The Easter Vigil service is the first Easter service, and takes place on
the night of Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the Saturday after Good Friday
which is often, but wrongly, called Easter Saturday. The idea behind the
service is for faithful Christians to wait and watch, hopeful and confident
that Christ will return at midnight.
The Easter, or Paschal, candle is lit during this service. The service traditionally begins outside the church, where minister and some worshippers gather around a fire - a charcoal brazier is common.
The service begins with words like these:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer.
For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which through word and sacrament we share in his victory over death.
After readings and prayers, the Paschal Candle is lit from the fire using a taper, while a prayer like the one below is said...
May the light of Christ, rising in glory,
banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.
The lit candle is now a symbol of Christ, risen as the light of the world, and come into the midst of the people.
After being lit outside, the candle is carried into the church, where most of the worshippers are waiting in darkness, which symbolises the darkness of Christ's tomb.
After more prayers and readings the candles held by the congregation are lit from the Paschal Candle.
The symbolism of the candle is made very clear by words such as...
Grant that this Easter candle make our darkness light; for Christ the morning star has risen, never again to set, and is alive and reigns for ever and ever.
The readings at the service tell of the creation of humanity, how humanity fell from grace, and was repeatedly rescued by God. The readings remind people of God's promise to be with them always.
The Paschal Candle
The Paschal Candle is made of pure white wax and is marked with a cross,
an Alpha, and an Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.
The 4 numbers of the year are marked between the arms. This symbolises that
Christ has, and always will be with humanity, and is with humanity now.
Paschal candles are usually large, and can cost over £100. For much of the year many churches stand the paschal candle near the font used for baptisms. Here it provides a reminder that baptism is a symbolic death and rebirth with Christ; just like Christ's death and Resurrection.