Keeping our Easter Vigil
/THERE is a practical dif-1ficulty which most of us find when we try to live the faith. It is this. We feel that it all' ought to be so easy. especially when we think of God's love for us and what he has done for Us. On the other hand, the practical experience of our lives shows us that we fall all too easily into the sarhe old sins. We never seem to improve.
It is lust this sort of practical uncertainty in our lives that the liturgy can resolve. it is continually counteracting the gravitational pull of earthly things. It supplies, if you like, the ihitial blast-off which sends its rocketing into a new orbit of Christian existence.
PENANCE AND GLORY. During the past few weeks we have been thinking of the two aspects of Lent mentioned in the Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: *Lent reminds us of the new life we gained in baptism.
*Lenten penance disposes us to celebrate anew the Paschal Mystery.
In the celebration of the Paschal Mystery on Easter Night these two aspects of Lent converge. We renew our baptism and we celebrate the paschal Mass, We are not in fact being asked to do two things. for they are both aspects of the same thing. We celebrate Christ's passover and our own passover with Christ to a new life.
Suffering and rebirth belong together in our own lives as they did in the life of Christ. though We often find difficulty in realising this. So deep-rooted is our feeling that the path of suffering is poles apart from the path of glory that the person of Christ is in some ways a paradox to us.
We are asked to think of his contieued presence at the throne of his Father in heaven. At the same time we are asked to think of him as suffering and being rejected. How can the two ideas blend? Let the liturgy teach us.
WE RENEW OUR BAPTISM. Baptism was the first paschal tiac tarnent we received. It involved four things: *instruction in the faith—when babies are baptised it is assumed that this will come later; our commitment to is new Way of life; *the actual baptism; *various extra ceremonies to impress on us the seriousness of the step we are taking.
The renewal of baptism on Easter night is a sort of reflected image of the baptismal ceremony We went through possibly very many years ago. The last item of that ceremony, the giving of a lighted candle, comes first. The actual baptism remains in the central position. The commitment comes last The last thing that happened to us at our baptism was this: the priest gave us a lighted candle arid said
Take this burning light and keep your baptism throughout a blameless life. Keep the commandments of God; that when the Lord shall come like a bridegroom to his ntarriage feast, you in company with all the saints, may meet him in the heavenly courts and there five for ever.
On Easter night that ceremony is renewed with all possible solemnity. The new fire is blessed, and from it is lighted the paschal candle, the symbol of the life of Christ, and the visible representation of the risen Christ.
That we all share in Christ's risen life is shown by the fact that we each hold in our hands a
candle lit from the gre it candle; while the deacon sings the Exsultet, a magnificent hymn in praise of God's breathtakingly marvellous plan for our redemption.
Next comes instruction. In the four prophecies we are given a resume of the history of salvation as the preparation of the world for baptism. First we learn how the Spirit of God brooded over the waters at the creation. Then how the Israelites passed over the Red Sea on their way from a life of slavery to a life of freedom in the promised land. Then the prophecy of Isaias, foretelling how God would one
day "wash Jerusalem clean from the blood that stains her-. And finally how Moses sang of the new alliance which God had made with his people, in these words: "Welcome as rain be my speech: my words fall gently as the morning dew-.
Then conic the actual baptisms —if we are fortunate enough to have people ready for baptism in the parish. The baptismal ceremony is preceded by the solemn blessing of the baptismal water. "Only water — but bless it with your lips, and besides its natural quality to cleanse the body, it has the power too to purify the soul." And finally, commitment. We take our candles in our hands and bring this year's Lent to a close by renewing with all our heart the promises we made at our baptism. We call all the saints of heaven to Witness this act of ours and to help us by their prayers to keep our solemn promises.
WE CELEBRATE, THE PASCH. The paschal Mass is the climax of everything that we have been doing and thlhking and praying during passiontide. On Good Friday we thought of Christ on the Cross. We suffered with him; we worshipped him; but ee did not celebrate Mass, for the Mass is the renewal of both His passion arid Ws resurrection. On Holy Saturday we pause on the brink of a new world. It is art end before a new beginning. We are in the very act of passing over frolb the rigours of the penitential season to the joys of Easter. We are with Christ at the tomb, waiting in faith for the resurrection in the early hours of Easter morning.
This we do without letting go of the spirit of penance. In fact it is only possible to enjoy Easter to the full when we have entered into the penance of Lent. The joy and the penance are different aspects of the same thing.
That is why the Constitution says:
Let the sacred paschal fast be observed everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, let it be prolonged throughout Holy Saturday. so that the foys of Easter Sunday may be attained uplifted and clear minds (Article 110).