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The Baptismal Vigil of Pentecost

This past year, the Solemn Easter Vigil took place all over the country under the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, the initiation of adults that normally happens at that time was postponed. Where conditions allow, some parishes are planning on celebrating the full initiation of adults at the Vigil of Pentecost instead. In some editions of the Roman Missal prior to 1962, the eve of Pentecost included a full baptismal vigil very similar to, but not identical to, the Easter Vigil. In a curious way, the pastoral adaptations necessitated today by the coronavirus pandemic bring the Church full circle this year, back to a form of Mass which was standard for the first half of the twentieth century.

Naturally, Pentecost always has a strong association with the sacrament of confirmation, for obvious reasons. But Pentecost also has historically had a strong association with the sacrament of baptism, since the Acts of Apostles tells us that three thousand were baptized by St. Peter on that day (Acts 2:37-42). Over the long history of the Church’s liturgy in the West, Pentecost, like Easter, has had a baptismal orientation. This year is perhaps the time to discover that dimension of Pentecost once again.

Texts: Missal, Lectionary, RCIA

All the necessary texts for Mass for the Vigil of Pentecost are found in the missal (cf. Roman Missal, “At the Vigil Mass”). The prayers after the readings found there which follow the psalms in the extended form of the vigil are new to the third edition of the Roman missal (5-8). The complete set of the readings for Mass are found in the Supplement to the Lectionary for Mass published in 2017 (cycle ABC, 62). If that Supplementary volume is not available, the additional readings themselves are found in the existing edition of the Lectionary for Mass; the first three among the four Old Testament readings simply do not have their responsorial psalms printed with the readings, but those responsorial psalms can be found elsewhere in the Lectionary.

The texts for Christian initiation are found in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, “Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation” (RCIA, 218-243), although there are a few modifications to be made since the celebration of baptism, confirmation, and First Communion will take place apart from the Easter Vigil, the proper time for Christian initiation.

Ministers and Participants

The celebration of the sacraments of initiation at the Vigil of Pentecost will need to take into account the directives issued by both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in the given place. The conditions across the country continue to vary considerably in this regard. Those directives may limit the number of people in attendance, including the number of ministers available.

In the absence of sufficient servers, it is always possible to place a lectern at the chair and at the font from which the priest celebrant will read. The deacon or a server is needed to carry the Easter candle from its stand near the ambo to the font at the time of baptism. At least one cantor is needed to sing the Litany of the Saints and other sung parts of Mass. It is best, but may not be possible, to have more than one reader for the various readings which precede the Gospel.

Liturgy of the Word

On the eve of Pentecost, it is always possible to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word in the usual manner. In this case, the celebrant will make a choice of one reading from the Old Testament among the four which are proposed in the Lectionary. The initiation of adults follows the homily in the manner described below (RCIA, 218). However, this year offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate the extended Liturgy of the Word, just like the series of readings from the Law and the Prophets which are read at the Easter Vigil. In fact, the two celebrations have a very similar structure. For example, after the Gloria and the collect of the Mass on the Vigil of Pentecost, the Epistle from the Letter to the Romans follows (Romans 8:22-27), without any responsorial psalm. The Alleluia and its verse immediately introduce the Gospel reading (John 7: 37-39). This was the typical pattern for readings at every Mass during the Easter season prior to the Lectionary of 1969. The current format for the Easter Vigil has the same pattern, i.e., Epistle, Gospel Acclamation, and Gospel.

In the extended form of the Vigil for Pentecost, four Old Testament readings are inserted between the conclusion of the Penitential Act and the Gloria. Each of these is followed by a responsorial psalm and prayer, similar to the pattern of the Old Testament readings at the Easter Vigil. It is possible to replace each responsorial psalm with silence, concluding with the prayer nonetheless. If the Supplement to the Lectionary for Mass (2017) is not available, the first responsorial psalm (Psalm 33) is found in the readings for the Easter Vigil, after the first reading (Genesis 1:1-2:2). The second responsorial psalm (Psalm 19) is found after the sixth reading for the Easter Vigil (Baruch 3: 9-15, 32-4:4). The third responsorial psalm (Psalm 107) is found in the readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. In many cases, the verses of the psalms found elsewhere in the Lectionary do not correspond entirely with the version of the same psalms as presented in the Supplement to the Lectionary for Mass. Celebrants may want to use one or more of these substitutes, or omit them entirely in favor a period of silence. The responsorial psalm (Psalm 104) after the fourth reading is found in the existing edition for the Lectionary for Mass. These Old Testament readings are preceded by the usual entrance chant for Mass and the opening rites, as well as the penitential act and a prayer, as well as an invitation to the readings, much like the invitation which introduces the readings at the Easter Vigil. They are followed by the Gloria for Mass, the Collect, the Epistle, and Gospel.

Sacraments of Initiation[i]

Whether the Liturgy of the Word will take the extended form or the usual form, the Christian initiation of adults follows the homily. All the preliminary rites preparatory to baptism should have already taken place. Unless the font is located in the sanctuary, there is a procession to the font, led by the minister bearing the Easter candle, as all sing the Litany of the Saints (RCIA, 218-221). If the number of servers is insufficient, it may be necessary to have the Easter candle in a stand at the font from the beginning of Mass, or to erect a font in the sanctuary near the ambo where the Easter candle is normally placed.

At the font, the celebrant blesses the water using forms A, B, or C (RCIA, 222). Outside of the Easter Vigil, the Easter candle is not placed in the baptismal water during the blessing, and the celebrant simply “touches the water with his right hand” at the appointed place in the prayer. If water was blessed at the Easter Vigil and will be used for the baptisms, the thanksgiving (form D or form E) is said instead. The candidates then renounce sin, profess faith in the Trinity (using the current texts as found in the Roman Missal), and are baptized. After the baptism, the clothing of the neophytes with the white garment is optional (RCIA, 229), but the presentation of the lighted candle is obligatory (RCIA, 230). The rite of confirmation then follows immediately at the font or in the sanctuary, depending on the place where baptism has been celebrated (RCIA, 231).

There is no renewal of baptismal promises of the assembly or sprinkling of the assembly apart from the Easter Vigil (RCIA, 237-240). In addition, the profession of faith is not said (RCIA, 241). Afterwards, the newly baptized and confirmed are led to their places, and Mass continues with the prayers of the faithful in the usual way. During the Eucharist prayer, there are proper inserts for the occasion for each Eucharistic prayer (See Ritual Masses, “For the Conferral of Baptism.”). Prior to “Behold the Lamb of God,” the celebrant may address the neophytes directly about the Eucharist which they will receive for the first time (RCIA, 243). The dismissal of Mass concludes with the double alleluia, ideally sung (Roman Missal, “At the Vigil Mass,” 13).

There may be one or more candidates for full communion to be received at the same time as the Elect to be baptized and confirmed. In that case, a combined rite is used (RCIA, 562-594). After the baptism of the elect, either at the font or at the sanctuary, the candidates for full communion, and all those present with them, are asked to renew their baptismal promises (RCIA, 580-582). Following this renewal of baptismal promises, the sprinkling rite follows (RCIA, 583).

The candidates then make the individual profession of Catholic faith: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” (RCIA, 584-586), and the confirmation of both the newly baptized and the newly received takes place at the same time before continuing with the prayers of the faithful. Given the restrictions on the numbers of persons that may be permitted at Mass in some locations, it may be best this year to separate the two groups and confirm the candidates for full communion at the Mass on Pentecost day or at some other time.

Finally, a New Beginning

Hopefully, conditions will be such that the celebration of the sacraments of initiation for the Elect, first foreseen for Easter, can now take place at Pentecost with family, friends, ministers, and parishioners present. If so, the restoration of the extended Pentecost Vigil as the context for the celebration of the initiation sacraments can approximate in some ways the experience of the Easter Vigil. On both occasions, the Church remembers with thanks the mighty works done by God in the history of God’s people and in the lives of those now being incorporated into the Body of Christ.

To read more on the extended form of the Vigil of Pentecost, see “The Holiness of Tomorrow: The Extended Form of the Vigil Mass for Pentecost in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal” at Adoremus, “Little-Known Pentecost Vigil Mass Is a Hidden Gem of the Catholic Liturgy,” at National Catholic Register, and the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter, April 2009, page 16.

[i] If there are only candidates for baptism, the rite begins in the RCIA book at number 218; if there are only baptized candidates for confirmation and/or full initiation, the rite begins at number 473; if there are both candidates for baptism and candidates for confirmation, the combined rite begins at number 562 in the RCIA book.

Monsignor Marc Caron

Monsignor Marc Caron

Monsignor Marc B. Caron, S.T.L., is a Vicar General and Moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Portland, Maine. He has served as a pastor, as the director of the diocesan Office for Worship, and as a chancellor of the diocese. Most recently, he was a member of the faculty of St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts, where he was also director of liturgy. He received his licentiate degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois. He is the author of a number of articles which have appeared in The Jurist, Worship, Catechumenate, and in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.