The Armchair Liturgist: Scheduling Your Easter Vigil

This missive came from the diocesan liturgy office a few days ago:

The Easter Vigil will be celebrated on Saturday evening, April 3. The Roman Missal states that the Easter Vigil is to take place in darkness, after nightfall. The Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy in 2003, interpreted that time as 45 minutes to an hour after sunset. According to the Naval Observatory, sunset occurs on April 3, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. Daylight Time. Therefore, the earliest starting time for the vigil in the Archdiocese of Dubuque this year is 8:15 p.m.

Twenty, thirty years ago, I’d say there were a number of parishes that scheduled the Easter Vigil pretty much as they saw fit. In one parish in my hometown, the pastor celebrated two: one in Spanish and another in English for his two sets of parishioners. The former always started at 4:30; the latter at 7:30.

Sitting the purple chair, which camp do you favor?

1. Follow liturgical law, but still go as early as astronomically possible.

2. Follow liturgical law, but set the same time at or a bit past nightfall every year, so as to develop continuity.

3. Interpret nightfall as sunset, because people don’t like to stay up late, especially if the RCIA director insists on that party.

4. Who cares? Start at 5PM, use three readings and lock down the church before sunset.

Quo vadis?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Scheduling Your Easter Vigil

  1. Thom says:

    Follow the law, regardless of what time it might be, party or no party! :-)

    When I was baptized (et al), by the time the party after the Mass was over it was nearly midnight. But none of us cared. I think that the late hour might have even made it a bit more special… extraordinary.

    If people don’t want to stay up late, there should be plenty of Sunday morning options available. The Vigiln is the “night of nights,” and it shouldn’t be scheduled for convenience’s sake.

    My 2p.

  2. Liam says:

    Door No. 2. (But I notice you didn’t give Door No. 5, which is to start the vigil at 11 or midnight and finish before dawn (not sunset, but dawn.)

    Just wait til next year. Easter falls on the next to last day it can: April 24. Sunset in Ames will be at 8:04PM.

    Somehow, several hundred million Muslims manage to wait to drink liquid and eat until darkness falls (the classic rule, IIRC, for areas without artificial light is that’s when one cannot tell the difference between a white and a black thread) every day for a month.

    Seems that for the fraction of Catholics who attend the Vigil to wait for darkness to fall to celebrate the Vigil is a piece of cake by comparison.

  3. Mollie says:

    If I am not mistaken, one parish having two vigils is technically not allowed, nightfall or no. The whole parish is supposed to celebrate at one vigil Mass — ours is bilingual for that reason. (I know parishes that do it, too, but they shouldn’t.)

    As for the scheduling, I’m with Thom. The whole *point* of the Easter Vigil Mass is that it begins in darkness; if you’re doing it before sunset you might as well not do it at all.

  4. Ben says:

    Definitely the first option. A service of light isn’t all that effective when it’s still sunny outside. In our church we have a skylight at the top of the building and once it’s dark it acts like a mirror for the candles. You end up with a sea of lights on the ceiling that look like the stars. I never cease to be intrigued by this.

  5. Liam says:


    For parishes for whom pastoral need (the elderly, most commonly*) makes a late afternoon liturgy most accessible, then schedule a late afternoon Mass (following Vespers, ideally….) for Easter *Sunday*.

    * I know that for my mother, it takes hours to get ready to get out, and then there are fluid management issues, such that even the last morning Mass is something of a major cross to bear; her best liturgy attendance times are in the mid-afternoon hours. And I know from conversation with many elders that she is far from alone; my mother doesn’t have to rely on public transport or walk in darkness, unlike many. Still, there *are* other pastoral solutions….

  6. I agree with Mollie – one bi-lingual liturgy for the bi-cultural community. What better moment than the Easter Vigil to affirm that we are One Body in Christ? We start our Vigil in darkness, no matter when that occurs each year, in the courtyard around a large bonfire – and the unity of the community standing around the fire, with flickering flames illuminating the faces is something that never fails to move me. Unlike us stone-faced Anglos, many of the Hispanic people are unafraid of letting the emotion of that mighty moment of the blessing and lighting of the Easter candle show in their faces! I would not give that up for convenience. And besides, even when the Vigil lasts 3 hours, no one seems to mind.

  7. Thom says:

    …not to mention, how does one bless a Paschal candle twice? 2 candles? Doubly-blessed? One placebo? ;-)

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