The light and glory of New Life: the Easter Vigil
Holy Saturday was a very quiet day; an ancient homily for the day says “Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear”.
The reality for our churches of course is that they are a hive of activity as the great ‘spring clean’ takes place and the churches are prepared for one of the more complex rituals the Church offers us in the Easter Vigil. The significance of this night should not be underestimated as much as Midnight Mass is the main event for Christmas, the Easter Vigil is the main event for the Easter season. The liturgy unfolds with symbol after symbol of the significance of this night being unveiled before our very eyes, and it all starts with light.
We begin in the darkness outside our churches with a great fire, which is blessed, and from it the great Paschal Candle is lit. The fire symbols the light and glory of the Resurrection. If you have seen the film “Risen” when a Roman centurion, Clavius, is sent to investigate the mysterious (and villainous) disappearance of the body of Jesus the Nazarene, he enters the empty tomb and is faced with a conundrum – ropes that seem to have burst open and a shroud with the imprint of the one they crucified; that shroud bears a remarkable likeness to the Shroud of Turin.
Many theories have been presented about the Shroud of Turin over the past century or so. One of which, is that the image on the shroud was produced by an extremely intense burst of Ultra Violet energy; the sort of light a very intense sunburst would give.
When we reach the liturgy of Easter Day, we are told in the Gospel of John that Peter also saw the cloth that went over the head of Christ. In the course of this past week The Sudarium of Oviedo has also been scientifically examined. A Sudarium is the piece of material placed over the face of a dead person before they are buried; a practice we still do in the West. The study showed that the face on the Sudarium of Oviedo is that of the same person of the Shroud of Turin. Two pieces of material affected by what is likely to be an extreme ultra violet light.
Light has been strongly associated with the Resurrection from the very beginning. As we carry the newly lit Paschal Candle into the church its light radiates the building and on the three stops the light from the candle is passed round until the entire building is lit with the ‘radiant glory’ of the blessed candle …. the Risen Christ, bursts through the darkness vanquishing it forever. A great joy, a great celebration as proclaimed in the singing of the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet).
Salvation history unfolded
The Vigil continues as we sit to listen to a series of Scripture readings that lay before us the whole of Salvation history (God’s plan and interaction with humanity). Beginning with the first book of the Bible (Genesis) and the creation of the universe following right the way through God’s promise to Abraham, King David, the freeing from slavery in Egypt etc. brining us up to Christ himself; we are shown how the events that bring us to this most holy night are necessary, and that the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday are essential to our Salvation. The Service and the Sacrifice lived out in Christ has brought about the Salvation of the world; the Service and Sacrifice of Christ is to be lived out by his followers to continue his saving work. He desires that we ‘Roll back the stone’ and fling open the doors of our churches, to let in the whole world. Service and Sacrifice lead to NEW LIFE and the promised glory to all God’s children in heaven.
New life in Christ
In the waters of baptism we are transformed and incorporated into the life of Christ himself; the life of Sacrifice and Service. To be a Christian, part of the mystical Body of Christ (the Church) is not to be a passive receiver or an overactive worker. We are called to both serve and be served as parts of a Body.
Having had Salvation History unfolded for us we welcome into the New Life of Christ those to be baptised/received into the Church. The Easter Vigil is always a great blessing for the Church as thousands of people worldwide jojn the ranks of the Catholic Church. It also helps those of us who are already part of the Church to reflect and to take stock. Over the course of our Lenten observances we have been purifying our hearts for this great moment. We renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with the Easter Water as a sign of this new beginning for us also.
The Lucenarium evokes the memory and feeling of awe that the intense light of the Resurrection brought. The sprinkling expresses our desire to enter into a new life with Christ, leaving behind the messiness of the past year and moving forward with great faith and hope. We let the light of Christ radiate our hearts because on it rests NEW LIFE for us for all eternity and for our Church in this society!
Our Liturgy then moves forward as once again we are nourished by the Body & Blood of the Suffering and Risen Christ to sustain us on our journey to the Resurrection of the dead on the last day. It is when we let the events of the past three days touch our lives that every day becomes Easter Day!
“Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him” (Colossians 3:1-4).