Wexford Wanderings 7/18/18

by Hugh E. Conway

Easter Vigil

One of the most important celebrations of the liturgical year for all Christian churches including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Greek and Roman Orthodox is the official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus during the Easter Vigil, also known as the Great Vigil of Easter or Paschal Virgil. The Easter Vigil coincides with the beginning of spring, a time of lengthening days, extended sunshine, and warmth when the earth is getting ready for new growth. At Wexford, as well as churches across the world, the celebration is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday. In most churches the normal time is late on Holy Saturday evening up to midnight. The Easter Vigil service consists of four parts with the first part being the Service of Light.

At the start of the evening, the inside of the Wexford Church is totally dark and empty with all of the holy water fonts drained and the tabernacle empty. The celebration starts outside the church when the Easter fire is kindled to light the Paschal candle. The old timers at Wexford tell of having a small blazing bonfire started for the celebration in the vicinity of the church where the parishioners gather and experience flames lighting up the night. There is beauty in a well-lit fire that brings out warm and light, dispelling darkness and bringing people together. For safety reasons, the small bonfire used in this age is confined to the inside of a container, often a wheel barrow.

The Paschal candle is carefully chosen for design, size, and color for use in the sanctuary at the Wexford Church. The primary consideration is that the one candle must be made out of natural wax preferably bees wax, remain in the sanctuary of the church or near the lectern, and be large enough to be used throughout the Easter season and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals to remind the congregation that Christ is our “light and life and savior of the world”. The Paschal candle symbolizes Christ rising in glory, removing the darkness from our hearts, and opening our minds to saving light.

The Paschal candle is prepared in age old rites handed down across generations. The priest cuts the shape of a cross into the candle using a stylus. As the priest cuts the vertical arms of the cross, the priest says: “Christ yesterday and today.” With the horizontal line of the cross, the priest says: “the Beginning and the End.” Above the carved cross, the priest makes the Greek letter Alpha (the beginning) saying:” the Alpha.” On the bottom of the carved cross, the priest makes the Greek letter Omega (the end) saying: “and the Omega.” Between the arms of the cross, four numerals are written indicting the current year. For this article, the year 1998 will be used. The numeral 1 is placed in the upper left corner of the cross as the priest says: “All time belongs to him.” The numeral 9 is placed in the upper right hand corner of the cross as the priest says: “and all ages.”  The numeral 9 is placed in the lower left hand corner as the priest says: “To him be glory and power.” The numeral 8 is placed in the lower right hand corner as the priest says: “through every age and forever. Amen.”  The priest adds five pieces of incense into the candle saying: “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen.”

The priest lights the candle from the new fire that had been started that night saying:” May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness from our hearts and minds.”

During the preparation of the Paschal candle, the congregation has gathered and been silently watching and listening to the priest. Each parishioner above the age of reason is given a small unlit candle the size of a number 2 pencil that has a round approximately six inch diameter paper  circle slid into the middle of the candle to protect their hand from dropping wax when the candle is lit.

The procession of light with the burning Paschal candle is now organized as burning coals from the fire are placed in a censer (thurible) and the priest places incense onto the coals. The order of the procession is the smoking censor, preceding the minister holding the Paschal candle, followed by the altar boys and ministers, the priest, and the people holding unlit candles.  At the door or entrance to the church the celebrant lifts the Paschal candle and sings: “The light of Christ” and the congregation replies: “Thanks be to God.” The procession moves down to the middle of the church and the celebrant lifts the Paschal candle and sings: “The light of Christ’ and the congregation replies: “Thanks be to God.” At this point in time, the whole inside of the church is lit by just the light from the Paschal candle which has driven the darkness from the church. It is surprising how much light one candle can produce.

The parishioners now move into the pews. Two ministers light their larger candles from the Paschal candle. They move to the front of the church and light the candle of the parishioner who is at the end of each of the row starting in front and moving to the back of the church. In each pew row, the light is passed from parishioner to parishioner until all of the candles in the church are lit and the whole church is alight. It was really beautiful seeing all of the candles lighting up the inside of the church. Then, the celebrant moves forward to the front of the church before the alter, faces the people, lifts the Paschal candle, and sings: “The light of Christ” and the congregation replies: “Thanks be to God.” The Paschal candle is placed into a large candle stand near altar’s edge. The electric lights in the church are then lit. For safety sake, the parishioners are requested to extinguish their candles. Before the introduction of electric lights, the entire Paschal Vigil was done by candlelight.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet