Posted by: geolocke | 2014/04/22

O Truly Blessed Night

I got up before 5 this morning which is typical for my workday week. I had a bit of a headache, a “Triduum hangover” if you will allow. What rest I’ve had has been just a few brief hours last night. Today I went back to my day job with meetings and problems to investigate, research and try to resolve. I got the coffee started and then let the dogs out the back door and looked up at the morning stars shining bright in the pre-dawn darkness. There’s one ‘hole’ in the trees which allow me to catch a glimpse of the north star, Polaris (weather permitting.) It is always there, my constant nightly companion, always looking down from the same spot in the sky. I was instantly reminded of one of the phrases about the Pascal Candle from the Easter Exsultet which our Deacon sang at the beginning of the Great Easter Vigil this past Saturday evening.

“… O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to human. Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night. Receive it as a pleasing fragrance, and let it mingle with the lights of heaven. May this flame be found still burning by the morning star: the one morning star who never sets, Christ your Son, …

I really should write something about the Easter Vigil before work and other daily matters push my thoughts about it out of my mind. But how can I ever hope to describe the wonderful celebration that is the Great Easter Vigil? It is like my trying to describe the awesomeness and majestic glory of a great redwood forest, by telling you about what little I can see about my feet; perhaps a few words about the aromatic branches that have fallen from the unseen treetops above, or the soft yielding feel of the of the deep carpet of needles that lie underfoot, or even the roughness of the immense trunks that stand like pillars of some ancient temple built by giants. Each description is accurate in and of itself, and yet gives nothing to help provide an image of the forest as a whole. And so it is with my feeble attempt to put into words some meaningful description of the Easter Vigil. I will try, and yet I know I will fail no matter what I write.

The Easter Vigil is the culmination of the Triduum. The capstone of this journey we have taken for these past three days beginning with the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden, the arrest, trial, torture and death of our Lord, His burial and now, finally, His Resurrection. It begins outside with a bonfire (courtesy of the boy scouts) and from those flames the great Pascal Candle is blessed and lit. There is a procession into the darkened Sanctuary, pausing three times to honor the Pascal Candle. Every member of the congregation also holds a small unlit candle. The Altar Servers lite candles for themselves, the Priests and Deacons. Then they turn and offer their flames to the congregation, and so the one flame is divided and shared with every member until the sanctuary is lit by the collective light of our candles. This act is purposefully symbolic of each of our personal contributions to the body of Christ as Church. Then the Deacon begins to sing the Exsultet:

Exult, let them exult, the host of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph! …”

It goes on for quite some time. Our poor Deacon’s voice is spent by the time he finishes. Then there is the re-telling of our Salvation’s history though a series of selected readings and sung Psalms. There are a total of 7 sets of readings and psalms to be used (depending on the circumstances) before the Epistle and Gospel are read. This night we did 6 of the 7 sets of readings.

1) Genesis 1:1-2:2 followed by Psalm 104 and a prayer

2) Genesis 22:1-18 followed by Psalm 16 and a prayer

3) Exodus 14:15-15:1 followed by the “song of Moses” from Exodus 15 and a prayer.

4) Isaiah 54:5-14 followed by Psalm 30 and a prayer.

5) Isaiah 55:1-11 followed by the “song of Isaiah” from Isaiah 12 and a prayer.

6) Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4 followed by Psalm 19 and a prayer.

Next the Gloria is sung accompanied by a great ringing of the bells and followed by the reading of an Epistle (Romans 6: 3 – 11) and then the Gospel Acclamation and finally the Gospel (Matthew 28: 1-10)

After the Liturgy of the word is completed, we move on to baptizing & confirming those who are becoming fully initiated into the Christian Church and finishing up with the liturgy of the Eucharist with those newly initiated receiving communion first. Finally when all is complete, we recess from the Sanctuary to the sounds of the Choir and the people singing one of the great Alleluia anthems.

When all is said and done It takes about three hours start to finish. I purposefully did not go into detail about the baptisms and Eucharist because those will (hopefully) be subject of some future posting. As I said above, there is no way I can describe the Easter Vigil successfully. I do not feel that I’ve done a great service in describing only one part of the Easter Vigil, but I hope in some little way I’ve been able to shed some light on the incredibly beautiful celebration that it is.

My closing thought about the Easter Vigil is that the symbols used have applications for remembering Christ in my everyday life. The smell of smoke can trigger the memory of the Easter Bonfire. A glowing candle makes me think of the Sanctuary being lit by hundreds of little candles all lit from the one Pascal Candle. The ringing of bells, the smell of flowers, the feel of a raindrop striking my forehead, the stars in the night sky and many more of the sounds and sights that are in our everyday world remind me of how all that about me is part of the Body of Christ because of the use of these same symbols in our liturgies, especially at the Great Easter Vigil.

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