This is most solemn night of the Christian year. We begin in darkness, then the Bishop kindles the New Fire with flint and steel—a primal act of creation and a symbol of the return of light and life. From the New Fire is lit the Paschal Candle, and from the Paschal candle the light is spread to the candles held by each participant. In this way a tiny spark grows to illuminate the entire cathedral.
A deacon or cantor standing next to the Paschal candle chants the Exsultet, the church’s ancient proclamation of Easter. Then, by candlelight, a Service of Lessons from the Hebrew scripture recounts the mighty saving acts of God in history and God’s promise of redemption and salvation. In the candlelit space, the scriptures take on some of the quality of stories told around the campfire.
When the sequence of readings is completed, Baptisms are performed—the Easter Vigil has been an occasion for baptizing new Christians since the earliest centuries of Christianity, connecting the sacrament of new birth to the commemoration of Christ’s triumph over death.
At last, we reach the climax of the Great Vigil, the culmination of the Triduum, and the goal of our entire Lenten journey—the Proclamation of the Resurrection. The cathedral is flooded with light, and we sing Gloria in excelsis! At Saint Mark’s, this moment is accompanied by the opening of the great doors that were closed on Shrove Tuesday—another liturgical element that can experienced nowhere else. In the now-transformed space, we hear the Gospel story of the empty tomb, and celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter. The service concludes with hymns of rejoicing.
Incense is used at this service, and music is offered by the Senior Choristers, the Schola, and the Cathedral Choir.
If you are participating online, you may wish to kindle a fire of your own by having a fire in the fireplace or simply lighting a candle, Have a bell ready to ring, or a pan to bang on at the Easter Proclamation, and fling on all the lights!
Following the service, all are invited to join together for a midnight breakfast at Lost Lake Café, a 24-hour diner located between Pike and Pine on Capitol Hill.