Have you ever been to the Easter Vigil Mass before? If your answer to this question is “no,” and it’s already Easter Sunday morning, make plans for next year! Don’t let the fact that this Mass is longer and later at night scare you away. It is perhaps the most beautiful and joy-filled liturgy of the year.
One of the key symbols that makes the celebration of the Easter Vigil so dramatic is light… i.e., candlelight. We all know that the greatest celebrations of the year for us as Christians are Christmas and Easter. Both of them are about the coming of the Light – Jesus Christ, the Son of God – into the world. Both of their celebrations begin at night, in the darkness, at the Christmas and Easter Vigils. On both the eves of Christmas and Easter, we have this symbolism of night that is taken over by the dawning light. Interestingly, in both cases, the Light of God comes into the world not without some resistance from us. But Christ can’t be prevented. He comes in victoriously anyway.
At Christmas, we recall the story of the Nativity in which Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and were turned away, for the inn was full. But the Christ child comes and breaks into the darkness of night anyway, in the humility of a stable. Now, at Easter, the darkness of evil takes on its most intimidating form: death. Humanity rejects the light of Christ’s message of truth and love, and nails it to a cross. But Christ rises from the dead, and the darkness is defeated definitively. Of course, even though we know who the victor is, and that the daylight will last forever in eternity, Satan is still permitted to cast his shadow of darkness on the world until the end of time.
The difficulty we face while still in this world is that we can still lose ourselves in Satan’s shadow of darkness. It’s funny. Even with all our scientific knowledge and social achievements, we still find ourselves in darkness. Many feel that our own time seems darker than ever. It can seem that we’re confronted by darkness everywhere, not only out there in the world, but even in our own families. This is why, at the very beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass, the priest or deacon processes down the main aisle of the darkened church and holds up the lighted Easter Candle three times and proclaims, “The Light of Christ!,” to which everyone responds, “Thanks be to God!” There’s something about being in the dark that helps us to be that much more grateful to see the light. The light of Christ, who has come into the world, and who is risen from the dead, helps us to see (spiritually). He gives us true direction. And, he helps us to know others better by helping us to know ourselves better.
The Easter Candle is Christ, and when we were baptized, we received his light with our own baptismal candle. I’m reminded of that song that probably most of us were taught to sing when we were small children: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” As good and true as the message of this song might be, I’m afraid that it has become a bit of a cliché in which we no longer think about what it really means. Certainly, the light of Christ that we have received means more for us than just trying to be superficially happy or nice to our neighbor. I think this light of Christ that we have received means the most when we feel surrounded by darkness – in our personal lives, in our families, our community, and in the world around us. What is Christ’s truth and love saying to us, and to what is he calling us? Are you stepping up to the plate? As a pastor, there are many who say to me, “Father, the Church should do this, or the Church should do that, or the Church should fix this problem.” I look at them and think, “God has given you a candle and the means to light it. Maybe the Lord is calling YOU to do something.” It might seem like a daunting task because the darkness can seem overwhelming. But I’m greatly comforted by the fact that even the light of a single small candle scatters the darkness. A blessed and happy Easter to you and your family!