10 Facts You May Not Know About Easter Vigil

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The Paschal Vigil is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Christ in the Catholic Church. It’s also the first time when Catholics can exclaim “Alleluia” since the beginning of Lent. But do you know these less common facts about the eve of Easter?

1. On this day, the Church symbolizes the tomb

“On Holy Saturday the Church is, as it were, at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his passion and death, and on his descent into hell, and awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting,” the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament writes.

2. The Latin origins of the day

A vigil commemorates a feast the evening before the feast day. The term “vigil” comes from the Latin word “vigilia,” which means “wakefulness.” This reminds those attending to the vigil to stay awake and prepare for the upcoming feast.

3. Easter Vigil is meant to be celebrated at night

Ever wonder why the Paschal Vigil takes place so late in the evening? According to ancient tradition, this vigil is the “one vigil for the Lord,” and it’s celebrated the commemorate the night when Christ rose from the grave.

“The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night,” the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament writes. “It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday. This rule is to be taken according to its strictest sense.”

4. The liturgy consists of four parts

In the Roman Rite, the liturgy of the Easter Vigil has four parts: The Service of Light, the Liturgy of the Word, Christian Initiation and Renewal of Baptismal vows, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

5. The Church forbids weddings on this day

During the Paschal Vigil, the Catholic Church abstains from the celebrations of new marriages, and also the celebration of the other sacraments. The only exceptions are Penance and Anointing of the Sick.

6. The Paschal Vigil is the “mother of all holy vigils”

There’s no understating it—Easter Vigil is a big deal in the Catholic Church. In one of his sermons, Saint Augustine referred to the Paschal Vigil as the “mother of all holy vigils.”

7. The new Easter candle represents Christ

At the beginning of the liturgy, the paschal candle is processed into the sanctuary of the church. “The procession, by which the people enter the church, should be led by the light of the paschal candle alone. Just as the children of Israel were guided at night by a pillar of fire, so similarly, Christians follow the risen Christ,” the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament writes.

The light remains lit during the Easter season, and remains in the sanctuary, close to the altar. After the Easter season, the paschal candle is lit during baptisms, where the light is passed to a new generation of Christians. The candle is also lit during the celebration of a funeral, to remind Christians of the hope that comes with Christ’s resurrection.

8. Even if there are no candidates for Baptism, the Baptismal water is still blessed

During the baptismal liturgy, the Church celebrates Christ’s Passover and our own. But even if there are no candidates for Baptism present, the water is still blessed.

“Even if there are no candidates for Baptism, the blessing of baptismal water should still take place in parish churches,” the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament writes “If this blessing does not take place at the baptismal font, but in the sanctuary, baptismal water should be carried afterwards to the baptistry there to be kept throughout the whole of paschal time. Where there are neither candidates for Baptism nor any need to bless the font, Baptism should be commemorated by the blessing of water destined for sprinkling upon the people.”

9. The Liturgy of the Word includes nine readings

The Paschal Vigil has seven readings from the Old Testament and two readings from the New Testament. At this liturgy, the Catholic Church explains the paschal mystery from the time of Moses, throughout the history of the prophets, and culminating in the Gospels.

The Church asks that, whenever possible, all of the readings are read to prolong the character of the Easter Vigil. However, pastoral discretion allows the reduction of readings. The one reading that can’t be skipped is the reading from Exodus chapter fourteen.

10. The Easter fire used to be lit with a piece of flint

Until the liturgical changes of Vatican II, the Easter fire lit at the beginning of the liturgy was started with flint. The flint symbolized the rock of Christ’s tomb.

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