13 April 2009

Contemplating a Real Easter Vigil

On the impetous of my ambitious assistant and zealous young Emmausites, I'm contemplating the possibility of arranging the Easter Vigil next year as a real vigil; that is to say, watching and waiting through the night, in prayer and meditation on the Word of God, in anticipation of the proclamation of the Resurrection "very early in the morning on the first day of the week."

I'm seriously thinking about how it might work, in any case.

We'd pray an abbreviated Matins on the morning of Holy Saturday, as we have for the past number of years now; then make some preliminary preparations for the vigil before proceeding to a day of rest, whether in sleep or simply quiet and subdued activities on the day of our Lord's holy Sabbath.

The ministers of the vigil would then gather at the church at sundown or thereabouts, to make final preparations for the vigil itself. Instead of beginning at 7:00 p.m. and concluding at 9:00 p.m., as we have done in the past, I would anticipate the vigil beginning outside at 9:00 p.m. around a kindled fire. Those gathered for the vigil would proceed from there into the church in the Service of Light.

I'm envisioning the first Old Testament Reading at approximately 9:30 p.m. We would use all twelve of the appointed Readings in the course of the night, each followed by several minutes of contemplation, then the collect, then appropriate canticles and Psalmody. In the case of such Readings as the flood, we could possibly lengthen the selections from that account; or else pause in between the sections of it.

In any case, each subsequent Reading would occur at approximately the next half-hour interval: the second Reading at ~10:00 p.m., the third at ~10:30 p.m., the fourth at~11:00 p.m., and so on, until the twelfth Reading at ~3:00 a.m.

The remembrance and affirmation of Holy Baptism, and any actual Baptisms, would occur around 3:30 a.m. It seems to me that appropriate hymnody could be sung at the conclusion of that remembrance, rather than simply moving directly to the Litany of the Resurrection. I picture that Litany occuring at 4:00 a.m.

Then we would actually take the time, at that point, to prepare the church and sanctuary for the festive celebration of Easter. The black adornments of Good Friday would be removed, and the white adornments of Easter would be put in place. Flowers would be brought in from wherever they have been set aside for the purpose. Any banners and other artistic displays of Easter would be gotten out and positioned. The Altar itself would be prepared for the Divine Service, and the eucharistic vestments donned by the ministers of the Service. In short, whatever sort of transitional preparations would normally occur by happenstance during Holy Saturday, would be done at this point, between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00/6:00 a.m.

The Divine Service of the Word and Sacrament would then commence at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m., taking the place of the Easter Sunrise Service. It would be a more expansive celebration than the rites and rubrics of the Easter Vigil in the Altar Book call for, as there would be no need to restrain our exuberance at all any longer.

Those unable to keep the entire vigil would be under no obligation to do so. Of course there is no obligation to begin with; but what I mean is that those who so desire could participate in the beginning of the vigil, some parts of the Service of Readings, or simply arrive in time for the Divine Service at sunrise. This belongs to the point and purpose of demarking the vigil at roughly half hour intervals. The ministers of the Service could likewise order and arrange themselves to allow opportunity for bodily rest in the course of the vigil, like the watches of the night.

Maybe this is too ambitious or otherwise unrealistic, but it is appealing to me; and as I have had people asking me about the possibility for the past three years now, I am wondering if we need to seize the day and do it while we still have Pastor Grobien at Emmaus to assist me with the undertaking.

What say you? Would this have a detrimental impact on the Chief Divine Service of Easter Sunday?


WM Cwirla said...

While I find no fault in the idea per se, I wonder whether it would be received in our Lutheran churches. Most have but a single pastor, who is already quite busy during Holy Week. Also, the concept of "vigils" is not really well established in Lutheran congregations, if it is at all.

Cheryl said...

I like this idea. We have had several 24-hour prayer vigils at Bethany over the years, although not for Easter Vigil. They have been structured so there is always a leader and a musician present, but not the same ones for the full 24 hours. If I remember correctly, we had sign-up sheets so we could try to make sure there was always someone praying for the full 24 hours. I think Phillip (my husband the cantor) was the one staff member who was present for the entire 24 hours, although he did manage to sneak away for several naps.

Susan said...

I was so tired yesterday. Good tired, but tired. The organist told me that she normally shuts down for the night at 9:00, but she made it through the services. Vigil wasn't done until 10:15, she had an hour drive home, and hour drive back, and the choir and musicians were to be at church by 7:00 on Sunday.

Rick, I want to be in church more than I want anything else. I have loved the last several days where we've averaged four hours a day of church services and an hour per day of choir rehearsal. But I couldn't be awake all night. And what you're proposing means I (and everyone else who couldn't stay up all night) would have to miss a hefty chunk of the most vital words of the year. It would be very hard for me if my pastor proposed spreading out Vigil all night and I'd have to forego some of it. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

I'm wondering too about baptisms at 3:00 or 4:00. If somebody has a baby, and they'd have to get siblings wakened and dressed to church for a baptism... I can tell you that I'd say "no way" and have the baptism the next Sunday, no matter how much I might want a baby baptized at Easter Vigil. But I recognize that it's not terribly likely that this would occur.

Pastor wanted a vigil here in the way that he remembered it from his youth. He just started this practice here 2 or 3 years ago. The prayer vigil goes from Thursday evening until 10 pm on Friday. During that time, we have Mass on Thursday evening, Tenebrae on Friday morning, Mass again on Friday afternoon and Friday evening. But the whole time, the nave is open, with candles lit, prayer books and Bibles and hymnals available, for people to keep watch. People can sign up for one-hour shifts as "hosts" so that the church does not remain open and empty. The thing I like about this is that it's available, but those who are physically too weak to participate in the whole vigil (or even a part of it) are not missing preaching.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea, though I too wonder about its practicality; but perhaps at Emmaus it would work.

I would suggest a later start time, the traditional order of lighting candles from the Paschal Candle during the chants of "Lumen Christi," the use of all twelve readings with the appropriate canticles, and the Litany. I would think that in this way, the Divine Service would not begin until at least midnight. This, I think, would eliminate some of Susan's concerns.

For what it's worth, but I do like your suggestion.

Rev. Ronald Stephens

sarahlaughed said...

I absolutely LOVE the idea! I definitely see how it could work. Makes me incredibly excited about next Easter already and this Eastertide isn't even over!Here's my RSVP.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

If I could counsel some caution (or perhaps baby-steps) maybe move to an extended vigil that starts at 11 and goes until around 2. . . expand the service by an hour and have it be. . .

Oh, who am I kidding - that's awesome!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Susan, I understand your concerns, and these are exactly the sort of considerations I would want to think through very carefully before attempting something like this.

Your comment regarding the actual Baptism of an infant, for example, makes me wonder if the transition of the church and sanctuary from the adornments of Good Friday to those of Easter ought to occur between the Readings and the Service of Baptism at the vigil. There would still be a further transitioning between the Litany of the Resurrection and the Divine Service of the Word and Sacrament, but any actual Baptisms would occur at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., rather than 3:30 a.m. Perhaps you would still say, "No way!" But I'm just thinking out loud at the moment.

I love the idea of keeping the church open from Maundy Thursday through the vigil, with some of the faithful on hand to watch and pray at intervals throughout that time. Something like that would, I think, fit very nicely with the approach to the vigil that I have proposed. Those who are able to keep vigil would do so, not only for themselves, but for the whole Church, and really for the whole world. What Cheryl has described also fits well with my thinking.

Certainly, my goal is not to prevent anyone from participating in the Easter Vigil or anything else. My desire is to serve the people of God and to assist them in keeping the Feast of Christ, our Passover, who has been sacrificed for us.

Every congregation is different, and all such things require pastoral discretion and discernment. What may work well at Emmaus, might not work at all in other places; and vice versa.

At Emmaus, many of those who attend the vigil - perhaps even most of them - are also at the Easter Sunrise Service (and again at the Chief Divine Service later in the morning). It seems to me that Holy Saturday could be ordered and arranged among the faithful in such a way that they could keep vigil and welcome the Feast without undue strain on their bodies, minds and spirits. But perhaps not. And perhaps it would not be edifying or helpful.

The possibility intrigues me, and there is much about that strikes me as meet, right and salutary. And as mentioned, I've been receiving requests for such a thing for the past three years now.

I appreciate everyone's input.

WM Cwirla said...

My altar guild would resign en masse.

Susan said...

You wrote that no one would be under obligation to attend the entire vigil. As I was washing lunch dishes, I was recalling a couple of conversations Peter and I have had about "being compelled." At one point, I mentioned being compelled to go to confession, and that hit his ears wrong wrong wrong. (After all, the Lg Catechism says we compel no one to go to confession.) But there is the truth that we are compelled by faith to do certain things. We are compelled by love and faith and desire for Jesus -- compelled to be at church on Sunday, compelled to come to the Supper, compelled to be there every chance we get during the Triduum. I think if I were there and you had an all-night Vigil, I would have to go. I don't think I could not go, but I'd be paying for it on Sunday afternoon and Monday. But then again, like you said, different things work in different congregations, and maybe you don't have anybody at your church who would be so foolish as I.

Cindy R. said...

So it's mostly the young people, who think staying up all night is fun, who want to do this? It could be a wonderful thing for those who are ready and willing, but it would be a real challenge for a lot of other people - say, people with small children, or anyone who needs sleep to function. It's a bummer when there's something going on at church that you want to be a part of but simply can't do, logistically. It seems that the main danger here would be the loss of opportunity for those in your regular vigil crowd who aren't able to pull an all-nighter.

Perhaps a solution would be to do both - the shorter vigil that you currently do in the late evening, followed by the same vigil repeated at a slower pace to stretch throughout the night. It's more demanding for the pastors, but if you're up for it... It would keep the substance of the vigil more readily available, while also offering the special experience of spending the whole night watching and waiting to those who are interested.

Aside from the sleep issue, how much speaking and singing can a voice handle within an eighteen-hour window before the pastor goes hoarse?

WM Cwirla said...

"Aside from the sleep issue, how much speaking and singing can a voice handle within an eighteen-hour window before the pastor goes hoarse?"

Excellent point. I routinely start to lose my voice over the three holy days. After the Tre Ore of Good Friday, it takes a bit of work to get things in order to be able to chant the Exultet and Great Thanksgiving of the Vigil. Lack of sleep further deteriorates the voice. I would consider such a thing only with multiple clergy and assistants.

Sandra Ostapowich said...

I'm a little taken aback by the title and direction of this post. Are you intending to say that the service many of us attend that does not go all night long a "fake" Easter Vigil?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

There was no intention to the post other than to contemplate the possibility of keeping a real vigil; which, historically, meant watching and waiting through the night for the dawning of the next day. Of course I intended no disparagement of the "Easter Vigil" rites and ceremonies, such as many of us (myself included) have observed in recent years. I'm not sure why anything I've said would be taken that way, but I apologize for giving the impression.

As to the "direction" of the comments, I haven't noticed any particular direction, since the thoughts that have been offered appear to be all over the map.

Christ has died, and Christ is risen indeed. Everything else, and whatever we may do or not do, basks in His light and abides in the shelter of His wings.

A blessed Eastertide to all, whether you keep any sort of vigil or not.

Cheryl said...

For what it's worth, Pastor, I am puzzled that anyone would take offense at anything in your post, and I don't see anything for which you need to apologize. The word "real" has various meanings, and I think it was clear that you were using it here in the sense of "literal" (with reference to the word vigil). I saw nothing in your post suggesting that those who do not hold a literal vigil are therefore having "fake" ones. Thank you for the post, Pastor, and for sharing your musings. I enjoyed and learned from everyone's responses and it will be interesting to hear what you decide.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Call it an "Easter lock in" instead. Might work!

Jane said...

I love the idea, although there certainly are practical considerations as others have mentioned both here and on FB. Like Susan, I would be sorely tempted to be there the whole time, knowing that I would suffer mightily afterward.

As with many other "extras," this is the kind of thing that would be very wonderful and beneficial at Emmaus, but not necessarily everywhere else.

You're a good pastor and you know your congregation. If you decide to try it, I'll look forward to hearing about it.

WM Cwirla said...

Call it an "Easter lock in" instead. Might work!Brilliant!!

solarblogger said...

The congregation I belong to has recently started holding a vigil again after many years of disuse. We are not doing the all night vigil — Yet? — but I have a few suggestions.

1.) You can have the sanctuary decorated for Easter beforehand. If you keep the lights off or very low, the sanctuary will feel more like good Friday until the lights are turned on. People find the transition to be dramatic.

2.) If you are interested in longer readings, Genesis takes about 3 1/2 hours to read. I have been in a congregation where we held a Marathon reading. Each person would read a chapter. There was some arrangement in advance for particularly challenging sections.

Reading an entire book through in one session allows a hearer to make connections that won't likely be made, even in a reading program of several chapters a day. In our Marathon reading, I noticed that God says, "What have you done?" early in Genesis, and people are saying the same (or "Why have you done this to me?") to each other through the rest of the book.