This morning the smoke of incense is still dissipating from thousands of churches around the country and the world where, last night, the Great Vigil of Easter was celebrated. This service — which begins with a bonfire and continues with readings, psalms, prayers, baptisms and the first mass of the Easter season, all ending (typically) with a big late-night meal to break the fast of Lent — was, in the first centuries of Christian history, the central event in the worshiping life of the Church. Today it’s an observance that appeals primarily to liturgy geeks (myself very much included), an unwieldy and time-consuming festival that dramatically complicates one’s plans for baked hams and Easter baskets.
Strange as the Easter Vigil may seem today, it hasn’t lost its original purpose: welcoming new believers into the body of the faithful. What is so powerful about the Easter Vigil, apart from the sheer sensory experience of it, is the way it intertwines the whole story of the Bible with the passing over of Jesus from death on Good Friday to resurrection on Easter. And the men and women who have been preparing for baptism (called “catechumens,” or hearers) step into these entwined stories on Saturday night, just as men and women did back when Christianity was a minor cult of the Roman world.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Liturgy, Music, Worship * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Orthodox Church * Theology Sacramental Theology Baptism
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© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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