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The Easter Vigil is considered the highest point of the Liturgical Year.  It is the first service of the resurrection celebrated at Easter, and marks the return of the acclamation “Hallelujah!” in the liturgy.  It is also commonly the service for baptism and for the reception of new catechumens into the church.  Due to the ancient practice of measuring days from sunset to the next sunset, the Easter Vigil may be held any time from sunset on Easter Saturday to sunrise on Easter Sunday.  Midnight is a common choice.

Although the Vigil was removed from Anglican worship at the time of the Reformation, it was recovered during the Tractarian Movement of the 1830’s and has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. 

The Anglican service is very similar to the Catholic rite and has four parts:

  1. The Service of Light:  The Paschal Candle is blessed and then lit from the Easter fire.  It is processed into the sanctuary with the proclamation “Light of Christ”.  The ancient Exsultet is chanted.  Congregants light their candles from the Paschal candle to symbolize the spreading of Christ’s light into the world.
  2. The Service of Lessons:  Seven lessons from the Old Testament are read to recount the story of the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt (this may be reduced to three for pastoral reasons).  The Gloria is sung for the first time since the start of Lent.  The collect is prayed.  The reading of the Epistle (Romans 6:3-11) and a Gospel account of the resurrection follow.
  3. Baptisms and/or Renewal of Baptismal Vows:  Catechumens are received into the church through baptism and the congregation then renews their baptismal vows.
  4. Ministry of the Sacrament:  The full Eucharistic liturgy follows as the service reaches its climax with the celebration of Holy Communion.

The service cannot be rushed and a meditative and contemplative disposition is necessary to make the most of it (i.e. leave your watches at home!).