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CNP Feedback - Time for the Easter Vigil

Q. Dear CNP:

I'm curious about your take on something.

I saw the beginning of the Easter Vigil from Saint Peter's Basilica on EWTN. Although the nave of the basilica was indeed in darkness, the actual blessing of the fire and the lighting of the candle appeared to take place in a fully-illuminated narthex. There seemed to be no attempt whatsoever to conduct that portion of the Vigil in the darkness required by the rubrics.

At our parish, the pastor insisted on waiting until 8:30 to start our Vigil, in order to be well past sunset (which was at 7:50 local time). As we are in a city, you could wait until 2 am if you wanted and it still wouldn't be dark — there are city lights clearly in view of the front of the church.

By waiting so late to start (and by taking many options which prolong the liturgy to 3 hours), the crowd was the worst it's been in 10 years. Yet the pastor seems determined to persist.

What would you conclude from Pope Benedict's Easter Vigil ceremony? According to the rubric, the point of waiting until nightfall is so that it's dark. But if you're somewhere that never gets dark, should it not be sufficient to wait past sunset? Saint Peter's vigil started at 10 pm local Rome time, but it started in full light. I'm quite confused as to what to make of this.

Do you think Saint Peter's model implies some flexibility in the interpretation of the Vigil rubrics?

Hot under the Full-bright's Collar

A. Dear Hot:

Each situation is different, but the intent of the rubric about when to start the Easter Vigil is that it be as dark as possible. The Office of Worship in many dioceses will indicate before what hour the Vigil may not start (in our diocese it was 8:30 pm) — not arbitrarily, but according to precise calculations of astronomical sunset and civil twilight.

While there may by streetlights nearby, ambient sunlight will cease (and it will begin to be "as dark as possible") about 1 hour after astronomical sunset — this year about 7:30 plus 1 hour (or 8:30 pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time).

Regarding the papal Mass from Saint Peter's, remember two things: the needs of an 80-year-old pontiff might have to be accommodated, and, since you were viewing by TV, there may need to be some light for broadcast. Perhaps they were working with the environment "as dark as possible" for the conditions.

Your pastor seems to be on the right track in wanting the Vigil to start in the "dark" and perhaps in using many readings and other appropriate options. This is the ultimate Mass in the entire liturgical year — three hours (ours was longer than this) is not out of line. It's the job of the pastor, the liturgy team, and the musicians to make the Vigil as sacred, solemn and interesting as possible — and also to educate the congregation as to why they really shouldn't dream of missing this extremely important Mass. It's the role of the parish family to get to the Vigil and celebrate the resurrection (and the new Catholics from the RCIA program) the way the Church intends. The drama of the Easter Vigil should be burned into every child's imagination — and they should carry that with them throughout their lives. Churches should be packed for the Vigil — it's that important!

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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