AST NIGHT, I had a wonderful opportunity. For the very first time, I was fortunate to participate in the Easter Vigil during which all of the readings were proclaimed. I have attended many an Easter Vigil, and even been the celebrant once before, but never had I experienced the Word proclaimed during the Vigil in all its fullness & splendor.
The Easter Vigil bears a magnificent design, rightly called the “mother of all vigils.” In the Vigil’s Liturgy of the Word, according to the Holy Week Circular Letter, the Church invites us to meditate on the wonderful works that the Lord God has wrought for His people from antiquity. Beginning with the exquisite poetry of the Exsultet, we are called to see how God has brought light to the darkness in every age and in every human life. These truths were so evident as I heard the readings last night, each in its proper succession.
From the very first words of Sacred Scripture, in Genesis, God’s care for His creation and His love for humanity are paramount.
From the story of Abraham & Isaac, we learn the lesson that God always provides and that His deepest desire is to see human life flourish.
In the terrific story of the Exodus, God leads His people from slavery to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea. He accomplishes the same for us, in our day, through holy Baptism and through His sanctifying grace.
In the first of the two readings from Isaiah, the Lord speaks to us about His “enduring love” and His “great tenderness.”
In the other reading from Isaiah, the Lord invites all people, no matter their background: “Come to Me . . . that you may have life.” He goes on to assure us that He will renew His everlasting covenant down through the generations.
VI—Baruch 3:9-15, 32—4:4
The Prophet Baruch teaches us that God is the fountain of wisdom, to Whom we must return again & again in order to experience true life & light.
VII—Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
Through the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, God promises to give each of us new life, “a new heart,” and “a new spirit.”
How is all of this possible? How could God possibly make good on all these promises? As St. Paul explains to us in his magnificent Letter to the Romans: “Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over Him.” Christ, rather, has power over all things.
Could there be any fuller proof of this truth than this passage from St. Mark? The women go to the tomb, expecting to mourn and anoint the Body. Instead, they find the stone rolled back, and a young man (presumably an angel) tells them that Jesus is “not here,” for “He has been raised!” Jesus is triumphant, and His triumph extends to each of us.
Hearing each of these readings proclaimed during the Easter Vigil provides the necessary context to celebrate the unparalleled joy of the Easter feast. If you are a priest who has never experienced the Vigil in its fullness, I encourage you to consider trying it next year. Unsurprisingly, I found the liturgy as it is intended to be most rewarding.
Hearing all these readings together, the collective message I took away from the Liturgy of the Word was this: the Lord will provide. This is explicitly stated in the story of the testing of Abraham (Reading II), but it was a message I heard underlying each of the other stories.
The rubrics of the Missal should be taken seriously:
In this Vigil, the mother of all Vigils, nine readings are provided, namely seven from the Old Testament and two from the New (the Epistle and Gospel), all of which should be read whenever this can be done, so that the character of the Vigil, which demands an extended period of time, may be preserved. (#20)
The most common reason for reading fewer than the full nine readings is the desire to keep the Vigil from becoming excessively long. Notably, this rubric suggests that all the readings should be read precisely so that the Vigil will be long enough. This is a perspective worth considering. Even reading all the readings, the Vigil I experienced last night did not come close to stretching until dawn, which the Missal envisions as a real possibility. The whole duration of the Vigil, in fact, was only two hours and fifteen minutes.
I even found the micro-structure of the readings helpful: reading-Psalm-collect, reading-Psalm-collect, etc. This rhythm bears a close resemblance to the Church’s ancient method of praying with the Scriptures, Lectio Divina, the steps of which include Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. After just a handful of readings, the effect would not have been so effective.
The promises of old are just as pertinent today as they were centuries ago. The promises of the Lord are still fresh, and they are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness. The Lord has done marvelous things for our ancestors. It is no different in our own day. God has not only the power to do great things for us, but also the desire.
So let’s entrust ourselves to the Lord, confident that He will do what He has promised. The Lord has done & will continue to do great things for us; we are glad, indeed!