Laudetur Jesus Christus! Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!
Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! Praised be Jesus Christ!
Today, for our Holy Week Catechesis, we move to the Easter Vigil. Other than the time of the Mass and the length, it is generally familiar to anyone familiar with the Easter Vigil. The reason for the time has to do with how the Church previously viewed vigils. Vigils were the day before certain major Feasts and concluded with the First Vespers of the Feast. In the reforms of 1955, Easter Sunday became the only Feast of the Lord not to have its own proper First Vespers. In the Traditional Holy Week, the Easter Vigil concludes with the recitation of First Vespers of Easter, thus inaugurating the Feast of Feasts and the Solemnity of Solemnities.
The Easter Vigil becomes for us the unfolding of the entirety of Salvation History. Even the Paschal fire itself isn’t lit until it is time for the blessing to symbolize the creation out of nothing. Rather than the Paschal Candle being blessed at the fire, it is already in its place in the sanctuary. Instead, the triple candle is lit and processed down the aisle, thus why Lumen Christi is chanted three different times. The Paschal Candle’s blessing is the Exsultet itself, and it is the only instance in which it is a Diaconal blessing. Whether it is a Sung Mass with just a celebrant or a Solemn Mass with the three sacred ministers, the deacon chants the Exsultet and blesses it. If it is just the celebrant, he vests not as a priest but as a deacon. Throughout the Exsultet, various things mentioned by the text are in the midst of the chanting done to the candle, from the incensing to placing of the grains into the candle.
Once the Exsultet has been completed and certain candles lit in Church, twelve prophesies are chanted. In 1955, Pope Pius XII reduced this to four. In the Pauline Reforms of 1969, more readings were again reintroduced. However, in the Traditional Holy Week, it is twelve, obviously calling to mind the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles. It is the number of lessons that causes the Easter Vigil to be so long. However, the Vigil and then the Mass leads us into the celebration of Easter by starting at the beginning of time and taking us to our redemption.
The rest of the Easter Vigil is fairly the same. There is the blessing of the baptismal font after the prophecies. This is done at the font in the Traditional Rites rather than in the sanctuary as called for by Pius XII. Paul VI returned the option to bless the baptismal water at the font. Once the baptismal font has been blessed, we will proceed to the baptisms and confirmations. This year, as I mentioned, we will baptize four and confirm twelve.
Once this is completed, the celebrant returns to the sanctuary and unvests. It is here that the Litany of the Saints is then chanted. Like we saw at the ordination on March 19, the celebrant will prostrate himself on the steps of the altar. The Litany is doubled; that is, each invocation is said twice. Half-way through the Litany, the celebrant will retire to the Sacristy to vest for Mass.
The Mass of Easter Vigil is only somewhat a Mass of Easter. There are various parts still omitted to represent that we are still awaiting the Resurrection of Christ, but we rejoice because we are confident that it will occur. So the Mass takes on both anticipation but also celebratory tone. The true Mass of Easter is the Mass of Easter Sunday. This can be seen because the Church adds back only slowly certain things omitted from Passion Sunday through Holy Week. While Psalm 42 has been restored, there is no proper Introit for the Mass. While the Alleluia is solemnly re-intoned and the bells peal again, there is no Agnus Dei or Pax. Holy Communion is distributed as usual. After the Mass is the celebration of First Vespers of Easter, which is why we start at 10:00 a.m. so that the service concludes in time for when First Vespers of Easter was traditionally said. Following First Vespers is when the Feast of Easter begins, and we can then prepare for Easter Sunday.
While it is somewhat different, I hope these have helped explain some of the symbolism behind the Traditional Holy Week. Certainly, be sure to keep our Catechumens and candidates for Confirmation in your prayers. I hope you can attend all or some of our Holy Week Liturgies. God Bless!