March 26, 2016
The Easter Vigil (also Paschal Vigil, Easter Vigil Mass or Mass of the Easter Vigil) is held after nightfall on Holy Saturday, it is the first Easter Mass to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the most important feast in the church’s liturgical year.
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In the Catholic Church the Easter Vigil begins with a Service of the Light that starts outside or just within the main entrance the church. The Easter fire is lit in a brazier; then the Paschal candle—a tall candle inscribed with the cross and other Christian symbols—is blessed and lit from the Easter fire. In a procession into the church the flame from the Paschal candle is passed on to other candles, culminating in the lighting of candles held by the entire congregation after the celebrant sings “The light of Christ” and the people answer “Thanks be to God” for the third time. Throughout the Easter season, concluding seven Sundays later with Pentecost, the Paschal candle is lit during Mass.
Unlike most Masses, the Easter Vigil features up to nine Scripture readings— six more than on major feasts and seven more than on lesser feasts or weekday Masses with no feast. Also during the Easter Vigil, following the celebrant’s homily, baptismal water is blessed for use in the church throughout the year.
After that, previously unbaptized youth or adult converts to Catholic Christianity (called catechumens, then referred to as the elect during Lent) are baptized and confirmed, and in certain circumstances, baptized members of other Christian denominations are received into full communion with the Catholic Church (called candidates or candidates for full communion) and confirmed. At this Mass, the newly initiated receive their First Communion.
Whether or not new catechumens are baptized and confirmed, or candidates are admitted to full communion, this is a service at which all Catholics renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with holy water.
(Content courtesy of the USCCB; photo courtesy Catholic News Service.)