Liturgy Matters — Oh, what a night!

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

All around us now we see new life abound and a gradual increase of daylight each day. We are fortunate to live in the northern hemisphere, where the celebration of the Easter season coincides with spring. These natural occurrences lift our spirits and contribute to the atmosphere of celebration in the Easter season.

On Holy Saturday evening, we celebrate the Easter Vigil, the beginning of the great Paschal Feast. After the penitential season of Lent with its violet vestments, austere décor and limited instrumentation, we may be startled by the transformation in our churches.

Blooming plants and cut flowers adorn the worship space. The violet color is replaced with a festive white or gold. Music is enhanced with choirs and instrumentation. Bells may be rung during the singing of the Glory to God.

Paschal candle
One notable addition to the sanctuary is the paschal candle. At the Easter Vigil service, after the blessing of the new fire, a new candle is prepared. A cross is cut into the wax. The first and last letter of the Greek alphabet are placed one at the top and one at the bottom of the cross. The four numerals of the current year are inscribed between the arms of the cross.

This candle, a symbol of the risen savior — the light of the world — is then carried through the congregation and placed near the ambo until the close of the Easter season on Pentecost.

Return of the alleluia
Within the Liturgy of the Word on this most sacred night, the Easter Vigil, immediately before the proclamation of the Gospel, the “Alleluia” is once again sung. The origin of this word comes from the Hebrew “hallelujah,” translated in Latin and Greek “Alleluia.” The best descriptive meaning of this word is “Praise the Lord!” It first appears in the Book of Psalms as an exclamation of great joy before and after some of the psalms of praise. It also appears in the Book of Revelation within a hymn of victory in the heavenly kingdom.

This marvelous expression, missing from the celebration of the liturgy all through the Lenten season, now returns with gusto. More than any others in the Mass, this phrase captures the spirit of the Easter season. On this night and through the Easter Sunday liturgies there is a triple alleluia, used not only in the responsorial psalm antiphon and gospel acclamation but also sung in the dialogue of the dismissal. Alleluias are included in many of the hymns and song texts that we sing, especially during the Easter season.

Renewal of baptismal promises and the sprinkling rite
On the night of the Easter Vigil, the long-awaited sacraments of initiation are celebrated with the catechumens. We not only rejoice in the baptism, confirmation and first Communion of these neophytes, but we also renew our own commitment to live in a Christ-like manner.

At the vigil service and also during the Masses on Easter Sunday, the usual forms of the creed are replaced with a renewal of baptismal promises. To complete this recommitment, we experience the sprinkling rite. The priest makes his way down the aisles, sprinkling us with the newly blessed water as we sign ourselves with the sign of the cross.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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