Derrick Yap OFM


            The summit of the liturgical year is the Easter Triduum and the summit of the Easter Triduum is the Easter Vigil, so the Easter Vigil night is the holiest of all nights and the celebration of it is the most intense and the most solemn.


            The celebration of Easter begins during the night in the midst of vigil.  It is not meant to be celebrated speedily.  The vigil should begin after nightfall and end before daybreak the next morning.  Here, sleep is not the issue.  It could and should take hours to unfold the riches of this Vigil.  There are four parts to this celebration:


(1)   Service of Light:       Blessing of New Fire

Blessing and Lighting of Paschal Candle


Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)

(2)   Liturgy of the Word:      Up to seven Old Testament Readings





(3)   Liturgy of Baptism

(4)   Liturgy of the Eucharist 


These parts need not occur at the same place. A stational liturgy is both traditional and possible.  It is the premier moment for Baptism so it is advisable to celebrate the initiation of adults on this night (Neumann, p.40). 


History of the celebrations


i.                    The feast of Easter – a special feast of Easter does not seem to have been celebrated at Rome before the second half of the second century.  Elsewhere, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, the celebration of Easter had begun in the early second century.  This does not mean that the early Church did not live by the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Quite the contrary.  But every Sunday was a commemoration of the paschal mystery in the form of the Eucharistic celebration.  Finally, a single Sunday was chosen as a special day for the feast of Christ’s resurrection and became the most solemn of Sundays, the Sunday of Sundays.  Pope Victor I (ca. 189-198) decreed that Easter be celebrated on the Sunday following the fourteenth day of the month Nisan (Nocent, p. 98-99).


ii.                  Relation to the Jewish Passover Feast – the origin of the Christian celebration is the Jewish Passover Feast.  The primitive community continued to observe the Jewish Passover and gradually modulated to the Christian celebration, rather than a totally new Christian celebration that borrowed from Jewish practices.  There is little indication that the primitive Pasch was focussed on the resurrection, though it was included in the celebration (Neumann, p.41). 


What is common to the Christian and the Jewish feasts is the theology of expectation that underlies both.  The Passover of the Bible is a religious movement that inspires the entire people of God.  A dynamic sense of liberation dominates the Jewish Passover of the Bible, and the idea of “passage” is essential and central to it, as it is to the Christian Pasch.  We should be aware, moreover, that in celebrating the Passover, the Jews were not simply commemorating a past event.  Rather, they were celebrating an event they regarded as a present reality.  There are also important differences between the Jewish Passover and the Christian Pasch.  The Jewish Passover liturgy is a domestic affair; the Christian paschal liturgy is a community celebration with the Eucharist as its centre.  Moreover, the Jewish feast was only the starting point for the Christian feast, and the latter represents a goal reached, even if it also looks forward to a definitive fulfilment at the end of time (Nocent, p. 99-100).


iii.                Blessing of Fire and Candle  -- At Rome, it was the custom to flood the celebrations of the Paschal Vigil with light, in order to impress on the participants the idea of Christ as the Light.  The lamps were lit even before the Vigil began, and the light intensified as the rite continued.  The blessing of fire had no official formulary until it appeared in the Roman Pontifical of the twelfth century, which describes the procession in which the acclamation, “Light of Christ”, is sung.  The blessing of the paschal candle became the practice almost everywhere, even in the churches of Rome (fifth century), but it is still missing from the papal liturgy as late as the eleventh century.  The candle was originally blessed in a ceremony consisting simply in tracing the sign of the Cross on the candle with the minister standing in the centre of the sanctuary in front of the altar.  He would ask the others to pray for him as he drew the sign of the Cross (Nocent, p. 101-103).


iv.                The Readings – The readings are an essential part of the Paschal Vigil but the various Rites differ in the number, choice, and length of the readings.  The Coptic and Byzantine Rites have a very large number of readings (Nocent, p. 103).  In the Jerusalem liturgy in the 4th century, twelve lessons were read, each followed by a prayer.  The Jerusalem series is the oldest known to us, and one that influenced many others. It demonstrates the close connection between the spirit of the Jerusalem Vigil and the Jewish Passover tradition.  But this connection is not as strong in the sequence of readings employed in the Church of Rome (Neumann, p. 42).  The Roman Rite has known different systems over the centuries, but the history has not yet been fully clarified (Nocent, p. 103).


v.                  Baptism – The first clear evidence of Easter baptisms comes to us in the writings of the North African theologian Tertullian from about the year 200.  It is certainly possible that paschal baptisms were an earlier occurrence in Christianity, but we have no evidence that they were.  St. Hippolytus gives evidence of baptisms during a vigil, though it cannot be sure that this vigil was paschal.  By the 4th century, Easter and Pentecost were the primary times for baptisms in Rome, and after this, Easter emerged as the premier moment for full initiation into the faith (Neumann, p. 43).


vi.                The Eucharist – Since Sunday emerged as the day for Eucharist before any annual observance of Easter spread throughout the Church, the wedding of Eucharist to the pasch is probably more a function of the pasch’s relationship to Sunday than to anything else.  Happily, this conjunction allows for the Eucharist as the ultimate act of incorporation of new believers this night (Neumann, p. 43).       


Significance of the Liturgies


i.                    The New Fire – The Church was simply giving a sacral dimension to a straightforward material necessity.  What this blessing of the new fire shows is the effect of redemption.  The Catechumen has long been awaiting the moment of his enlightenment.  Now he sees the act of creation being mimed before his eyes.  The now sleeping Lord will soon be a victorious Master of the World.  We should note carefully Paul’s insistence on Christ’s triumph and present dominion over the entirety of creation.  The paschal mystery means the renewal of creation as a whole, that is the normal and logical consequence of our redemption.  So as servants of God we have the renewed creation for our use to the glory of God.  Fire is one such creature that is now our servant and also God’s servant and we can therefore ask him: “Make this new fire holy and inflame us with new hope.  Purify our minds by this Easter celebration and bring us one day to the feast of eternal light.”  It thus symbolizes a new beginning in our lives (Nocent, p. 106).


ii.                  The New Light – The candle too, is a creature renewed and has the sacral function of symbolizing to the world the glory of the risen Christ.  That is why the sign of the Cross is first traced on the candle, for the Cross is what gives all things their meaning.  As the celebrant traces the sign of the Cross and inscribes the Greek letters alpha and omega, along with the numerals of the current year, he says: “ Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.”  He thus expresses in a few words and actions the entire doctrine of St. Paul on Christ as Lord of the universe.  Nothing escapes the influence of Christ’s redemptive act; the whole of creation – people, things, and time – now belongs to him.  In the recent reform, a good deal of freedom was allowed with regard to these ceremonies, since they may be omitted or kept only in part.  It was thought proper to retain the practice of inserting the five grains of incense in the candle, although the whole ceremony had its origin in a misreading of the Latin text.  The Latin word incensum, which in context meant “lighted” and referred to the candle, was mistaken for another word that is spelled the same way but has a different meaning, namely, “incense”.  This misinterpretation gave rise to the five grains of incense that are inserted in the candle and symbolize the five wounds of Christ.


iii.                The Procession – The ministers now walk in procession behind the lighted candle, which represents Christ, who is the column of fire and light that guides us through the darkness and shows us the way to the Promised Land.  We must attend this ceremony with the simplicity and openness of a child if we are to enter fully into the mind of the Church at this moment of joy.  The world knows only too well the darkness that fills the earth with unhappiness and anxiety.  Yet at this moment we can tell ourselves that our wretchedness has elicited God’s pity and that God wants to shed his light everywhere.  The prophets of long ago promised that the light would come: “ The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).  But the light that will shine upon the new Jerusalem (Is 60:1-2) will be the living God himself, for he shall enlighten his people (Is 60:19), and his Servant will be a light for the nations (Is 42:6; 49:6).


The catechumen who takes part in this celebration of the light has already known from experience that by his natural birth he belonged to the realm of darkness.  Now he knows as well that God has “called” him “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).  In a few minutes’ time, at his baptism, he will experience what St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Christ shall give you light” (Eph 5:14).  He will cease to be “darkness” and will become “light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8).  As a member of the Church, he will be rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s Son, where he will share the lot of the saints in the light (Col 1:12-13).  The light also shines on all the faithful present, and they too must choose once again either to accept or to reject it.  No celebration, however pastoral, however moving and meaningful, can force us to choose aright, and even in the presence of the risen Christ we will continue to be divided into “children of this world” and “children of light” (Lk 16:8).  In order to become a child of the light one must believe, in concrete, practical ways, in him who is the Light. Only through conflict does the believer make his way to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city that has no need of sun or moon, because God’s glory is its source of light and the Lamb its lamp (Rev 21:23) (Nocent, p. 109-111).


iv.                The Exsultet – The word Exsultet that begins the song (or, more properly, its prologue) has given the whole piece its name.  Another name for it is, “Easter Proclamation” (Praeconium Paschale).  In the prologue, the deacon bids all – heaven, earth, the Church, the Christian assembly – to share the joy that comes from Christ’s victory over darkness.  The prologue, and the body of the song as well, often took the form of an improvised song about the resurrection.


After the prologue, the deacon intones the great hymn of thanksgiving for the history of salvation.  The Proclamation sums up this history: the redemptive act that ransomed sinful Adam; the great prefigurations of redemption (the Passover lamb, the Red Sea, the pillar of fire).  This is the night when we receive salvation and when Christ wins his victory.  The deacon then praises this night in which God had shown us his tender love by giving his own Son to ransom a slave.  He sings of the fault that was a “happy” fault, the sin that was a "necessary" sin, because it won for us so glorious a Redeemer.  Next the deacon speaks of the candle itself, which the entire Church offers to God.  May it burn and never be extinguished; may Christ, the Morning Star that never sets, finds it always lit (Nocent, p. 111-112). 


The Reading of Scripture


            In its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (no. 7), Vatican II lists the various ways in which Christ is present among his people.  He is present not only in the Eucharist (the highest form of his presence) and the other sacraments, but also in his word and in the prayer of the Church.  The liturgy of the word during the Easter Vigil is an especially notable example of this teaching, for the Vigil is constructed as a dialogue.


At this point, when the Church is about to baptize the catechumens, she is undoubtedly motivated by a desire to offer them a final instruction.  It would be a mistake, however, to concentrate exclusively on the teaching aspect of the Vigil readings.  What we should be primarily attentive to is the presence of Christ, who is teaching us himself.  That is the point of reading the Scripture lessons near the paschal candle , and by its light.  The Old Testament is read, but in the light of Christ, and in the light of a Christ who is present today (Nocent, p. 113).


Unless we understand the Scriptures that are proclaimed in the liturgy, they will be for us nothing but a reminder of the past; they will stir a sense of wonder, but we will not grasp the fact that the events narrated are taking place here and now.  The other readings and prayers of the Vigil are part of the same process of actualization that is going on in the light of the paschal candle (Nocent, p. 115).


i.        1st Reading (Gen 1:1 – 2:2)

The first reading confronts us with the two creations.  When the Vigil began, we found ourselves in the presence of Christ, the Lord of the universe.  Now this Lord of all things himself tells about the creation of the world – a world that was intended to be good but which was ruined by sin.  The first human beings found themselves in a splendid world of life where everything was good.  Now in the light of the risen Christ, the world is being created once again.


Jesus is the one Lord, “from whom all things come and for whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6); he is “the first-born of all creation” (Col 1:15) and “all things were created through him and for him (Col 1:16); he upholds “the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3).  The world he created has been ruined, but Christ’s task is to restore it completely. The new creation wrought by Christ corresponds to the first creation.  All things in heaven and on earth are to be brought into unity under Christ (Eph 1:10), for God’s plan is to make him the one Head of all.


The prayer after this first reading shows that the new creation is going on here and now: "Almighty and eternal God, you created all things in wonderful beauty and order.  Help us now to perceive how still more wonderful is the new creation by which in the fullness of time you redeemed your people through the sacrifice of our passover, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.” (Nocent, p. 115-116)


Flood (p. 68) in his reflection on this reading, noticed that the darkness and chaos in the beginning of creation is very much like the darkness in each of us, in our families, in our relationships and in our world.  Left to itself, where would it lead us?  Against this, is God’s creative spirit.  The reading makes us feel the life and goodness that God’s Spirit brings, reminding us of the beauty and vitality of nature and above all of men and women who are “very good”.


Like Flood, Coughlan et al (p. 106) looks to the goodness of creation. The Priestly compilers of the five books of the Law wrote this account of creation.  In spite of later human experiences, they stressed the whole goodness of creation because everything comes from God through his word. (Note the stress on God’s word, which comes up again in the fifth and sixth readings).


ii.                  2nd Reading (Gen 22:1 – 18)


The second reading is about the sacrifice of Isaac, and the choice of it is especially appropriate on this night when the Church is recollecting herself in order to celebrate Easter.  Everyone knows the story.  What must be realized is that the sacrifice is an essential “type” in both the Scriptures and the liturgy.  In order to appreciate the point of the type, it is not enough to emphasize the faith of Abraham and to draw from it moral conclusions about the need to accept unreservedly all sufferings that God may send us.  These reflections are valid enough, but the biblico-liturgical meaning of the text goes beyond them.  The Letter to the Hebrews shows us the twofold meaning of the event: “He [Abraham] considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence he did receive him [Isaac] back and this was a symbol” (Heb 11:19).  The sacrifice of Isaac, an only son, reminds us of the sacrifice of the Father’s only Son, while the rescue of Isaac turns our thoughts to the resurrection of Jesus.


The story contains a sentence that is important for interpreting the action of Jesus and indeed all the sacrifices the Church offers along with her Christ: “Take your son Isaac, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen 22:2).  The point being made in the text is clear: Isaac is a loved possession, “your son”, and all the more loved because he is “your only Son”.  The sacrifice being asked is all the more agonizing because Isaac is the only son and because he had been born of a barren mother in order to carry out a mission of great importance in the formation of God’s people: Isaac was the son of the promise.  Moreover, it was the Lord himself who told Abraham of the son Sarah would bear him: “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named” (Gen 21:12).


To insist that the story should not be simply a subject for moralizing, is not to deny that it does invite the catechumens now awaiting baptism to an unconditioned faith in the Lord.  On that kind of faith will depend the vital renewal through the sacrament that they are about to receive and that will bring them the sacramental gift of faith.  The faith they already have is what has brought them to baptism, yet it is baptism that will instil in them a faith that is the work of the Spirit.


The responsorial psalm (Ps 16) is well chosen, since from the very first days of the Church it was interpreted as a prophecy of the resurrection: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot… My body also dwells secure. For you did not give me up to Sheol, or let your godly one see the Pit” (Nocent, p. 116-118).


  iii.               3rd Reading (Ex 14:15 – 15:1)


As previously stated, the Old Testament needs to be read in the light of Christ, and this bridging of the centuries is especially striking in connection with the third reading, which narrates the first Passover on which the Hebrews were rescued from Egypt and brought safely through the Red Sea.  In this reading, the Lord addresses us and tells us what he did for his Chosen People on the first Passover: how he led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea and how he destroyed Pharaoh’s army.  The Lord, the Father, speaks to us and he speaks through his Son, the true paschal lamb that has been sacrificed.  We, for our part, listen to the Lord who speaks to us here and now.  We are in the same position as the Hebrews in the Book of Exodus (Ch 19), who have crossed the Red Sea and whom the Lord now gathers so that he may speak to us.  Christ actualizes the narrative for us in our day; he tells us what he did for us and what he is still doing for us.  We listen, as the people then listened.


In the light of the paschal candle, and because of Jesus our Messiah, what happened once in the past is still happening.  As the catechumens listen to the reading and the prayer, they can better understand that they are indeed part of the history of salvation.  The miracle of the Red Sea will shortly be repeated for them.  We cannot really enter into this liturgy unless we walk the path of typology, for we must not see in the story of the Red Sea simply an illustration of what takes place in baptism.  Baptism is not modeled after the crossing of the Red Sea; but neither is the account of the crossing simply an illustrated explanation of the baptismal rite.  Instead, baptism is a continuation of the crossing.  That is, the passage through the sea takes place this night. For the catechumens, the crossing this night is more real than the crossing of long ago; it will be ever more real as they approach closer and closer to the promised land (Nocent, p. 113-115).


Flood (p. 72) continues in the vein of “goodness” and says that God in making known his splendour of “goodness”, and begins to do it through a people as stated from the reading.  As the people put their faith in Him, God supports them, grants them freedom and a land of their own.


Baptism as an exodus from death is what Coughlan et al (p. 107) writes, that Christians now have a new Exodus, and escape from death and slavery through the waters of Baptism – once again the free gift of God’s fidelity and love.


iv.                   4th Reading (Is 54: 5 – 14)


The fourth reading speaks to the faithful and the candidates for baptism of the building of the Church that has come forth from the side of Christ and is now his Bride.  There is great depth and richness in the “theology” of the Church that is thus proclaimed during the Paschal Vigil and presented in close connection with the mystery of death and resurrection.  This Church is the “sacrament” of the encounter with God, and a “sacrament” that, by Christ’s will, contains within itself all the signs of salvation.  This passage from Isaiah hymns the merciful love and fidelity of God, while also giving an enthusiastic description of the City that divine love has built and continues to build without ceasing  (Nocent, p. 118).


To Flood (p.74), from his reading of this passage, he merely describes God with many adjectives, describing a husband who is tender, loving, compassionate (“with everlasting love, I have taken pity on you”) and faithful (“with great love, I will take you back”).


Coughlan et al (p. 107) says that as we progress from the Law to the prophetic books, it is the everlasting love of God that is accentuated.  The creator and redeemer will be the husband of his people. He punished their offences but will have mercy now.  He promises an unending love that will guarantee his covenant as an everlasting one.  Even nature will crumble before this love departs.


v.                    5th Reading (Is 55: 1 – 11)


Life is the theme of the fifth reading, and it is approached from two angles. First, life is seen in terms of the food that nourishes it, as God freely offers to all life-giving water: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (v. 1).  Second, the Lord offers a life that has its source in an everlasting covenant.  On this night, then, the newly baptized Christian will be given divine nourishment for his new life, and he will become a sharer in an everlasting covenant. 


A strict exegesis would not justify seeing in this passage any allusion to the sacraments.  Christian tradition, however, and the insertion of the reading into this particular liturgical celebration require the presence of such a meaning.  Water and word are efficacious sacraments and transform the sinner into a new creature.  The prophet urges us to “seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts” (vv. 6-7).  God’s word converts people, and the water he provides nourishes anyone who decides to obey the word.  In short, we enter upon a vital relationship to God, and we become aware that our life depends on the water he offers us and on the efficacious word he addresses to us (Nocent, p. 119-120).


Coughlan et al (p. 107) adds that the imagery of food and banquet is likened to the covenant sealed with God’s word that will be the food of all the people who have need of it.


vi.                    6th Reading (Bar 3:9 – 15, 32 – 4:4)


People who are transformed by God are also given a guide and a law so that they can move onward and advance toward the goal.  The sixth reading praises the wisdom given those who have received new life through water and the Spirit.  The important thing for us, in the liturgical context, is the Christian and Christological interpretation of Baruch’s poem.  If we look only at Baruch’s words in their immediate historical context, it is evident that wisdom, though personified, is not really a person.  In this same wisdom, however, the Church sees Jesus Christ.  On this point there is a solid interpretative tradition.  The sapiential books of the Bible provide a vision of Wisdom that is rich but also quite complex.  Wisdom is described as living with God (Wis 8:3), but also as “a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (Wis 7:25).  St. John completely identifies this Wisdom with Christ, frequently applying to him what the sapiential books say of Wisdom.  Here are some examples.


Wisdom is at God’s side from the beginning of the world (Prov 8:22-23; Sir 24:9; Wis 6:22); John presents the Word of God in the same way in his Prologue (1:1) and in the priestly prayer of Christ after the Last Supper (17:5). Wisdom is an outpouring of God’s glory (Wis 7:25); the Word, for St. John, is a manifestation of the Father’s glory (1:14; 8:50; 11:4; 17:5; 22, 24). Wisdom illumines men’s paths (Wis 9:11); the Word is the Light of the world and of men (Jn 1:4-5; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).  Wisdom comes from heaven and seeks to remain among men (Prov 8:31; Sir 24:8; Bar 3:29,37; Wis 9:10,16,17); Jesus, the Son of Man, has come down from heaven (Jn 1:14; 3:13,31; 6:38; 16:28).  Wisdom has for her mission to make heavenly realities known to men (Wis 9:16-18); Christ reveals to men what he has himself received from his Father (Jn 3:11-12,32; 7:16; 8:26,40; 15:45; 17:18) (Nocent, p. 120-121).




From the beginning: “He created me in eternity, before time began, and I will exist for all eternity to come.” (Sir 24:9)

From the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1)

Outpouring of God’s glory: “She is a breath of God’s power – a pure and radiant stream of glory from the Almighty.” (Wis 7:25)

Manifestation of God’s glory: “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” (Jn 17:5)

Reflection of eternal light: “She is a reflection of eternal light, a perfect mirror of God’s activity and goodness.” (Wis 7:26)

Comes forth from God, who is light: “This is the message we have heard from Jesus and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” (1Jn 1:5)

Illumines men’s paths: “She knows and understands everything, and will guide me intelligently in what I do.” (Wis 9:11)

Light of the world and of men: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:4-5)

Comes from heaven and seeks to remain among men: “send her from the holy heavens, down from your glorious throne, so that she may work at my side, and I may learn what pleases you.” (Wis 9:10)

Has come down from heaven: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)

Mission to make heavenly realities known to men: “who, then, can every hope to understand heavenly things? No one has ever learned your will, unless you first gave him wisdom and sent your holy spirit down to him.” (Wis 9:16-18)

Reveals to men what he has received from the Father: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” (Jn 7:16)



vii.                    7th Reading (Ez 36:16 – 28)


The essential theme of the reading is, on the one hand, the dispersal of a people because of their sins (a dispersal reflected in the divisions within us that our infidelities cause) and, on the other, the benevolence of God who, for his name’s sake and in order to glorify his name that has been profaned, wishes to unite us into a single people, just as he sought to gather again the dispersed Israelites.  He seeks no longer to unite a single nation, but to gather mankind from all nations and lands.  He transforms people by pouring out purifying water upon them and giving them a new heart and a new spirit.  The Lord puts his own spirit in them and makes them capable of following his law, observing his commandments, and being faithful to him.  They will dwell in the land that he will give them; they will be his people, and he will be their God (Nocent, p. 122-123).


viii.                    The Story of Salvation




Read in the Light of Christ

1st Rdg

Creation story

A new creation.

2nd Rdg

Sacrifice of Isaac.

Abraham’s Faith.

Christ, as only Son, sacrificed.

Our faith in him.

3rd Rdg

Exodus from Egyptian slavery.

Crossing of Red Sea into freedom, dignity.

Exodus from death and slavery from sin. Baptized in water into sons of God.

4th Rdg

God’s pledge of everlasting love,

building a new Jerusalem

God’s everlasting covenant,

building up the Church

5th Rdg

God provides water/food and word, to give life.

Life for the Christian sustained by the Mass where the Word and Food are provided.

6th Rdg

Wisdom as a source of life.

Christ is Wisdom personified and is the source of life.

7th Rdg

Wisdom gathers dispersed Israelites and transforms them

God makes us a unified people through his Spirit and transforms us.


In summary, through our Baptism in Christ, we are made into a new creation.  Christ had to be sacrificed and suffer his Passion in order to free us from death and the slavery of sin, washing us clean in the waters of Baptism.  Because of his love and everlasting covenant, he builds up the Church, which is sustained by the Eucharist and the Word.  In order to guide our ways, he gives us the Spirit of Christ, putting in us a new heart and a new spirit, united under God’s love.


ix.                    Epistle (Rom 6:3 – 11)


At some time during the winter of 57-58 AD, Paul wrote this epistle from Corinth.  This section is a call to the Christian way of life, on the basis of one’s share in the experience of Jesus.  Here Paul deals with three different time zones.  The past is the fact of baptism and the Christian’s immersion into the Christ event.  The future is the time of completion when the parousia will conclude the drama of salvation.  The present is the moment of ethical action.  Accordingly, the Christian who has a part in Christ and who eagerly awaits the future coming must here and now demonstrate life in Christ.  The realist Paul observes that Easter brought the resurrection but, to the dismay of many, not the parousia.  Redemption is complete, yet incomplete.


By baptism the Christian shares the transforming experience of death/resurrection.  The Christian emerges as a new creation.  Paul actually passes over our being raised together with Christ to underline the implications of baptism.  We thus begin a new mode of being which presses forward to the parousia.  Our being crucified with Christ implies that the power of sin has been broken.  (The sinful body means the entire person under the force of sin.)


Paul introduces a paradox.  On the one hand, through baptism we are removed from the tyranny of sin.  Death, which is the absence of community with God, has been abolished.  On the other hand, we can still sin.  Hence we must demonstrate our community with God by total Christian living.  The faith of Easter demands the daily living of Easter (Craghan, p. 70). 


Nocent (p. 124) writes that St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans puts briefly the theology of our baptism.  He speaks of our liberation through the sacrament: There, we are immersed in death with Christ and laid in the tomb with him, but there too we rise with him to a new life.  The old self is nailed to the Cross with Christ so that our state of sin may be rendered powerless and we may no longer be enslaved to sin.  Now we are dead to sin and alive for God. 


Paul shows the conclusions that must be drawn from the fact of our baptism into Christ.  Since the baptized person has died with Christ, he is no longer under the domination of sin.  The consequences of the first Adam’s disobedience are overcome, since the obedience of the second Adam has reconciled us to God and made us members of his people, which is the Church.  Our union with Christ is real now and is becoming ever more full and complete, but it will reach its perfect and definitive form only at the end of time.  We are therefore saved now, but only in principle, and according to the degree of our union with God. This means we are saved according to the concrete ways in which we apply the means of salvation that are offered to us.


Christian life, then, is a life of freedom and belongs to those who have now been rescued from enslavement to sin.  But the freedom will be lasting only if it is always exercised in ways that respect the new situation given us by our baptism as adopted children of the Father.


x.                    Gospel (Mk 16:1 – 8)


It is significant that Mark does not mention any resurrection appearances and notes that the women leave bewildered.  Mark suggests that the resurrection of Jesus is not the final moment; rather, life must go on.  It is a life like Jesus’ which is fraught with suffering and rejection.  The Christian must ponder the mystery (the bewildered women?) of the glorified yet absent Christ and then act in faith.  Jesus will come only in the end.  Up to that moment, vigilance should be the Christian’s hallmark.  Craghan adds that the empty tomb means a full life, that is, a life of living our profession of faith at Easter, to die to sin, to struggle daily with the reality of the Christian faith, to live our normal lives supporting those around us, to be nourished by the Eucharist (Craghan, p. 210).


Nocent (p. 126) in his reflection on the Gospel says that the important thing in the liturgical proclamation of the resurrection during the Easter Vigil is not the historical fact of the empty tomb.  The empty tomb, after all, is not the object of our faith, any more than the precise manner of Christ’s resurrection is.  The important thing is that we should conform our lives to that of the risen Christ, in order that, having died with him, we may also rise with him.  That is the real goal of the faith of those who are preparing for baptism and will shortly receive the sacramental faith that saves.  Such, too, is the real goal of the faith of all Christians. The problem of how the Lord rose from the dead is unimportant.


The Eucharist


            We must be on guard lest, after giving so much attention to the blessing of the fire, the singing of the Exsultet, the blessing of the water, the celebration of the baptism and confirmation, we end up celebrating the Eucharist as though it were an ordinary, everyday Eucharist.  This Eucharist is the most solemn of the year, more solemn than that of Holy Thursday evening. This Eucharist is the climax of the Vigil service.  Baptism and confirmation lead to it.


            The Eucharist is in a true sense the Pasch, or Passover, of the Church.  It is constantly effecting the Church’s passage to definitive life, constantly actualizing the paschal mystery and purifying people.  The forgiveness of sins in baptism depends on the Eucharist. The early Church felt that we must be purified before participating in the Eucharist, but at the same time it thought of the Eucharist as cleansing from sin those who were truly repentant. The Church is thus constantly being built on solid foundations by the repetition of the Paschal Supper. It is constantly being brought into the presence of the one sacrifice of the Cross and constantly offering it, with the Son, to the Father. 


            The Eucharist is also very closely connected with the Lord’s resurrection.   For if Christ is not risen, the Eucharist is emptied of content and meaning.  The Eucharist presupposes the resurrection and gives us a share in it: the same Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), and, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:48).  Without the resurrection, the Eucharist would be a simple fraternal meal; it would not communicate divine life and be creative.  Especially on this night of Christ’s resurrection, the celebration of the Eucharist is the climax of the Church’s activity and the key to the whole celebration of the Paschal Vigil (Nocent, p. 144-145).



In my own words…


            The whole mystery of salvation is for me, encapsulated in the Easter drama, in which Jesus, having suffered and died for the sake of our sins, rose on Easter night and with his rising, is glorified.  And we too, rise together with him, having died to sin in our baptism and are, now, a new creation. 


            Craghan in his reflection on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, helped disperse the cloud of confusion for me surrounding the fact that as a new creation, I can still sin.  Craghan says “we must demonstrate our community with God by total Christian living” (p.70).  I see two parts in this sentence.  The first is that we “must demonstrate”, and those two words suggest an intention and a desire to be “in union with Christ” (Rom 6:5), to “imitate his death” (Rom 6:5) and to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin” (Rom 6:11).  I, very often, if not all the time, have failed to overcome my weaknesses because I never considered myself dead to sin, believing that I have not the strength to do so.  I never claimed for myself the words of St. Paul: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14), simply because “our former selves have been crucified with him [Christ] to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin” (Rom 6:6).  As Jesus very rightly puts it: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). 


            So I want to demonstrate my community with God.  But my flesh is weak, so what now?  We are “under grace” as Paul affirms, which is infused in us by the Holy Spirit, the Advocate sent by the Father, the one who raised Jesus from the dead, and his Spirit is now dwelling in us, giving life to our mortal bodies (Rom 8:11).  He will be the one that will make our Christian living total, so that, “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5).  I pray that I may “set my mind on the Spirit” (Rom 8:6), the Spirit that has been given to me at baptism, and be “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11), so that I may imitate Jesus in saying “Lord, not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).  





Nocent A., The Liturgical Year: The Easter Season, 98-105.

Flood E., Making More of Holy Week, 59-85.

Neumann D., Holy Week in the Parish, 40-51.

Coughlan P. and Purdue P., Commentary on the Sunday Lectionary, Cycle B, 96-99.

Craghan J., Yesterday’s Word Today, 210-211.