My Experience of the Pre-55 Easter Vigil

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Above: a photo from Peter Kwasniewski’s first pre-55 Triduum.

In the context of meditation, I always thought I would prefer vigils in darkness. It’s easier to establish the compositio loci for a meditation about waiting for the Risen Christ overnight if the church is actually dark and if it’s dark outside. As much as I wished we could have one as a kid, I never knew any night-time vigil (in the new rite) to last till morning. In fact, I’ve only experienced a few new rite vigils at which the church was kept in any real kind of darkness. (The electric lights were dimmed at those vigils, but hand-held candles remained a symbolic, not necessary, source of illumination. Not many people have the patience to fumble through the pages of a program by candlelight, or read by flashlight from a lectern.) After two years of attending the pre-55 Vigil, the hour of the day is not what caught my attention this year. It was the twelve prophecies. Editor’s note: the 1962 Missal only retains four of the twelve traditional prophecies at the Easter Vigil.

After going to Mass and participating in the Holy Triduum all my life, I only recently learned that the Biblical texts read at Mass are meant to be part of what is being offered in sacrifice to the Lord. That’s very different from looking at the readings as primarily an instruction for the people. As much as I never respected the idea that the number or length of liturgical readings should be abbreviated for convenience (with the possibility, at the priest’s discretion, of abbreviating them further), it always made better sense to me to think of the readings as instruction (People can only sit through and absorb so much instruction. I get it.)

How about the vigil prophecies as legal foundation, though? That’s what I got to thinking as I listened to Salvation History unfold on Holy Saturday afternoon while we waited on Our Lord.

Before the unimpeachable testimony of the Evangelist was presented in the proclamation of the Holy Gospel to vindicate the cause of the God Who died and is now alive, the lectors needed to lay the foundation, in open court and in the Presence of the Most Holy Trinity, establishing just how it is that I needed a Savior at all and how there was no other option – try as I or any of my forebears may down through those spiritually dark centuries – to find one. Prophecy after prophecy and tract after tract bore this out. Collect after collect allowed for the opportunity to talk to God about it.

That foundation established, the testimony of the Evangelist could finally be proffered about the Light. There was no doubt that to Christ was and is owed adoration for Who He is and what He has done in being First Born of the Dead. There was and is no doubt that to Him is owed thanksgiving for what He has done for Man and for what He has done for me. I could not do it for myself. He is entitled to have that all laid out in public, revealed and confirmed in the public forum of the Vigil, in front of both friend and foe. However long it took.

If I was tired and sore and hungry at the end of it all from listening under the influence of the fast, it seems like there’s something more. Something more than appropriate under the circumstances – considering what I just heard and what I stood to gain if I had the sense to place my confidence in Him.

And so it was time to proceed with the Paschal Candle to the Holy Water font.

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