I need help designing an Easter Vigil liturgy, what are some suggestions?
Answer: DESIGNING YOUR EASTER VIGIL
- The service begins after sun down.
- The fire should be a large as you manage. Think—BONFIRE. If you don’t have a place suitable for a bonfire, use the largest fire pit you can find.
- Everyone should be able to see the fire.
- While gathering, sing something that most everyone might know without having to look at music. This could be taught during Lent.
“Were you there”
“I will kindle my fire in the morn of the day, in the presence of holy angels…”
“Within our darkest night” Taize (WLP 835)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, in him I trust, in him I trust” J. Berthier Taize, GIA
“The Lord is my Light” Lillian Bouknight, LEVAS 58 (just refrain even)
“Come my Way, my Truth, my Life” 487
“Bless the Lord, my soul” WLP 825
“Arise, shine for your light has come…” (from Music by Heart)
“We walk his way” John Bell
You want something to remind the congregation of the past two days.
The Deacon (or the priest, if no deacon is available) leads the procession with the Paschal Candle. If you don’t have one you can find instructions for making one on-line. If you are using incense, the thurifer follows the candle. The congregation should have hand candles. A good opportunity to light is each time the Deacon stops to chant “The Light of Christ.” While the Exsultet is usually chanted by a deacon, a cantor(s) may be appointed. The Exsultet should be chanted in the dark. It can be chanted by more than one cantor (placed in different parts of the room) with the congregation repeating “This is the night” each time after the cantor.
The salvation stories that follow the Exsultet can be done with candles being the only light, or the congregation can extinguish their candles and the lights brought up just enough so that music can be seen and read.
Here is the rubric from the BCP: At least two of the following Lessons are read, of which one is always the Lesson from Exodus. After each Lesson, the Psalm or Canticle listed, or some other suitable psalm, canticle, or hymn may be sung. A period of silence may be kept; and the Collect provided, or some other suitable Collect, may be said.
Most parishes do four or five readings. The BCP gives great permission for the responses to the readings. There are collects to follow each response but others may be used. A wonderful Lenten program would be have a group in the parish to write these collects. If your choir sings psalms following the readings, the congregation can respond with a Taize chant (By night we hasten in darkness, GIA). It is vital that you get your best readers to participate. Find your theater folks, your story tellers.
- THE STORY OF CREATION
Read directly from the Bible; have an antiphon each time after “God saw that it was good” such as “He’s got the whole world”; use more than one reader
Use James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones” and use two or more readers
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely —
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
Psalm 36:5-10 or Psalm 33:1-11 or
217 (LEVAS) He’s got the whole world in his hands
385 Many and great, O God are thy works
389 Let us with a gladsome mind (Ps)
177 Over the chaos
192 (VF) Creator of all time and space
MHSO God of the sparrow, God of the whale
431 The stars declare his glory
885 (WLP) Let all Creation Bless the Lord
651 This is my Father’s World Hymnal
793 (WLP) Here, O Lord your servants gather
- THE FLOOD
Tell the story from a first person point of view – maybe Noah’s wife or sons. This could also have sounds—-rain sticks, hands rubbing together, flute for birds and other instruments for other animal sounds. And, maybe too gimmicky, but, …as some churches do at Pentecost with the dove…if there is a dove “kite” or banner—that could make its way around during the chapter 8:6-12
Psalm 46 or
608 Eternal Father, strong to save
687/8 A mighty fortress is our God
689 I sought the Lord
Calm to the waves (by Thomas Pavlechko)
678/8 Surely it is God who saves me
881 (WLP) I will trust in the Lord
805 (WLP) I want Jesus to walk with me
439 Wondrous Love
- ABRAHAM’S SACRIFICE OF ISAAC
If you have a couple of good soloists, use Benjamin Britten’s work – “Abraham and Isaac” to tell the story
Psalm 33: 12-22 or Psalm 16 or
401 The God of Abraham Praise
173 O sorrow deep!
- ISRAEL’S DELIVERANCE AT THE RED SEA
Tell the story in the first person – maybe from Miriam’s point of view
James Weldon Johnson’s poem “Let My People Go.” Read Peter Skrzynecki’s breathtaking poem “Crossing the Red Sea.”
Canticle 8 – The Song of Moses or
648 Go down, Moses
425 Sing now with joy unto the Lord
905 (WLP) Wisdom freed a holy people
Praise the Lord, Dance for Joy (from We Walk his Way ) John Bell
Wash me in the Water (from We Walk his Way: John Bell)
You must never give up “Sizo bambelela” South African (from We Walk his Way)
143 (LEVAS) Wade in the Water
767 (WLP) Baptized in Water
121 (LEVAS) Baptised in water
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand (I am bound for the promised land, available public domain )
Let the Broken ones be healed from Music by Heart (which could have a circle dance, too;
Healing River of the Spirit to the tune Chartres
- SALVATION IS OFFERED FREELY TO ALL
Proclaim it with joy
Read from the Bible up to “Seek the Lord” and have a cantor sing the Second Song of Isaiah
Canticle 9 – The First Song of Isaiah or Psalm 42: 1-7 or
678/9 Surely it is God who saves me (Canticle)
134 (LEVAS) Take me to the water
67 (VF) Crashing waters at creation
677 God moves in a mysterious way (maybe use different tune)
- LEARN WISDOM AND LIVE
Psalm 19 or
60 (VF) Come and seek the ways of Wisdom
906 (WLP) Even when young, I prayed for wisdom’s grace
431 The stars declare his glory (Ps)
584 God, you have given us power to sound (maybe use different tune)
- A NEW HEART AND A NEW SPIRIT
Psalm 42 or
658 As longs the deer (Ps)
Deep within (found in ELW)
727 (WLP) As panting deer desire the waterbrooks (Ps)
574/5 Before thy throne, O God, we kneel
- THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES
Appoint a voice of the Spirit of God and an Ezekiel and have it read dramatically. Have something to rattle.
Psalm 143 or
Use the Taize response (O Lord hear my prayer) as an antiphon for the psalm
466 Eternal light, shine in my heart
508 Breathe on me, breath of God
521 Put forth, O God, the Spirit’s might (maybe use a more familiar tune)
59 (VF) Breath of God, life-bearing wind
116 (LEVAS) Let it breathe on me
115 (LEVAS) Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me
This could be a neat thing: after v. 3 “Son, can these bones live?” Sing Isaac Everett’s antiphon
From The Emergent Psalter (Church Publishing, Inc.)
Dem Bones, Dem Bones (as antiphon to the psalm)
773 (WLP) Heal me, hands of Jesus
We will be fed with finest wheat (from We Walk His Way)
- THE GATHERING OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Psalm 98 or Psalm 126 or
413 New songs of celebration render (Ps)
678/9 Surely it is God who saves me
When God restored our common life
Going to and from the font should be an event. Make it easy for everyone to encounter the water – either through asperges, or an invitation to come to the water. If space allows, have the congregation process to the font while singing (Take me to the water, or similar). During the asperges look at “Cleanse Us, O Lord” published by GIA. There are options for different instruments. Baptism (or the renewal of Baptismal Vows can happen right after the readings or can occur after the Easter Acclamation).
The sermon can be preached at any point in the Story portion, or after the Gospel. The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom is a dramatic option for the sermon (https://oca.org/fs/sermons/the-paschal-sermon).
Just prior to the Easter Acclamation the BCP tells us to light the altar candles from the Paschal Candle. If possible, bring in all the Easter lilies at this point. Dress the altar. While this is going on a festive organ voluntary can be played. All the lights in the church are brought up. If you have liturgical dancers this would be a great time for them to “dance” the altar frontal up the aisle.
This is the First Eucharist of Easter; all other Eucharists are repetitions. Now is the time for the EASTER ACCLAMATION. While the BCP says that this “may” be done, we can’t imagine an Easter Vigil without it. It should be shouted three times—each time a little louder! Bells and noisemakers are appropriate here.
A canticle is then sung. The BCP gives the option of three canticles – the Gloria, the Pascha Nostrum, or the Te Deum. There are many options for any of these. Most importantly, it should be a setting that the congregation knows well. In addition to the settings in the service music section of the hymnal here are some other ideas:
366 Holy God, we praise thy Name (Te Deum)
364 O God, we praise thee and confess (Te Deum)
421 All glory be to God on high (Gloria)
880 (WLP) God’s Paschal Lamb is sacrificed for us (Pascha Nostrum)
The BCP gives the option of the reading from Romans and Psalm 114 or we can go directly to the Gospel reading.
Since Baptismal Vows have been renewed, the Nicene Creed is not used in the service. From this point on, the liturgy proceeds as usual. Eucharistic Prayer D is a wonderful option for this service; otherwise, Prayer A is appropriate.
The Paschal Candle remains lighted throughout the Great Fifty Days of Easter.