10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Easter Vigil


The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca"Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God's throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!" - from the Easter Vigil Exultet

We are now at the Easter Vigil - the night Mass where the catechumens are welcomed into the Church. Here are some historical and traditional bits of trivia to share with your friends about the most solemn liturgy of the year.

  1. Starting in the 11th century, the Easter vigil was progressively moved earlier in the day until in some cases it was celebrated on Holy Saturday morning. Fortunately, this practice was abolished in 1951 in favor of the ancient practice of starting the liturgy after twilight.
  2. In the Greek Church, fasting was not observed on Saturdays during Lent except for Holy Saturday. In the Roman Rite, fasting was required on all Fridays and Saturdays of Lent until 1966.
  3. Until the liturgical changes following Vatican II, it had been the custom since the earliest times of the Church to light the Easter fire with a flint. This was symbolic of Christ rising from the rock of his tomb. Pope St. Zachary wrote to St. Boniface about how a fire was lit with flint on Maundy Thursday and then transferred to three lamps that were kept burning until Holy Saturday when the Easter fire was lit from one of them.
  4. An old tradition was for everyone going to the Vigil to put out all lamps and fires in their homes and take some of the Easter fire home after the Vigil to relight their lamps.
  5. Pope Urban II, in preaching the crusade to the French mentions a miracle that would occur on Holy Saturday. Ever since the Saracens seized Jerusalem, a lamp would miraculously light itself as the faithful prayed before the Easter Vigil Mass in the Holy Sepluchre. This miracle continued annually until Jerusalem fell to the Muslims again.
  6. The grains of incense that are inserted into the Easter candle represent the incense that St. Mary Magdalene and her companions used to anoint the body of Jesus.
  7. Until 1955, the Paschal candle was not lit and carried into the church as it is today. The deacon would process holding a reed with a triple-branched candle on top. At each of the three singings of "Lumen Christi" one of the branches would be lit. The branches represented the revelation of the three persons of the Trinity. The Paschal candle was lit from this candle when it arrived at the front of the Church during the Exultet.
  8. Before Vatican II, violet vestments were worn at the start of the liturgy. The deacon would change into white vestments for the procession of the Paschal candle and the singing of the Exultet and then back into violet. The baptisms were done before the start of Mass following which all the clergy would change into white vestments.
  9. Before Vatican II, the veils on the statues weren't removed until after the baptism of the Catechumens.
  10. Traditionally, the lessons for the Catechumens were read in both Latin and Greek at St. John Lateran.
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