Skip to main content

Holy Week: Bishop Deeley Celebrates the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday Night

“Let us ask the Lord Jesus to help us to live for each other and strive, in the choices we make,
to truly serve the common good. In the love he brings us, Jesus, the Risen Christ,
will lead us from darkness in to light.”---Bishop Deeley

PORTLAND---Beginning in darkness but ending in the brilliant light of Christ, Bishop Robert Deeley celebrated the Great Vigil of Easter at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland on Saturday night (many additional pictures below). The vigil is considered the greatest and noblest of all the Church’s solemnities, as Christians around the world join together in celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord.

“Jesus is Risen! He is light for the world!, exclaimed Bishop Deeley. “We are the bearers of that light by being a part of the community of the Church.”

As the vigil at the cathedral began, the only light came from the glow of a specially prepared Easter fire burning in the rear narthex, where the bishop opened the Mass. Bishop Deeley blessed the fire and then prepared a Paschal (Easter) candle on which is depicted a cross, the nails of a cross, and the letters Alpha and Omega, signifying Christ is the beginning and the end.

The bishop touched the nails of the cross saying, “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord guard and protect us.” 

He then lit the Paschal candle from the Easter fire.

“May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds,” said the bishop.

Typically, the light is then shared throughout the cathedral using candles held by the parishioners, a feature that was omitted this year as a safety measure due to the pandemic, but ever present was what the light represents: God’s saving activity throughout human history, culminating in Christ’s defeat of death and his Resurrection from the dead.

“Out of his great love for us, God created light,” said Bishop Deeley. “The Paschal candle that we blessed at the beginning of the vigil is the symbol of the Risen Christ. That candle is truly light in our darkness. This evening, as it was carried into the Church, it was the only light, and its light pierced the darkness. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Christ is our light. Thanks be to God!”

From the sanctuary, Deacon Luis Sanclemente sang the Exultet, the Proclamation of Easter, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God reminds the faithful that God sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, “leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.” The poetic text, which may date back as far as the fourth century, is divided into three parts, including a call for exaltation and rejoicing, creation and salvation history, and concluding with a prayer to God: “That this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night.”

After the Exultet, a magnificent moment of the Easter Vigil came with the singing of the Gloria as the lights of the Cathedral were turned on, bells were rung, and “Alleluia” was proclaimed for the first time since the start of Lent. Scripture readings were shared that recounted salvation history, and the bishop spoke about the vigil’s Gospel reading (Mark 16:1-7) in which the women discover the empty tomb following Christ’s Resurrection.

“Though the sun was rising, they had not yet seen it. The women were still living in darkness. The one they had followed and come to love was dead. Where would they find comfort or hope now? When they enter the tomb they find the young man, probably an angel, who tells them, ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here,’” said the bishop during his homily. “Mark tells us they were somewhat overcome by what was happening.  The reaction of the women is good for us to hear. We, too, must know that this news the angel shares with them is truly extraordinary. Death gives way to life. What God has promised in sending his Son Jesus as Savior has come true. That is the message and the promise of Easter. It is light for us. It is hope.”

A powerful statement of faith that was difficult even for the disciples to come to believe.  

“The Resurrection of the Lord shattered all their concepts of life. Death was the greatest human fear, the curse one might wish on the worst of enemies. Death was conquered; ‘Christ is Risen’ says it all. The disciples could no longer live the same way. Something altogether new had happened. Neither can we. We can no longer live the same way now that death has been defeated in Christ,” the bishop told the assembly.  

The Easter Vigil is a time at which Catholics celebrate new life coming into the Church as individuals who were baptized in other faiths receive the sacraments of first Eucharist and confirmation while others are baptized as well as receiving the other initiation sacraments. On Saturday night at the cathedral, Adam Chamberland of Portland was baptized, received first Eucharist, and was confirmed as part of the celebration.

“We are grateful to Adam and all across our diocese who will be baptized this evening,” said Bishop Deeley. “Their request to become members of the Church is sealed in the Easter sacraments of initiation. Just as will be the case with Adam this evening, we, too, were baptized in the light of the Paschal candle. And, for most of us, our parents and godparents were given a smaller version of that candle, a symbol of our sharing in the life won for us by Christ which made each of us a child of God and a member of the community of the Church.”

During the vigil, the faithful participating via livestream from home as well as those in the cathedral renewed their baptismal promises as Bishop Deeley sprinkled those present with newly blessed water.

After over a year of unprecedented challenges in a time of pandemic, the bishop told those gathered that as we arrive at Easter, how we treat other and live our lives going forward can be inspired and driven by this feast of light.

“Let us ask the Lord Jesus to help us to live for each other and strive, in the choices we make, to truly serve the common good,” said Bishop Deeley. “In the love he brings us, Jesus, the Risen Christ, will lead us from darkness in to light. A blessed Easter!”

The Mass concluded with the congregation joining in singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” as the cathedral bells joyfully tolled.

The bishop will celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday at 10 a.m.

All are welcome at the celebration which will be held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and also livestreamed. For Easter Sunday Mass times at Maine parishes, click here.