By Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)
Some of you probably attended the celebration of the Easter Vigil in your parish or area faith community this year. While this liturgy can be a bit late and long for some, it really is the most beautiful liturgy of the Church’s year. The reason for both the lateness and the length is this liturgy’s character as a vigil. Those who keep vigil stay up all late with great expectation. Likewise those who participate in the Easter Vigil do so because they cannot wait for the Lord’s Resurrection. They want to be the first ones to approach the empty tomb and to encounter the risen Lord!
For many of the faithful the first of the four parts of this holy vigil is their favorite. Who can resist a candlelight anything! The church begins in darkness. The Easter fire is blessed. The Paschal Candle is also blessed and then lit from the fire. The procession begins. At first it is the Paschal Candle alone that provides light for the church. Then the priest’s candle is lit from the Paschal Candle. The candles of the faithful follow. As the flame is passed from candle to candle the church is slowly illuminated more and more until the point when the Paschal Candle is placed in the stand and the lights throughout the church are turned on. Now the whole building is filled with light.
This ritual is beautiful in and of itself. However, to understand its meaning only adds to the beauty. The dark church represents the darkness of the world before the coming of Christ. The Paschal Candle represents Him who is the Light of the World. This is why we sing “The light of Christ” as the candle moves in procession through the church. His light breaks the darkness. The candles of the faithful are lit from the Paschal Candle just as our baptismal candles are. This represents the light that we receive at Baptism when we are “plunged” or “immersed” into the Paschal Mystery: that is, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our candles are lit from His candle because whatever light we possess is from Him. The more we are faithful to Him, the more we surrender ourselves to His will for our lives, the more we pray and fruitfully participate in the sacraments, the more we are drawn into deeper union with Him, and the more His light shines through us.
The gradual illuminating of the church from total darkness to fully lit offers an image of what happens when Christians—baptized men and women—submit their lives to Christ: the world is gradually set ablaze with the light and the glory of Christ. This is a beautiful image. It is also a challenge to each one of us. Jesus has chosen to use us, the members of His Body which is the Church, as His instruments. He calls us to be the light of the world: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Our task is to give our lives to God and to pursue His will in all things. It is to enter deeply into the Sacred Liturgy, offering our lives in union with the offering of Christ made present there. In this way Christ transforms us into Himself, and His light shines forth through the Church to illuminate all the ends of the earth.