The Easter Vigil service is the most dramatic liturgy of the Church calendar. It begins with the church in complete darkness. And then a single flame atop the Paschal Candle pierces the darkness, a symbol of the Light of Jesus Christ Risen from the dead. Light overcomes the dark. Good prevails over evil. Sight where there was blindness.
On this night, the Church pulls out its symbols — fire, incense, chant, candles and bells — to proclaim its essential message that Jesus has overcome death by rising from the tomb.
The readings of the Mass comprise a history of salvation, going back to the creation of the world, working its way through God’s intervention with the Jewish people and culminating in the life of Jesus the Messiah.
We use this night to welcome new members into the Church, just as was done in the early Church. This year, the diocese will baptize and administer the first sacraments to more than 1,100 people at Easter Vigils held in every parish in Brooklyn and Queens.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the spiritual leader of the diocese, will baptize, give First Communion and administer Confirmation to people at St. Michael’s Church, Flushing.
The reception of sacraments by these catechumens and candidates is the culmination of months of hard work by RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) teams of priests, religious and lay leaders that have been preparing these newest Catholics for life in the Church.
In six weeks, they all will be invited to gather again with Bishop DiMarzio for the Mass of the Neophytes which is part of what is known as the Mystagogy, which is the time period throughout the Easter season, until the feast of Pentecost.
The Busted Halo website (www.bustedhalo.com) tells us that Mystagogy “is a period of accompaniment for new Catholics as they discover what it means to fully participate in the sacramental mysteries of the Church. The newly baptized are called ‘neophytes,’ from the Greek words meaning ‘new plant,’ because the faith has been newly planted in them. Even though their catechetical preparation has been completed, they still have much to learn about what it means to live as Catholic Christians.”
For those who cannot get to the Easter Vigil, NET-TV will carry two vigil services on Holy Saturday. At 2:30 p.m., we will show you live from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome the celebration by Pope Francis. Then later in the evening, at 8 p.m., we will have a live broadcast of the Vigil from St. James Cathedral-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn. (Watch live on NET TV.)
As a young altar boy in St. Alphonsus Church, Greenpoint, I had to wait until high school to be assigned to the Easter Vigil because it didn’t begin until midnight and lasted at least two hours. When you finally got the call, you knew you had made it. It was exciting, not only because of the late hour but also because it was a Mass like none other.
It continues to be like nothing else on the liturgical calendar. Today it has become all the more special because of the administration of first sacraments.
It used to be that you wouldn’t be able to get a seat at the Vigil unless you arrived with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. For those of you who have never witnessed the Easter Vigil, do yourself a favor and make this year your first. For those who always attend, we’ll see you there.