He is Risen!
The darkness of the Church at the Easter Vigil was brought alive by the light of the Paschal candle. On this night of all nights we celebrated the glory of Christ’s resurrection. It is a ceremony rich in symbolism and joy. Having experienced and remember the Passion story through Holy Week our hearts burn with joy and excitement. Our hope is renewed as we recognise that Jesus resurrected lives with us.
This annual celebration of the Lord’s resurrection is one of our earliest. It goes back to the first generation of Christians. In fact for the first three hundred years of the Church is was the only feast observed throughout the Christian world. The celebration of what we would come to know as Easter was through a vigil. Vigil coming from the Latin for watch or waiting. Following the dark hours of the crucifixion the first day of the week – the day of the light, Sunday celebrates the resurrection the victory of Christ over death.
In the very early Church, there was a belief that the risen Lord would retune during the hours of the Easter Vigil. Everyone gathered for this glorious final coming. Our Vigils are shorter but in the ritual we see mirrors of those early centuries. The first hours after the evening star rose were spent in listening to Scripture and prayers. The normally there were twelve reading emphasising the prophecies of a new creation and salvation.
These themes were ritualised through the new creation of baptism. Baptism gave the Easter Vigil a unique flavour and included the blessing of the Easter water and the chanting of the Litany of the Saints. Those who were to be baptised after years of preparation then renounced the influence of the Devil, confessed their faith before they were baptised, anointed and dressed in white. As the vigil drew near to dawn those newly baptised joined the gathered community for the first time around the Eucharistic table.
Eventually the prominence of the Easter Vigil faded. Baptism became normative for infants and was celebrated locally and at other Sunday celebrations. The time required for the Vigil lessened and by the end of the 6th century Easter Sunday morning Mass became popular.
The restoration of the Easter Vigil as the most important ritual of the year and the climax of Easter began in an experimental way in 1951. It became practice in 1955 and has continued since. In this renewed form it is very like it was in the earliest days of the Church. Except for the time factor, two hours, rather than all night it holds the same rhythm, the same rites and symbols are used. Most importantly the same message holds. He has risen. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.