The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

The Easter Vigil

Burial of JesusIt was the practice of the Church, and one that had been handed down from the earliest ages, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should not be offered up either on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. Good Friday, the anniversary of Jesus' death, was exclusively devoted to the remembrance of the mystery of Calvary, and a holy fear kept the Church from renewing that Sacrifice upon Her altars. For the same reason She abstained on Holy Saturday, also, from its celebration. The burial of Christ is a sequel of His Passion; and during these hours when His Body lay lifeless in the tomb, it was fitting that the Sacrifice, wherein He is offered as the glorious and risen Jesus, should be suspended. Even the Greek Church, which otherwise never fasts on the Saturdays of Lent, follows the practice of the Latin Church for this Saturday: She not only fasts, but even omits the celebration of the Mass of the Presanctified.

Such was the discipline of the Latin Church for nearly a thousand years; but about the eleventh century, an important change began to be introduced with regard to the celebration of Mass on Holy Saturday. The Mass which, hitherto, had been celebrated during the night preceding Easter Sunday, then began to be anticipated on the Saturday; but it was always considered as the Mass for the hour of Our Lord’s Resurrection, and not as the Mass of Holy Saturday. The relaxations that had been introduced with regard to fasting were the occasion of this change in the liturgy. In the first ages, the faithful watched the whole night in the church, awaiting the hour when Our Lord rose triumphant from the tomb. They also assisted at the solemn administration of Baptism to the catechumens, which so sublimely expressed the passing from spiritual death to the life of grace. There was no other Vigil of the whole year so solemnly observed as this: but it lost a great portion of its interest, when the necessity of baptizing adults was reduced by Christianity having triumphed wheresoever it had been preached. The Eastern Church kept up the ancient tradition; but in the West, dating from the eleventh century, the Mass of the Resurrection hour was gradually anticipated, until it was brought even to the morning of Holy Saturday. Durandus of Menda, who wrote his Rational of the Divine Offices towards the close of the thirteenth century, tells us that, in his time, there were very few Churches which observed the primitive custom; and even those soon conformed to the general practice.

As a result of this change, there was an apparent contradiction between the mystery of Holy Saturday and the Divine Service which is celebrated upon it: Christ is still in the tomb, and yet His Resurrection began to be celebrated; the hours preceding the Mass were mournful, yet before midday the paschal joy had broken out, and the Lenten fast was ended. We will give a general view of the solemn Easter Vigil Service; afterwards, we will explain each portion.

In February of 1951, the Holy See under Pope Pius XII issued a decree restoring the Easter Vigil to Holy Saturday night. The decree states that by its gradual removal, in the course of centuries, to Saturday morning, this ancient and most important rite had suffered loss of significance. Furthermore, few of the faithful could attend the Saturday morning service. In response, therefore to petitions from throughout the world, the Holy See determined to permit the celebration of the restored Easter Vigil on an experimental basis. On November 16, 1955, the Restored Order of Holy Week was made permanent. In the remainder of this article, we will give the text of the Restored Easter Vigil, while retaining whatever of Abbot Gueranger's original commentary is of historical interest.

According to the Decree, "the solemn Easter Vigil is to be celebrated at a suitable hour, namely, one which will permit the solemn Mass of this vigil to begin about midnight between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Where, however, the conditions of the faithful as well as of the place make it fitting in the judgment of the Ordinary to anticipate the hour for celebrating the vigil, this should not begin before twilight, or certainly not before sunset."

The great object of the whole of the Easter Vigil Service, and the center to which every one of the ceremonies converges, is the Baptism of the catechumens. The faithful must keep this incessantly before them, or they will be at a loss how to understand or profit by this liturgy. First of all, there is the blessing of the New Fire and of the Paschal Candle. After this are read the prophecies which have reference to the mysteries of tonight's Service. Then comes the blessing of Baptismal water and the font, beginning with the first part of the Litany of the Saints. The matter of Baptism thus prepared, the catechumens receive the Sacrament of regeneration. Even if there are no catechumens, or even no Baptismal font nor a need for Baptismal water, the celebrant nonetheless leads the whole congregation in a renewal of Baptismal vows. The Litany of the Saints is concluded and immediately after, the Holy Sacrifice is celebrated in honor of Our Lord's Resurrection. Finally the joyous Office of Lauds brings to an end one of the longest and most fatiguing Services in the Latin Liturgy.

Baptistery of ConstantineAt Rome, the Station was at St. John Lateran, the mother and mistress of all churches. The Sacrament of regeneration was administered in the Baptistery of Constantine. The thought of these venerable sanctuaries carries us back in thought to former centuries when, each year, not only was holy Baptism conferred on some adults, but also a numerous Ordination added its own splendor to the sacred pomp of this day, whose liturgy, as we have just said, is the richest of the whole year.

Blessing of the New Fire

In ancient times the Catechumens were given their final instructions on the Wednesday of Holy Week; they were then told to present themselves at the church on Holy Saturday at the Hour of Tierce (that is, about nine in the morning) for their final scrutiny. The Priests were there to receive them; they who had not been previously examined upon the Symbol (the Creed) were then questioned. The Lord's Prayer and the biblical attributes of the four Evangelists having been explained, one of the Priests dismissed the Candidates for Baptism, bidding them spend the interval in recollection and prayer.

At the hour of None (about three in the afternoon), the Bishop and all the Clergy, vested in violet, would proceed to the church for the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The first ceremony consisted in the blessing of the New Fire, which was to furnish light for the whole Service. It was the daily custom, in the first ages of the Church, to strike a flame from a flint before Vespers; from this the lamps and candles were lit for the celebration of that Hour, and the light thus procured was kept up in the church till the Vespers of the following day. The Church at Rome observed this custom with great solemnity on Maundy Thursday morning, and the New Fire received a special blessing. We learn, from a letter written in the eight century by Pope St. Zachary to St. Boniface the Archbishop of Mainz, that three lamps were lit from this fire, which were then removed to some safe place, and care taken that their light be not extinguished. It was from these lamps that the light for Holy Saturday night was taken. In the following century, under St. Leo IV, whose pontificate lasted from 847 to 855, the custom of every day procuring new fire from a flint was extended also to Holy Saturday.

It is not difficult to understand the meaning of this ceremony, which is no longer observed by the Latin Church except on Holy Saturday. Our Lord said of Himself: "I am the Light of the world" (John 8: 12). Light, then, is an image of the Son of God. Stone, also, is one of the types under which the Scriptures speak to us of the Messias. St. Peter (1 Pet. 2: 6) and St. Paul (Eph. 2: 20), quoting the words of the prophet Isaias (Is. 28: 16), speak of Jesus as the Corner-Stone. The spark which is struck from the flint represents Our Lord rising from His rock-hewn sepulcher, through the stone that had been rolled against it.

It is fitting, therefore, that this fire which is to provide light for the Paschal Candle, as well as for those that are upon the altar, should receive a special blessing, and be triumphantly shown to the faithful. Formerly the faithful used to put out the fires in their houses before going to the church; they lit them, on their return, with light taken from the blessed fire, which they received as a symbol of Our Lord's Resurrection.

All the lamps in the church were extinguished, which was a symbol of the abrogation of the Old Law, which ended with the rending of the veil of the temple; and that the New Fire represents the preaching of the New Law, whereby Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, fulfilled all the figures of the ancient Covenant.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

In order to help our readers to enter more fully into the mystery of the ceremony we are describing, we will here mention a miracle which was witnessed for many centuries. The clergy and people of Jerusalem assembled for the service of Easter Eve in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After waiting for some time in silence, one of the lamps suspended over Our Lord's tomb was miraculously kindled. The other lamps and torches throughout the church were lit from this, and the faithful took its holy flame with them to their homes. It would seem that this annual miracle first began after the Saracens had taken possession of Jerusalem: God so ordaining, that it might be a proof to these infidels of the divinity of the Christian religion. The historians of those times, who have written upon the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, all speak of this miracle as of an incontestable fact; and when Pope Urban II went to France, there to preach the First Crusade, he brought forward this miracle as one of the motives which should inspire the faithful with zeal for the defense of the Sepulcher of Christ. When Our Lord, in the unsearchable ways of His justice, permitted Jerusalem to be reconquered by the infidels, the miracle ceased, nor has it ever been witnessed from that time. Our readers have no doubt heard of the scandalous scene, which is now repeated every Holy Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (see image above): we allude to the deception practiced by the schismatic priests, whereby they persuade their deluded people that their ingenious trick for lighting a lamp is the continuation of the miracle.

In the Restored Easter Vigil, the Blessing of the New Fire takes place outside the church doors, just within them, or inside the church where the people can better see and follow the sacred rite. Already in Old Testament times, God had chosen fire as a visible sign of His presence—for example, in the burning bush on Mount Sinai, in the pillar of fire going before the Israelites through the desert, in the fire of sacrifice on the altar of the Temple. The kindling of fire from a flint-stone is therefore, a vivid image of Christ's renewed Presence among men: as the spark leaps from the flint, so He arose from His rock tomb. After the Fire has been struck, it is blessed by the celebrant:

O God, through Thy Son, the true Cornerstone, Thou hast enkindled in the faithful the fire of Thine own brightness. Hallow + now for our use and profit this New Fire struck from stone, and grant us through this Easter feast to be so inflamed with desire for Heaven that we may attain with pure souls to the feast of everlasting brightness. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

The celebrant sprinkles the New Fire with holy water and incenses it, after charcoal has been lit from the Fire. Now the Paschal Candle is presented to the celebrant to be blessed.

Blessing of the Paschal Candle

The sun has set, and our earth is mantled in darkness. The Church has provided a torch, which is to spread its light upon us during the whole of this long vigil. It is of unusual size. It stands alone, and is of a pillar-like form. It is the symbol of Christ. Before being lit, its scriptural type is the pillar of a cloud, which hid the Israelites when they went out from Egypt; under this form, it is the figure of Our Lord, when lying lifeless in the tomb. When lit, we must see in it both the pillar of fire which guided the people of God, and the glory of our Jesus risen from His grave. Our Holy Mother the Church would have us enthusiastically love this glorious symbol, and speaks its praise to us in all the magnificence of Her inspired eloquence. As early as the fifth century, Pope St. Zosimus extended to all the churches of the city of Rome, the privilege of blessing the Paschal Candle, although Baptism was administered nowhere but in the baptistery of St. John Lateran. The object of this grant was, that all the faithful might share in the holy impressions which so solemn a rite is intended to produce. It was for the same intention that, later, every church, even though it had no baptismal font, was permitted to have the blessing of the Paschal Candle.

Paschal CandleAn outline of the Cross, together with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and the numerals of the current year, is inscribed on the Candle with a stylus, to teach us that the Risen Christ, the Alpha and Omega (our Beginning and End), the Lord of all Ages, should shine in our lives during this coming year of grace. The celebrant first cuts the Sign of the Cross upon the Candle, saying: "Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and End." He then cuts the Alpha above the Cross, and Omega below it, saying: "The Alpha and the Omega." He inscribes the first numeral of the current year in the upper left angle of the Cross, saying: "His are the seasons." And the second numeral at the upper right, saying: "And the ages." The third at the lower left, saying: "To Him be gory and dominion." And the last at the lower right, saying: "Throughout all ages unto eternity. Amen."

Five grains of incense (symbolizing Christ's five glorious Wounds, as well as the spices brought to the tomb by St. Mary Magdalene) are now presented to the celebrant. He blesses them, sprinkles them with holy water and incenses them. He then fixes them upon the Cross which he has already cut in the Candle, saying: "(1) By His Holy Wounds, (2) glorious, (3) may He protect us, (4) and preserve us, (5) Christ the Lord. Amen."

The celebrant now lights the Paschal Candle from the New Fire, saying: "Christ rises resplendent; may His Light dispel from each heart and mind the evil night!"

Finally, he blesses the burning Candle, saying:

We beseech Thee, Almighty God, pour forth Thy abundant + blessing upon this burning Candle. Thou, the Unseen, Who renewest all things, intensify the splendor of this night. May the Candle we offer tonight shine more brightly through the secret addition of Thine own radiance. And wherever a portion of this hallowing mystery of fire shall be carried, may the evil of Satan's malice and guile be driven out, and the power of Thy majestic glory be made manifest. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

The Solemn Procession and Exsultet

Small candles are distributed to the clergy and people, and a procession forms in the back of the church. The deacon, now vested in white, carries the Paschal Candle. The procession advances a few steps, until the Deacon raises the Paschal Candle and sings: "Lumen Christi! (The Light of Christ!)" All turn toward the Candle and genuflect, answering: "Deo gratias." The celebrant then lights his own candle from the Paschal Candle, and the procession continues. Near the middle of the church, the deacon repeats the Lumen Christi on a higher tone. All genuflect and respond as before; this time the clergy and servers light their candles. In the sanctuary the deacon repeats Lumen Christi in a still higher voice. All genuflect and respond again; the candles of the congregation are then lit, while the deacon fixes the Paschal Candle in its stand and prepares to sing the Exsultet.

The deacon proclaims the Easter solemnity to the people while chanting the praises of the Paschal Candle; and whilst celebrating the glories of Him, Whose emblem it is, he becomes the herald of the Resurrection. The altar, the sanctuary, the other sacred ministers, all are in the somber color of the Lenten rite; the deacon alone is vested in white. At other times, he would not presume to raise his voice as he is now going to do, in the solemn tone of a Preface: but this is the Vigil of the Resurrection; and the deacon, as the interpreters of the liturgy tell us, represents St. Mary Magdalene and the holy women, on whom Our Lord conferred the mission of preaching to the very Apostles that He had risen from the dead, and would meet them in Galilee.

The chant refers to the "wax which the mother bee wrought." Holy Church sees in the wax produced by worker bees, who are virgin females, a figure of the Body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary:

Let the angelic choirs of Heaven now rejoice; let the Divine Mysteries rejoice; and let the trumpet of salvation sound forth the victory of so great a King. Let the earth also rejoice, made radiant by such splendor; and, enlightened with the brightness of the Eternal King, let it know that the darkness of the whole world is scattered. Let our Mother the Church also rejoice, adorned with the brightness of so great a Light; and let this temple resound with the loud acclamations of the people. Wherefore I beseech you, most beloved brethren, who are here present in the wondrous brightness of this holy Light, to invoke with me the Mercy of Almighty God, that He Who has deigned to admit me among the Levites (i.e. deacons), without any merits of mine, would pour forth the brightness of His Light upon me, and enable me to perfect the praise of this wax Candle. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ...

The deacon continues the chant in Preface tone:


Medieval depiction of the Deacon chanting the Exsultet before the Paschal Candle.

It is fitting indeed and just, with all our strength of mind and heart, and with our voice as instrument, to praise the invisible Father Almighty, and His Only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who paid to the Eternal Father, in our stead, the debt of Adam, and by the merciful shedding of His Blood for love of us, blotted out the guilt incurred by Original Sin. For this is the Easter Feast in which the true Lamb is slain, Whose Blood hallows the doorposts of the faithful. This is the night in which Thou of old didst lead our forefathers, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt to pass through the Red Sea with dry feet. This is the night which scattered the darkness of sin by means of the pillar of fire. This is the night which at this time, throughout the world, restores to grace and unites in sanctity those who believe in Christ, and are separated from the vices of the world and the darkness of sinners. This is the night in which Christ burst the bonds of death and came forth as Conqueror from the grave. For unless we had been redeemed, it would avail us nothing to be born. O wondrous condescension of Thy mercy toward us! O incomprehensible goodness of love: to redeem a slave Thou didst deliver up a Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the Death of Christ has blotted out! O happy fault, that merited a Redeemer so holy and so great! O truly blessed night, which alone merited to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the dead! This is the night of which it is written: "The night shall be light as the day," and: "Then shall my night be turned to day, in my rejoicing." For the holiness of this night drives out wickedness and washes away guilt; it restores innocence to the fallen and joy to the sorrowful. It banishes enmities, establishes peace, and brings low the pride of vain man.

Wherefore, in this sacred night, receive, O Holy Father, this evening sacrifice of incense; Holy Church, by the hands of Thy ministers, offers it to Thee in the solemn oblation of this Candle wrought by the labor of bees. For now we have heard the praises of this column of wax which the sparkling fire lights to the honor of God. And though the fire was spread to kindle other flames, such sharing does not lessen the force of its light. For it is constantly fed by the melting wax which the mother bee wrought to form this precious Candle. O truly blessed night, when Egypt was plundered and the Hebrews enriched. O night, when Heaven is wedded to earth, and God to man.

We beseech Thee, therefore, O Lord: may this Candle, consecrated to Thine honor, continue with undiminished light to dispel this night's darkness. Receive it as a fragrant and pleasing offering, and let its light mingle with the lamps of Heaven. May the Morning Star behold its flame—that Morning Star Who knows no setting: He Who upon returning from the grave, serenely shone forth upon mankind. In this festival of Easter joys, we beseech Thee, therefore, O Lord, for ourselves, Thy servants, for all the clergy and Thy most devoted people, together with (our most blessed Pope N. and) our Bishop N.: grant peace to our days: guide, rule over, and protect us by Thy constant care. Look with favor, too, upon our rulers. Assist them with Thy boundless love, and gracious mercy; direct their hearts toward justice and peace, that after this life of earthly labors they may attain, together with all Thy people, to the heavenly fatherland. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord...

Here the deacon takes off the white dalmatic, vests in violet, and returns to the celebrant. Then begin the Old Testament prophecies.

The Prophecies

The torch of the Resurrection now sheds its light throughout the holy place, and gladdens the hearts of the faithful. In ancient times, the preparatory ceremonies for Baptism were now begun. They occupied a considerable portion of time, especially when there were a great number of aspirants to Baptism. It is for this reason that the bishop would come to the church at the hour of None (about three in the afternoon), and that the great Vigil began so early. Whilst these rites were being administered to the catechumens, the rest of the faithful would listen to appropriate passages from the Scriptures, which were read from the ambo, and which were the complement to the Lenten instructions.

These lessons were twelve in number; but in the Lateran Basilica, we may say there were twenty-four, since each was read in Latin first, then in Greek. To each was added a prayer, which summed up the doctrine expressed in the preceding prophecy. To some of them was added an appropriate canticle from the Old Testament, and was sung by the whole assembly to the well know melody of the Tract. The catechumens, when their preliminary ceremonies were finished, were allowed to enter the church, where, in the place assigned to them, they would listen to the Lessons, and join in the prayers. How could they better continue their preparation for the great Sacrament? And yet, there is an aspect of mournfulness about this portion of the Service, as the longed-for hour had not yet come. Frequent genuflections and the somber-colored vestments strongly contrast with the beautiful flame of the Paschal Candle. The hearts of the faithful would still be throbbing with the emotions excited within them by the Exsultet; they were impatient to see their Jesus' Resurrection fulfilled in the Baptism of the catechumens.

In the restored Easter Vigil, the preliminary ceremonies are performed at an earlier hour, if there be any candidates for Baptism during the nocturnal Liturgy. The number of Lessons is reduced to four:

The First Lesson is the Creation account of Genesis (1: 1—2: 2), in which we see an image of the "new creation," which Jesus Christ wrought in us through Baptism. The Father made, the Son re-made; the Father created, the Son redeemed.

Egyptians drowning in the Red SeaThe Second Lesson is the account from Exodus (14: 24—15: 1) of the destruction of the army of the Egyptians by the waters of Red Sea. The Exodus from the slavery of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea foreshadowed the deliverance of mankind from the bondage of sin, and its attaining freedom by passing through the waters of Baptism. And as the pillar of fire later on led the Israelites safely through the desert, so our risen Light, Christ, leads us through the darkness of earthly life into the brightness of grace and glory.

In the Third Lesson the Prophet Isaias (4: 2-6) looks forward to the holy and purified state of the new Chosen People after the judgment of God would cleanse away current wickedness and the Messias had come. For us, it amounts to an exhortation to lead holy lives as a result of our Baptism, especially since we enjoy the loving and powerful protection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Fourth Lesson from Deuteronomy (31: 22-30) recalls the admonition of Moses to the Chosen People and a prophecy of their infidelity: "...For I know that after my death you are sure to become corrupt..." We are reminded that even the elect of God may fall; nor are we secure without our earnest collaboration with God's grace. The warning God here utters to the Chosen People of old, is meant also for us.

First Part of the Litany of the Saints

In ancient times the Litany of the Saints was not chanted until after the Baptisms. It served as an interval while the clergy vested for Mass and other preparations were made for the Holy Sacrifice. The chanters would repeat each invocation three times. In the restored Easter Vigil, the Litany is abbreviated and divided into two parts. The first part—the actual invocation of the Saints—is chanted now, as a preparation for the Baptismal service.

Blessing of the Baptismal Water (and Font)

The blessing of water for Baptism is of apostolic institution, as we learn from many of the holy fathers, among whom we may mention St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Basil. It is just, that the instrument of so divine a work should receive every mark of honor, that could secure to it the respect of mankind: and, after all, does not this honor and respect redound to God, Who chose this creature to be, as it were, the co-operator of His mercies to us? It is from water that we came forth Christians. The early fathers allude to this, when they call Christians the flesh of Christ. We cannot be surprised, after this, that the sight of the element that gave us our spiritual life should excite us to joy, or that we should pay to this element an honor, which is referred to the Author of all the graces about to be bestowed.

The prayer used by the celebrant for blessing the water is so full of elevation of thought, energy of diction, and authority of doctrine, that we may, without hesitation, attribute it to the earliest ages of the Church. The ceremonies which accompany it bespeak its venerable antiquity. It is sung to the solemn tone of the Preface, which imparts such a lyric effect. The celebrant first recites a preliminary prayer, and then begins his magnificent blessing. He is filled with the holy enthusiasm of the Church. He turns to the faithful, and they respond. He is going to lead them to such grand mysteries: Sursum corda!

Almighty and everlasting God, be present in these mysteries of Thy great love; be pleased to act in these Thy Sacraments. Send forth the Spirit of adoption to re-create a new race of those whom the font of Baptism will bear to Thee. Thus what we perform by our humble ministry will be made effective by Thy power. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son...

He continues in Preface tone:

It is fitting indeed and just, right and helpful to salvation, for us always and everywhere to give thanks, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Everlasting God, Who by Thy invisible power dost wonderfully produce such mysteries, yet Thou dost assist with Thy presence the gifts of Thy grace and dost incline the ears of Thy mercy even to our prayers.

O God, even at the beginning of the world, Thy Spirit moved over the water that it may conceive the power of sanctifying. Through water, O God, Thou didst wash away the crimes of the guilty world, and by the pouring out of the deluge didst give a prefigurement of the means of regeneration: that one and the same element might work mysteriously both the death of vice and a new beginning of virtue. O Lord, look upon the face of Thy Church, and multiply in Her Thine acts of regeneration; Thou Who by the torrent of Thy grace fillest Thy holy city with joy, opening the font of Baptism over all the earth for the renewal of mankind; by the command of Thy Majesty may She receive from the Holy Ghost the grace of Thine Only-begotten Son.

Here the celebrant pauses a moment, and putting his hand into the water divides it in the form of a Cross, to signify that it is by the Cross that this element receives the power of regenerating the souls of men. This wonderful power had been promised to water; but the promise was not fulfilled until Christ had shed His Blood upon the Cross. It is this Blood which operates by the water on the souls of men; and with the action of this Precious Blood is joined that of the Holy Ghost, as the celebrant tells us in this prayer, which he thus continues:

May the Holy Ghost impregnate this water, prepared for the rebirth of men, by the secret infusion of His Divine Power, that there may be reborn from the stainless womb of this divine font a new creation conceived in holiness, the children of Heaven. May they all, though differing in age and gender, be alike brought forth as infants by grace, their mother. Therefore, may every unclean spirit, at Thy command, O Lord, depart from hence; may the whole malice of diabolical deceit be entirely banished. Let no infection of the power of the enemy prevail here. Let him not encircle it with his snares, nor enter it by stealth, nor taint it with corruption.

After having thus besought God to protect the water of the font from the influence which Satan seeks to exercise over every creature, the celebrant puts his hand into it. The august character of a bishop or priest is a source of sanctification; the mere contact of his consecrated hand produces a salutary effect, as often as he acts in virtue of the priesthood of Christ, which dwells within him:

May this, Thy creature, O Lord, be holy and innocent, free from every assault of the enemy, and purified by the destruction of all his wickedness. May it be a living fountain, a water that regenerates, a purifying stream: that all who are to be washed in this saving bath may receive within them, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, the grace of a perfect cleansing of their sins.

While pronouncing the following words, the celebrant blesses the water, thrice making over it the Sign of the Cross in honor of the Holy Trinity, in Whose Name men are baptized:

Wherefore, O creature of water, I bless thee by the living † God, by the true † God, by the holy † God, by that God Whose Word in the beginning separated thee from the dry land, and Whose Spirit moved over thee.

Here he parts the water and sprinkles some toward the four corners of the earth, making an allusion to the four rivers of Paradise, and reminding us of Christ's command that all believers are to be baptized:

Who made thee flow forth from the fountain of Paradise, commanding thee to water the whole earth with thy four rivers. Who in the desert changed thy bitterness into sweetness, and made thee fit to drink; and Who brought thee forth from the rock to quench His people's thirst.

Baptism of ChristI bless † thee likewise through Jesus Christ His Only Son, Our Lord, Who in Cana of Galilee changed thee into wine by a wonderful miracle. Who walked with His Feet upon thee, and was baptized in thee by John in the Jordan. Who made thee flow forth from His side with His Blood, and Who commanded His disciples that such as believed should be baptized in thee, saying: "Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

The celebrant interrupts the chant and recites:

Do Thou, Almighty and merciful God, while we are now fulfilling this command, be present with us; graciously send forth Thine Own Breath.

Christ conferred the Holy Ghost upon His Apostles by "breathing" on them. The same sanctifying Spirit is, therefore, here signified. The Holy Ghost is called Spirit, which means a breath—He is the Divine Breathing, that mighty Wind, which was heard in the Cenacle. The celebrant accordingly breathes upon the water in the Sign of the Cross three times and says:

Bless this clear water with Thy Breath, O Lord, that besides its natural power of cleansing bodies, it may also prove efficacious for the purification of the souls of men.

The deacon brings the Paschal Candle from its stand to the celebrant, who lowers it into the water three times, to a lower depth each time, while singing, each time in a higher pitch. This is the most solemn rite of the blessing. It signifies the mystery of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, whereby the element of water received the pledge of its future sanctifying power. The Son of God went down into the stream, and the Holy Ghost came upon Him in the form of a Dove. But now, it is something more than a promise—the water receives the reality, the virtue; and it receives it by the action of these two Divine Persons. While the Candle symbolizes the Sacred Body of Christ, its flame symbolizes the celestial Dove hovering over Him:

May the power of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font.

With the Candle still immersed deeply in the water, the celebrant leans forward over the font: and that he may signify the union of the power of the Holy Ghost with that of Christ, he breathes again upon the water—this time, not in the form of a Cross, but in that of the Greek letter Ψ, which is the initial of the Greek word for Spirit. The upslanting arms of this letter also signify the "Tree of Life." This done, he resumes his prayer by the following words:

And may He make the whole substance of this water fruitful and capable of regenerating.

The Paschal Candle is now raised up out of the water, and replaced in its stand by the deacon. The celebrant continues:

Here may every stain of sin be washed away; here may human nature, created to Thine image, and reformed to the honor of its origin, be cleansed from the filth of its old state; that every man who enters this Sacrament of regeneration be born again to a new infancy of true innocence.

He concludes without chant:

Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son: Who will come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire. R. Amen.

Some of the blessed Easter water is now set aside with which to sprinkle the people after the renewal of their baptismal vows, and for the sprinkling of homes and other places.

But the Church is not satisfied with having given Her blessing to the water. On Holy Thursday, She was put in possession of the graces of the Holy Ghost by receiving the Holy Oils: She now mingles a portion of these with the water. The faithful—seeing how every symbol expressive of divine adoption is made to bear upon the Baptismal Water, whence men receive salvation—will learn what is the reverence they should have for it. The celebrant, taking the Oil of Catechumens, pours some upon the water in the Sign of the Cross, saying:

May this font be sanctified and made fruitful by the oil of salvation, for such as are reborn from it unto life everlasting. R. Amen.

He then pours out a portion of the Holy Chrism—the most sacred Oil the Church possesses—in the Sign of the Cross, saying:

May the infusion of the Chrism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost the Paraclete, be made in the Name of the Holy Trinity. R. Amen.

He then pours both Oils together, making the Sign of the Cross thrice and saying:

May this mingling of the Chrism of salvation, and of the Oil of Unction, and of the water of Baptism, be made in the Name of the † Father, and of the † Son, and of the Holy † Ghost. R. Amen.

The Oils are now mixed with the water, that thus every portion of it may come into contact with this additional source of sanctification. The Holy Oils likewise symbolize the Holy Ghost—the "Anointer"—with Whose "unction" we are filled at Baptism. Pouring the Holy Oils into the water therefore signifies a fullness of His sanctifying power communicated to the Baptismal Water.

If there are any Catechumens to be Baptized, the celebrant resumes white vestments and confers this Sacrament. By Baptism each of us has entered the great Paschal Mystery—Christ's Death and Resurrection became our death to sin and rising to a new life of grace. By assisting at the Baptism of new members of Christ's One, True, Catholic Church, we realize anew how great is the gift of our own re-birth, and we welcome the new members as our true brothers and sisters in Christ.

If the Church has a Baptismal Font, the newly blessed Baptismal Water is carried to it in a solemn procession. Having poured the Baptismal Water into the Font, the celebrant prays:

Almighty and everlasting God, look graciously upon the devotion of Thy people who are to be born anew. Like the deer they have sought the fountain of Thy living water. Mercifully grant that their thirsting faith may, through the mystery of Baptism, sanctify both soul and body. Through Our Lord...

The font is incensed, and the procession returns.

Renewal of Baptismal Promises

Coronation of Louis the PiousAlthough this ceremony was not formerly part of the official Easter Vigil Liturgy, the practice is of ancient origin. The Council of Sens, held in Paris in the year 829 and convoked by King Louis the Pious to remedy the disorders of Christians, which were widespread at that time, judged that the principle cause of the corruption of morals was the forgetfulness or ignorance of the vows of Baptism; and it could find no better remedy for so great an evil than to order Christians to renew their Baptismal promises.

In churches having no Baptismal font, the above ceremonies of the Blessing of Baptismal water may be omitted. However the Renewal of Baptism Promises always takes place—if need be, the people will be sprinkled with ordinary blessed water.

If the Sacrament of Baptism has not been conferred, the celebrant exchanges his violet vestments for white at this time. The ceremony begins with the celebrant incensing the Paschal Candle, while the candles of the congregation are relit from its flame.

The celebrant then faces the people and admonishes them:

My dear brethren, in this most sacred night Holy Mother Church commemorates the death and burial of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In return for His great love, She lovingly keeps watch with Him. And looking forward to His glorious Resurrection, She rejoices with an exceeding joy.

But, as the Apostle teaches us, we have by Baptism been buried with Christ unto death. As Christ, then, has risen from the dead, so we too must walk now in newness of life. For we know that our old self has been crucified with Christ, that we may no longer be slaves to sin. Let us remember always that we have died to sin and to the world, but we are to live for God, in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

Therefore, beloved brethren, having completed the Lenten observance, let us now proceed to renew the promises of our holy Baptism. By these promises we once renounced Satan and all his works, as well as that world which is the enemy of God; we vowed, furthermore, to serve God faithfully in His One, True, Holy, Catholic Church. And therefore, I ask you once again:

Celebrant: Do you renounce Satan? All: We do renounce him.

Celebrant: And all his works? All: We do renounce them.

Celebrant: And all his pomps? All: We do renounce them.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth? All: We do believe.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was born into this world and Who suffered for us? All: We do believe.

Celebrant: And do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? All: We do believe.

Celebrant: Let us now together pray to God, as Our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us: All: Our Father, Who art in Heaven...

Celebrant: And may Almighty God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who caused us to be born anew by water and the Holy Ghost, and Who granted us remission of sins, keep us by His grace unto everlasting life, in the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord. All: Amen.

The people are now sprinkled with the Easter water, as a reminder of their own Baptism. They should, accordingly, receive it with sincere sorrow for their past sins, and a firm determination to live in the future as re-born children of God and faithful members of His Holy Church. After the aspersion, the people again extinguish their candles.

In preparation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Litany of the Saints is now concluded.

Solemn Mass of the Easter Vigil

The solemn Litany is drawing to its end, and the choir has already begun its closing invocation—Kyrie eleison!—which is also the beginning of this Mass. The celebrant comes forth from the sacristy with all the pomp that marks the principal feasts of the Church, and then, ascending the altar, he offers the homage of incense to the Most High. Hence, an Introit, which on other occasions is sung by the choir during the procession from the sacristy to the altar, is not needed.

The morning star has blended its rays with those of our Paschal Candle, just as the deacon prayed might be; but now, the morning star itself begins to pale, for the star of day—the figure of our Jesus, the Sun of Justice—is soon to rise.

The censing of the altar is finished; and then—Oh glorious triumph of our risen Jesus!—the celebrant sings forth, in a transport of joy: Gloria in excelsis Deo! The hitherto silent bells peal to the glad angelic hymn, whilst the purple coverings are removed from the images and the altars are decked with flowers and candles. The enthusiasm of our Holy Faith has mastered every heart, making it beat with emotion. The choir takes up the heavenly canticle, and continues it to the end. The celebrant then sings this prayer for the newly baptized throughout the world:

O God, Who dost illumine this most holy night by the glory of the Lord’s Resurrection, preserve in the new children of Thy family the spirit of adoption which Thou has given; that renewed in body and mind, they may render to Thee a pure service. Through the same Our Lord Jesus Christ...

The Epistle is from St. Paul to the Colossians:

Brethren: If you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, shall appear, then you too will appear with Him in glory.

After this, the souls of the faithful—yea, the very walls of the church—echo with the joyful tidings—Alleluia!—which the celebrant, filled with holy ardor, intones to the well-known melody. The choir repeats it after him. Thrice—each time on a higher note and with an increase of joy—the heavenly word is interchanged between the celebrant and choir. At this moment all mournfulness is at an end. One feels that God has accepted the expiatory works of our Lent; and that, by the merits of His Son now risen from the grave, He pardons our earth, since He permits us to hear once more the song of Heaven.

Holy Women at the TombBut something is still wanting to the joy of our Easter. Jesus has risen from the tomb; but, so far, He has not shown Himself to all. His Blessed Mother, St. Mary Magdalene, and the other holy women, are the only ones who have as yet seen Him; it is not until the evening that He will appear to His Apostles. We have only just begun the day. Therefore it is that the Church once more offers Her praise to Her God, under the Lenten formula of the Tract. Likewise, no additional torches accompany the Gospel, which is St. Matthew’s account of the Resurrection; the book, however, is incensed. Here again we have an allusion to the events which took place on this great morning—the women went to the sepulcher carrying sweet spices with them, but the light of faith in the Resurrection was not as yet in their hearts:

Now late in the night of the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, and drawing near rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment like snow. And for fear of him the guards were terrified, and became like dead men. But the angel spoke and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, Who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen even as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord was laid. And go quickly, tell His disciples that He has risen, and behold, He goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see him. Behold, I have foretold it to you."

The celebrant does not intone the glorious profession of Faith: it is reserved for the second Mass, which is to be celebrated later in the day. By this omission of the Creed, the Church would remind us of the hours which elapsed before the Apostles, who were to preach to the world the mystery of the Resurrection, had themselves honored it by their faith.

The Offertory verse is also omitted; the celebrant begins to offer the bread and wine to be used in the Sacrifice, immediately after the Dominus vobiscum. This omission is also of ancient origin, when the Offertory verse accompanied a lengthy procession. To shorten the already long ceremonies, the procession also was omitted. Also omitted are the Kiss of Peace (which is accompanied by the words, "Peace be to thee!") and the Agnus Dei (which ends with, "Give us peace.") It was not till the evening of the day of His Resurrection, that Jesus spoke the words, "Peace be to thee!" to His disciples. Holy Church, reverencing as She does every detail of Her Jesus' life, loves to imitate them in Her own practice, and thus omits these words from this Mass.

In ancient times, the newly baptized would receive also, before the Mass began, the Sacrament of Confirmation—if they were adults and if a Bishop were present. At the Vigil Mass they would all make their First Holy Communion—even the newly baptized infants. The deacon would dip his finger into the Chalice, and then put it into their innocent mouths. Afterwards, to signify that they were all now, by their Baptism, those new-born babes of whom St. Peter speaks (1 Peter 2: 2), they would receive a little milk and honey—it was also an allusion to the promised land of Heaven, now opened to them.


In consequence of the service being so long, the Church makes these Lauds as short as possible, and gives them a joyous character, in keeping with the return of the Alleluia. They are drawn up so as to form parts of the Mass—the Communion verse and Postcommunion oration:

Ant. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. 150: Praise the Lord in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of His power...

Ant. Bened. Now very early in the morning of the first day of the week, when the sun had just risen, they came to the sepulcher. Alleluia.

The celebrant incenses the altar for the last time while the choir chants the Benedictus. The Antiphon is repeated and the celebrant sings the Postcommunion oration:

Pour forth upon us, O Lord, the spirit of Thy love, that those whom Thou hast nourished with the Easter Sacraments, may by Thy goodness, be of one mind and heart. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son...

The deacon sings the Ite Missa Est as usual, adding a double Alleluia! The same will be done throughout the Easter Octave.

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