The Easter Vigil: Liturgical Nectar
The night-blooming cereus flower is famous for its stunning, ethereal, starlike blossom. It blooms at night, once a year. If you’ve never seen one bloom, you’re missing a rare experience. The Easter Vigil is like that. It blooms once a year, on the evening of Holy Saturday. As liturgy goes, it’s liturgical nectar, a rare mix of ingredients that, when blended together, allow for an inimitable experience. One that is worthy of making a special effort. Savoring the liturgical nectar is enhanced by preparation. This article explores how we can best prepare. The Service of Light The New Fire Imagine being a small child (as we all are in God’s eyes) at a campout on a pitch-black night. You can almost feel the darkness. Although you’re likely not alone, the darkness envelops you, and it’s scary. Bad things lurk in the dark; bad things happen in the dark. Then a leader holds a spark to a pile of straw, which bursts into flame and spreads to twigs, then larger sticks, and then small boughs. Light spreads. The darkness isn’t quite so sinister and threatening. It’s still there, but not quite so overwhelming. That’s the ambiance at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. A darkened church, or a dark area outside the church, represents all the negative space in the world that harbors evil thoughts and evil doings. It’s worth reflecting on any personal suffering we may be carrying around. Maybe it’s been there a long time; maybe it’s new. A recurring attraction to something wrong. An addiction complacently or fatalistically accepted rather than treated. Old resentments, new doubts. A prayer life that seems sterile. An unexplainable, painful feeling of estrangement from God, such as Mother Teresa experienced. Add the darknesses that we may see or sense in those we love. Abandonment of faith that once was strong. Enthusiasm for life replaced by drudgery, despondency, and depression. We bring them all to the prelude of the Easter Vigil and forfeit them to the symbolic darkness that surrounds us. We wait in expectancy for the spark that will beget the new fire and its light. Fire is more than light. It’s energy. It easily symbolizes enthusiasm, determination, and grit. We often speak of the fire in someone’s eyes, belly, or soul. Are there relationships in our lives that need recharging? Tasks at home or work that need reenergizing? Dusty but still viable plans for worthwhile ventures? A barren spiritual life that could benefit from the spark of a new fire? We can hand them over to the vigil’s new fire, even if we cannot physically see the fire from where we are in the church. Fire also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. As the vigil’s new fire is lit, we can ask the Spirit to rekindle the fire in our souls to seek God’s will in how we navigate life. The new fire of the paschal vigil is more than a simple combustion. It’s more resplendent than the flame of a match and illuminates far more than a campfire. The celebrant blesses the new fire; it becomes a sacramental, part of a different dimension—the dimension of faith.