Question: "What is an Easter Vigil?"

Answer: An Easter Vigil, also called the Paschal Vigil or the Great Vigil of Easter, is a liturgical tradition mainly celebrated in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches. The Easter Vigil is the culmination of a 40-day-long observance of Lent, a solemn practice wherein participants give up some habit or item as a form of self-denial.

The Easter Vigil takes place after sundown on the night before Easter (i.e., Holy Saturday) or immediately after the Good Friday service (in Oriental Orthodoxy). The Easter Vigil is generally seen as the most important service of the year, particularly in Catholic and Orthodox churches. This service celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is also a time when new members are baptized into the church or current members are given a chance to renew their baptismal vows.

With the exception of Oriental Orthodoxy, which follows a different pattern, most liturgical churches break the Easter Vigil into four parts: the Service of Light begins the celebration, followed by the reading of the Word of God (called the Liturgy of the Word or Service of Lessons or Service of the Word), then the baptismal ceremony, and lastly the Eucharist (the Mass in Catholicism or communion in some other churches). Candles play a big part in the Service of Light, and a fire may be blessed and the Paschal or Easter candle lit. The readings from the Word are taken from various parts of the Bible from Genesis to the Gospels and highlight God’s work from Creation to Christ’s resurrection. The baptismal portion confirms adults into the church or serves as a confirmation for previous baptisms, and, finally, the congregation partakes of the Lord’s Table during the Eucharist.

While much of the celebration of an Easter Vigil is not unbiblical, there are a few things for Christians to remember. First of all, an Easter Vigil most often follows a strict liturgy, which is full of ritual and recitations and can result in a static service that may or may not allow for the work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, baptism does not gain salvation for participants. Baptism is intended as an outward sign to all that a person has accepted Christ and as a picture of Christ’s own death and resurrection (Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). Also, the ritualistic blessing of fire and water and candles is unbiblical, and the Mass in Catholicism is an idolatrous re-sacrificing of the body of Christ.