“Why is this night different from every other night? Because once we were slaves, and we are slaves no longer…” These lines are drawn from the celebration of Passover, recalling God’s mighty liberation of his people from their slavery in Egypt, and they are a fitting way to describe the mysteries we celebrate this evening.
“Why is this night different from every other night?” Tonight, we are in the midst of the great Easter Triduum, the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Passion of Our Lord on Good Friday, and the most holy feast day of the Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday. The Easter Vigil—as the Church calls it, “The Mother of all Vigils”—prepares us throughout this night to enter even more joyfully into the Feast Day of the Resurrection.
“Why is this night different from every other night?” The Divine Liturgy of the Mass is made of two distinct parts: the Liturgy of the Word, and then the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Mass of the Easter Vigil, tonight, there are four parts to the Mass.
We started with the Liturgy of Light: Jesus Christ is the LIGHT in the Darkness. We blessed the Easter Fire, making it a sign of divine glory—God’s burning heart of divine love. From the fire we blessed the Paschal (or Easter) Candle, representing Christ as the light of the world, the pillar of fire that lights our darkness, leading the People of God on our journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Those of us who are baptized, although not wearing the white garments of our baptism, lit our candles from the Easter Candle, as the light of faith that we have received. Christ told us that we are the light of the world, telling us to share our light, from his light, with others. It also represents our vigilance to our Lord’s warning to keep awake, with the lamps of our faith and good works lit, prepared for our Lord’s coming.
The second part of our night is the Liturgy of the Word: Jesus Christ is THE WORD and truth of God. The Easter Vigil has seven Old Testament Readings, each with their own responsorial psalm and prayer, intending to help extend the length of the liturgy from sunset until the dawning of Easter Morning. Tonight, we just had three of those readings, because we’re not trying to extend the Mass (to anywhere close to dawn).
The Liturgy of the Word tonight helps us to focus on the mystery of baptism. In a few moments, we’ll hear the beautiful Easter blessing prayer over the water of the baptismal font, which like our readings, recalls many of the ways in which God has used water as an image of baptism and new life throughout salvation history—The water and the Holy Spirit at the beginning of creation; Israel’s passing through the waters of the Red Sea, putting their slavery behind them as they set off on their journey to the Promised Land; God’s beautiful promise through the prophet Ezekiel of a future restoration, in which God says to his people, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you… I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you… you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” From the New Testament, we heard Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans about the mystery of our death to sin, and new life in Christian baptism, as we are made into a new creation by the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection being applied to us. And then, we heard from the Gospel of St. Luke, of the glorious empty tomb. Christ is not among the dead, but truly lives, as he promised. The power of the resurrection is given to us in baptism: our redemption from sin and death, and our new life of the grace of the risen Savior. “Why is this night different from every other night? Because once we were slaves, and we are slaves no longer…”
The third part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of Initiation: Jesus Christ is THE LIFE of communion with God. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” We have two young women among us who, over this past year, have been preparing to be baptized. Baptism in a sense is the virgin womb of Mother Church, from which is born new sons and daughters of God our Father, adopted through our communion in the divine sonship of Christ, as his brothers and sisters. In another sense, baptism is the bridal bath, the ceremonial washing of the members of the Bride of Christ, the Church, in preparation for her consummation of her nuptial communion with Christ her Bridegroom, who gave himself, that she might be made clean. Then they will receive their white baptismal garment, and their baptismal candle, which we talked about a moment ago.
Then we will have three men and women called forward, who have already been baptized in different Christian traditions, who have been preparing to be brought into full communion with the Catholic Church. Then all five of our new members, the two newly baptized, and the three newly professed, will receive the second sacrament of initiation, Confirmation. They will be anointed with sacred chrism, as Christ was anointed with the Oil of Gladness, to carry out his mission to be priest, prophet, and king.
They will then return to their place, as they join us in our celebration of the fourth and final part of the Easter Vigil, the Liturgy of the Eucharist: Jesus Christ is THE FOOD of the spiritual life. The Eucharist is celebrated tonight as we do each Sunday, albeit with a few alterations to the prayers in recognition of tonight’s special and sacred role in the sacramental life of the Church. Tonight, our five newly initiated members receive the last of the Church’s three sacraments of Initiation: the Eucharist. With this sacrament, our new members will join with us in the perfect reconciliation offered to us through the Paschal Mystery: the holy communion of Saints and angels in union with God. They will join us in being spiritually fed with the new manna of Christ’s flesh, and made new in the blood of the new Covenant. With us, they will receive the grace and power of Christ, to be sent out into the world, to minister God’s mercy, to spread God’s light, and to witness to God’s love. Congratulations and welcome, Sarah and Bobbi, Matt, Aileen, and Justin. May God’s love richly bless you.
- The Liturgy of Light: Jesus Christ is THE LIGHT in the darkness.
- The Liturgy of the Word: Jesus Christ is THE WORD and Truth of God.
- The Liturgy of Initiation: Jesus Christ is THE LIFE in communion with God.
- The Liturgy of the Eucharist: Jesus Christ is THE FOOD of the spiritual life.
My brothers and sisters, Happy—and blessed—Easter to you and your family! “He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia!” “Why is this night different from every other night? Because once we were slaves, and we are slaves no longer…”