Quick, grab your phone, open your calendar app, and mark this date: April 20, 2019. That’s the date for the liturgy of all liturgies, the greatest and most noble of all solemnities: the Easter Vigil.
I love the Easter Vigil. There’s really no better way to seize the Easter season then by celebrating the holy night that ushers it in. If you’ve never been, then consider this your invitation. Here are four reasons why you should definitely attend the Easter Vigil.
Reason #1: Get lit.
The Mass begins at night with the lights out. The only illumination comes from a massive bonfire burning outside. Once the Paschal Candle is lit by the fire, its flame is used to light small candles held by those in the congregation. To see the church alight not by the force of electricity but by a holy fire is truly a sight to behold.
This new light acts as a visceral reminder that Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and by our baptism we “are light in the Lord” and “children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Reason #2: Raise the roof.
Once the Paschal Candle takes its place at the front of the church, the deacon (or priest, or lay cantor if need be) chants one of the most effusive and poetic hymns of praise in the history of the Church: The Easter Proclamation, or Exsultet (after the first word of the proclamation in Latin).
The Exsultet is beautiful, even alarmingly so, because it’s overflowing with praise and we haven’t even celebrated any sacraments yet! But that’s how special the light of Christ is. As the prayer itself says in part, the Easter Vigil is an opportunity to “raise the roof” in rejoicing:
“Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.”
Reason #3: Hear the story.
To make the account of God’s saving work more explicit, the Liturgy of the Word is filled to the point of bursting. Nine readings – seven from the Old Testament and two from the New – provide a grand tour through salvation history, as reader after reader tells the story of God working mightily to rescue us from sin and death.
It is truly awe-inspiring to see the plan of God unfolding. If you’ve ever wanted a birds-eye view of the whole bible, this is it. If you’ve ever wanted to hear the greatest story ever told, this is it. Be sure to soak it all in.
Reason #4: Welcome them home.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort for you to attend this liturgy. You just have to decide that it’s a good idea. But, there are Candidates (baptized non-Catholics) and Catechumens (unbaptized persons) who have been diligently preparing for as much as two years to come, finally, to this grand occasion. You don’t put that kind of work in unless you desperately want to become Catholic. The Easter Vigil is the climactic point of that long journey.
Knowing this, what kind of an impression do you think it would make if these precious people were to be baptized and confirmed, and then were to look out on a mere spattering of people? This year I challenge you: Make your church like the finish line of a marathon. Show the runners that we appreciate and celebrate them for running the race Christ set before them.
These new Catholics are a gift and a treasure. Praise God for them! Greet them, get to know them, invite them over for dinner, plug them into whatever you do for fun or to grow in holiness. Show them that they have come all this way not to be stranded in a desert wasteland, but to prosper in a loving and enriching community of faith.