03 April 2010

Saturday in Holy Week, Easter Eve

The Tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Patrick Comerford

The day following Good Friday is often known as Holy Saturday or in the Anglican tradition as Easter Eve, and in the Orthodox Church as Great and Holy Saturday or the Great Sabbath.

This is traditionally a day of silence and prayer, a time for thinking about the dead Christ lying in the tomb. No Mass is celebrated, no Holy Communion is distributed.

In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is a provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ.

In Roman Catholic churches, the tabernacle is left empty and open, the lamp or candle usually lit next to the tabernacle to mark the Real presence has been extinguished, and the remaining Eucharistic hosts, consecrated on Maundy Thursday, have been removed, perhaps to the sacristy, where a lamp or candle burns before them so that, in cases of the danger of death, they may be given as viaticum.

The Entombment of Christ

In the Orthodox tradition, Holy and Great Saturday or the Great Sabbath is the day on which Christ “rested” physically in the tomb, but it is also the day on which he performed the Harrowing of Hell, raising up those who had been held captive there.

Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros) of Holy and Great Saturday was served in most places last night [Friday], takes the form of a funeral service for Christ.

This morning [Saturday], a vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is served. This is the longest Divine Liturgy of the entire Orthodox year and, traditionally, the latest.

After the Little Entrance there are 15 Old Testament readings recalling the history of salvation. Just before the Gospel reading (Matthew 28: 1-20), the hangings, the altar cloths, and the vestments are changed from black to white, and the deacon censes the church.

In the Greek tradition the clergy scatter laurel leaves and flower petals throughout the church, symbolising the shattered gates and broken chains of hell after Christ’s victory over death. While the liturgical atmosphere changes from sorrow to joy at this service, the Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!” (Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!) is not exchanged until after the Paschal Vigil later this evening, and the people continue to fast.

The Harrowing of Hell

The Divine Liturgy on Holy and Great Saturday represents the Harrowing of Hell, the proclamation of Christ’s victory over death to those in Hades, but the Resurrection has not yet been announced to those on earth – the takes place during the Paschal Vigil tonight.

Great Lent was originally the period of catechesis for new converts Christianity. During this period, they were prepared for Baptism and Chrismation on Pascha (Easter). Before the current Paschal Vigil of Saint John of Damascus was written, the vespers served this morning was the main Easter celebration. The traditional time to receive converts is still after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy.

The Easter Vigil

In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the Easter Vigil begins at 9 p.m. tonight. The setting is C.V. Stanford’s The Office of Holy Communion in C and F, with Let all the world in every corner sing by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the celebration of Easter may begin after sundown with the Easter Vigil or Midnight Mass on what is liturgically Easter Sunday, although it is still Saturday evening in calendar.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil consists of four parts:

● The Service of Light

● The Liturgy of the Word

● The Liturgy of Baptism, which may include the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the renewal of Baptismal Promises by the rest of the congregation

● Holy Eucharist

The Liturgy begins after sundown as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church, in the darkness, often in a side chapel of the church building, but preferably outside the church. A new fire, kindled and blessed by the priest, symbolises the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through the Resurrection of Christ, dispelling the darkness of sin and death.

The Paschal Candle, symbolising the Light of Christ, is lit from this fire. This tall candle is placed on the altar, and on its side five grains of incense are embedded, representing the five wounds of Christ and the burial spices with which his body was anointed. When these are fixed in it and the candle is lit, it is placed on the Gospel side of the altar and remains there until Ascension Day.

This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern. Throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, it reminds all that that Christ is “light and life.”

All baptised people present – those who have received the Light of Christ – are given candles that are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic Light of Christ spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness diminishes and dies out.

A deacon or a priest carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation “Light of Christ” or “Christ our Light,” to which the people respond: “Thanks be to God.”

When the procession ends, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet, or Easter Proclamation, said to have been written by Saint Ambrose of Milan. The church is now lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, and the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention in the as it is the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation.

Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ.

After these readings, the Gloria is sung, and during an outburst of musical jubilation the people’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and the bells rung. The altar frontals, the reredos, the lectern hangings, the processional banners, the statues and the paintings, which were stripped or covered during Holy Week, are now ceremonially replaced and unveiled, and flowers are placed on altar.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed, and the Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

After the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is blessed, and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated. After these celebrations, those present renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

The Easter Vigil then concludes with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the first Mass of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptised receive Holy Communion for the first time, and, according to the rubrics, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

The Light coming into the world

In the Orthodox Church, the Paschal Vigil begins late this evening, often at 11 p.m., with the serving of the Midnight Office, which is the last service of the Lenten Triodion. This is timed to end a little before midnight. Once the Midnight Office ends, all lights in the church are put out and everyone waits in silence and darkness until the stroke of midnight.

At the stroke of midnight, the Paschal celebration begins, consisting of Paschal Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros), Paschal Hours, and the Paschal Divine Liturgy. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning and ensures its place as the pre-eminent Feast of Feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Church.

Now, a single, new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from the eternal flame kept burning there. He then lights the candles held by then deacons or his assistants, and they go quickly to light candles held by the congregation. The light spreads speedily from one person to the next until everyone holds a lighted candle, and the church bursts into light.

This tradition has its origin in the reception of the Holy Fire at the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The priest and the congregation then go in a procession with the cross circling the church, holding lit their candles and chanting:

By your Resurrection
O Christ our saviour,
the angels in Heaven sing,
and enable us here are on Earth
to glorify you with purity of heart

This procession re-enacts the journey of the Myrrh-bearers as they made their way to the Tomb of Christ “at early dawn” on the first Easter morning (Luke 24: 1). After circling around the church once or three times, the procession halts in front of the closed doors.

In Greek Orthodox churches, the priest then reads Mark 16: 1-8. Then, in all Orthodox traditions, the priest makes the sign of the cross with the censer before the closed doors of the icon screen, which at this point represent the sealed tomb. The priest and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells and semantra are sounded. Then all re-enter the church and Paschal Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros) begins immediately, followed by the Paschal Hours, and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy.

The high point of this liturgy is the delivery of the Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom, during which the congregation stands.

After the dismissal, the priest often blesses Paschal eggs and baskets filled with the foods which have been abstained from during the Great Fast, such as eggs, meat, butter and cheese. Immediately after the Liturgy, many people share a meal, sometimes at 2 a.m. or even later.

A meal often follows, sometimes lasting till dawn. In Greece, the traditional meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, which are hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolise the Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of Christ’s Tomb.

Χριστός ἀνέστη!
Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Christ is Risen!
He is truly risen, indeed!

Collect of the Day:

Grant, Lord,
that we who are baptized into the death
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires
and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits, who died and was buried
and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

No Post-Communion prayer is provided for Easter Eve.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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