Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Great Vigil of Easter

Pope Benedict prays inside the
Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
On Holy Saturday, according to Aegeria, the normal morning and midday prayers are held, but not Vespers as it seems that Vespers has been assumed into the Vigils.  Aegeria does not tell us much about the Vigil services, simply saying that it is done in Jerusalem as it is “done among us,” wherever it is that her home Church is.  We know from other sources that the Jerusalem Church did not have the custom of the paschal candle as was done in Rome, Gaul, and North Africa. Rather the bishop entered the tomb and emerged with three lit candles. This would develop into the ritual of the “miraculous fire” as practiced even today by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.  The vigils would consist of twelve lessons each set off with a psalm.  Aegeria does mention that the newly baptized, after their baptism and chrismation in the baptistery, are brought to the Tomb first where the bishop says a prayer over them and only then are they led into the Basilica for the Eucharistic celebration. At the conclusion of the Liturgy the Bishop and faithful go to the Tomb where the bishop offers a second Eucharist.  The baptistery of the Constantinian basilica was—as were all baptisteries in the early Church—a separate building to the main basilica and so the faithful, gathered in the basilica, would not see the baptisms though they would be aware they were going on and would be praying for those being baptized.  Similarly in this particular church of the Holy Sepulcher, there was not only the separate baptistery but the Sepulcher itself stood in a separate shrine area, called the martyrium, behind the apse of the basilica and separated from it by an open courtyard.  Thus the faithful were gathered in the basilica; the bishop and catechumens were in the baptistery until after their baptism and anointing where they went first to the tomb and then to the main church for the Eucharist. 
In today’s rituals, we gather in the one building as the baptistery is in most places part of the church itself.  We have the new fire and the paschal candle—a Roman custom that differed from the Jerusalem Rite.  Then we have the vigil of readings followed by the baptism and confirmation of the catechumens as they did in Jerusalem.  The rites conclude with the Eucharist as it did at Jerusalem.  We can see the roots of the modern ceremony in the fifth century rituals described by Aegeria.       

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