The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

5:30 PM


Above: The Rector lights the Paschal Candle from the New Fire at the beginning of the Great Vigil. 

‚ñ∫The Rector speaks of the Risen Christ in his Weekly Audio Message.

‚ñ∫John Scott discusses the music of Easter Even & Easter Day in his Weekly Music Notes.

‚ñ∫Download a printable 4-page brochure for Holy Week and Easter.

This service is the last of the three great liturgies of the triduum, which began on Maundy Thursday and continued through Good Friday.

The service begins where Good Friday left off: complete darkness. If you intend to come, please arrive before 5:30, ideally by 5:20, as you will not be allowed to enter the doors during the first few minutes of the service. Also, the nave of the church will be dark and it will hard for you to find your seats if you arrive late.

The liturgy begins with a knock on the door by the Celebrant, who is leading a vast procession of acolytes and priests who enter from Fifth Avenue. The New Fire is lit at the back of the church and the people rise and face the Narthex.

The Celebrant gives the Blessing of the New Fire and then prepares the Paschal Candle (which will be lit during the Easter season and also at all funerals throughout the year) with a knife, incising a cross and outlining the letters of the Greek alphabet—alpha and omega—as he says the words of preparation.

He then lights the Paschal Candle saying, May the light of Christ gloriously rising scatter the darkness of heart and mind.

Then, from this light, candles are lit, and from these candles, the candles of all in attendance are lit, so that the light grows through the nave of the church as the procession pushes forward toward the High Altar. A Subdeacon carries the Paschal Candle and stops three times, singing The Light of Christ. The choir and people respond: Thanks be to God.

[The Paschal Candle pauses in the exact same places that the Sacrament paused on Maundy Thursday and the Wooden Cross paused on Good Friday.]

When the Paschal Candle reaches its resting place in the chancel, most of the nave is now lit by candlelight. The Paschal Candle is censed, and everyone remains standing for the Exsultet: The Proclamation of the Resurrection.

Then, in the light of candles, begins The Liturgy of the Word, five solemn prophecies from the Old Testament: (1) The Story of Creation, (2) The Flood, (3) Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac, (4) Israel’s Deliverance from the Red Sea, and (5) The Valley of Dry Bones. Between each of these readings, a Psalm and a Collect are sung, and a period of silence is kept.

While the choir remains in the chancel singing Psalm 42:1, the priests and acolytes follow the Deacon, who is carrying the Paschal Candle, from the chancel to the Baptismal Font, where they gather to meet the candidate for baptism. The candidate is presented and examined, the congregation renews its own Baptismal Covenant, and then prayers are said for the candidate. During the Thanksgiving over the Water, the Celebrant thanks Almighty God for the gift of water, and then sanctifies the water by the power of the Holy Spirit, repeating the words three times, each time breathing Ψ as the Deacon dips the end of the Paschal Candle into the water.

The candidate is then baptized, and receives the Light of Christ in the form of a candle lit from the Paschal Candle, and the congregation welcomes him into the household of God.

The procession led by the Paschal Candle then reforms and wraps around to the back of the nave and then up the center aisle, as the Cantor sings the Litany of the Saints and the people chant their responses. As the procession gains momentum, the Celebrant asperges the worshippers along the path with water taken from the baptismal font. The Paschal Candle is returned to its place in the chancel and the three Sacred Ministers make their way up to the High Altar.

The Litany of the Saints ends, and suddenly everything is flooded in light, and the Celebrant gives the Easter Acclamation: Alleluia. Christ is risen. And the people shout, The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The organ plays and bells ring out and join in singing the Easter Hymn as the altar is censed.

From here, the First Eucharist of Easter proceeds as would any Solemn Eucharist at Saint Thomas. The Collect of the Day and Epistle are read, the Gospel Procession moves down among the people, led by a thurifer, a Homily is given by the Rector, and then, atypically, we sing the Christus Vincit.

After the Peace and the Greetings, children come up to receive Easter plants which surround the Paschal Candle. We then proceed with Communion, and all baptized Christians are invited to receive the Sacrament.

The service ends with The Day of Resurrection and all spill out onto Fifth Avenue, many to return the next morning.