by Karen Boyd
Rows of chairs stand empty, yet beckoning in the courtyard. Firewood and kindling are carefully and thoughtfully placed in the fire pit. As yet, the courtyard is empty. It is not yet time. The sun is not long from its setting, and with it the beginning of the third day of the Easter Triduum. These three days are reckoned as our Jewish ancestors did, with each beginning after the sun sets and three stars are visible in the night sky. Soon, the faithful will begin to gather, just as they have for centuries.
As the sun settles into the horizon and dusk falls, the faithful have found their way into the courtyard. Now begins The Great Vigil of Easter, the first service of Easter Day, arguably the most important service of the Church Year. We are incredibly fortunate at Heavenly Rest to celebrate this vigil.
This service in its current form is not terribly dissimilar from early Christianity. It consists of four parts. The Service of Light, the Service of Lessons, Baptisms with the reaffirmation of vows, and the first Eucharist after the celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The people are now seated. The Celebrant lights the new fire and blesses this new flame. The Paschal Candle is lit. Standing in the darkened enclosure is possibly the greatest liturgical honor granted during a deacon’s ministry. It is the deacon’s prerogative to chant the Exsultet.
This beautiful prayer dates back to the early centuries of Christian worship, probably from what is now Spain. The word ‘Exsultet’ derives from the first word of the chant, ‘Rejoice.’ It is also called The Easter Proclamation. The Exsultet is a prayer, it is a chant, it is an invitation to all of creation to gather with the deacon to invoke the blessing of God, that the praises sung may be worthily celebrated. After inviting all present to pray, the deacon leads the congregation in echoing the first portion of the Eucharistic Prayer in giving thanks. Those present are carried back into history by the chant to recall the enduring saving grace God has offered his children since time began. The Exsultet ends with:
“Holy Father, accept our evening sacrifice, the offering of this
candle in your honor. May it shine continually to drive away
all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no
setting, find it ever burning--he who gives his light to all
creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”
After the Exsultet, the believers will recall God’s saving grace through his word in scripture. The Vigil will move from the courtyard into the darkened nave and pause at the Baptismal font. It is here where those who have not yet formally been members of the faith are baptized amidst much joy and gladness.
The lights will then explode into the nave amidst shouts of:
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”