The Easter Vigil is a feast for our senses with the candles for our sight, the incense for our smell, the bells for our hearing, and the holy water for our touch. While the liturgy is also much longer than a regular Mass, it’s not just the addition of the extra items that causes the length, but the in-depth review of our salvation history.
Jesus Christ was no ordinary man; He was both fully human and fully divine. His human form existed at a particular time in our linear world history. His teaching during this time, and especially his Passion, Death, and Resurrection that is celebrated in the Easter Vigil, illuminates the relationship God wants with each and every one of us. The sacred fire and the candles are the physical items we use to illustrate Jesus as the light to the world.
We listen to multiple readings from the Old Testament, starting with the story of creation. This is the very essence of matter mattering, as God creates the whole physical world in all its detail. God pronounces each of His creations good and initiates a relationship with all. The second reading is about the sacrifice of Abraham and how he trusted in God to provide, to the point he was willing to sacrifice his son to Him, until God spared Isaac and provided a suitable animal in his place. This is a foreshadowing of what God would do for us, only He does not spare His Son, but rather allows Him to die a physical death in order to conquer it. In hearing the reading from Exodus, we hear how the Israelites passed over dry land while the waters of the sea became like walls to them, but to the Egyptians, who pursued them with the intent of returning them to slavery, God allowed the water to flow back and nature to be His army, clogging the wheels of the chariots so that man and beast drowned. We are reminded that God will triumph and He is always present in our needs. Additional readings from the prophets may also be proclaimed, as they tell the story of Israel, to whom the Savior was promised, even though they were not always faithful to the covenant they shared with God.
It is only after the Old Testament readings are completed, that the Gloria is finally proclaimed, not just with words, but sung out and complemented with additional instruments of praise, including the altar bells. It begins with the words the angels used to announce the birth of Jesus and renders worship to Him as our intercessor sitting at God the Father’s side. The incense too, both at the proclamation of the Gospel and in the preparation of the Eucharist gifts, is a visible sign of our prayers rising up to Jesus and acknowledging Him as our Lord. In the renewal of our baptismal promises, we once again are blessed with holy water. As the water touches our head, face and hands, we are reminded of the parting of the sea for the Israelites as well as the beliefs we proclaim of our Catholic faith.
It may sound unbelievable that God became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that we may share in His divine life by having a relationship with Him. Yet that is precisely what Easter is all about: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through the scriptures and the additional “smells and bells,” the physical world joins us in our worship of Jesus as our Savior. Together all matter that God created rejoices in harmony in the victory Jesus won for us.