The restoration of the night-time Vigil began in 1951. The rite was revised and translated into the vernacular after Vatican II, 1965.
In the Easter Vigil we pass over with Christ from death to life, and with the Church from Lent to Easter.
Service of Light
The Service of Light is basically an elaborate form of providing light for an evening event. A utilitarian practice predates this requirement of providing light for a Christian liturgy. But the Christian liturgy soon transformed the utilitarian requirement into a symbol of the light of Christ.
Blessing of Fire and Lighting of the Candle
The ritual extinguishing of the carefully kept fire and the lighting of a new fire symbolized new birth and renewal of life. The blessing of new fire shows that fire is a renewed creature, no longer our enemy but our servant, made so by the renewal of creation achieved by the Risen Lord.
The lighted candle represents the Risen Lord, the pillar of fire that goes before us and shows us the way in our passing over to the Promised Land of the kingdom of God. Its meaning is derived from the account of the Exodus from Egypt, when God accompanied his people as a pillar of fire by night.
Preparation of the Candle
The few words that accompany the preparation of the candle are loaded with meaning. The Risen Christ is Lord of the universe. Nothing escapes the influence of his redemptive act of dying and rising from death. The whole of creation - men and women, things, time - belongs to him and is affected by his resurrection.
Bringing light into a dark building symbolizes the light of Christ banishing the darkness and filling the world with light. Everyone takes light from the great candle.
The Easter Proclamation: The Exsultet
The Easter Proclamation is an elaborate poetic song. It consists of an introduction to a hymn, and the hymn itself. “Exsultet” is the first word in Latin of the prologue. The prologue bids all to share the joy that comes from Christ’s victory over darkness. The hymn is thanksgiving for the history of our salvation. It celebrates not only the mighty acts of God in Moses and Jesus Christ, but also our own participation in these events through the Easter sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.
Liturgy of the Word
The Easter Vigil readings are a continuation of a very early Christian practice of celebrating a vigil of readings covering the whole history of salvation, and leading to a eucharist at the beginning of the Lord’s Day, either at midnight or at dawn on the Sunday.
In our present Easter Vigil, seven Old Testament readings are provided, then two from the New Testament. Not all seven of the Hebrew scriptures have to be read. We need to find out which readings have been decided to include in the Easter Vigil, then read the commentaries on those.
They begin with the story of creation in Genesis, and must always include Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, from the book of Exodus.
The readings provide a summary of the history of our salvation, which is passed on to the new generation of Christians preparing for baptism this night. Those already baptized are reminded of the key passages of the Word of God in the scriptures.
We read the Old Testament passages in the light of Christ, whose presence among us is real, not only symbolized by the candle. Christ is present as the Word of God in person and in the Church at prayer. We all need to be aware of the presence of Jesus Christ, who is teaching us about himself.
We engage in a dialogue with the Word of God as we listen to the readings, then respond to them in song. We take part personally in the events narrated in the readings.
Prayers after Readings
Each Old Testament reading is followed by a collect that gives a Christian application of the reading.
Epistle and Gospel
What has been foreshadowed or hinted at in the readings from the Hebrew scriptures is now made explicit in the reading from the Apostle Paul and in the gospel of the resurrection.
Liturgy of Baptism
After the readings, the action moves to the baptismal font, where the water is blessed, the candidates are baptized, and the baptized renew their promises.
Baptism is the climax of the Easter Vigil up to this point. The incorporation of baptism into the Easter Vigil between the readings and the Eucharist resulted from fixing Easter as the great baptismal feast in the second or third century. Renewal of baptismal promises by the congregation was included in the 1956 revision of the liturgy of Holy Week.
The blessing of baptismal water shows that water, like fire, is a renewed creature and our servant, as a result of the renewal of creation achieved by the Risen Lord.
Much of the meaning of the Easter Vigil is lost if no one is baptized in this liturgy. The blessing of Easter water is a poor substitute for the blessing of the baptismal font, the litany of the saints, the blessing of baptismal water, the lowering of the Easter candle into the water, the renunciation of Satan, and confirmation of any adults just baptised.
With or without baptisms, those present renew their baptismal promises, and are sprinkled with the blessed water.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
The Eucharist is the ultimate climax of the Easter Vigil. It is the most solemn eucharist of the year. All Holy Week has been building up to this celebration of the Passover of the Church. We should be careful not to reduce this eucharist to an anticlimax, after paying so much attention to fire and water, and even to Baptism.
The newly baptized bring forward the gifts of bread and wine. There is a special Preface for Easter (“on this Easter night”). The First Eucharistic Prayer, or the Roman Canon, has two special prayers for this night.
The Church is brought into the presence of the one sacrifice of the Cross and offers it with Jesus the Son to the Father.
The Eucharist is essentially connected with the Lord’s resurrection. It presupposes the resurrection and gives us a share in it. Because of its connection to the resurrection, the Eucharist is more than a simple fraternal meal. It communicates divine life to us who participate. We share in the very act by which Jesus died and rose again.
The eucharistic Christ is the risen Lord who rules the world. He has overcome our death by his resurrection and is now transforming the world through the Eucharist.
The Body of Christ that is the Church receives the Body of Christ that is the eucharistic food and drink. The liturgy concludes with a double Alleluia. We enter into rejoicing for fifty days, united with our head, the Risen Lord.