By Chris Martin
After forty days of fasting, prayer, and alms giving, we arrive at Holy Week, which culminates in the Paschal Triduum, the three days of commemorating the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
On the last day of the Triduum, we celebrate Holy Mass at the Easter Vigil, also called the Paschal Vigil, which occurs on the Saturday evening prior to the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox (when the sun crosses the celestial equator in a northerly direction, marking the prime meridian of right ascension) indicates the beginning of Spring, the moment when each day becomes, bit by bit, longer than the night. It is at that moment of the year when darkness begins to retreat. The Easter Vigil Liturgy takes place on the Saturday night prior to Easter, and it marks the official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. This year that liturgy will take place on Saturday, April 16, 2022.
The Vigil is the last day of the Paschal Triduum, the final of the three days that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday, and reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.
Here at St. Elizabeth Seton, the Easter Vigil begins in our courtyard as day turns to evening. Our pastor Fr. Kilian, lights the new Paschal Candle, as last year’s candle was extinguished a few days earlier as part of the process on Holy Thursday, when the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ took place. The altar is stripped and sacred objects are removed from the sanctuary. There is, at the conclusion of Holy Thursday, a procession where the Consecrated Hosts are removed from the sanctuary and placed in a location outside of the church, to be given out on Good Friday and administered to the sick of the parish in times of need.
On Holy Saturday, as the sun dips below the horizon, Father Kilian gathers the faithful outside in the courtyard. Father lights the Paschal Candle, and from that single flame many other candles, held by our brothers and sisters, are lit, thereby creating a sea of light. All of us enter the church, filling the space with candle light.
The Vigil Mass is unique in multiple ways. To begin with, the Mass is longer than other Masses, typically about two and a half hours. For me, your humble author, the time flies by. During this liturgy, which has as many as twelve readings, there are baptisms of children and adults. The adults are catechumens (Latin term), meaning Christian converts who have completed their training and have chosen to become Catholic. During this Vigil they will receive their final sacraments and come into full communion with the Catholic Church. Imagine being with these men and women as they are welcomed into the faith by our parish on what is likely the most important day of their life. During this process one hears the singing of the “Litany of the Saints”, an ancient prayer form heard only a few times each year. The litany is characterized by the announcement of names of saints which are followed by a response from the congregation. The Mass ends with the deacon singing “Alleluia” and the congregation singing in response to it, and we pour out into the desert night. The stars remind us that this powerful event marks the end of a period of darkness and launches us into the light once again.
The Paschal Triduum completes at the Easter Vigil, but Easter continues with Easter Sunday Mass and a feast on all that God has blessed us with. Our celebration closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. Alleluia, Alleluia!