You may notice that many Christians observe Easter Sunday a little differently than Catholics do. For lots of churches, the peak celebration is Easter Sunday, maybe even a service at sunrise. Most Catholics will tell you that for us, Easter Sunday is almost anti-climactic. That’s because for us, the most significant celebration was the night before, at the Easter Vigil.
We’ve been preparing for Easter through forty days of Lent, culminating in the Easter Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter on Saturday night. All that waiting and preparation peaks when we gather on Saturday night for a solemn vigil.
We wait in darkness, bless a fire, process with candles, and hear re-told the stories of our salvation through the scriptures. The emphasis is on waiting for the culmination of the story: Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Bells are rung, and alleluias are sung as we hear the gospel account of Christ’s rising. Then, following this proclamation of the core of our beliefs, new members are brought into the Church through baptism and a profession of faith. The recounting of Christ’s new life is closely connected to the Church’s renewal through the reception of its new members.
This celebration as a vigil is important because it doesn’t just commemorate something God did in the past; it celebrates something God is doing today. Although our salvation was accomplished 2000 years ago, we are also watching and waiting to see what God is doing in our lives today. Because our past and our future are connected, through God’s saving power, it wouldn’t seem like enough for us to simply sit in our pews on Sunday morning, as we do every week.
The celebration of Easter, as a vigil, invites us to break out our most potent symbols of God’s action, and our response. So, all the waiting, the readings, music, candles, procession, and initiation, all remind us that God has accomplished something amazing by loving us so much. And our vigil is a statement, individually and collectively, that we are ready to be renewed and to live out of the grace we’ve received.