Celebrating our Baptism During the Easter Season; The Beauty of The Easter Vigil

Do you remember being sprinkled with holy water during the Season of Easter? After the homily on Easter Sunday we customarily replace the Nicene Creed with the renewal of Baptismal promises and the sprinkling of the congregation with newly blessed baptismal water. On other Sundays of Easter we can do something similar, but we do it near the beginning of Mass in place of the Penitential Act (“Lord, have mercy…). The Roman Missal says: “From time to time on Sundays, especially in Easter Time, instead of the customary Penitential Act, the blessing and sprinkling of water may take place as a reminder of Baptism.”

Our commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead is an ideal time to celebrate Baptism and to remember that we ourselves were connected to Christ in this way. Baptism is the first of the three sacraments of initiation; the other two are Confirmation and the Eucharist. Together they complete a person’s membership in the Catholic Church. Using the sprinkling rite in place of the Penitential Act is a good way to remind us of Baptism, but having it every week might make the rite lose its impact. So this year we will use the sprinkling rite on three of the Sundays of Easter when we’re emphasizing other sacraments of initiation. One of those is today, when at the 9:00 Mass we ritually “send” our candidates to be confirmed at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The Fourth and Sixth Sundays will be First Communion days in our parish. The Eucharist is also connected to Baptism, so those will also be occasions to recall our own Baptism into Christ with the water that was blessed at the Easter Vigil.

There is something that has been on my mind since the great Easter Vigil that began this holy season. Attendance is not very high at what is by far the most important Mass of the year – probably because people are intimidated by the length of it. For us, it lasted from 8:00 until 10:15. The beauty of it all makes the time race by, in my experience. Since I am the celebrant, I have a burst of activity at the beginning of the Vigil (lighting and blessing the fire, preparing and lighting the paschal candle, and carrying in the candle). I have another series of complicated liturgical activities later on that carries me through to the end of the Easter Vigil. But in between, I have 50 minutes of waiting, listening, singing, standing, praying, and sitting – just like the rest of the congregation. The whole point of what is officially called “the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night” is to wait up into the night to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection. Our way of doing this is by tracing the history of salvation through seven Old Testament readings, each followed by a Psalm that is sung and a prayer that is prayed. That is what lasts 50 minutes. When the seventh set is completed, the altar candles are lit and the Gloria rings out as the celebration of the Resurrection truly begins.

The prayers that are offered to God after each of the seven Old Testament readings are of great beauty. Because I have found it hard to grasp their meaning during the Easter Vigil, I decided to discuss three of those seven prayers here in the bulletin. The first of the seven readings is the account of Creation in the Book of Genesis. After that reading this is our prayer:

Almighty ever-living God, who are wonderful in the ordering of all your works, may those you have redeemed understand that there exists nothing more marvelous than the world’s creation in the beginning except that, at the end of the ages, Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

So the sacrifice of the new Passover lamb, Jesus, is a greater marvel than was God’s creation of the world in the beginning! After all, in Jesus’ death and Resurrection the Father recreated the universe.

The third reading at the Easter Vigil is the account from Book of Exodus of God bringing his people through the Red Sea. This is one of two options for the prayer:

O God, who by the light of the New Testament have unlocked the meaning of wonders worked in former times, so that the Red Sea prefigures the sacred font and the nation delivered from slavery foreshadows the Christian people, grant, we pray, that all nations, obtaining the privilege of Israel by merit of faith, may be reborn by partaking of your Spirit. Through Christ our Lord.

This prayer makes it clear that the passage of the Israelites from slavery to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea points to the Christian people passing from death to life through the waters of the baptismal font. This idea is so important for us to hear that the Exodus reading is the one Old Testament passage that can never be left out.

The fifth reading is from the Prophet Isaiah, who proclaims God’s invitation for all who are thirsty to come to the water to receive what truly satisfies. This is the prayer after that reading:

Almighty ever-living God, sole hope of the world, who by the preaching of your Prophets unveiled the mysteries of this present age, graciously increase the longing of your people, for only at the prompting of your grace do the faithful progress in any kind of virtue. Through Christ our Lord.

This prayer uses the Scripture passage’s ideas of longing for food and drink in earthly life. In the prayer we ask God to increase our longing for what we must understand to be heavenly things, so that through grace we can grow in virtue.

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