The Easter Vigil is the final liturgy of the Triduum. It is the night that we "keep the memorial of the Lord's paschal solemnity…listening to his words and celebrating his mysteries…" (from the Greeting of the People at the Blessing of the Fire and the Preparation of the Candle).
The Easter Proclamation, called the Exsultet, is the hymn that is sung after the Paschal Candle is brought into the church. It tells of the importance of this night and lays out the story of our salvation. Near the end, it summarizes the point of the Easter Vigil: "The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults always, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty". That's a lot to ask of one day, and yet it is what happens.
The Easter Vigil is the night that we celebrate Christ's victory over death. It is the night when our salvation is won for us. Wickedness, darkness, sorrow, all of that, is driven away in Christ's victory.
The event that all the others hinge around at the Easter Vigil is the Baptismal Liturgy. Catechumens, who have been preparing for their initiation into the Catholic Church are baptized on this night. They are made clean in the waters of baptism: darkness is dispelled, wickedness is cast out, and innocence is restored. "Dearly beloved" the priest prays at the baptismal font "with one heart and one soul, let us by our prayers come to the aid of these our brothers and sisters in their blessed hope, so that, as they approach the font of rebirth, the almighty Father may bestow on them all his merciful hope".
For all of the people of God, the Easter Vigil is the chance we have to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, joy over sorrow. However, in a very practical, very real and immediate way, we rejoice with the catechumens who are about to experience that joy for the first time. On the night when we celebrate Christ winning our salvation, the Church offers, through the Sacrament of Baptism, entrance into Christ's family.
People, especially children, are baptized at different times throughout the year. However, tonight is special. Tonight we see clearly the link between Christ's saving work and the waters of baptism. Tonight we see clearly in the witness of the catechumens, what the sanctifying power of Christ is all about. Tonight we see the earthly high point of salvation history in the lives of those around us.
Once the catechumens are baptized they are called Neophytes. We rejoice with them in our witnessing of their Confirmation. We rejoice with them in their first sharing of the Eucharist. We rejoice with them because they are now able to fully participate in the life of the risen Christ. Their baptism, confirmation, and participation in the Eucharist is a moment of renewal for all of us. It is a reminder of the good work that is being done through Christ in the world. It is a reminder that we are called to be God's people, set apart, making the world holy.
The Exsultet continues "But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God's honour, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light…" Tonight we share the light of Christ with those newly baptized and we pray that God will continue to bless them and to renew His Church.
The Lord is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.