Tag Archives: vigil

Reflections on the Triduum – The Easter Vigil

April 1, 2013

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Easter Lily For the last 7 years or so I have helped with the liturgy for the Easter Vigil at my parish.  I love helping with this liturgy.  Their is so much going on! Baptisms, confirmations, first communions and the history of the the Church all rolled into one.  When I went to my first Vigil some 10 years ago it was the beauty and drama that caught my attention.
The church was filled with flowers and banners and the choir was singing “Horse and chariots are cast into the sea!” and the night starts outside with a fire.    Even to a secular eye their is allot going on – I remember thinking “this is like a Cecil B DeMille movie or an opera!”

The history of the world unfolds in the readings.  Present day new Catholics are welcomed into the church.  The culmination of the last three days is given its context.
But their is such paradox and depth and mystery.  Every year I try to understand it more.

Their is always something that surprises me in this liturgy, this year it is the line from the Exulet.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Happy fault and necessary sin?

I went on line to read Pope Francis’ homily for Easter Vigil  to look for insight.  He speaks of the surprises  too, but he speaks of the surprise of the  women as they entered to tomb.

“We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises.”

I understand the fear – the fear of newness.  When I come on the unexpected I become fearful.  I want to control and if I can’t control the situation I usually lash out at those closes to me. When I left the Easter Vigil on Saturday night (well close to Sunday morning) My plans were set for the next day.  Family to church in the morning, Easter brunch at my sister’s house followed by driving my children back to their respective colleges.

But something unexpected happened.

My husband got a call in the middle of the night.  His father was dying and he left to be at his bedside.  Suddenly, our world turned topsy turvy.

My father in law died on Easter in the afternoon.  Pope Francis words came to me.

“We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises.”

The Easter Vigil, like every Mass is meant to remind us,

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6)

As I tried to find the words to comfort my mother-in-law and my husband, those words of the angels came to mind.

This isn’t the blog post I intended to write.  Things happened and we deal with the unexpected.

A little about my father in law.

Bob was once asked to a tryout for the Yankees baseball team, but declined the invite because of various complications. I think their were times in his life that he regretted that he didn’t try.

In the last few days of my father-in-law’s life he was asked, “Bob, if you get better what are you looking forward to doing?”

In those moments when a person is ill and the life here and our past seems to merge in our minds, Bob replied “Play Ball.”

The days and months ahead will be filled with grieving for Bob.  The thought though comes to mind that if we truly believe the Easter story, we wouldn’t be sad.

If we believe in the resurrection Bob will get to “Play ball.”

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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How the Early Church Commemorated Christ’s Passion and Resurrection

April 4, 2012

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Some Triduum traditions date back to the Early Church--and some don't. Photo/Daniel Leininger Licensed under Creative Commons

If you’re looking forward to observing Holy Week and Easter as I am, hopefully you also see this as a good opportunity to grow in faith. Another aspect of the Triduum that I love is the tradition that shapes our prayer, worship and family customs during this important time.

This year marks the 1,979th time (approximately) that Christians have commemorated Holy Week and Easter.  That’s almost two millennia of celebrations involving hymns, incense and readings of the Passion, not to mention Easter lilies, ham and Peeps.

The early Christians unfortunately had no Peeps but they did have some prayerful and interesting ways of commemorating these holiest days of the year. Some of their customs have become part of our tradition and some of them are no longer practiced.

Fasting was an important part of the Early Church’s Holy Week observances. Second century Christians practiced an absolute fast from food for the 40 hours before Easter and a third century account indicates that some during that time fasted from food throughout Holy Week. It was the norm to fast on Holy Saturday, the hinge between the seasons of penance and Easter.

Walking in Jesus’ Steps

Some interesting details about Holy Week in Jerusalem are found in a document called the Pilgrimage of Egeria dating to about the year 388.

Christians began the week on Saturday evening before Palm Sunday in Bethany with dinner and the Gospel reading of the anointing of Christ’s feet. The next day they assembled at the Mount of Olives for hymns and readings, and then processed to Jerusalem with palms and branches.

On Holy Thursday, Christians attended the liturgy late in the afternoon and again traveled to the Mount of Olives where they commemorated Jesus’s agony and arrest all night. On Good Friday, they venerated a relic of the true Cross in the morning and commemorated the Passion for three hours in the afternoon. On Friday night clergy and laity who were strong enough held another vigil.

Another early Holy Week tradition that has endured is the Tenebrae (Latin for shadows or darkness) service. On the evening or early morning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Christians of various denominations chant or recite psalms and readings while a series of candles is gradually extinguished leaving the church in darkness. At Catholic services, readings are from the Liturgy of the Hours. The tradition of putting out lights at the service dates back to the fifth century.

Baptism and Fire at the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil was an all-night celebration during the Church’s first six or seven centuries, as sometimes hundreds and even thousands of catechumens were baptized at once.

The vigil blessing of new fire, during which Christians lit lamps, candles and the paschal candle, may have led St. Cyril of Jerusalem to comment that the night was bright as day. The Roman emperor Constantine illuminated Rome during the vigil with lamps and huge torches.

In the eighth century when the Church began administering the sacrament of baptism on Saturday morning instead of Saturday evening, Catholics in France, Germany and other countries developed a two-part ceremony to celebrate the Easter Feast on Sunday.

First, at midnight before Easter morning in the dark church the clergy brought the Cross from the sepulcher to the high altar. Candles were lit and the congregation processed solemnly with the cross through the church, the cloister, or cemetery. When they returned to the church, participants sang a hymn symbolizing Christ’s victorious entry into purgatory and hell.

Reenacting the Easter Story

Then before dawn on Easter Sunday, two priests representing the holy women went to a place designated as the empty tomb where another cleric representing the angel announced the Lord’s Resurrection. The first two priests brought the message to the choir prompting two other priests impersonating Peter and John to run to the tomb. Finding it empty, they showed the congregation the linen that had wrapped the body. These reenactments have been the basis for many Easter plays.

Whatever traditions you keep, I pray that during this 1,979th Triduum we may enter more deeply into the mysteries of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Finally, I hope this much-loved Paschal homily by St. John Chrysostom inspires you.

Blessed Holy Week and Easter!

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