(Image: St. Mary of Mt. Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Church, Utica, NY – Easter Vigil Service of Light, 2018. Photo by Tom Loughlin, Jr. Used with permission.)
Today is Holy Saturday. On this day, no Mass is celebrated anywhere in the world as the entire community of the church continues to meditate on the death and burial of the Lord Jesus, and we continue to remember his passion and symbolically turn towards the sealed tomb of Christ with prayers of hope.
However, this evening, after sunset, the church throughout the world will celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter.
The Easter Vigil liturgy is full of rich symbols and many Scripture readings that point towards the new life in Christ which we celebrate.
Tonight we celebrate Fire, Word, Water, and Eucharist.
During the celebration of Fire, we proclaim Jesus as the light of the world. We strike a new fire and light the single large Easter Candle – symbol of Christ as the light of the world – which will remain ablaze for the next 50 days of the Easter season, and which will be used at the celebrations of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist throughout the year, as well as be placed by the casket at the Mass of Christian Burial. The light of that candle is shared with all – illuminating the night.
In our celebration of the Word, we recount our faith story – our common spiritual roots with the Jewish people, and the Easter experiences of the first Christians. We remember God’s constant presence with us from the dawn of time, through the delivery of the Israelites from slavery to freedom through the parting of the Red Sea, and through the words of the prophets, and the Wisdom Literature, reminding us – in a time of great suffering, illness, and violence in our own land, and in distant places – of God’s tender and overflowing love and mercy.
We hear the proclamation from the Christian Scriptures of the way in which Jesus’ dying and rising changes everything for all time for all who believe in him. We celebrate how God has been, and is with us, throughout every moment of our history, our present, and is the hope of our future.
During the celebration of Water, we renew our baptismal promises, and we baptize adults and children in the blessed new water of Easter. We celebrate the return to grace which our new life in Christ has given us – a reminder that our sins are forgiven, as well as a challenge that, after our long Lenten observance, we can continuously change our lives and mold our actions to model the self-giving life of the Lord Jesus.
In many churches, we will also welcome Christians baptized in other communities into full communion with the Catholic Church – a culmination of a spiritual journey for each of them, and perhaps a reminder of our own spiritual journey with its many twists and turns. Our baptismal commitment calls on us to be healers in an often broken and hurting church and prophets of peace and hope in a world that is too often full of hatred and despair.
Finally, the celebration of the Eucharist – of the communion in the body and blood of Christ – the meal that brings us spiritual nourishment. We are reminded that eucharist is a verb – “to give thanks” – and participating in communion calls us to live our commitment as Christian disciples. We experience the true and real presence of Christ in our midst, which empowers us to live the Gospel.
The words we will pray and sing tonight rise like a light,
To break every chain that binds us.
We speak of creation begun again …
Of people who pass through the sea
And the power of God that passes over us all.
This night is handed down as a treasure of ancient times.
The night of freedom and peace for all the earth.
This is the night we recall with clarity and power
The promise given so long ago:
Justice for the poor and the powerless,
The hungry invited at last to the table.
Swords beaten into plowshares,
Faithfulness beyond the grave,
Love stronger than death.
Tonight, we cast aside our covenant with death,
and make a new beginning.
In the name of Jesus, we will strike a new fire, and light our candle.
A light for our world and our lives which will never be extinguished.