The Church today observes solemn vigils[1] for Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The Easter Vigil, which begins on the evening of Holy Saturday, has by far the longest, the most ancient, the most sacred, the most profound and most beautiful of all the liturgies of the Catholic Church. St Augustine has called it ‘the mother of all vigils.’

The Easter Vigil is divided into four parts: Service of the Light; Liturgy of the Word; Liturgy of Baptism; Liturgy of the Eucharist, as follows:

SERVICE OF THE LIGHT: This begins outside the church building. Whereas inside, the holy water fonts are drained, the tabernacle is empty and the lights are out; outside a new fire is lit and blessed, as a symbol of life. The priest uses a stylus to cut a cross into a Paschal Candle. Then he makes the Greek letter Alpha above the cross, the letter Omega below, and the four numerals of the current year between the arms of the cross. The Paschal Candle symbolises Christ, the Light of the World, the Beginning and the End, and to Whom all time and ages belong.

The traditional Easter song follows, sung usually by a deacon: the Exultet (Easter Proclamation). ‘This magnificent hymn, which is remarkable for its lyric beauty and profound symbolism, announces the dignity and meaning of the mystery of Easter; it tells of man’s sin, of God’s mercy, and of the great love of the Redeemer for mankind, admonishing us in turn to thank the Trinity for all the graces that have been lavished upon us.’[2]

LITURGY OF THE WORD: It comprises nine Readings, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament.[3] They help us meditate on God’s wonderful works for His people since the beginning of time:

  1. Story of Creation (Gen 1: 1-2; 2)
  2. Abraham put to the Test (Isaac) (Gen 22: 1-18)
  3. Moses and the People crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14: 15–15; 1)
  4. The New Zion (Isaiah 54: 5-14)
  5. God’s Invitation to His People (Isaiah 55: 1-11)
  6. In Praise of True Wisdom (Baruch 3: 9-15.32–1:4)
  7. Renewal of Israel (Ezekiel 36: 16-28)
  8. Dying and Living with Christ (Epistle, Romans 6:3-11)
  9. The Resurrection (Gospel, Year A: Mt 28:1-10; Year B: Mk 16:1-7; Year C: Lk 24:1-12)

The Gloria is sung before the Epistle, and the Alleluia before the Gospel.

LITURGY OF BAPTISM: Water is blessed, signifying new life; new members are brought into the Church through baptism and those who were baptized but have not received the other sacraments of initiation. The catechumens and these faithful are confirmed and later receive the Holy Eucharist. Then, the faithful are blessed with water and all renew their baptismal promises, reliving the Resurrection and understanding their identity as a People of God. Part of the liturgy includes the Litany of the Saints.

LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: The Mass continues, with special prayers inserted during the Eucharist Prayer, and concludes with a solemn blessing: to defend us from every assault of sin; that we may be endowed with the prize of immortality; that we may celebrate the gladness of the Paschal Feast and come with Christ’s help, and exulting in spirit, to those feasts that are celebrated in eternal joy. The Mass closes with the glorious singing of the dismissal: ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended, alleluia, alleluia’ or ‘Go in peace, alleluia, alleluia’.

Clearly, the Easter Vigil liturgy is of exceeding beauty and unending splendour. It is a blessing to be a part of this most sacred night when, together with the sons and daughters of the Church scattered throughout the world, we await our Divine Master’s return in glory. We stay up with our lamps full and burning, hopeful that our Resurrected Lord will give us a seat at His table, that is to say, a share in His triumph over death and life eternal.


[1] ‘Vigil’ refers to a day or eve before a prominent feast or solemnity. It is observed with special offices and prayers (and, formerly, a fast as well) as a preparation for the following day, honouring a Mystery or a saint to be venerated on the feast day.

[2] With Christ Through the Year, by Bernard Strasser (Quoted by )

[3] ‘The number of these readings can be reduced if some particular reasons and circumstances require so. There should be at least three readings from the Old Testament and in some very particular circumstances these may still be reduced to two, before the Epistle and Gospel. But the third reading from Exodus should never be omitted.’ (Lectionary, Catholic Press, Ranchi, 2011, p. 161)