In the words of the Exsultet, This is the night! The Easter Vigil, often described as the high point of the liturgical year. For the people who have been preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation on this night, the description is a good one; but in the whole of our Christian life we might do better to describe the Vigil – or, better, the whole of the Paschal Triduum – as the centre of the liturgical year, the centre of our lives as Christians. Each year we prepare for it during Lent by prayer, and by thinking about how we live our lives, making a conscious effort to follow Jesus Christ more closely. We enter Holy Week ready to hear again the Scriptures which bring the mysteries of God’s plan before us, and walk through the events of the Last Supper, Good Friday, the awfulness of death, the hope of the Vigil, the joy of the Resurrection. By Sunday morning we are very properly ready for a bit of a rest.
But what’s this? Fifty days for our delight! It often seems that parishes are great at the seasons of preparation – in Advent and Lent you can’t get stirred for shared lunches, Scripture study, Stations of the Cross and days of recollection, but Christmas and Easter arrive in a blare of trumpets, then fall away to white vestments and extra flowers. The effort we put into preparing for them is all too often not balanced by the actual celebration throughout the season.
One of the ways in which the Church shows that it is still celebrating is by continuing to highlight the sacraments of initiation and those who will receive them. Many parishes invite the Bishop to confirm their young people and schedule their children’s First Holy Communion during the fifty days, recognising that every sacrament has its roots in Baptism, knowing that the most appropriate time for a Christian community to make new members is during the Easter season. The liturgy itself makes all the connections: light, water, oil, the story of the young Church in the Scriptures, the eucharist we share. In mystagogia new Christians explore the Church and the world with new eyes, from the point of view of those who have just been baptised. But it is an exploration we all need – and this is the season!