The Liturgy of Easter Eve

A priest incensing the Paschal Candle during t...

A priest incensing the Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We welcome you to this combined service of the communities of St. Paul’s and St. Andrew’s in the Valley. All baptized persons are welcome to receive Holy Communion tonight. If you are here on Easter Day, you may receive Communion again. We hope that this celebration of the Lord’s resurrection is a meaningful part of your observance of Holy Week and Easter.

 

Although it is now more common for people to go to church on Easter Day, this was not always so. This service on Easter Eve is the most ancient Easter celebration of the Church. In the earliest days of the church Christians were meeting before dawn to celebrate the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. At one time all of what we now call Holy Week was commemorated during this service. Our ancestors began the Vigil in the darkness of night to recall the darkness of death, and by the time the Vigil and Eucharist were finished, the sun had risen, a sign of new life.

 

Over the centuries the liturgy developed. The other days of Holy Week were celebrated separately, and the Easter Vigil became focused on the resurrection. Still, Christians gathered in darkness, and a fire was lit. Fire is a universal symbol of life, and from that fire each one takes a flame. The story of salvation was remembered, the resurrection proclaimed, and the Eucharist celebrated with thanksgiving and solemnity.

 

By the early third century, this service was also closely associated with baptism, and it became the normal time for the admission of new Christians to the Church. This is because of the close association in Christian understanding between baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we are baptized, we become participants in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and this was once powerfully symbolized when baptismal candidates, descending into the baptismal pool (as if in death), were baptized, and ascended to be clothed in white (as if to resurrection).

 

Notable in this service is the Paschal, or Easter, Candle. “Paschal” is simply another word for Easter, and it comes from the Greek word paschal, which means “Passover.” For Easter is the Christian Passover. Indeed this service is properly called the “Paschal Vigil.” The Paschal Candle is both a sign of resurrection, and a sign of the presence of the risen Christ himself. It remains in a prominent position in the church throughout the Easter season until Pentecost, when it is placed near the baptismal font. Because of its close association with Easter and with baptism, the Paschal Candle is then used throughout the year at baptisms and funerals.

 

Easter is the “Feast of Feasts,” a declaration that nothing is more powerful than the love of God. By celebrating Easter in this very dramatic fashion, we allow the truth of this declaration to speak to us not just in an intellectual way, but in a way that also engages the senses and the emotions.

 

 

 

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