The Easter Triduum is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. It begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. Between the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the Easter Vigil, no other Masses are celebrated.
Because the Easter Vigil is “the greatest and most noble of all solemnities” (Roman Missal), there are two very important aspects to pay attention to when preparing your parish’s Easter Vigil: it must begin in the dark and there must only be one Easter Vigil.
Light vs. Dark
Our liturgies are filled with symbols that communicate the mystery of what we celebrate in ways that go deeper than mere explanations. Our senses—what we see, hear, feel, touch, smell, and taste—become the way we understand the meaning of our rites and rituals.
One of the premier symbols of the Easter Vigil is light. We experience this most physically when we gather around the Paschal fire where the Easter Candle is first lit. Once that candle, a symbol of Christ the Light, is light, the priest says, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” Those words describe the ritual we have just seen: the light of Christ breaks the dark of night.
But what if it’s not dark yet when you light the Easter Candle? What if the sun is still out, or it’s setting but there’s still enough light to call it twilight? The physical reality of the ritual gets lost, and the words we say of Christ dispelling the darkness becomes an intellectual assent. We all know that’s true—Christ is the Light that breaks the darkness of death. But what we believe should be reflected in the rituals we do.
The directives in the Roman Missal says this clearly:
The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil must take place during the night, so that it begins after nightfall and ends before daybreak on the Sunday (Roman Missal, Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, #3).
Therefore, the Easter Vigil must begin after nightfall. Ideally, it should be completely dark before the start of the Easter Vigil. So watch for the specific time for sunset in your area, and wait until the sun has gone down below the horizon. To find out what time darkness falls in Santa Clara county and what time we can begin the Easter Vigil this year, click here. (If you can, also turn off as many extraneous lights around your church property as you safely can, especially in the area where the Paschal fire is lit.)
One vs. Many
Further, the Sacramentary states:
In the United States, although it is never permitted to celebrate the entire Easter Vigil more than once in a given church or to anticipate the Mass of Easter before the vigil, in those places where the local Ordinary permits the anticipation of Sunday Masses on Saturday evening, for pastoral reasons an additional Mass may be celebrated after the Mass of the Easter Vigil. Such a Mass may follow the liturgy of the word of the Mass of the Easter Vigil and other texts of that Mass and should include the renewal of baptismal promise (Sacramentary, Easter Sunday, During the Night, Easter Vigil, #3).
Ideally, parishes celebrate only one Easter Vigil. So, on April 15, 2006, no Mass may be celebrated before the Easter Vigil, and, ideally, there should be only one Service of Light (blessing of fire, first lighting of Easter Candle, and exsultet) and one blessing of the baptismal font per parish. The initiation of Elect ideally takes place at the one parish Easter Vigil, though it may also be celebrated on Easter Sunday for pastoral reasons, and initiation sacraments are appropriately celebrated throughout the Easter season. Any additional Masses on the night of April 15, 2006, must be celebrated after the parish’s one Easter Vigil and does not include the Service of Light or the blessing of the water in the baptismal font.