The Great Vigil of Easter
is traditionally regarded as the most important celebration of the Christian liturgical year. However, it is a bit obscure due to the fact that it takes place at five o’clock in the morning. Traditions for celebrating the occasion vary wildly; many Christians in Egypt
prayed in two dead languages: Koine Greek
. The Anglo-Catholic
wing of the Anglican Church in Canada borrows from a wide range of traditions, and so the way they celebrate the day gives a good sample of what tradition-junkie Christians were doing this morning.Liturgy of the Word
Taize Chant: “Bless the Lord My Soul
." This style of music was developed in the 20th century in the Taize Monastery
. Chants in this genre often consist of an eight-bar phrase repeated many, many times. It’s a meditative style, intended to focus attention on one simple phrase, idea or emotion.
Readings from the Old Testament: an hour-long attempt to tell a condensed version of the story of the Old Testament in one hour.
Plainsong and polyphonic chants. Plainsong
is an extremely old musical tradition dating to the 3rd century. It is not the oldest notated music (that’s the Hurrian Song, previously
) but with the invention of neumes
it became the oldest notated music in the Western tradition. Polyphonic chant
is a later development which builds in harmony parts.
The Service of Light
Everyone leaves the church to gather around a brazier outdoors for the lighting of a new fire
. The fire is usually made larger than is entirely safe. This ceremony seems to have been independently developed in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, dating at least as far back as the 6th century.
Next, lighting of the cartoonishly oversized five-foot tall Paschal Candle
. There are 4th-5th century North African precursors to this tradition, and in England the custom seems to have been nailed down in the 6th century. Apparently the The Sarum Processional of 1517 at Salisbury used a 36 foot tall candle. After the Paschal candle is lit, each person present receives a small candle, and the new fire is passed from one person to another.
The Great Proclamation of Easter
Standard canned sermon: the Hieratikon of John Chrysostom
(Constantinople, ~400 AD).
At dawn it is announced that Christ is risen
. People ring hand bells and cowbells and use whatever other noisemakers
they brought from home. There may be a baptism, and in a sort of poor man’s Holi
water is tossed around on everyone. Everyone renounces Satan
. Bread and wine? Preferably cake and champagne