Vigil Postgame II — The Episcopalian Perspective

With thanks to Fritz’ immediately preceding post, which opens all sorts of excellent opportunity to share ideas, here are a few of my own:

1. Translations in The Episcopal Church have not changed, nor have the rules about conformity to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Nonetheless, there are several things that, for me at least, are missing in the BCP Exsultet: no felix culpa, no bees, no “night clear as day.” We add the bees back in in our community, but not the other elements. I know of communities that use other translations (several using either the “American” or “Anglican” Missals; some using the 1970 Sacramentary): I’ll be curious to know if anyone used the new Roman Missal translation.

2. I’m still baffled about the ordering of the collects. It strikes me that the last of the collects is not tied to its lesson, but is meant to be the last regardless of the number of readings or which ones are selected. This is the same collect used in the BCP ordination rites, and is also used to conclude the Solemn Collects (Great Intercessions) of Good Friday in the BCP, hence my supposition that it is (or, at some point in history, was) meant to be the wrap-up to all the lessons. It’s also the last of the collects after the Old Testament readings in the Roman Missal. Again, I’d be curious as to people’s ideas about the matter. Due to a printing flub with a last minute change of readings, it ended up in our ordo this year as second-to-last, kind of a downer for me.

3. Start and end times are a pastoral issue as much as a rubrical issue, but I’m of the “not before nightfall and not after dawn” school. I lose on the front end: we start at 7 p.m. — and for the first year in the last five, we began outdoors with a substantial fire (in spite of high winds). While the dark would have enhanced the moment, it was less frustrating than I thought; the church interior was mostly dark when we entered, and subdued but not dark lighting during the liturgy of the word was effective.

What I vehemently protest is the option in the BCP that all or part of the Vigil may be used as a “sunrise service” preceding a morning eucharist. This makes no sense to me, however convenient it might be. Still, I suppose I should be glad that some communities make use of this option, rather than omitting the vigil altogether — an all too common reality in The Episcopal Church, alas!

4. The Book of Common Prayer allows for the initiation rites to take place either after the Old Testament readings or after the homily. The difficulty I experience with this is the lack of clear, smooth transitions when the former option is taken. The order of the BCP initiation rites is, in my opinion, problematic — Thomas Cranmer’s “consecrate-use” theology dominates, so the Profession of Faith is far removed from the administration of the water, with prayers for the candidates and the blessing of the font intervening. A solid homily (which is, admittedly, an option after any of the readings in the BCP) can help smooth the way into the initiation rites, though this is seldom done. I do like the notion that the Romans 6 reading is thereby addressed to the newly baptized, but are the initiation rites part of the “Vigil” or part of the first liturgy (“First Eucharist,” in the BCP) of Easter? (This is a distinction that the BCP maintains, much to my chagrin!)

5. Finally, the BCP places the Paschal Greeting “Alleluia. Christ is risen. // The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” immediately before the Gloria, as the opening acclamation of the first liturgy of Easter. I find this problematic because the Alleluia has not been restored musically at this point. In our community, we drop “The Gospel of the Lord” and its response after the Gospel reading at the Vigil, and replace it with the Paschal Greeting, so that the Sung Alleluia can do the heavy lifting in restoring the word from which we’ve “fasted” for forty days. It makes a certain amount of sense in light of the Gospel message, though we’ve also said as much during the Exsultet. Any thoughts on this issue?

Of note, we had two infants, two adults, and three children of various ages baptized last night; their families and friends took our usual Vigil congregation of 80-85 to about 250. It made a huge difference, though I wish catechumenal rites had been part of the baptismal preparation for all throughout Lent (and the preceding months).






12 responses to “Vigil Postgame II — The Episcopalian Perspective”

  1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    What I vehemently protest is the option in the BCP that all or part of the Vigil may be used as a “sunrise service” preceding a morning eucharist. This makes no sense to me, however convenient it might be

    In the mid-70s I attended the Easter Vigil Service as St. Meinrad’s Abbey in southern Indiana done as a “sunrise service.”

    When I got up at 5am, the Church it was ablaze externally (with artificial light I think and) bonfires. The Church was on fire but unconsumed to use the language of the burning bush.

    The Orthodox have the beginning of the best solution. Their Holy Saturday Service, now celebrated in the morning but originally in the evening, is composed of Vespers, Readings, and Divine Liturgy.

    Their Paschal Service begins at Midnight with the Gospel of the Resurrection followed by Paschal Matins and Divine Liturgy. If I were going doing it at Midnight I would surround the Church with blazing fire like Meinrad

    In other words on Easter, the feast of feasts, there would be a Eucharist preceded by Vespers combined with Liturgy of the Word, and a sunrise service of Matins with Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist. Obviously I am promoting the Divine Office.

    The Anglicans have the great choral and liturgical tradition to do this better than the Romans and the Byzantines. The world wide popularity of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols demonstrates the ability to innovate.

    I would modify the Saturday Vesperal Reading Service to include the Canticles of Mary and Simeon and the great musical heritage available. These are appropriate not only to Vespers but to the Sacraments of Initiation.

    I would include the Canticle of the Three Children, (appropriate to a Church surrounded by fire), the Canticle of Zachary, and the Te Deum as part of the Sunrise Matins Service before Eucharist.

    So the Anglicans have not only all the elements but all the music already done they just have to assemble it after looking East for a model.

    Note: The Paschal Service at Midnight picks up the theme of the 2nd Coming at Midnight, and fits into the Bridegroom Matins themes of Holy Week in the Byzantine tradition.

    1. Cody C. Unterseher Avatar

      Some very interesting ideas here, Jack — many thanks! I’ve often wondered what the Vigil would look like with elements of the Divine Office added into it — and I’m particularly fond of the idea of (re-)adding the Daniel narrative and Canticle of the Three Children, for all the creation/resurrection imagery associated with it. Much to chew on here!

    2. Chuck Middendorf Avatar
      Chuck Middendorf

      Maybe St. Meinrad’s Archbabby did something different in the 70s, but my guess is your memory is a little fuzzy. (Apologies if I’m wrong.)
      Their pattern, like many US Monanstic communities is an all-night overnight vigil. I was at their Easter Vigil just about 10 years ago. They begin their vigil outside on Saturday night after sunset. Then they read readings #1, #2, and #3. Then the monks keep vigil all night, reading pslams 1-149. Then at 5 am, Mass continues with reading #4. So I guess it may appear as a sunrise service, but it actually was an all-night vigil.
      (BTW: Psalm 150 is proclaimed after communion.)

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        Chuck, it is quite possible that they did the lighting of the Candle in the evening and prayed the Psalter during the night (since I was in the guest house they probably would not have invited me to stay up all night!). The logical place for the Psalter is after the Lucernarum and before the readings.

        However I am sure they did all the readings in the morning beginning around 5am. They did the Exodus reading to a background of kettle drum marching. It was very dramatic.

        Perhaps they decided the best way for guests was to break up the readings with the Psalter and let them sleep during the night.

    3. Dunstan Harding Avatar
      Dunstan Harding

      Here’s an excellent description of Holy Saturday from the Byzantine perspective and experience. There’s food for thought on ways to use our own Holy Saturday Vespers , especially good for the 1962 office, as a bridge to the evening lighting of the Easter fire.

      In our parish we have an icon (an epitaphion would be perfect) set up for Vespers. Spanish and Latin American churches often use a figure of Jesus in a glass casket with flowers and candles, incense, etc. on Good Friday afternoon or evening.

  2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    Cody, could you spell out your “Sunrise service” objections a bit more. Would it apply if, say, the service began at 4:30 or so, well before sunrise began?

    1. Cody C. Unterseher Avatar

      Fritz, I could live with that, though it might make for a very long morning, depending on the size of parish and number of liturgies!

      What I see all too often is a conflation of the various shades of paschal meaning into a sort of all-purpose Easter Morning blow-out, with more stops pulled for the usually larger morning crowd — the folks that we just can’t seem to let down with a “if you wanted the big celebration, you should have come last night.” The Vigil is liturgically and thematically distinct from the morning celebrations in the way that Christmas Midnight is distinct from Christmas Day.

      When people look at the order of service and number of lessons (nine in the BCP, plus Epistle and Gospel), and ask if we can shorten it up, I usually respond, “the idea is not to make it shorter: the idea is that we’re going to be here here all night, and need to fill the time.” If a community both saw the sun down and up with continuous vigil (and not the interrupted vigil with suspended middle, which the well-intentioned framers of the BCP also allowed) I’d be content.

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        “the idea is not to make it shorter: the idea is that we’re going to be here all night, and need to fill the time.”.

        The Eastern Sunday (Festive) liturgical ideal is Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy. Unfortunately the West seems to have lost that ideal, perhaps because our liturgical day does not begin and end at sunset.

        That liturgical ideal gave way to the All night Vigil (consisting of Vespers and Matins) followed by Divine Liturgy in the monastic tradition.

        In parishes in the Russian tradition the All night Vigil (Vespers and Matins) is often celebrated in shorten form on Saturday with Divine Liturgy on Sunday Morning. In the Greek tradition Vespers is still celebrated on Saturday Evening and Matins precedes Divine Liturgy on Sunday Mornings.

        On Christmas Vespers (with extra Readings) is followed by the Liturgy of Saint Basil. The Vigil Service starts with Great Compline, then Matins, followed by the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

        On Theoplany (Epiphany) Vespers (with extra Readings) is followed by the Liturgy of Saint Basil, followed by the Great Blessing of Waters. The Vigil Service starts with Great Compline, followed by Matins, followed by the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

        So Christmas, Theophany and Easter in the Byzantine tradition each have a Divine Liturgy associated with Vespers (Saint Basil) and one with Matins (Chrysostom). However Pentecost has only one Divine Liturgy, perhaps because it is not preceded by fasting.

        So on the Great Feasts, the basic pattern of Vespers, Matins, Liturgy, becomes Vespers plus Liturgy, and Matins plus Liturgy.

        Chanting psalms all night was basically a monastic tradition of the more pious. I think it’s a good pious practice that ought to be encouraged on some Sundays and Feasts, especially for the young people. But I think the people were there mainly for a long evening service and a long morning service.

    2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      All-night vigil reminds me of a recent link that I found by way of Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

      The myth of the eight-hour sleep

      It seems that our natural sleep cycle may consist of two four hour sleeps with one to two hours in between.

      In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.

      It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.

      There is also historical and linguistic evidence:

      In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

      His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature ….these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

      During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

      And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

      Sounds like two hours of Vesperal Worship in the twilight, and/or Midnight Worship half way through the night, and/or Pre-Dawn Worship took up the available time before, between and after these two sleeps. It used the unoccupied non-sleep, non-work time.

  3. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    Cody, if you mean the oration after the seventh reading in the BCP (Zephaniah 3), the oration which begins “O God of unchangeable power and eternal light…” I can tell you where it comes from.

    It originally followed the reading about Noah (placed second in the 12 OT readings) in MR 1570. It was ommitted in the RC recensions of the Vigil in 1951 and 1955, and returned, with small emendations in 1970.

    The regeneration of the world after the flood offers the type, and the regeneration of humankind (the fallen lifted up, the old made new) through the redemption is the present reality being praised. The terms of the prayer were so general, however, that the modern editors could place it elsewhere once the reading about Noah was suppressed. I do not think, however, that it can be viewed as a “wrapping up” prayer in any intrinsic way, as it originally was placed after the second Old Testament reading!

    (Yes, in answer to the question you may be asking — my book is coming along!)

    1. Cody C. Unterseher Avatar

      That was the prayer, RIta — thanks!

      Now, I wonder how it got attached to Good Friday intercessions, and to the ordination rites as the Collect of the day in the BCP. . . . time for some detective work!

  4. Mark MIller Avatar
    Mark MIller

    The TRANSITION from Baptisms, when they happen after the last OT lessons: (Book of Comon Prayer 1979 option one)
    -Final lesson.
    -Presentation of Candidates, etc
    -Profession of faith/ renewal of assembly
    -Thanskgivng over water; (yes BCP is wrong, shd be before)
    -Baptism, Chrismation;
    -“Welcome of the newly-baptized;”
    [The peace is done later]
    -Neopyte(s) go aside to don white; meanwhile
    -Sprinkling of the assembly as is sung:
    litany of saints ( first part only) or another quiet chant;
    -Neophyte(s) and Ministers come back during the last chainting;
    -Neophyte or Celebrant: Alleluia. Christ is risen”
    LIGHTS come on, more candles lit, Holy noise of bells, organ improve— then
    Then the rest as in the BCP- collect, epistle, Ps 114 or other, Gospel. Peace after the Prayer of the People, and so on.

    (The sequence: -acclamation/ bells, then Gloria- more than makes up for not having the Gospel alleulia as the moment of transition)

    This can work very well, incorporates the baptism right into the very Easter greeting/acclamation. There is one transition- OT to Baptism to Easter – in the middle of the serivce.

    Try it!
    Mark MIller
    Nashotah ’79

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