|ROME, 11 APRIL 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
* * *
Q: Our pastor found himself in a dilemma last Easter. He was
appointed in charge of two parishes, but only able to celebrate one
Vigil Mass for the parishes at the larger of the churches. The problem
encountered was how to bless two paschal candles! In the absence of any
advice from the diocesan authorities, and with no trace of any
liturgical norm to hand, he decided to bless and engrave them both, but
only lighted one (which the deacon duly carried). He himself carried the
other candle in his arms and left it on the altar to be taken to the
other parish church afterward. At the other parish church, he lighted
that second paschal candle immediately before the first Mass of Easter
and carried it in procession into the church singing the Lumen Christi
three times before continuing with the Eucharistic celebration as
normal. I thought this was done very movingly but, as always, some
B.C., Birmingham, England. Q: I would like to know the exact moment in
which, during the Easter Vigil, all the lights of the church should be
lit: Is it immediately before the chanting of the Exsultet starts, or at
the intoning of the Gloria during Mass? Up to some time ago, if I am not
mistaken, it was before the Exsultet starts. I do not know if it has
been changed recently. —
A: Regarding the two paschal candles: There do not seem to be any recent
guidelines as to how to handle this particular situation. It is quite
possible that some bishops' conferences have already proposed solutions
that I am unaware of.
Although the pastor's action was an honest attempt to come to terms with
a liturgical conundrum, I think it was imperfect in some ways.
First of all, the liturgical books and guidelines insist very much that
only one paschal candle be prepared for the celebration. For example,
the 1988 Circular Letter on the preparation for Easter published by the
Congregation for Divine Worship states:
"The paschal candle should be prepared, which for effective symbolism
must be made of wax, never be artificial, be renewed each year, be only
one in number, and be of sufficiently large size, so that it may evoke
the truth that Christ is the light of the world. It is blessed with the
signs and words prescribed in the Missal or by the Conference of
This insistence has to do with the symbolism involved of the one light
of Christ from which all the other candles are lit. This the pastor well
understood by not lighting the second paschal candle.
Where I believe he made a mistake, at least with respect to present
norms, was in blessing and carrying the other candle and in repeating
the rite of entrance on Easter morning. The nocturnal nature of this
rite does not readily lend itself to repetition.
What then is a pastor to do? Although eventually a better solution might
be officially established as the question reflects a genuine pastoral
difficulty, we could momentarily take inspiration from the norms in
force before the Second Vatican Council.
At that time, if Mass or the Divine Office was celebrated at a side
altar during Eastertide, it was permitted to use a second paschal candle
provided it had been blessed and had the five grains of incense.
Therefore, in the case described above, the pastor could privately bless
and prepare the other candle at a convenient moment after the Easter
Vigil and simply set it up in the other parish before the first Mass
with no particular ceremonies.
After all, even if the Vigil had been celebrated the night before,
people attending Mass on Easter Sunday usually find the Easter candle
already set up and no special ceremony is carried out. It is
appropriate, however, to incense the candle along with the altar at the
beginning of Mass.
Regarding the appropriate moment for turning on the lights: The rubrics
for the Vigil clearly indicate that they are lit after the third Lumen
Christi and before the Exultet.
There seems to be a custom in some places to await the end of the
Exultet or even the Gloria. And some eminent liturgists even recommend
that, whenever possible, the amount of light should be gradually
increased until the church is fully illuminated at the Gloria.
While I can appreciate the ideas behind this gradual approach I
personally think that the rubrics should be followed as that is what the
Church asks of us. I also believe that turning on the lights after the
third Lumen Christi better captures the dramatic and transforming
suddenness of the Resurrection. ZE06041120
* * *
Follow-up: Easter Vigil [5-2-2006]
After our piece on the Easter Vigil (April 11) a Florida reader asked:
"Are you aware of any exceptions granted by Rome to having the Easter
Vigil begin before sundown on Saturday evening? I am quite upset that
all the churches in the diocese I have moved to a few years ago, even
the cathedral itself, consistently begin the service before sundown."
The following document is taken from the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the
Liturgy Newsletter, Volume 37, should answer this question. This
statement is not official law, but it is an official explanation of the
law. I thank the site catholicliturgy.com for making it easily
During the past 30 years, the BCL Newsletter has addressed the question
of the time for the Easter Vigil on several occasions. Each time, the
General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Roman Calendar, No. 21,
has been cited:
"The Easter Vigil, during the holy night when Christ rose from the dead,
ranks as the 'mother of all vigils' (Augustine, Sermon 219: PL 38,
1088). Keeping watch, the Church awaits Christ's resurrection and
celebrates it in the sacraments. Accordingly, the entire celebration of
this vigil should take place at night, that is, it should either begin
after nightfall or end before the dawn of Sunday.
"In 1988, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments addressed this question with greater specificity in its
'Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the
Easter Feasts.' After repeating the rubric cited above, the Congregation
noted that 'This rule is to be taken according to its strictest sense.
Reprehensible are those abuses and practices which have crept in many
places in violation of this ruling, whereby the Easter Vigil is
celebrated at the time of day that it is customary to celebrate
anticipated Masses (no. 78).'
"The intention of the 'Missale Romanum' is clear: the Easter Vigil is to
take place in darkness. Thus the approved translation of 'post initium
noctis' is 'after nightfall,' that is, after the time in the evening
when daylight is last visible. This time is roughly equivalent to
astronomical twilight, which is defined by the Naval Observatory as the
time after which 'the Sun does not contribute to sky illumination.'
Tables of sunset and astronomical twilight for each locality in the
United States are available at the Naval Observatory website.
"In Washington, DC, by way of example, sunset will take place at 6:45pm
on Holy Saturday, April 15, 2001. However, Astronomical Twilight in the
nation's capital will not occur until 8:21pm, or 96 minutes later.
Likewise, sunset in Los Angeles occurs at 6:25pm, but Astronomical
Twilight (when 'the Sun does not contribute to sky illumination') occurs
at 7:53pm, about 88 minutes later. While some pastoral flexibility
concerning the astronomical mathematics of the question is reasonable,
it is clearly the intent of the Church that the Easter Vigil not begin
until it is dark."
Another Floridian asked: "I recently attended an Easter Vigil service
and noticed that the Prayer of the Faithful was omitted. When I
inquired, I was told that it would have made the celebration too long.
Is it permissible to do so?"
The rubrics in the missal say: "After the people have been sprinkled,
the priest returns to the chair. The Profession of Faith is omitted, and
the priest directs the general intercessions, in which the newly
baptized [if there are any] take part for the first time."
Therefore it seems that there should always be a Prayer of the Faithful
at the vigil. That the rubrics indicate them is a sign of their
importance, since the intercessions are usually omitted whenever the
litanies of the saints are proclaimed during Mass, the usual case during
the vigil in a parish or cathedral where at least the baptismal font is
Remember: The faithful who assist at the vigil are fully prepared for,
and even expect, a long celebration. Even so, if truly necessary for
sound pastoral reasons, the rubrics do foresee the possibility of
reducing the number of readings and using shorter versions of some
The Prayer of the Faithful probably lasts about four to six minutes,
hardly an insupportable burden to bear in order to properly welcome the
risen Lord. ZE06050220