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Roman Missal calls Easter Vigil 'mother of all vigils' for a reason


  • Young people hold candles during the Easter Vigil in 2015 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn. The Roman Missal, which spells out specifics of how the vigil is to be celebrated, describes it as the "mother of all vigils." (CNS photo/Bob Mullen)
  • Father Todd Carpenter and Deacon Angel Rivera bless the congregation with holy water during the Easter Vigil in 2016 at St. Paul Church in Wilmington, Del. The Roman Missal, which spells out specifics of how the vigil is to be celebrated, describes it as the "mother of all vigils." (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Church pulls out all the stops for the Easter Vigil, the Mass celebrated on Holy Saturday.

The Roman Missal, which spells out specifics of how the vigil is to be celebrated, describes it as the "mother of all vigils" and says it is the "greatest and most noble of all solemnities and it is to be unique in every single church."

That quote, "mother of all vigils" comes from St. Augustine's Sermon 209, which is pretty old, since the saint died in the year 430.

In other words, the tradition of the Easter Vigil and support for it, goes way back in the church. But there was a falling out over this tradition for a long time and only in the 20th century did the church recover what "got lost in the Middle Ages," said Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.

The priest said the vigil's origins were in the early fourth century, but by the late Middle Ages, the celebration moved from a nighttime vigil to a Saturday morning Mass. Also around this time, the church also placed more emphasis on infant baptism than adult baptism. It became the norm until the liturgical and sacramental renewal of the Second Vatican Council led to a revival of the ancient catechumenate with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

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