Catholics lighting their candles from the Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil. CNS photos
The entire salvation story unfolds through the Vigil’s readings which describe the new life that comes from believing in Jesus, says Fr Gerald O’Collins, SJ.
RECENTLY, I saw an ad on television for a new housing development. Houses were being sold through the slogan: “This is the life.” Children played around a lake, adults chatted with each other, and everyone seemed to be enjoying a relaxed existence.
Of course, young couples and their families have every right to own and enjoy decent homes in a happy and safe neighbourhood. But, in a much more significant sense, we might look around our church community at the Easter Vigil, and quietly say to ourselves: Indeed, “this is the life” to be desired above all other lives.
What we share with one another on that holy night is life in abundance, and if we have any doubts about that, the expanded number of readings during the Vigil will underscore the magnitude of what we have been gifted with.
The Easter Vigil is the only occasion in the whole liturgical year where we listen to more than three readings.
The nine readings in the Liturgy of the Word together capture the whole story of how God created the world and mankind, delivered us from the oppression of evil, and continues to bless us with the new life that comes from believing in Jesus and being baptised into His community.
Adam and Eve are cited as the high point of the divine work of creation, Abraham is tested, and God’s chosen people are liberated from slavery in Egypt.
Next we hear from the prophet Isaiah about how God will establish a new order, with all of humanity centred on a gloriously beautiful, new Jerusalem. With an invitation to “come to the water”, Isaiah then calls on the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found” (55:1,6).
After a passage from Baruch (a friend and secretary of the prophet Jeremiah), who alludes to the Incarnation by speaking of Wisdom that has “appeared on earth, and moved among men” (3:38), we hear the promise from Ezekiel that God will wash his people clean and give them “a new heart and ... a new spirit” (36:26).
Then we reach the reflections of St Paul on baptism as an occasion of dying with Christ, and so being freed from the lethal dominion of sin, we begin “living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). The Gospel joyfully announces Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the unique event of God’s power and wisdom in which all of the baptised share.
Imagine that: We share a new existence as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and will live with Him forever! This is a reality that we have the privilege of reflecting upon at this very special time of year.
In one sense, during the liturgical year, we read the “small print”. Now we are to focus on the great headlines about creation and the new creation that the nine readings at the Easter Vigil put before us.
At the Vigil, many parish communities gather around catechumens, now called the Elect. After being instructed in the faith and obligations of the Catholic Church, the Elect receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.
All those present at the vigil are invited to light their small candles from the great Easter Candle and renew their baptismal vows. The candle symbolises Christ, who continues to guide our lives and will guide the lives of the newly baptised.
The Easter Vigil reminds us that the power and reality of baptism remain with us and in us throughout our lives.
It continues to nourish a dynamic, ongoing relationship with our glorious and transformed Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The whole community of the baptised looks forward to being gathered together into God’s eternal kingdom. Every tear will be wiped from our eyes; our mourning and weeping will end, and death will be no more!
Joined with our risen Lord, we will rejoice in the presence of God forever and ever!
Jesuit Father O’Collins, has taught theology at Gregorian University, Rome, and is a published author