The Paschal Candle shines in all its glory in the darkened Church during the Easter Vigil Liturgy. The flame in the darkened building signifies Jesus Christ, the Light of the World who shines forth in a world covered by the darkness of sin.
The mystery of Salvation that we celebrate this night is made evident not only in the dramatic Lucernarium, but also reflected in the Lectionary readings, most vividly in the ones that come from the Old Testament. An Old Testament reading that must never be omitted during this Vigil is that of Exodus, recounting the crossing of the Red Sea. It is interesting that we bring up Exodus at this night because at the start of the Paschal Triduum, with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we read Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, which recounts the events of Passover, including the directives for the preparation of the lamb and the Seder Meal. Tonight’s Exodus reading serves as the bookend for the Passover and the Catholic Triduum, in which God shows his mighty power to save the Israelites and overturns the Egyptians.
Yet, have the events of this Passover from the Old Testament been brought to fulfillment? Technically no. While God helped the Israelites through the many hardships to lead them to liberation, these only foreshadowed a larger project of liberation, which was only fulfilled through the Passion of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. It was through the death of Jesus on the Cross, that we were saved from the bondage of something worse than that of the power of the Egyptians – sin.
“Happy Fault” – that is the term that we heard in the Exsultet proclaimed tonight, referencing the act of Original Sin. Due to man’s disobedience to God, the gates of heaven were closed. Death was the ultimate consequence to this action. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, through the death of the Lamb of God, we are able to receive the liberation of sin because it was by that death, the gates of heaven were reopened for man, the debt was paid. If Jesus’ death did not occur, then we would all have to pay the price of that sin through eternal damnation.
The readings of the Easter Vigil, both from the New Testament and the Epistle that we read today all traces back its origin to the Merciful God. The events of Passover that we celebrate within a Catholic context reveals to us the merciful face of the Father. We recognize that we are sinners, and we do not deserve to be given anything. Yet, God created each and every one of us in love and mercy. In his love and mercy, he has accompanied his people from generation to generation, and even today, in the midst of darkness of this world, God continues to guide us on the way of the truth.
God is readily giving to us. Yet, the question is, do we readily accept what God gives, or rather, gifts us? We all have free will – we can ultimately reject God’s saving grace, and take God out of the picture of our lives as a whole. Unfortunately, that is the case in the world today. The Light is readily there, burning brightly to guide every one of us. We have the choice to either reach out and light our candle with it, or choose to stay in darkness. We make mistakes but do we recognize that we make those mistakes and strive to amend our lives?
That is what we are reminded when we undergo the Baptismal Rites after the Liturgy of the Word during the Easter Vigil. As we stand and Renounce Evil, we say in the presence of God and among the Christian Community that even in human failings, we reject what is evil and so to live worthily as Children of God. The Baptismal Rites ultimately culminates with everyone, including the newly Baptized, to Profess the Faith, using the Baptismal Promises formula. The Baptismal Rites remind us of our journey and commitment of faith that we undertook on the day of our Baptism.
We undergo these beautiful rituals every year to remind us not only of the events of Passover, celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus, but rather, with these central underpinnings of the Catholic faith in mind, we may once again be renewed in what we undertook at our Baptism and continue to undertake as followers of Jesus, looking towards the Heavenly Jerusalem.