Easter night

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A deacon sings the exultet, the praise for the Easter candle

The Easter Vigil , the night of Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday is in the church year , the "night of nights": a night of watching and prayer to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to the passage from death to life.

In the churches of Central Europe, Holy Saturday is celebrated quietly, but ends with the solemn divine service on Easter Vigil. The liturgical celebration of the holy Easter Vigil begins either the evening before at the earliest after sunset or in the early Easter morning between 4 and 6 a.m., before dawn . The divine service is followed by the baptismal liturgy or the baptismal memory and the celebration of the Eucharist .

There is also the form of the “ full vigil ”, in which the light celebration takes place at the beginning of the night, the readings with their response chants and orations with long periods of silence take place over the night and the celebration continues with the gloria towards morning . In this case the celebrating congregation will assemble completely at the beginning, be present in "shifts" during the readings and then continue to celebrate completely for the Gloria. With this form of the full vigil, the light celebration has its meaningful place at the beginning of the night, the readings in the night shape the time of waiting, and the common celebration of Gloria, Easter readings, baptism and Eucharist at dawn take into account the times of the Easter gospels.

The celebration in the Roman Catholic Church

Roman rite (ordinary form)

Consecration of the Easter fire
Easter candle on the candlestick

In the Roman Catholic Church, the celebration of the most holy Easter Vigil is celebrated with a liturgy that sacramentally traces the passage through death to life. The Easter Vigil is the climax of the three Easter days of Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, during which the Passover mystery is celebrated. This Easter triduum begins on Maundy Thursday with the Mass of the Last Supper, continues with the celebration of the suffering and death of Christ on Good Friday , the silent prayer of the whole Church on Holy Saturday and culminates in the celebration of Easter Vigil. In it the church awaits the resurrection of Christ in a night watch and celebrates it with the sacraments of incorporation into the body of Christ, the church ( Col 1.18  EU ): baptism , confirmation and the Eucharist . The celebration is therefore divided into two phases of expectation and celebration. The night watch also expresses the expectation of the return of Christ.

Baptism on Easter vigil
in St. Joseph, Öhringen

The celebration of Easter Vigil is a vigil service , so it begins at the earliest after sunset and ends at the latest before dawn (the latest possible start is 5 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning). It consists of four main parts:

  • Light celebration (festive beginning of the night celebration)
  • Word worship
  • Christening ceremony
  • Holy Mass
Easter fire in front of the Aachen Cathedral

The opening light celebration begins as far as possible outside the church at the Easter fire to be blessed . The Easter candle is marked with a cross, an alpha and an omega (symbol for Christ) and the respective year. Five grains of red incense can be inserted into the cross, symbolizing the five wounds of Christ . The priest says: “Christ, yesterday and today, beginning and end, alpha and omega. His is time and eternity. His is the power and the glory for all eternity. Amen. Through his holy wounds that shine in glory, keep us and keep us Christ the Lord. Amen. "Then the Easter candle is set on the Easter fire and the words" Christ is gloriously risen from death. Let his light drive away the darkness of the heart “ignited. Led by the deacon or priest with the burning Easter candle, the believers then enter the dark church in a solemn procession. In three places - in front of the church, in its entrance area and in front of the altar - the procession stops and the deacon , priest or cantor sings the call " Lumen Christi " or "Christ, the light", to which the believers join in AnswerDeo gratias ” or “Thank God”. After the second or third “Lumen Christi”, the light of the Easter candle is passed on to the candles that everyone is holding in their hands. Once in the chancel, the deacon or priest places the candle on its candlestick and he (or the cantor) sings the “Easter praise” ( Exsultet ), a long praise for the Easter candle - which is a symbol of the body of Christ - and the Easter Vigil itself This is the climax and conclusion of the introductory light celebration.

In the subsequent liturgical service , scriptures are read about the great deeds of salvation history. At first, the participants listen to (at least three and up to) seven readings from the Old Testament in calm contemplation . Each of them is followed by the response psalm and their own oration .

The readings begin with the first narrative of the creation of the world ( Gen 1, 1–2, 2  EU ), mention the promises of God to Abraham ( Gen 22: 1–18  EU ) and then lead on to the salvation events of the old covenant. The most important Old Testament reading, which must never be missed, is the report of the exodus from Egypt , the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea from Egypt's slavery to freedom ( Ex 14.15-15.1  EU ). It is understood as a model of liberation through Christian baptism. The other readings from the Old Testament point to Christ as the Savior ( Isa 54,5-14  EU , Isa 55,1-11  EU , Bar 3,9-15.32-4,4  EU and Ez 36,16-17a. 18-28  EU ).

After the readings of the Old Testament, with the organ playing and all the church bells ringing, the Gloria is solemnly sung inside and outside the church ; it is the first time since the Gloria on Maundy Thursday that the bells ring and the organ plays. This is followed by the daily prayer of the celebration of mass and the epistle , a reading from the letter to the Romans of the apostle Paul about baptism as incorporation into Christ ( Rom. 6 : 3-11  EU ). As a call to the Gospel, for the first time since Ash Wednesday - after 46 days - the alleluia is sung again, often in a solemn melody sung only on Easter vigil ( Praise of God No. 312,9), intoned by the priest and repeated by the people becomes. It is sung three times at Easter and during Easter time. This is followed by the proclamation of the gospel of the resurrection of the Lord ( Mt 28 : 1-10  EU (reading year A), Mk 16: 1-7  EU (reading year B) or Lk 24 : 1-12  EU (reading year C)) and the Interpretation in the homily .

Easter water basin

This is immediately followed by the baptism ceremony , which opens with the All Saints' Litany . Then the baptismal water is blessed and the rite of baptism follows. The catechumens (in the case of infants, on behalf of their parents and godparents) renounce Satan and profess the central truths of faith. Then the baptized persons are baptized by immersion or pouring over them. If the newly baptized are no children, immediately followed by the second integration sacrament, the confirmation . All believers are involved in the baptismal liturgy: they renew their baptismal promise with burning candles in their hands and are then sprinkled with the water that has just been consecrated. This is how they are reminded of their own baptism. If baptism does not take place, baptismal water can still be blessed for future baptisms. If no baptismal water is consecrated, then, without the All Saints' Litany, so-called Easter water is blessed as holy water and those present are sprinkled with it after the renewal of their baptismal promises. The holy water basins at the church entrances, which have been empty since Good Friday, are also filled with the blessed water. Believers can take some with them for use at home and in the cemetery. Because of the promises of baptism that have been made, the usual credo before the intercessions does not apply .

The high point of the Easter Vigil is the Eucharist . As a rule, when the gifts are being prepared, the newly baptized bring the gifts to the altar; this can also be done by the altar servers or other parishioners, often in a particularly solemn procession. For Holy Communion , the Congregation for Divine Services recommends : "It is appropriate to give communion on Easter vigil the fullness of the Eucharistic sign by offering it under the shapes of bread and wine."

The solemn blessing concludes this festive and joyful service. In many places, the liturgy is followed by a common Easter meal or, in the event of a morning celebration, a festive breakfast in which the old tradition of agape is supposed to live on. The consumption of previously blessed Easter dishes and the sharing of Easter eggs or the “ egg pecking ” are also part of the popular Easter customs.

Roman rite (custom from 1962)

In the late Middle Ages, the Easter Vigil was brought forward to Easter Saturday afternoon and then even morning. After Good Friday and Holy Saturday became common working days, it enjoyed little popularity outside the clergy. The restoration of the "true time" of the celebration became a major concern of the liturgical reform in the 20th century .

The celebration of the Easter Vigil was initiated by Pope Pius XII. 1951/56 reformed in time and design . Their earlier so-called Tridentine form was thus abolished. The celebration of Easter Vigil according to the Roman Missal of 1962 ( “pianic liturgy” ) differs only slightly from today's normal form and is mainly celebrated by the few ancient ritualistic orders and order-like communities on the basis of the papal Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum . According to this, it can also be celebrated for permanently existing groups, only private masses are prohibited during the Triduum Sacrum.

The celebration in the Evangelical Lutheran churches

Evangelical deacon moving in with the Easter candle

The Easter Vigil celebrations in the Evangelical Lutheran churches are usually structured in a similar way, but are not celebrated with the same spread and have many variations in detail. The early Lutheran church still celebrated Easter vigil frequently. All elements were eliminated from the celebration that were considered unevangelical, such as the blessing of the fire, the consecration of candles, the consecration of water and the invocation of the saints. At this point came the full reading of the Easter Gospel. While the old, pre-Reformation tones were adopted for the recitation of the Passion story, there were no models for the Easter Gospel. So a new, festive tone sequence was created. So the old celebration of Easter Vigil had returned to the Lutheran Church in a new form; whereby the new was also the old, because at least until the 5th century the reading of the Easter story was a central part of the Easter Vigil. In the 20th century there were increased efforts to revive the largely forgotten celebration of the evangelical Easter vigil. After good results, especially in the Hanover area since the 1930s, proposals for the course of such celebrations were published, which were quickly taken up. The type of worship, previously unknown to most people, spread quickly and has already become a tradition in many Protestant communities.

The basic framework of the Protestant Easter Vigil is borrowed from the pre-Reformation tradition. From the cry of “Christ, light of the world” to the prophetic readings to baptism and the Lord's Supper, all elements of the “classic Easter Vigil” can be found. If necessary, the celebration can be expanded to include further readings and music or times of silence. Then the celebration of the Lord's Supper concludes.


The Easter candle lights up in the nightly church
The congregation has lit its light at the Easter candle and is hearing the Easter Gospel
  • Entry with the Easter candle and opening with the cry "Christ, light of the world - thank God for ever."
  • Exsulted
  • Six Old Testament readings with prayers and songs
  • To baptize
  • Baptismal memory
  • Easter litany
  • Gloria in excelsis
  • Collection prayer
  • Epistle (sung or spoken)
  • Hallelujah verse
  • Main song
  • Holy Gospel of Easter (sung or spoken)
  • sermon
  • Sermon song
  • Celebration of Holy Communion
  • blessing
  • Closing song

The celebration in the old Catholic Church

The Easter celebration in the Old Catholic Church in Germany includes the following parts:

  • Light celebration
  • Night watch with readings
  • Baptism or baptismal memory
  • Eucharistic celebration

The entry with the burning Easter candle and the Exultet form the core of the light celebration. The blessing of the fire and the marking of the Easter candle may be omitted. Three versions of the text are available for Exultet, one of which is by Norbert Lohfink (translation) and Norbert Bücken (setting).

The reading of the passage through the Red Sea is compulsory. At least one more reading from the prophets is required. In addition to the response psalm and oration, a short introduction ( prefamen ) is offered to each reading .

Part of the celebration of Easter Vigil is that the hallelujah is solemnly intoned again after the forty-day fasting period in which it is not performed. When selecting the songs and answer chants, care should be taken that they are not anticipated there.

There are four different models to choose from:

Model A light celebration

1.1 Prayer over the Easter fire
1.2 Interpretation of the candle
1.3 Entry with the light
1.4 Exsultet

Night watch readings

2.1a Reading (Creation or Noah)
2.2a answer song or song
2.3a Oration
2.1b reading (excerpt)
2.2b answer song or song
2.3.b Oration
2.1c reading (eschatological outlook)
2.2c answer song or song
2.3c Oration

Eucharistic celebration, first part

3. Gloria
4. Prayer of the day
5th epistle
6. Easter Hallelujah
7.1 Easter Gospel
7.2 Sermon
8. Intercession

Baptism or baptismal memory

9.1 Blessing of baptismal water
9.2 Baptism promise or donation

Eucharistic celebration, part two

with changing parts:
10.0 Prayer over the gifts
10.1 Preface, Eucharistic prayer , Our Father, Agnus Dei, greeting of peace
10.2 Closing prayer
10.3 Solemn final blessing

Model B.

2-1 [-3-4] -5-6-7-9-8-10

The night watch readings are brought forward after this process. In some places they are presented in another place. The entry with the light takes place after the readings of the night watch and forms the beginning of the proclamation of the resurrection. Prayer of the day and Gloria are a duplication of hymn elements to the exultet in this process. They can therefore be omitted or the Gloria is sung as an answer to the Gospel of the Resurrection.

Model c


Since the readings have a common point of reference in the baptism, the vigil ceremony precedes the baptismal memory or the baptismal celebration. The Gloria is offered as a song of thanks for the salvation experienced in baptism.

Model D

1-2-5-6-7.1 + 3-7.2-9-8-10

The readings of the night watch and the readings of the New Testament form a coherent word service after this process. The Gloria here forms the congregation's song of thanks to the resurrection message.

The All Saints litany is not found in the Eucharist.

Since the Old Catholic rubrics are not as binding as the rubrics of the Roman Catholic Church, in some places, based on the classical sequence, the vigil (with light celebration) is celebrated first, then the litany of All Saints is sung as a processional song to the baptismal font, whereupon the The consecration of baptismal water follows, and then the Gloria is intoned as a processional song to the altar, which is concluded with the daily prayer. A lecturer then recites the epistle. Credo, greeting of peace and intercession (litany of intercession) - as elements of the baptism ceremony - are omitted.

Alternative process

The beginning of evening services and vigil celebrations with a light celebration has a long tradition - not only for Easter Vigil. Nevertheless, various considerations in the liturgical discussion were made as to whether an alternative sequence “from darkness to light” might not express “the basic theme from death to life” more clearly. A beginning with the readings, followed by the light celebration, is practiced in the Evangelical Reformed Church in Switzerland and locally in Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Germany; in the Old Catholic Easter Night liturgy, the process is provided as model B. There are also attempts in this direction in Roman Catholic parishes. The celebration of light and the exultet could find their place after the divine service and thus lead over to the baptism celebration or be included in the baptism celebration.

The celebration in the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches

In the Orthodox churches, the midnight prayer takes place first ( Greek Μεσονύκτικον Mesonyktion , Church Slavonic Полуношница Polúnoschniza ). Then (exactly at midnight) all the lights in the church are extinguished, the “Holy Fire” is distributed to the believers and the bells ring while the troparion is sung. Often the Orthodox Easter greeting ( Greek ιριστ ας ανέστη. Αληθώς ανέστη! In German: Christ is risen. Truly he is risen!) Is repeated.

In front of the Holy Sepulcher Aedicula, Waiting for the Holy Fire (1941).

The holy fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

In connection with the Orthodox Easter celebrations in Jerusalem, the phenomenon of " Holy Fire " occurs, the existence of which has been reported since the eighth century. The Crusaders made this tradition known in the Western Church.

The Russian abbot Daniel described the “miracle of the sacred fire” and the rites surrounding it in great detail in his travel description from the years 1106/07. On Holy Saturday of the Orthodox Easter, around 2 p.m., a candle in the Holy Sepulcher Aedicula in the Holy Sepulcher's Church supposedly lit up in the hand of the Orthodox Patriarch by himself and without outside interference. Abbot Daniel described the phenomenon as a pillar of light above the grave slab, where a candle could be lit at a certain point. This flame was passed on to the believers in the church by a priest after leaving the grave. Many candles or oil lamps are said to have ignited by themselves after the light appeared in the chapel.

The fire itself should have the property of not causing scorching in the first few minutes. Charlatanism is to be ruled out by the previous official sealing of the grave and an examination of the priest before entering. Here, too, an old tradition is followed, according to which the Romans also sealed the tomb of Jesus after his burial in order to prevent the body from being stolen and thus asserting that Jesus was risen from the dead.

See also


  • R. Amiet: La veiléé pascale dans l'église latine. Volume 1: Le rite romain . Paris 1999.
  • Gabriel Bertonière: The historical development of the Easter Vigil and related services in the Greek Church. Pont. Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, Roma 1972, OCLC 673887 .
  • Hans Jörg Auf der Maur : The rediscovery of the Easter Vigil in the Western churches of the 20th century. A contribution to ecumenical dialogue that has not yet been taken very seriously. In: Bible and Liturgy. Vol. 60, 1987, pp. 2-25.
  • Karl-Heinrich Bieritz : The church year. Celebrations, memorials and holidays in the past and present. Munich 1991, ISBN 3-406-34039-3 .
  • Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church : The celebration of Easter vigil. Groß Oesingen 1993, ISBN 3-86147-099-3 (liturgical booklet with notes and sequence).
  • United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany : Passion and Easter. Agende for Evangelical Lutheran churches and parishes. Vol. II, Part. 1, Hannover 2011, ISBN 978-3-7859-1039-9 .
  • Heinz-Günter Bongartz, Georg Steins: Easter light trails. Old Testament ways into the Easter vigil. Munich 2001, ISBN 3-7698-1347-2 .
  • Congregation for Divine Worship: Circular “On the Celebration of Easter and its Preparation”. In: Announcements of the Apostolic See 81 (Bonn 1990), pp. 15–46.
  • Jörg Mohn: Easter night . Mirror and initiator of a changed Protestant understanding of worship and liturgy. Münster: LIT-Verl. 2018. Zugl. Diss. Mainz 2017. (Aesthetics, Theology, Liturgy. 69.) ISBn 978-3-643-14017-3
  • Helmut Schwier : "A resurrection celebration and somehow the root of my faith ..." [Theological and liturgical considerations for the celebration of Easter Vigil] In: Yearbook for Liturgy and Hymnology , Vol. 51, Göttingen 2012, pp. 9-18.
  • Heidi-Maria Stowasser: The renewal of the Vigilia Paschalis. Dissertation. Eichstatt 1987, OCLC 159799111 .

Web links

Commons : Easter Vigil  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Easter Vigil  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. The celebration of the Eucharist in the Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics . Prepared for use in worship services by the Liturgical Commission and published by the bishop and synodal representative. Alt-Katholischer Bistumsverlag, Bonn 2006, ISBN 3-934610-30-7 , pp. 94-142.
  2. Hansjörg Auf der Maur: Celebrating in the rhythm of time I. Gentlemen's festivals in the week and year. Regensburg 1983, ISBN 3-7917-0788-4 ( Church service. Handbook of liturgical science. Part 5), p. 142.
  3. Herbert Meßner: The celebration of the Easter vigil. In: Hubert Ritt (ed.): God's people, salvation for all peoples. Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve. Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1995 (Bible and Liturgy in the Life of the Community 3/95), pp. 75–82, here 75 f.
  4. Bruno Kleinheyer : Considerations for the continuation of the reform of the Easter Vigil. In: Liturgisches Jahrbuch 18 (1968), pp. 98-105; Guido Fuchs , Hans Martin Weikmann: The Exsultet. History, theology and design of the Easter light thanksgiving. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1992, ISBN 3-7917-1306-X , pp. 118-123.
  5. ^ Otto Meinardus: The ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Middle Ages and today. In: Bulletin de la Societe d'Archeologie Copte , 16, 1961-2, pp. 242-253
  6. Gustav Klameth: The Holy Saturday fire miracle of the Holy Sepulcher Church. Vienna 1913.