Is the Easter Vigil Too Long?
Yesterday a Jesuit friend told me that the Easter Vigil at his parish was three hours and forty minutes. Upon hearing this, another friend remarked "That pretty much leaves out anyone with children, doesn’t it?" For me and for most Catholics, the Easter Vigil is the absolute summit of the liturgical year: not simply the celebration of Easter per se, that is, the celebration of the Risen Christ; but the liturgy itself, which includes the lighting of the Paschal candle, the singing of the ancient hymm called the Exsultet, the multiple readings that trace salvation history from the Old Testament to the New, the welcoming of the newly baptized, and so on. Pastors, pastoral teams, music ministers, RCIA staff, ministers of hospitality, eucharistic ministers, and even florists usually spend weeks planning for the big day. But lately I’ve been wondering if the sometimes extreme length of some of these liturgies might actually be keeping Catholics away. Typically, most Vigils that I’ve attended (or concelebrated) have run around three hours. But the Easter Vigil can easily be, and frequently is, made even longer with choirs that sing every single verse in the responsorial psalm, for example, as well as preachers who decide that this is in fact the time for a homily that is not abbreviated but longer than usual. Another friend told me that in his church, after the baptismal promises were pronounced, the choir asked the congregation to repeat a verse of song (after each promise), lengthening that relatively concise part of the Mass. Purely on a physical level, many people--young and old--find sitting on a hard pew for almost four hours a mortification. Sure, you could argue that part of being Christian is suffering, but is the Easter Vigil the time to ask for physical penance? After all, it’s the end of Lent, not the beginning. Does singing "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" in the midst of physical discomfort add to, or detract from, a sense of Easter joy? Does a Mass that can turn into an endurance test make us joyful or just grateful when it’s finally over? Or is the extravagant length of the Vigil a perfect reflection of the extravagant joy of Easter? Last year I asked one of my relatives if she was going to the Vigil Mass. "Are you kidding?" she said. No matter how much I encouraged her to go, and no matter how much I touted the dramatic lighting of the Paschal Candle, the beautiful readings, the amazing spectacle of seeing adult baptisms, she was turned off by what she called (and I remember this word vividly) its "ridiculous" length. Is it time to start thinking about shortening the Easter Vigil? James Martin, SJ
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