Easter Vigil: a complete guide to the most glorious liturgy for the Church

It is the most important vigil of the entire liturgical year. Initially, it was an all-night-vigil starting at midnight and ending at dawn. Nowadays, we are not expected to stay awake all night, but doing so will result into an unforgettable experience. Here is a completeguide to Easter Vigil liturgy.      

How long is Easter Vigil

The early Christians used to start the Vigil after nightfall on Holy Saturday. The liturgy lasted until the Easter Sunday Mass, right before dawn, and it was a glorious celebration of the Jesus’ Resurrection. Nowadays, the liturgy is eventually shortened and pushed back earlier in the evening, but it is still divided into 4 parts. Fascinating rituals immerse us into the very heart of Paschal Mystery. Easter Vigil may last about 12 hours. Here is what usually happens.    

Part 1: The Liturgy of Light (or The Service of Light) 

Everything starts in darkness. The service begins outside the church when the Paschal Candle is lit and blessed. Representing Jesus, it is slowly processed through the Church. The priest holding the Candle processes into the dark church and stops three times proclaiming the words “Christ, our Light”. While the priest slowly moves forward toward the sanctuary, all the other candles are lit inside the church. Once the Paschal Candle has been placed on its stand in the sanctuary, the lights in the church are switched on and the congregation extinguishes the candles. The priest, now, chants an ancient hymn known as Exultet or Easter Proclamation, that speaks of the many mysteries of the amazing night.  

Part 2: The Liturgy of the Word

This part of the Liturgy consists of 7 readings from the Old Testament, and 2 from the New Testament. Due to time constraints, not all readings are required to be read. Yet, at least three Old Testament readings must be read, including Exodus 14. These are the readings:

  1. The story of creation, Gen 1:1-2; 2;

  2. Abraham and Isaac, Gen 22:1-18;

  3. The crossing of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:15–15:1;

  4. Isaiah 54:5-14;

  5. Isaiah 55:1-11;

  6. Baruch 3:9-15.32–4:4;

  7. Ezekiel 36:16-17.18-28;

  8. Romans 6:3-11; and

  9. Gospel reading Mark 16:1-7.

Part 3: Liturgy of Baptism

Depending on each parish, during this part of the Easter Vigil, a baptismal liturgy may be performed to bring new members into the Church. There are also those who were baptized but haven't received the other sacraments of initiation. These faithful are confirmed and will later receive the Holy Eucharist. Afterward, the faithful are blessed with water and all renew their baptismal promises.

Part 4: Liturgy of Eucharist

The liturgy resumes and culminates with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which involves the newly baptized for the first time. The whole church is called to join at the sacrificial table that Christ prepared for us through his death and Resurrection.