Vigils of Easter

charlie-at-ev-08.jpgAnother Easter Vigil celebrated, and some would say, survived. At right is Charlie proclaiming the Exodus reading. I felt like I was on the run all night: in the sacristy preparing incense, in my seat listening to a few readings, back in the sacristy to get to the carillon controls and lights, off to the corner of the nave to get baptismal robes and towels ready for servers and the procession, Easter candle, more charcoal lit for incense, then the church entrance to get the dried neophytes back inside, then after confirmation, getting them lined up in time to dress the altar and bring the gifts.

EV ’08 was a top ten one for sure, thanks to the first of the elect taking her son (the second one to be baptized) for a bathroom break about a minute before the end of Fr Don’s homily. Better than in the font, I guess. That was EV ’07.

Other memorable Easter Vigils:

1970: My first one was about four months before baptism. I recall it lasting almost as long as Three Hours on the day before. I think they did all nine readings. Pretty sure about that since I don’t remember any baptisms–that would be a few years before the “Tan Book” RCIA.

1983: Still my favorite. It clocked in at twelve hours, twenty minutes.

1988: Getting fed up with the limp Easter Vigils at Corpus Christi, I went to the Trappist Abbey instead. They didn’t do all nine readings. Too bad.

1989: My first as a full-time liturgist. It included a select obscenity and a near fistfight in the sanctuary between two altar boys, one of whom poured too much water at the lavabo and the other was splashed where a pre-adolescent boy does not want to appear wet in public.

1995: Replacing the old kiddie pool at Michigan State with a real font. I drained two hot water tanks to get it half full. The pastor nearly freaked out when he saw it. Maybe he was worried it would crash through to the basement. This parish had a dedicated area for it, but no font.

1999-2000: Children’s choir members petitioned to be part of the Easter Vigil group. It was perfect; I was always alto-heavy, and having four or five girls on soprano gave us a nice rich sound. The first of those years, one girl got sick and the other nearly fainted. I didn’t think their parents would let them return, but they did.

Not so memorable events:

1984-87: Corpus Christi Church’s double Easter Vigils. A late afternoon liturgy for the Hispanic community, and an evening one with four readings for the Anglos. The staff didn’t like my suggestion that we combine them and do more readings in two languages and merge our choirs. So much for the progressive spirit.

1989: See near-fistfight above.

1991: The pastor thinks doing all nine readings is fine, but only if we combine them into one big collage of Scripture. He gets his EV in at 116 minutes, but I’m looking forward to next year after his reassignment.

1992: The parish made a six-foot Paschal Candle. The triple wick burns/melts off down to the nubs of the omega after three hours. A new paschal candle ordered on Easter Monday for rush delivery.

2003: The pastor who hired me introduces me to his idea of an expedient Easter fire: alcohol in a pan set aflame at the doors to the nave. Bright, impressive to view, but not a speck of wood in the blaze.

2006: The fiberglass font cracks and by the end of the liturgy, more water is on the floor than in the tub. Will this parish ever get a permanent font?

It’s hard to believe this year’s Easter Vigil is already more than twenty-four hours past. Working with servers, the RCIA elect and candidates, art/environment folks, and my staff colleagues is the most rewarding part of it. I haven’t done music at an Easter Vigil in eight years now–that’s kind of a mixed blessing. Our Vigil at St Thomas More grows more complicated as the years pass. There’s no way I would have been able to do music. The pastor added about a half-dozen changes at the server/RCIA combined practice Saturday afternoon.

This was also the first year I did Holy Thursday and Good Friday in a long time. That was nice; I had good musicians to work with, plus some newcomers.

Some of my Easter Vigil tips from twenty-plus years:

  • Get the parish Scout troop to do the Easter fire. I give my friends a time for “maximum flame” and I give them last year’s holy oils to soak the wood.
  • Make sure at least half the server cadre repeats from the previous year.
  • Have a sit-down meeting with the pastor and catechumenate director early in Lent to review the script. Better yet, arrange the meeting in church so you can walk through things as you talk.
  • Add a reading and psalm every year till you get to the nine.
  • Insert new Easter Vigil psalmody into the repertoire well in advance of the Vigil.
  • Take a few days off during Easter week.
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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Vigils of Easter

  1. Tony Neria says:

    + 1988 – processing in as a member the choir with candles in hand at the beginning of the Easter vigil…we all stand on the steps in front of the altar and sing the Exultet. The guy next to me bends over to see the music better and lights the hair of the alto standing in front of us (lots of hair spray). he quickly extinguished the flame with his hand!

  2. Tony Neria says:

    + 2001 – (Another great moment in Triduum history) while coming back from communion, one of my altos dropped her skirt (right in front of the status of the Virgin Mary). Lucky she had a slip on. She ran into the choir room and didn’t come out until the end of the service.

  3. Liam says:

    I have too many Triduum memories to recount:

    1. The Holy Thursday when the director of music and liturgy (not me) had “a bad day at work” and didn’t show for pre-liturgy rehearsal but decided to sit in the congregation rather than direct or even participate in the music ministry;

    2. The Good Friday when the veneration of the cross took almost an hour because of how it was structured;

    3. The Easter Vigil when someone had a seizure and the presider got into a fuss when the keyboardist (silently and rightly) declined his request to play cover music while we waited for EMTs to arrive (speaking of which: do all of you have agreed-upon emergency protocols?);

    4. The Easter Vigil when another music director had prepared us well for the communion anthem (Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia”) but otherwise failed to sufficiently prepare the psalms and some other service music despite our obvious need for such preparation (soon after which I took 3 years off from active participation in music ministry).

    5. The Easter Vigil when the pitch of the vicar’s voice rose a third as he chanted the Exsultet.

    6. The Easter Vigil when the flames of the fire in the rear of the nave (due to pouring rain outside) lept about 15 feet high, nearly giving a heart attack to the rector (who was the son of a firefighter).

    7. The Pentecost (OK, not Easter) when the alcohol fires in 12 tin florist buckets lept so high as to singe the eyebrows of some poor people assigned to light them during the first reading.

    I know I must be suppressing some more haunting memories….

  4. Matthew Meloche says:

    Any chance you want to recount the 12 hour Easter Vigil in some greater detail?

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