Do we need the Easter Vigil?

The liturgical and theological coherence of ‘Old High’ Easter Eve

 

According to the Church of England’s Common Worship: Times and Seasons provision for Easter, the term “the Easter Liturgy” does not describe the main Eucharist in a parish on Easter Day.[1] No, it is the title given to the Easter Vigil. It is the Vigil which is the liturgical centre of Easter. This reflects the assumptions underpinning the mid-20th century revision of the Easter ceremonies in the Roman communion. The 1951 Vatican instruction De solemni vigilia paschali instauranda, reforming the ceremonies of Holy Saturday, declared, “The vigil of Easter Sunday … is the greatest solemnity the Church has been accustomed to celebrate since the most ancient times.”[2]

The introduction to the Easter Vigil in Common Worship: Times and Seasons leaves us in no doubt of the drama which should be experienced by those participating in this liturgy:

the Easter Liturgy is not merely a presentation of God’s work. It is meant to be a real experience of new life for the worshipper, a passing from darkness to light which offers hope to all the faithful. It is therefore important that the preparation is prayerful and thorough. The Easter Vigil marks the end of the emptiness of Holy Saturday, and leads into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

It is also made clear that, while provision is made for a “non-eucharistic vigil,” the “celebration of the Eucharist is the proper climax to the Easter Liturgy when we are sacramentally reunited with our risen Lord.”

To increase the drama even further, we are told that “the Easter Liturgy is not just one of the Easter services but a major baptismal event.” And so, “it is therefore appropriate that there should be a celebration of Baptism (of those able to answer for themselves) and/or Confirmation during the Easter Liturgy.” A similar emphasis is found in TEC’s BCP 1979, where the directions for the Easter Vigil assume that Holy Baptism will be administered.[3]

However, in very many Easter Vigils in Anglican communities, almost certainly a significant majority, Baptism (or Confirmation) is not administered. Describing the Vigil as “a major baptismal event” is, for most Anglican communities in North Atlantic societies, a fiction. We might also note that the Common Worship reference to baptism “of those able to answer for themselves” entirely overlooks the reality that infant baptism remains – and should remain – normative for Anglican communities in North Atlantic societies.

Nor does the fiction stop there. In many parish churches it is often only a handful of parishioners present: certainly nothing like the numbers present for the Eucharist of Easter Day. Regarding the Easter Vigil as ‘the Easter Liturgy’ simply does not reflect the reality in very many Anglican communities in which, self-evidently, the main Eucharist of Easter Day is the liturgy of the Resurrection: in terms of attendance, congregational participation, choir, music, and communal joy.

Perhaps the greatest fiction, however, is that while liturgists intent on apparently ‘re-creating’ the liturgical experience of patristic churches get incredibly excited about an all-night Vigil concluding at dawn on Easter Day – indeed, Common Worship helpfully suggests “if the Vigil is to last all night there could be specific points for eating and drinking that are related to the readings” – in the vast majority of Anglican communities the Vigil is nothing at all like this. One hour, thirty minutes after darkness on Easter Eve and home shortly after 10 pm is not quite an all-night vigil.

The result of all this is that, despite the claim that the Vigil should be “a real experience of new life for the worshipper,” it can often be something considerably less than this: more an end to Holy Week rather than the beginning of Easter Day. The darkness of Easter Eve enfolds us when we leave the church, reinforcing the feeling that we are marking the ending of Holy Week, that it is not quite yet the time for Easter festivity and joy.

In other words, vastly inflated claims are made for the Easter Vigil, claims which often do not correspond to the reality in very many Anglican communities. Rather than lamenting this, however, perhaps it should be regarded as a call for Anglicans to reconsider a rather different approach to Easter Eve – to reconsider the liturgical and theological wisdom of an Old High Easter Eve.

“Through the grave, and gate of death”: an Old High Easter Eve

What is an Old High Easter Eve? In his immensely popular A Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer (first published, under a different title, in 1710, and republished numerous times throughout the 18th century), Charles Wheatly noted the ceremonies marking the eve of Easter “in the ancient church” before describing how the Church of England “hath laid them aside”:

advising us to fast in private, and calling us together in public, to meditate upon our Saviour’s death, burial, and descent into hell.[4]

These salvific events of the Passion are rightly marked by a fast day. The BCP 1662 listed ‘the Even or Vigil’ of Easter Day as a day of fasting or abstinence, resulting in the only yearly two-day fast in the Prayer Book, as Good Friday also is a fast day.[5] This gives particular expression to the significance of Easter Eve as a day of preparation.

Cosin’s collect for Easter Even – a re-working of that provided in the 1637 Scottish book[6] – gathers up the salvific import of the Lord’s burial and our participation in it through Holy Baptism (echoing, of course, the Apostle’s teaching in Romans 6:3 & 4). With its reference to “our joyful resurrection” and to Christ as the One who “rose again for us,” the collect also reminds that the Church’s commemoration of the Lord’s burial is always in light of His Resurrection: there is no liturgical or theological sense in which Christ is somehow ‘not raised’ on Easter Eve. We perceive the salvific nature of His burial only because of the truth of the Resurrection.

This might be regarded as questioning those ‘dramatic’ understandings of the Easter Vigil as a means of ‘experiencing’ the Resurrection. We experience the Resurrection throughout Easter Eve as we commemorate the Lord’s burial and descent into hell: indeed we can only commemorate them because of His Resurrection.

The 1662 readings for Mattins and Evensong of Easter Even (in the ‘Lessons Proper for Holy-Days’[7]) center the church’s prayer on the burial and descent into hell. In fine patristic fashion, the first lesson at Mattins, Zechariah 9, invites us to see the harrowing of hell as the fulfillment of prophetic hopes:

As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee.

The second lesson, Luke 23:50-end, recounts the Lord’s burial, ending with the evocative “and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment”. This both demonstrates the Church’s relationship to and dependence upon Israel, and mystically echoes the Creator resting on the seventh day. The deep Christological meaning of this sabbath is intimated in the words of Bede: “the Lord is crucified on the sixth day and rests on the seventh.”[8]

At Evensong, the first lesson from Hosea 5:8-6:4 points to the salvific meaning of the Apostolic and Creedal confession of “on the third day”:

After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

The reference to “the third day” might also give us pause for thought regarding Easter Eve observance: commemorating the Lord’s death, burial, and descent into hell over two full days ensures that the salvific significance of the latter is not obscured.

The second lesson, Romans 6:1-14, is the classic Scriptural text proclaiming our participation in the Lord’s burial through Holy Baptism, and thus grounds in Scripture our praying of the collect of the day. As Thomas Bennet – an early 18th-century commentator on the Prayer Book – noted, this draws out an important aspect of the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of Baptism:

The phrase, taken from Rom. vi. 3, seems to be used here by the Church, to signify our spiritual death unto sin, which she declares in her Catechism to be part of the inward and spiritual grace of baptism.[9]

The Mattins and Evensong lessons for Easter Eve, therefore, offer a theologically rich meditation on the salvific themes of the day. Commemorating the Paschal Mystery without such readings lessens our focus on and understanding of its completion and fullness.

Alongside Mattins and Evensong, there is also the Ante-Communion of Easter Eve. Ante-Communion on this day has a particular resonance, gathering the Church before the Tomb, “the grave, and gate of death,” in the knowledge of the Resurrection. It orients us towards and assists in preparing us for the celebration of the holy Sacrament on Easter Day. The Epistle and Gospel at Ante-Communion establish the doctrinal focus of the day: in the words of Wheatly, “the Gospel treating of Christ’s body lying in the grave,the Epistle of his soul’s descent into hell.”[10] The Ante-Communion, then, is the high liturgy of Easter Eve, prayed at the Holy Table, with the reading of the Commandments and the profession of the Nicene Creed marking the solemnity of the day.

The readings at Mattins and Evensong can be understood as commentary on the Epistle and Gospel at Ante-Communion. The Gospel reading – Saint Matthew’s account of the burial – provides a different aspect to the Lucan account at Mattins, ending with the sealing of the Tomb and the setting of a watch. This emphasizes the reality of the creedal profession “and was buried,” while also pointing us to – in the words of Saint Paul – “the power of his resurrection.” Indeed, the Creed recited immediately after the reading of the Gospel is an expression of the abiding joy with which the Church reads the account of the Lord’s burial: “And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.”

It is the epistle of the day, of course, which – as Wheatly notes – particularly proclaims the harrowing of hell: “he also went and preached unto the souls in prison.”[11] As with the Gospel, this too is a declaration of the Resurrection, indicated by the Epistle referring to “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” This is also related in the Epistle to our Baptism – which “doth … now save us” – setting the context both for the praying of the collect with its Baptismal reference, and the further exposition of the day’s relationship to Baptism in the second lesson at Evensong.

In a particular manner, then, the Ante-Communion of Easter Even, supplemented by Mattins and Evensong, with Cosin’s collect prayed at each of these liturgies, ensures that the Church’s observance of this day does not become a role-play in which we make-believe that the Resurrection has not ‘yet’ occurred. No, through the reading of Scripture in the Church’s liturgy throughout the day, we perceive that commemoration of the Lord’s burial and descent into hell – no less, indeed, than the commemoration of the Cross itself on Good Friday – is entirely dependent upon the truth of the Resurrection. It is only in light of the Resurrection that these events are salvific.

1662 thus provides a rich and full liturgy for Easter Eve, in which the themes of the Lord’s burial, descent into hell, and our Baptism are complemented by the call to fasting and abstinence ahead of the great feast. Add to this the absolution pronounced at Mattins and Evensong, ensuring that we approach the Holy Table on Easter Day ‘shriven,’[12] and we can see how an Old High Easter Eve does not require the mid-20th century attempt to reinstate an Easter Vigil. Quite contrary to Common Worship, it is not the case that “the Easter Vigil marks the end of the emptiness of Holy Saturday”: an Old High Easter Eve certainly is not characterized by “emptiness.”

An Old High Easter Eve is itself, as 1662 states, the Vigil of Easter Day. Put simply, the mid-20th century Easter Vigil liturgy is not required by an Old High Easter Eve.

“So also it is to be believed”: the theological coherence of an Old High Easter Eve

We might also consider some theological perspectives which suggest that the Old High practice offers a more appropriate observance of the Eve and preparation for Easter Day.

The descent into hell – affirmed by the third of the Articles of Religion, following the Augsburg Confession[13] – is at the heart of Easter Eve. It is, however, not at all a focus of the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil, not least because of the significance attached to it in many contemporary liturgical schemes, risks entirely overshadowing this central aspect of Easter Eve. As a result, the Creedal confession “he descended into hell” is too easily overlooked and lost.

Ironically, in view of the claims made for the Easter Vigil, this undermines the fullness of the Church’s proclamation of the Resurrection, for the harrowing of hell is essential to this proclamation (hence its inclusion in the Baptismal Creed). As Donne stated of the descent into hell:

[it] must rather be an inchoation of his triumph, than a consummation of his exinanition, the first step of his exaltation there, rather than the last step of his passion upon the cross.”[14]

Taylor likewise emphasized its victorious character:

whither he went, not to suffer torment (because he finished all that upon the Cross) but to triumph over the gates of hell, to verify his death, and the event of his sufferings, and to break the iron bars of those lower Prisons, that they may open and shut hereafter only at his command.[15]

Against Balthasar (and Calvin!), the descent into hell is not death but, rather, life. As Alyssa Lyra Pickstock writes in her convincing rebuttal of Balthasar, Light in Darkness, the Lord’s descent into hell is an essential aspect of the Easter faith:

The proclamation of Christ’s descent … must not be reduced to a more reiteration of His death, and it certainly ought not to be perverted in the image of mankind’s sins. It should instead be the joyous avowal of Christ’s authority and victory over death in the realm of death itself” (emphasis in the original).[16]

The Easter Vigil, dominating as it does the vigil of the Resurrection in contemporary liturgical approaches, fails to reflect upon and proclaim this aspect of the Lord’s triumph over death in the manner done by the Old High observance of Easter Eve.

There is also a sense in which the Easter Vigil possibly says far too much. Between darkness falling on Easter Eve and the dawn of Easter Day, it is right for the Church to be silent before the mystery of God’s working. To use words from Rowan Williams:

Even in the Gospels, one thing is never described. There is a central silence, not broken until the second century, about the event of resurrection … The event of resurrection, then, cannot but be hidden in God’s eternal act, his eternal ‘being himself’; however early we run to the tomb, God has been there ahead of us.[17]

Balthasar similarly stated:

Rightly enough, it has always been emphasised that there can have been no witnesses to the event of the Son’s Resurrection by the Father.[18]

Silence through the hours of darkness, rather than a lengthy, wordy liturgy, would seem to be a more appropriate response to the silence of the Gospels regarding the profound mystery of those hours. Filling this space with liturgical words and activity can too easily give rise to the notion that the Church can say and experience more than the Gospels proclaim and the Creeds affirm.

Or, what is worse, we can be led to believe that the spiritual experience engendered by the liturgy of the Easter Vigil is the Resurrection. We might wonder if a hint of this is found in Common Worship’s assertion that “the Easter Liturgy is not merely a presentation of God’s work.” Merely a presentation of God’s work? It is precisely because the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is God’s work that all things are made new. As Williams states of this divine act:

It is an event on the frontier of any possible language … It is as indescribable as the process of imaginative fusion which produces any metaphor; the evangelists withdraw, as well they might.[19]

A prayerful silence is meet and right as darkness falls on Easter Eve, for in those hours the deepest and most resounding of all divine mysteries occurred.

Finally, the assumption that the Easter Vigil is the liturgy of Easter Day (presumably because of the timing of the Vigil and the nature of its ceremonies) can undermine how the ‘ordinary’ Eucharist of Easter Day – and divine service each Lord’s Day – is the Church’s encounter with the Risen Christ, “in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered”. Hours of darkness, a vigil of readings, and the Paschal Candle are not the stuff of Easter liturgy: gathering around Word and Sacrament is the Easter liturgy.

To again quote Williams, “the Church is where Jesus is met”[20]: and the Church is the community gathered by and around the ordinary reading of the Word and the ordinary administration of the Sacraments. It is here that we participate in the Lord’s Resurrection, that we pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from exile to communion: in the ordinariness of the administration of the holy Sacrament on Easter Day, of divine service each Lord’s Day. The drama of the Easter Vigil can too easily obscure this.

Conclusion: “our joyful resurrection”

Much like a variety of other mid-20th century reconstructions of patristic liturgical practice, the assumption that the Easter Vigil is a ‘restoration’ can be critiqued. The account of the Paschal vigil given by Egeria, for example, is not only a reflection of the particular status of Jerusalem; aspects of the vigil were also repeated each Sunday, for “on the Lord’s Day, the whole multitude assembles before cockcrow … as at Easter.”[21] Augustine’s reference to “the mother of all vigils,” with the Baptism of the catechumens, refers to the practice in an urban center with a bishop.[22]

This, however, was unlikely to have been the case in other communities. What about outlying communities with perhaps one presbyter, such as that envisaged by Augustine when he describes a cleric being ordained “in order to form a congregation of people”?[23] It cannot easily be assumed that the rites which marked the Paschal vigil in Augustine’s basilica in Hippo – rites which were clearly episcopal in nature – would also have been observed in smaller, outlying congregations.

Quite why a self-evidently episcopal liturgy from the patristic era, and inherently part of a radically different baptismal discipline, was regarded as a suitable liturgy for parish churches is another of the rather questionable assumptions made by mid-20th century liturgical revision.[24]

By contrast, the Prayer Book rites of an Old High Easter Eve are entirely appropriate for the small- and medium-sized parish church. They make no dubious demands regarding “a real experience of new life for the worshipper”: prayer is offered, the Scriptures read, the Creeds confessed. Numbers attending will, of course, be significantly smaller than those attending the Holy Communion on Easter Day. And quite rightly so: the latter is the Easter liturgy, of which the liturgies of Easter Eve are the Vigil.

If it is the minister alone, or with one or two of the faithful, praying the Offices and saying the Ante-Communion on Easter Eve, this still ensures that – in Cranmer’s words – they are “more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that [are] Adversaries to the Truth.”[25] The commemoration of the Lord’s burial and the descent into hell will then shape teaching and proclamation during Eastertide and beyond.

There is a convincing theological coherence to an Old High Easter Eve which aids the Church’s proclamation of the Resurrection, ensuring that the commemoration of the salvific nature of the Lord’s Burial (affirmed each Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday in the Litany) and of the harrowing of hell (a doctrine of the Creed too often misunderstood, both in the Reformation era and in contemporary theology) inform our Easter joy and faith in the Resurrection. This is rich fayre, which should not be sidelined or overwhelmed by the wordy, fussy Easter Vigil, but should, rather, be the focus of the Church’s prayer and meditation throughout Easter Eve, until we awake on the first day of the week, early in the morning.

Then our rightful silence through the hours of darkness is broken, as we behold the Empty Tomb and encounter the Risen Christ in the Scriptures and the Breaking of the Bread, rejoicing in the One who was buried for us and our salvation, who has conquered hell, who rose again on the third day, and is “alive for evermore.”

Notes:

  1. The various references from Common Worship: Times and Seasons are from the ‘Introduction’ to ‘The Easter Liturgy’, referring, as noted, to the Easter Vigil.
  2. Issued during the pontificate of Pius XII, the instruction noted, “there has arisen a keen desire that the Easter Vigil should be recalled especially to its original splendour, the original home of the vigil being restored, namely the hours of the night, which precede the Sunday of the Resurrection”.
  3. See ‘Concerning the Vigil’ in BCP 1979.
  4. Charles Wheatly, A Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (1710), Section XVI, ‘Of Easter-Eve’.
  5. See ‘A Table of the Vigils, Fasts and Days of Abstinence to be Observed in the Year’ in BCP 1662.
  6. While Epistle and Gospel are provided for Easter Even in 1549, 1552, and 1559, it is in the Scottish liturgy of 1637 that a collect first appears.
  7. While later revisions of the BCP provide different readings for Mattins and Evensong, there is continuity in themes addressed. Ireland 1926, for example, retains the 1662 readings at Mattins but has readings from Job 19 (“I know that my redeemer liveth”) and John 2 (“he spoke of the temple of his body”) at Evensong, emphasising how both the burial and the harrowing of hell are understood from the perspective of the Resurrection. PECUSA 1928 opts for readings from Job 14 (“If a man die, shall he live again?”) and John’s burial account at Mattins, and at Evensong retains 1662’s second lesson from Romans 6 but has the first lesson from Job 19, again pointing to the themes of Easter Eve as an expression of the Resurrection. Both revisions retain 1662’s collect, Epistle, and Gospel for Ante-Communion.
  8. Quoted in Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, on Luke 23:56.
  9. Thomas Bennet (d.1728), A Paraphrase with Annotations upon the Book of Common Prayer (1708), as quoted in Richard Mant, Notes on the Book of Common Prayer (1820), on the collect of Easter Even.
  10. Wheatly, op.cit.
  11. Ibid.
  12. A commonplace Old High teaching, taken from Hooker (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity VI.4.15), that the absolution at Mattins and Evensong has the same efficacy as the form of private absolution in the Visitation of the Sick. Somewhat ironically, in view of later developments, it was given expression by Keble in his poem ‘The Three Absolutions’, sometimes included in The Christian Year.
  13. Noted by Torrance Kirby in his ‘The Articles of Religion of the Church of England (1563/1571) commonly called the Thirty-Nine Articles’: “Based on Augsburg, Art. 3, this article addresses the statement in the Apostle’s Creed around which violent controversy swirled at the Reformation”.
  14. From Donne’s sermon on Acts 2:36, preached in St. Paul’s on the evening of Easter Day 1623.
  15. Jeremy Taylor, ‘An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed’ in The Golden Grove or, A Manuall of Daily Prayers and Letanies (1655).
  16. Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, Light in Darkness: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell (2007), p.348. Her Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday (2016) suggests that the Reformers rejected the doctrine, without any reference to Luther’s robust defence in his 1533 sermon at Torgau of the doctrine (“He also descended into hell in order to deliver also us from it”) and the associated iconography (“it is appropriate and right that we view it literally, just as it is painted”), and its affirmation by Article Three of the Thirty-Nine.
  17. Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (1982/2014), p.89.
  18. Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter (1970/1990), p.249.
  19. Williams, op.cit.
  20. Ibid., p.95.
  21. We might note that Egeria also notes a vigil from “first cockcrow onwards” on the feast of Pentecost. She continues: “Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day”. This rather illustrates how the mid-20th century introduction of the Easter Vigil was not quite a restoration of supposed patristic practice.
  22. In Augustine and the Catechumenate (1995), William Harmless describes how on high festivals “crowds would stream into Augustine’s church, the Basilica Pacis” (p.161). Alongside other aspects of the reconstruction by Harmless of the ecclesial and social context of Augustine’s teaching, this is a reminder of how it inevitably differed from smaller Christian communities, outside urban centres.
  23. Augustine refers to this scenario in Of the Good of Marriage (32): “In like manner as if there take place an ordination of clergy in order to form a congregation of people”.
  24. Bryan D. Spinks’ comment on the text of the so-called ‘Apostolic Tradition’ comes to mind: “in hindsight, we might ask why any church would want to adopt for its normal Sunday Eucharistic prayer an idealized Eucharistic Prayer from a fourth century dissident group, put forward for use at an Ordination of a bishop rather than a normal Sunday Eucharist? It warns against investing too heavily in scholarly findings and fads”. From Spinks, ‘Gregory Dix and the Reformation Liturgy’ in Roberta Bayer (ed.) Reformed and Catholic: Essays in Honor of Peter Toon (2012), p.92.
  25. Cranmer in ‘Concerning the Service of the Church’, included in the prefaces to BCP 1662.

 


Laudable Practice

Laudable Practice is a "poor priest" (c.f. Herbert's 'Aaron') in the Church of Ireland, living in Jeremy Taylor country, and enjoying the poetry of Wendell Berry. 'High and Dry', blogging on the riches of the 'Old' (Luke 5:39) High Church tradition, he is a historian by background, and particularly delights in leading Sunday Prayer Book Mattins in the parish. He blogs at http://laudablepractice.blogspot.com.


'Do we need the Easter Vigil?' have 6 comments

  1. April 12, 2022 @ 7:16 am Ben jefferies

    A couple infelicities worth noting in this piece:

    1. In the early 19th century, it was the custom to celebrate the Easter communion at 3pm on SATURDAY! Thus — the keeping of holy Saturday was not the norm of the “old high church”, nor the presumed logic of the 1662 that intuitive.

    2. Many rubrics in the BCP, 1662 and 20th century, are aspirational. This does not make them fictions. The 1662 rubrics about communion discipline have been kept in maybe 1:100 parishes since their inauguration. To aspire to a great vigil is a great thing.

    3. On this side of the Atlantic (LP is in Ireland) — vigils are exceptionally well attended in most parishes.

    Why should the devil get all the viscerally engaging rites? (Sports, fraternal societies etc)

    Long live Easter Vigil!

    Reply

    • April 13, 2022 @ 3:16 am Laudable Practice

      Ben, many thanks for your comment. To respond to each of your points:

      1. I have yet to see parish studies of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, or clerical diaries of the era, refer to this practice. While, indeed, it may have happened in places, it certainly was not a common practice. In terms of Old High practice, this was set out in the corpus of Prayer Book commentaries from the ‘long 18th century’, the authors of whom Richard Mant described as ‘ritualists’. This corpus was regarded as an authoritative guide to Prayer Book usage.

      2. Many rubrics in the Prayer Book are, indeed, aspirational. But it would be a rather more than aspirational reading of the rubrics of 1662 (or Ireland 1926, PECUSA 1928, Scotland 1929, or Canada 1962) that found therein justification for the Easter Vigil. The absence of the Vigil from 20th century expressions of the classical Prayer Book tradition also emphasises the extent to which it is a product of the Liturgical Movement.

      3. Since the article was published, a number of US clergy have contacted me to share that their experience of the Vigil is also that outlined in the article. In Ireland, the Vigil is often well-attended in those cathedrals which observe it. Parish experience (with a few exceptions) is significantly different. What is more, most parishes here do not observe the Vigil. And it is this latter experience – also, of course, the classical Anglican pattern – which was the focus for my article: assuring such parishes that there is a theological and liturgical coherence to this practice.

      As for “viscerally engaging rites”, perhaps there is a reason why the Devil likes them …

      Long live the Easter Vigil? For those who observe it and do it well, of course. But for those of us who do not observe it – or have found that it does not work or resonate in our pastoral context – there is another model, enshrined in the classical Prayer Book tradition, which has a theological and liturgical coherence contributing to our celebration of the Resurrection.

      Reply

      • April 15, 2022 @ 5:12 pm Ben jefferies

        Hey Brian —

        So, if your essay had the same thesis as the end of your comment here — I would have had no bones to pick. The idea of sourcing an alternative to the Vigil from the OHC — no problem. But you manifestly were doing more than that: poo-pooing a liturgy I hold dear.

        As to your comment-points:

        1. I wish I could recall the source. It was either an Alcuin Society tract, a Crowley liturgical publication, or Liddon’s bio.

        2. I think I was too concise, and my point was missed. I was trying to draw a parallel: that in the same way that 1662 communion directions have not been followed often, but that doesn’t make them worthy of being derogated as “fiction” — they are the aspirational gold standard.
        Just so – the modern rubrics about Easter vigil having adult baptisms etc — are an aspirational gold standard.

        Re the devil — I was trying to coyly reference the Augustinian teaching in De Doctrina — that rhetoric that affects the senses can be well used for Christian purposes.
        Mutatis mutundis:
        I think when the Church doesn’t do any such viscerally engaging rites — folks will just look for them in other places that are inevitably less God honoring than Church. Here is where I of course part ways with a high and dry sensibility. High and dry seems to only have proskynetic traction with certain types of personalities.

        Fwiw. A blessed Triduum to you, in any case

        Reply

  2. April 12, 2022 @ 10:19 am A Marcalo

    Issuesetc.org has a wonderful interview with Pr. Will Weedon about The Great Easter Vigil. He quotes from Brian Helge,”
    To those who are not of the household of faith, what we are about to do must look very peculiar. We are about to stand in the dark, carry candles about, sing lengthy and sublime religious tests, read stories from the Bible. What does this all mean? What is going on here in this community?

    I think that I first came to understand what this was all about and why I came to think that this was the most important thing in my life when I read The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. In their wandering and meandering, two of the main characters, called hobbits, meet a talking tree, called an Ent, and they introduce themselves and the conversation proceeds:

    “I’m a Brandybuck, Meriadoc Brandybuck, though most people call me just Merry.”

    “And I’m a Took, Peregin Took, but I’m generally called Pippin, or even Pip.”

    “Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see,” said Treebeard. “I am honored by your confidence; but you should not be too free all at once. There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain’t, as you might say. I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rat.” A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. “For one thing it would take a very long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking along time to say, and to listen to.”

    To use Treebeard’s mode of expression, we are not going to be hasty folk tonight, satisfied with glibly saying the name “Christian.” Tonight, you might say, is “Old Entish” night in the church. Tonight we are going to tell our name – to ourselves, by way of reminder, to those who will become part of us this night through baptism and confirmation, and to those of the world who will listen, who will take the time to hear what our name is.

    And our name is a very long one, one that has been growing since the creation of the world. Our name is a very long story – of how we are made, of how God chose us from among all peoples, of how God liberated us from bondage, of how God planted us in the promised land, of how, in these last times, God has given a new twist, given our name meaning in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

    Because we have been here for so long, it takes a long time to tell who we are, to recount the story of our life as a people, and none of us would be here if we did not think that that name was worth telling and listening to. Now the trick to this kind of name telling is to relax. You cannot be hasty in this time ahead of us. Haste will stop up your ears finally, and then you will not hear this lovely language and our beautiful name.

    Relax and make yourself comfortable in the darkness and don’t even try to “make sense” of the name. Just hear it, let it roll over you in waves of meanings. Tonight we are going to listen to a series of episodes, not write a theological treatise on the resurrection. A practical word about relaxing: if you need to get up and move about, do so. If you need a breath of fresh air, go out to get it. We’ll still be telling the story when you rejoin us. Whatever you need to do to stay comfortable, do it. All of this will enable you to hear the lovely language in which we can really name ourselves as God himself has named us.

    “Christian” is merely an inadequate abbreviation for what we are about to tell”

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  3. April 13, 2022 @ 8:37 am Preston Hill

    Hello Laudable Practice,
    Thank you for an excellent article! My only bone of contention is the low-shots to Calvin and Balthasar. For both of them…but more for Calvin…the descent into hell is decisively not death at the expense of life. For Mr. Calvin in particular, the descensus is clearly a victorious event, despite interpretations of him to the contrary.
    Again, thank you for an excellent and supremely enlightening article!

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  4. May 12, 2022 @ 5:07 pm Fr. John

    Apologies, the timeliness of this comment is “not very.”

    “‘Then our rightful silence through the hours of darkness is broken, as we behold the Empty Tomb and encounter the Risen Christ in the Scriptures and the Breaking of the Bread, rejoicing in the One who was buried for us and our salvation, who has conquered hell, who rose again on the third day, and is “alive for evermore.”’

    Except, the Paschal liturgy is not a reenactment of the women finding the tomb empty, but the celebration of the Resurrection event, the fulfillment of the Paschal rites of the Old Law, which were kept at night.

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