What is the Easter Vigil?
The Easter Vigil is a way of proclaiming and
celebrating the death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is
the climax of Holy Week; the barrenness of Good Friday’s stripped altar
is changed into beauty; light pierces the darkness; all of the church’s
signs of joy replace the signs of sorrow; The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!
Although its exact origins are
unknown, the Easter Vigil was already spoken of in the third century by
Tertullian as being so old that he does not know its origin. Some
believe that Acts 20:7, speaking of such an all-night vigil, may reflect
The Easter Vigil consists of
four parts. It begins with the Service of Light, in which a new
fire representing the Resurrection is lighted. From this fire is lighted
the newly-blessed Paschal candle, the sign of Jesus’ Resurrection Light,
which then leads the congregation in procession into the darkened
church. All lights are taken from this candle. The Easter Proclamation,
the Exultet, is sung.
A Service of Readings
follows, twelve begin anciently appointed, but fewer are used in many
parishes. Old Testament passages recounting God’s acts of salvation are
read, interspersed with the singing of hymns, psalms, and canticles.
A Service of Baptism
and/or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows is the third part. In the early
centuries of Christianity, the only time Christians were baptized was at
the Easter Vigil. Because this was everyone’s baptismal anniversary, the
Vigil became the time for renewal of baptismal vows, recalling Paul’s
association of Baptism and the Resurrection in Romans 6 which Luther
used in the Small Catechism. Although most of us have been
baptized on different days, we too still renew our baptismal vows at the
Vigil. The baptismal water is used as a sign of our baptismal
remembrance by sprinkling the baptized during the Creed.
A Service of Holy Communion
concludes the Vigil, being the first Eucharist of the Easter season.
Here our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of his resurrection comes to be
present among us through the proclamation of his Word and the
celebration of his Holy Sacrament. Thus, the Vigil leads us through
death to life in our risen Lord.