Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday: Hell defeated; Tonight: The Great Vigil of Easter

Icon depicting Jesus descending to Hell
to open the gates and get
everyone out.
Holy Saturday is remembered with a series of simple prayers and psalms on Saturday morning. If you have a chance, join me in the chapel at 9 am this morning -- the service is quite brief.

Tonight at 7:30 pm we celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter. This is by far my favorite service of the year, and it is the most important on the Church calendar. We begin by lighting a fire, and then processing into the darkness of the church. The Great Vigil of Easter, also called the “Paschal Vigil” or the “Divine Liturgy” is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Easter season.

Historically, the earliest known accounts of The Great Vigil of Easter date to the early 3rd century of the Common Era. In the ancient church, it was at this service that people, especially children, were baptized and adults received as catechumens into full communion with the Church. The Vigil is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Day. The Great Vigil of Easter is considered to be the first celebration of Easter because Hebrew and early Christian tradition consider feasts and other great days to begin at sunset.

In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is fully a part), the Easter Vigil is the most important Mass of the liturgical year, and is the first celebration of the Eucharist during the fifty-day long celebration of Eastertide. The service begins outside with the lighting of the Easter fire, and then the congregation proceeds inside following the Paschal Candle and led by the cantor chanting the Exsultet. In darkness, we hear the story of how God’s people are delivered from darkness.

Finally, we proclaim Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we celebrate our Eucharist. For the first time since the beginning of Lent, we proclaim “Alleluia!”

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