Magdalene’s Musings: “This is the Night”
Holy Week this year begins on March 24th with the Sunday of the Passion. The culmination of Holy Week, the Easter Vigil, is on Holy Saturday, March 30th at 7 pm. The Easter Vigil is also the culmination of the Triduum (pronounced TRIH-jew-um), beginning with Maundy Thursday, which flows into Good Friday, and resolves with joy and ritual celebration during the Vigil on Saturday night. Three profound celebrations, which commemorate the Last Supper, followed by the Crucifixion, and climaxing in the Resurrection. One way to understand the significance of the Triduum is to look at its history, recovered for the publication of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
In the Early Church (the fourth century in Jerusalem), the Vigil emerged as the center of the Christian year and the heart of the mystery of faith. Because of this centrality, converts to the faith were baptized during the Vigil, after forty days of study and preparation during Lent. Our Lenten practices of abstinence and spiritual study actually began with the Christian community offering their solidarity with the Catechumens - they all studied together in order to renew their baptismal vows with the newly baptized.
Liturgically, the Vigil recreates the drama of our salvation, from the Creation to the Resurrection. It also introduces the Paschal Candle for the fifty days of Easter. In this liturgical drama we relive the covenants God made with us and how faithful God is in his promises to us. We begin the service with darkness (like the darkness before creation and the darkness of the tomb), and light the Paschal Candle from the New Light of a fire (historically brought to the church as coals from the people’s homes). As the Candle processes through the congregation, we sing, “The Light of Christ”, breaking the silence with our singing, and the darkness with the single candle of Christ. We spread Christ’s light from candle to candle among the faithful. Then, with only the light of the candles illuminating the music, the most ancient chant of Christianity, the Exsultet, is sung by the light of the candle, proclaiming that, “This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave.”
If you have never experience the joy of this service, I invite you to try it this year. We will have fewer readings, and more singing and participation, all with the intention of renewing our faith. You are all asked to bring bells to the service, so we can make the Great Noise, when the Resurrection is proclaimed and the Sanctuary lights go on, and we sing our “Alleluia, Christ is risen”, to the pealing of bells.