March 22: Easter Vigil Holy Saturday Night Year A B C
Tonight we proclaim and celebrate the great mystery of our salvation accomplished in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Easter Vigil is the longest single celebration in the Roman liturgy. In its fullest form, it is intended to begin at dusk and conclude at dawn. In other words, it is an all night event. Easter Vigil celebration is full of symbolism*. It is worth while highlighting some of the interwoven symbols used to help us reflect on the mystery we celebrate tonight.
There are four sets of symbols that run through Easter Vigil: light and darkness, life and death, slavery and liberation, water that destroys life and life-giving water. I would like to dwell a little more on the first set of symbols. This celebration starts in the darkness for a very important reason. Darkness is the first movement of Easter Vigil liturgy, in order to help us reflect on what it means to be in darkness, both physical and spiritual – a theme we have met during the season of Lent. Tonight, the contrast between darkness and light is highlighted in the fire-lighting ritual that is only a preparation for the lighting of the new Paschal Candle. That lighting symbolizes the dispelling of our spiritual darkness by Christ, the Risen Lord. The celebrant uses the following two prayers: “Make this new fire holy, and inflame us with new hope”, and then again before the procession in the Church, the celebrant prays, “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”. To underline the dispelling of darkness, lighted candles flicker to life in the darkness as the procession enters the church singing the “the Light of Christ”. At the end of the procession, a Deacon or Priest sings the Easter Candle praise (Exultet), praying that its light “mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night.” Tonight, the Church makes use of many dramatic liturgical symbols to celebrate the mystery of our salvation: light and darkness life and death, slavery and liberation, water that destroys life and life-giving water. The dramatic symbolism of burial with Christ and rising with him is highlighted in the blessing of the Baptismal Water, when the Easter Candle is dipped three times in the water. The baptism of those who have been preparing themselves in our parish is a clear expression of that mystery of dying and rising with Christ.
The resurrection of Christ ushers in a newness of life, a new spring-time in our faith. The elaborate liturgy we celebrate tonight invites us not only to remember the history of God's saving works and blessings upon all creation, but also to recall our personal participation in that mystery, the participation in the newness of life, that began with our baptism into Christ. The Liturgy of the Word helps us to recall that history, and offer us new insights on the meaning of our personal participation. The words of Paul in Romans 6 invite us to recall the most important day of our life, help us to reflect on the day we were formally incorporated into Christ through baptism. “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into his death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life”. Tonight, dear friends, as we reaffirm our baptismal commitment, we pray that the event we celebrate, the Resurrection, may lead us to live as people deeply touched by our faith in the resurrection, and proclaim throughout this season that Christ is risen indeed, alleluia! *Mythical story of a hero.
©2008 John S. Mbinda