Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Great Vigil of Easter: The Service of Light

The Great Vigil of Easter is held on the eve of Easter Sunday. Properly done, it happens after dark. The Eastern Church has been known to meet at midnight and celebrate clear through til sunrise. This is because we know that Christ rose before sunrise, but we do not know exactly when.
The Great Vigil is four services celebrated as one...
  • The Service of Light (an expansion of the one used in Evening Prayer)
  • The Service of Readings
  • The Service of Holy Baptism
  • The Divine Service

The Great Vigil of Easter begins outside the church with a fire.

Here's the beginning of the service at a Roman Catholic church in Flushing, New York.  Perhaps due to local ordinance, the fire is lit inside. The Lutheran Rite is very similar. The Pascal Candle is lit. There should probably be a post devoted entirely to the Pascal Candle. Perhaps next year.

After the candle is lit, it is processed into the darkened sanctuary. At the rear of the church the cantor chants, "The Light of Christ," or in this case, "Christ is our Light" and the people respond, "Thanks be to God." Those in the darkened sanctuary are holding candles that will be lit by the Pascal Candle as it passes by. The procession stops midway up the aisle and the responses are repeated. The procession stops a third time at the front of the church for the third repetition of "The Light of Christ - Thanks be to God!"

As the procession is finished, the cantor chants the Exsultet. This is Latin for "exult" or "rejoice." The first word of the English translation is "rejoice." The first word when it is sung in Latin is "exsultet."

Here's the procession with lighting of candles and Exsultet as celebrated in Brooklyn, NY, probably at a Roman Catholic parish. You can watch the spread of the flickering lights in the darkness. The timing of the responses is a little different than described above. At the end of the Exsultet the lights come up just a little, but not fully, for the Service of Readings.

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