One of the startling highlights of the Easter Vigil Mass is that movement from darkness into light. Just as the Book of Genesis describes creation as a movement from the darkness of chaotic “nothingness” into the magnificent existence into which God brings forth all of creation beginning with the words “let there be light,” so each church at the Easter vigil becomes a reenactment of God’s original creation and the redemptive re-creation in Christ. Within the darkened church, which is made possible by beginning the Mass after sundown (around 8:30 p.m.) and having all lights extinguished, the first light is the paschal candle — a single glow slowly and powerfully illuminating the nave and sanctuary of the church and interiorly lighting the hearts of all participants. The paschal candle becomes the first image of the risen Christ.
What may be lost in the midst of this powerful beginning is the blessing of the paschal candle, which acknowledges the markings that are on each candle. During the Easter season while the paschal candle is prominent in your church, approach it and look more closely at the details. On the front, you will see a cross with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet — the Alpha and the Omega — and then in each quadrant formed by the cross the numbers for the year in which we find ourselves — 2021. Before the celebrant lights the candle at the Easter vigil, he will trace the Alpha and the Omega as well as the numerals with these words, “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen.”
Then while inserting five wax nails in each of the ends and in the center of the cross to indicate the wounds of Christ, he recalls Christ’s death, “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen.”
The paschal candle remains in a prominent place in the sanctuary near the altar for the entire Easter season. On those occasions in which the altar is incensed, the candle itself is incensed as a great symbol of Christ risen from the dead, conquering sin and death in our lives.
During the Easter Vigil, there are no spectators; everyone is a participant. This becomes clear when during the procession to the altar led by the paschal candle, the tapers of the participants are lit — first the celebrant’s taper at the first proclamation, “The Light of Christ” — and then all of the faithful at the second proclamation, “The Light of Christ.” To prepare for this powerful procession, the celebrant proclaims at the outset, “May the Light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”
Every now and then, I get out the ritual and meditate upon the gift of the paschal candle. Christ is our light! If the life of a Christian is to be lived in a grateful and generous fashion with fear removed and courage and love abounding, it will be accompanied by our faith-filled vision, directed outward first to the light of Christ and then to all of the faithful and, indeed, to all of the world illuminated by His saving flame.
Psalm 67 begins: “May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us.” May the glow of the paschal candle throughout the Easter season be that face of God shining upon us. May this Light of Christ shine on every dark corner of our lives. When you enter Church during this season of grace, let the lit paschal candle warm your heart and re-create His grace in your soul: “Let there be light” — the Light of Christ.