Easter Vigil

Thanks are due to Archbishop Peter Robinson for opening the question of how Anglicans are to implement the ancient Easter Vigil in parochial worship, as well as to the churches of RenewDC for showing me a living example of an Easter Vigil. What follows is an effort to consolidate and improve what I have learned from both.

Principles

First, the Easter Vigil – like the services of Nine Lessons and Carols often held on Christmas Eve – must not disturb the liturgical system already ordered in the Book of Common Prayer; as the Hackney Hub says, the Easter Vigil, being an addition to the Prayer Book services and not integral to the system itself, must be regarded as extra-liturgical. In the last century we have seen enough of orders of worship that compete with, rather than complement or improve, the Anglican formularies. Such innovative orders, however they appear to reach ad fontes, are acts of vandalism, in effect if not in intent, and can only contribute to the decline of reformed catholic worship and doctrine.

Second, the Easter Vigil should genuinely recover its edifying nature as a vigil, first anticipating and then rejoicing in the Resurrection of our Lord, and finally leading directly to the celebration of Holy Communion, which as the liturgical feasting of the new Passover is an essential part of Easter. Whether Holy Communion is to follow before daybreak or after, it must be the climax of the Easter liturgy.

Third, the new birth signified by baptism ought, if possible, to comprise part of Easter-Day. Together with Pentecost (i.e. Whitsunday), it is eminently the most fitting day for baptisms, and the observance of both days is thereby enhanced. In the public administration of Holy Baptism, those who are already baptized are also aptly reminded of their baptism into the death of Christ and their hope of sharing in his resurrection, which even now is manifested in their new lives; those who are to be baptized, for their part, will remember the justification of the righteous Christ as the sole ground of their own. So long as the Prayer Book is followed, this is a right edifying practice, Catholic in its origin and Protestant in its doctrinal emphases.

Divisions

To manage the reading – and also because not all parishes will celebrate Holy Communion on the night of the Easter Vigil – I have divided my proposals into several parts:

  1. The Vigil proper;
  2. Mattins with Holy Baptism;
  3. Holy Communion;
  4. The rest of Easter.

I also think it prudent to preserve the distinctions among various services rather than combining them all into a monster marathon of indiscernible structure. Some pauses between them would be useful. The time before the service of Holy Communion, for instance, could be an informal passing of the peace, allowing the people to fulfil the instruction of our Lord:

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Thus it could still be done, yet without adding to the classic Prayer Book service, and without breaking its intended flow.

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