    And may he, who restores you to eternal life in the Resurrection of his Only Begotten, endow you with the prize of immortality.
    R. Amen.

    Now that the days of the Lord's Passion have drawn to a close, may you who celebrate the gladness of the Paschal Feast come with Christ's help, and exulting in spirit, to those feasts that are celebrated in eternal joy.
    R. Amen.

    And may the blessing of almighty God, the Father, the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit, come down on you and remain with you for ever.
    R. Amen.

    and closes with the glorious dismissal:

    V. Go forth, the Mass is ended, or Go in peace, alleluia, alleluia.

    R. Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.

    Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003-2022 by Jennifer Gregory Miller