The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night
We process into the sanctuary from darkness. The Paschal candle is blessed, and a flame is kindled. The song of exaltation is intoned with formal restraint, channeling the joy of Easter into the chanting of a single voice.
So many parts of the Vigil are to be omitted that we select the long form of everything, including the use of all nine readings. Because the preparations have been so effortless, and the ministers are already so familiar with this celebration, I find myself free to actually participate prayerfully in the rites without any anxiety whatsoever. I cannot remember the last time this Vigil was so tranquil! I can hear the Scriptures proclaimed with a quiet heart. I can allow the ritual to bear me along. The accustomed tension long associated with these hours is entirely absent, and I am lifted into the subdued beauty of this summit of liturgical prayer. Though there are lamentably few present at the sacred mysteries, I must receive this as a gift.
One by one, the readings pass through me. The psalms are sung with simple fervor, lifted higher by the resonance of pipe and lute. And through it all, the same thought recurs: the Church is young.
Yes, at age 40, I am quite possibly the oldest person here; the ministers necessary for service in the sanctuary are nearly all still in simple vows as Franciscans. Yet it is not a bodily youth that characterizes the renewal of the Body of Christ, but its embrace of Love. Isaiah puts this question to us in the fifth reading at the Easter Vigil:
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy? (55:2)
Here is the food of faith by which the Church is made young and vigorous. Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare (Isaiah 55:2). Here is the perpetual wedding song that “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.” Here is the infusion of life, for life is in the Blood, and we who receive that Blood are given life. It is Blood that transcends the health mere human blood can confer because the Life it bears is divine. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life (Isaiah 55:3).
This youth is the fruit of faith. The Scriptures of this holy night instruct us in faith by our father in faith, Abraham. I look out from the sanctuary over the men and women religious who have, like Abraham, left home and country and mother tongue to follow the will of God—lekh lekah, “go now to the land that I will show you.” Like Abraham, a precious gift has been given against all hope, and then demanded back.
Yet the empty tomb resounds with the words of the poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907), and with the simplicity of poetry, he uncovers the meaning of such sacrifices:
All which I took from thee, I did’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
May the emptiness of our churches allow an echo from the empty tomb to bring peace and joy to the hearts of all the faithful in these holy days.