Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | June 18, 2007

Visiting an Easter Vigil

brown wooden church bench near white painted wall

Photo by Nikko Tan on

Before the Service

The time before the service should be used for silent prayer and meditation. The church will be partially dark. There is no opening hymn or anthem at this service.

The Lighting of the Paschal Candle

Fire is kindled in the darkness, and the Celebrant (officiating priest) addresses the congregation using the words found on p. 285 of the Book of Common Prayer, or, in his/her own words, explains the meaning of the Easter Vigil. The Celebrant then says a special prayer for the occassion. All stand. The Paschal Candle (a large, white candle always lighted during the Easter season) is lighted, and the deacon or Celebrant leads a procession to the chancel carrying the candle. He/she sings or says “the light of Christ” three times, and the people respond with “Thanks be to God”. If candles have been given to members of the congregation, these are lighted now, along with other candles in the church (the ones on the altar are lighted later). The Paschal Candle is placed in a stand near the front of the church, and the deacon or another person sings or says the Exsultet, found on p. 286-287 of the BCP. This beautiful hymn recalls the story of salvation.

The Word of God

Two to nine lessons from Scripture are read, with each followed by a psalm or canticle (passage from Scripture set to music). One lesson is always the one about Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:-10-15:1). The other lessons that may be read include the story of creation (Gen 1:1-2:2), the flood (Gen. 7:1-5, 8:6-18, 9:8-13), Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-18), God’s presence in a renewed Israel (Isaiah 4:2-6), salvation offered freely to all (Isaiah 55:1-11), a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:24-28), the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), and the gathering of God’s people (Zephaniah 3:12-20). A homily or sermon may be preached after any of the readings. The congregation sits for the readings, and may stand to sing.

Baptism & Confirmation

Adult candidates are often baptized at the Vigil. Confirmation takes place only if the bishop is present. The candidates for baptism are presented with their sponsors, and godparents, if they’re infants. When the candidates for baptism are asked if they desire to be baptized, the older candidates answer, and the parents and godparents of infants agree on the child’s behalf, vowing to raise him/her as a Christian. Candidates then answer questions asked by the Celebrant (p.302). Any candidates for confirmation, reception, or reaffirmation of their baptismal vows are presented to the bishop. They reaffirm their commitment to Christ, and the congregation vows to support all of them in their Christian life. The Baptismal Covenant (p. 304) is then said, standing, by all. Prayers are offered for the candidates, and the water is blessed. Chrism oil may be consecrated by the bishop. The candidates for baptism are then baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by immersion, or pouring. The sign of the cross may be marked on the person’s head with chrism oil. The newly baptized are then prayed over and welcomed by the congregation. The bishop then lays hands on those being confirmed and prays over them. If there are no baptisms at the service, the congregation renews their own baptismal vows (p. 292).

The Eucharist

The candles at the altar are then lighted. The Celebrant greets the people with the phrase “Alleluia. Christ is risen.” The congregation responds with “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” A canticle (song of praise from Scripture) is then sung, all standing. The Celebrant reads a prayer for the occassion called a collect. All sit for the Epistle (New Testament reading). Alleluias or a hymn may be sung, standing. The Gospel lesson about the Resurrection is read. A sermon may be preached after the Gospel if it wasn’t earlier, and baptism/confirmation may also take place here if it didn’t earlier. The service then continues as a typical eucharist service with the intercessory prayers (p. 359).

If you decide to join us for the Easter Vigil or an Easter day service, you are more than welcome at any Episcopal church.

May you all have a wonderful Easter!

Comment from the original post:

daverichards said…Thank you for this wonderful post…it was absolitely wonderful to read…it truly captures the Easter spirit…and well on this note i’d also like you to drop by my blog on Easter Greetings sometime and share some more of the Easter fun and spirit!!!


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