The Great Vigil of Easter is unlike any service of the liturgical year.  It is my favorite liturgy and that of many others. I’ve run across many stories (including those told in Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail) of people who have been drawn into Anglicanism (or other liturgical traditions) because they visited a Vigil. Since “Vigil Masses” were generally frowned upon in the Protestant Reformation, this tradition was not re-popularized until the 20th Century when the special liturgy was added back to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The Easter Vigil, unlike other vigils, is more than just a Eucharistic service on the eve of a Holy Day/Principle Feast (like Christmas Eve). The kindling of a new fire, the Exsultet, the reading of the history of Salvation, and the symbolism of darkness and light going into the Acclamation of Easter serve as incredibly powerful tools of formation, corporate worship, individual devotion, and a climatic joyful ending to the penitential season of Lent and the soberness of the Triduum. Because many Protestant traditions do not hold Easter Vigils (or any Holy Week services), it is a perfect occasion to invite unchurched or other Christian visitors. Today many Anglican Churches do not hold an Easter Vigil either due to historical/churchmanship reasons or for practical ones (e.g. they don’t have their own worship space), so this is also an opportunity to invite other Anglican congregations and clergy to participate in a joint vigil.

For churches and their staff that hold the entire breadth of Holy Week services, it can be a very hectic and tiring week. Preparing for it weeks in advance will help, the clergy especially, focus their hearts and minds on prayer, sermon preparation, and pastoral care. The uniqueness of the Easter Vigil will require the most attention and planning. The following planning and rubrical considerations are based on what is considered to be a classic Anglican Easter Vigil. It is based largely on my experiences in larger parish and cathedral churches in the Anglican and Episcopal church, reinforced by popular liturgical planning books and commentaries. Every congregation will need to tailor the service to their local customs and contexts. Understanding the classic conduct of the Vigil will help do so.

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Logistics and Preparation

Time. There is no set time to hold an Easter Vigil. Some start the service around 10 or 11 in the evening in order for the Acclamation to occur just after midnight (Easter Day). Popular Judeo-Christian custom is to consider days from dusk to dusk (thus Easter Day beginning at sunset on Saturday), thus the custom for some is to begin the service just before sunset so the Acclamation happens after dark when it is technically Easter Day. Yet others will hold the Vigil after midnight or close to sunrise on Easter Day (more often this is a simple “sunrise service” not the Vigil liturgy). Every congregation will need to make a decision on service times based on several factors: darkness, length of service, age and commute of the congregation, Easter morning service schedule, requirements for cleanup and setup for the morning, and manpower. Most Anglican congregations hold their service just as the sun is going down.

Darkness and Lighting.  The contrast of darkness and light is the whole point of the first part of the service. Seek as much absolute darkness as possible.  Look at an almanac to determine the time of sunset on Easter Eve and determine your service time. Visit the church, arriving around the time worshippers will arrive for the Vigil, and determine if the darkness will be sufficient. Don’t forget to consider the difference with overcast weather. Churches with no windows or stained glass windows may be able to start much earlier than those with clear windows. You want the church to be very dark, dark enough to not show the Easter decor. But you also want people to be able to find their seats safely. It is important also to evaluate candle and electric lighting. Which lights need to be turned on? Will the lectern need a light or candles? Are there any lights from closets or hallways that will spill into the nave? If the service will be video streamed or recorded, this is an opportunity to test the settings for both the darkness and after lights are turned up.

With an amateur background in theater lighting, I am always very sensitive and attentive to lighting in sacred spaces, so I will write a lot about it here. First are some examples of lighting issues. I was at a beautiful Roman Catholic Easter Vigil once. The beautiful darkness was interrupted by harsh white light from the organ console and choir book lights in the loft. A soloist standing at the loft rail even pulled out her iPhone flashlight to shine on her music, which cast a horrible and harsh shadow into the nave. At Saint Peter’s Cathedral, there were bright fluorescent, non-dimmable, and even motion detected (with no ability to easily turn off) lights in hallways and corridors connected to the nave. We used floor lamps, turned off breakers, and eventually replaced the fluorescent lamps with dimmable LED recessed lighting.

In 2020, I sang the Exsultet at the Vigil. In the year prior, the priest who sung it used a bright white clip-on book light on a binder. Once turned on, this white light oddly brighter than the soft candlelight. The light spilled past him and the binder, casting shadows on the chancel wall. Furthermore, with the incense thurible behind him, the beams of white light were highlighted in the smoke like a pop concert. These are the things most people don’t think about until it is too late, but they can really be distracting in the moment. Since I had no good way to use candlelight to sing by, I purchased a dimmable soft white LED book light. I covered the light with electrical tape, and cut out a long slit in the middle to allow just enough light to shine on the page without spilling elsewhere. I also created a shade of tape around the light so that the actual bulb itself would not be visible by the congregation (or camera). If you view the video below, you will not be able to see me at all, only the priest behind me holding a candle.

Some of these principles apply to more than just the Vigil.  

  • Candles, candelabras, lanterns, and torches should be preferred to electric light.
  • If electric light is needed during the dark portion of the liturgy, in order for safety or for people to be able to read, try to find lamps that only illuminate the congregation from above (softly and dimly). Lights that illuminate the walls, ceiling, altar, pulpit, etc. will “reveal” the Easter Decor.
  • Check for lighting in hallways, stairwells, sacristies, and the narthex. The lighting in these spaces is often forgotten about. There is nothing that can ruin the solemnity of darkness than a door opening that allows harsh bright fluorescent light to spill into the nave. If they can’t be turned off (motion detection) or dimmed, using candles or small lamps in those spaces will help.
  • Consider the exterior lighting and how it may spill into windows or through doors. Are there timers on exterior lights that will turn on in the middle of the Vigil?
  • “Soft White” (typically sold as 2700k on the temperature spectrum) is preferable to “Cool White” (3000k) or “Bright White”(5000k). “Soft White” is more akin to old incandescent bulbs and the color of candlelight, far gentler on the eyes. Fluorescent light should be avoided as well.
  • Buy bulbs that can be dimmable to 10% or less. Incandescent bulbs dim all the way. Most LEDs can dim to 10% (read the box). CFL and Fluorescent do not dim without flicker. Bulbs that can dim very low will be helpful for services like the Vigil.
  • Lights on the organ console music stand and at the foot pedals are often bright white and non-dimmable. Work with the organist to developed a solution. The lights can be covered/taped to only allow 10% of the light, dimmable temporary lights can be used, or theater-light gel covers added.
  • Consider the lighting for the choir or praise team. Most off-the-shelf book or music stand lights are not dimmable and are of a harsh white LED. These will bleed over into a dark nave. Further, if clipped on music binders…the movement of the dozens of binders will move the light in distracting ways. A solution could be some very soft downlighting in the choir area, use of candlelight, or use of dimmable and “soft white” LED book light. As mentioned above in my example, you can use tape to further reduce the light and its visibility from the congregation. This is especially important for those up in the front. Here is an example of a dimmable soft white booklight.
  • Exit signs are also often overlooked sources of distracting light, especially in smaller spaces. I am not advocating violating the safety or fire code. However, a discussion with local electricians and the local fire marshall may reveal ways (such is done in movie theatres) that exit lighting can be dimmed, shaded, or altered temporarily without causing safety concerns or code violations.
  • For Baptisms and Confirmations that take place in the first portion of the service, resist the temptation to turn up the lights. Rather opt for candelabras, processional torches, and to keep the congregation’s hand candles burning.
  • Provide a dim soft-white flashlight for vergers, acolytes, or ushers who might need a source of light (when a candle will not suffice) during the dark portion of the service or prior. Tape up most of the face of the light, with a small slit to allow some light out. Red light flashlights can also be used (these are used by the military, as they do not ruin natural night vision). If you do not provide or stipulate a light to be used, you will likely have someone pull out a bright cell phone light.

Vestments.  As a Principle Feast, the best dress and paraments should be used. All should be vested for Easter, even for the first part of the service.  Where used, Celebrant, Deacon, and Subdeacon in their white or gold Eucharistic vestments (or starting with copes and changed before the Eucharist).  The clergy or lay cantor for the Exsultet (if not the Deacon) may wear a cope (traditionally copes do not have to match the liturgical color).  Assisting clergy may wear copes as well.  Crucifers may even wear white tunicles, by tradition, which adds an extra element of beauty and color to Easter.  While they properly are worn from the start of the service, some traditions and physical spaces (those that can’t be darkened properly) some prefer to only don the Eucharistic vestments and copes before the Easter Acclamation.  There is no precedence (that I am aware of) for black vestments (or just a black cassock) for the first half of the service.    

Décor.  The tradition is that the entire church is already “dressed” for Easter for the Vigil.   With a church dark enough, this works great.  However, there may be places or occasions when covering up Easter paraments, flowers, artwork and/or donning Easter vestments later in the service could be commended.  Easter Lilies are customary, accompanied by other spring flowers and greenery. The flowers can be used for the Maundy Thursday prayer garden/altar of repose and moved to the nave on Saturday. White or gold paraments (banners, altar frontals, lectern falls, etc.) are used. Decor should be greater than a normal Sunday. Flower (or otherwise decorate) the baptismal font, processional crosses, pulpit, lectern, front of the altar, Paschal Candle stands door and window frames, and side chapels.

Paschal Candle.  Before real wax candles were replaced with oil wicks, a new Paschal Candle was needed every year. Since they should be burned at every daily service (in larger churches and cathedrals with extremely large candles, sometimes 24/7) from Easter until Pentecost, and at Baptisms and Funerals. Thus a new one would be needed annually. I personally recommend reverting to beeswax candles for three main reasons (other than I am a traditionalist). First, if burning daily (say at the Daily Office) it will not require constant refilling of oil or burnout during a service when it empties. Second, it better serves the concept of kindling a new flame and new candle at Easter. Third, you can more rightly sing the optional portion of the Exsultet “the work of bees and of your servant’s hands.”  Real wax candles usually come with removable numbers for the year which will need to be added. Wax pegs or incense rocks also may come with the candle and may be installed at the start of the liturgy (see below). Test a real wax candle in the candle stand before the service to ensure it fits properly. Burning the wax off the new wick will help it light faster during the liturgy. With oil candles, ensure that no oil residue is on the exterior of the candle which can both stain a vestment and cause it to slip out of the Deacon’s hand (I dropped it as an acolyte on Easter Vigil as a kid).

Westminster Cathedral (Roman Catholic)

Other Candles.  Individual candles for the congregation ideally are long enough to hold until the Easter Acclamation, though some prefer to have the congregation put them out before or during the lessons.  If put out, they should be relit before the Baptism (or vows) and/or Confirmation.  A table or basket at the entrance of the church to receive and return candles is most common.  Most church supply companies include a paper or plastic shield for the bottom of the candle. Clear plastic cups can be used as “globes” around the candles, especially for children, to prevent wax from dripping if tilting to the side (even if they don’t look as seemly, this might be ideal for carpeted naves).  A lit candle should never be tilted to light an unlit, lest the wax drip.  Inevitably, a crew of wax-cleaners may be needed after the service.   Use a credit card to scrape wax drippings off wood, stone, and tile.  Think about acolytes, clergy, and other volunteers who cannot hold a candle the entire time.  Someone can hold it for them when needed, a holding stand can be placed nearby, or when possible affixed lanterns or torches (such as in traditional quire stalls) could be used instead.   Wall sconces, candelabras, and candle chandeliers can be lit (after the congregations’ candles) as well.  NOTE: No altar or reredos lamps should be lit until after the Acclamation.  Instructions on when to blow out candles (and relit if done) should be given in print or verbal instructions at the particular moment. It may be wise to instruct everyone to extinguish their candle during a long musical build-up to the Acclamation, or after the last reading. If people are to extinguish right at the Acclamation and rush to hold a hymnal or ring a bell, they likely will put a dripping candle on the pew.

Live Streaming.  Live streaming or video recording the Easter Vigil will be challenging not only because of the low-light, but also the amount of moving pieces (especially of starting outside).  Cameras should be tested and properly set for use in low-light and when the lights are turned up (a moment which could send the cameras into a frenzy).  Remember, the video need not capture anything but darkness and candles during the first half of the service.  Think about how audio from the lighting of the new fire outside will be broadcast.  Last year, without a congregation due to COVID, we selected nice artwork pertaining to the lessons to be broadcast during the reading (though due to glitches not all were displayed).  This was very meaningful to people and helped them feel more “present” in the liturgy.   Also think about the audio for the Exsultet, which should be sung loudly by the cantor.  In large spaces, it is nice if an ambient microphone can pick up the reverberant chant…rather than the sound of singing directly into a microphone.

Pre-Service Atmosphere.  As best as possible, maintain a “holy” silence and darkness.  Technically, the Triduum is one long service that starts with Maundy Thursday and ends with the first Easter at the end of the Vigil.  Think about it this way, the People left the church at Maundy Thursday in silence and without dismissal to go home and rest and pray, returning periodically for private prayers, watches at the altar of repose, Good Friday devotions, Stations of the Cross, Holy Saturday morning prayers, etc.   At the Easter Vigil, they are all called back to the church to continue the service.  So the arrival and sitting in silence is, in a way, a part of the larger Triduum liturgy.  Help protect that.  The choir should be well done with any rehearsal (if inside the nave).  Processional appointments (crosses, torches, banners) should be moved outside or to the narthex well before people arrive.  Keep the altar party and choir out of the porch and narthex area as long as possible (to minimize chit-chat and distraction of last-minute coordination).  Ushers and greeters can still welcome (especially obvious newcomers), but volume and chatter should be kept to a minimum.  Keep the narthex dark, if possible.  Usher can use very low-light flashlights or even candles/lanterns to help seat people. 

The Lighting of the Paschal Candle

In a large (stone or brick in particular) church, this can be done in the very back of the church for all to see (at your own risk!). If not, it can be done on the “front porch” at the entrance of the church. Depending on the size of the congregation, it is possible to have the people outside and follow the Paschal Candle in. Otherwise having everyone seated in the church would be less chaotic. 

The “new fire” should be visible and dramatic.   Archbishop Bob Duncan preferred a medieval-style torch, which he made himself.  Use a plunger handle (or similar) with an old flannel shirt that metal-wired (plastic will melt right off) tightly in a ball at the end. Lightly dampen, not soak, the shirt in lighter fluid.  If soaked, the fluid will run down the handle and onto the hands of the Celebrant.  A small fire pit is sometimes used as well.  In a much smaller and restrictive space, a small alcohol tabletop “fire pit’ or similar can be used (though much less dramatic and traditional).   A fire extinguisher should be place nearby. 

The first action of the service is to light the torch or fire pit.  Using flint or a long match is much better than visual looks and clicking of a plastic lighter.  Practice this beforehand (I learned personal experience!).   The Paschal Candle can be marked using the liturgy on page 595 (2019 BCP).  They often come with nail-like pins that can be placed at this time.  After the marking, the candle is lit.

Rehearsal.    Detailed instructions and rehearsals for all involved will help the conduct of the liturgy remain smooth and beautiful.  Ironing out the details before the Triduum will also minimize the work and stress of clergy and volunteers when they should have focused hearts and minds on the significance of the days themselves.  From experience as a priest, running into any working out details at the last minute distracts me from being fully present in celebrating or preaching.  Don’t be afraid of asking volunteers, staff, musicians, and clergy to rehearse their roles.  As Canon for Worship, I’d often ask the clergy and staff to walk through pertinent parts of the service during the workday (since it was part of their day job) and volunteers to rehearse on an evening or weekend.  Make rehearsal part of the commitment to serve on Easter Vigil.  An all-hands gathering the Saturday before Palm Sunday (you could also include walking through the other Holy Week liturgies here too), with a quick run-through the afternoon of the Easter Vigil may be best.  Providing free food is always a bonus. Holy Week will simply get too busy in most churches to try to rehearse during Holy Week.

This is where it can get tricky.  While the Deacon is holding the Paschal Candle, the Celebrant carefully and quickly moves the torch to light the candle (ensure the wick is stretched upward).  Keeping it too long will melt the top of the candle.  The wick should be lit prior to the service, for a minute or two, to best “prime” it for quick lighting.  The brass follower (which is essential on real wax candles) should stay on the candle (if the wick is long enough) as this will also help protect the top of the candle from the heat of the torch.    An oil candle can be lit the same way.   If using a fire pit, then it may be best to use a long wax wick (such as from a brass candle lighter), a long match, or a stick to light the candles.  Never tilt over an oil candle, but if tilting a wax candle to light in a fire the follower should be removed (unless it is securely fit on top). The torch is then put into a buck of water (that is out of sight) by the Celebrant or acolyte.  

If incense is used, it is most traditional to light the coals from the new fire.  Self-lighting coals held with tongs in the torch or fire pit should light fairly quickly. The Celebrant may fill the thurible and bless the incense here, or upon reaching the chancel.  Furthermore, the Paschal Candle may be censed here, or by the Deacon before the Exsultet (three sets of three swings).

The Entrance Procession

It is proper to carry everything as normal in the procession (crosses, banners, etc.), even, if the torches remain unlit.   Regardless, the entire altar party and choir should process behind the Paschal Candle.    The Paschal Candle should lead (instead of a cross).   If present, a verger followed by a thurifer can precede the Paschal Candle (as they are more rightly “preparing the way” rather than leading”).  A verger can be trained to stop at the appropriate points, turn and face the Paschal Candle in order to signal the Deacon to sing their part.  The Thurifer should remain facing forward, and begin walking once the Verger begins walking again. 

As the Deacon processes in, they should pause three times and chant (or say) “The Light of Christ”, and the congregation responds “Thanks be to God.” (See 1982 Hymnal S68).  Each iteration should be sung a half note higher. 

  • First: At the entrance to the nave (before passing the font, if located there).  The Clergy light their candles from the Paschal Candle.
  • Second: In the middle of the nave.  The rest of the processional party light their candles from the clergy’s. 
  • Third: The entrance of the chancel (or near the altar if no chancel).  The people begin lighting their candles.  An efficient way is to have processional torch bearers move down the side aisle to light the candle of the first person in each row. 

The Exsultet

The Exsultet was made to be SUNG, although the rubrics allow it to be said. The text refers to “choirs of angels”, “trumpets”, “sing now, all around the earth”, and “sing the worthy praise of this great light”. Simply to say it, just seems to diminish the entire intent and weight of the words.  The traditional method is through a chant, though there are contemporized versions (see below).

Traditional Chant Setting of the Exsultet (BCP 2019)

Contemporary Example of The Exsultet

Prior to the singing, if not done outside, the incense can be blessed by the Celebrant and Paschal Candle censed by the Deacon with three sets of three swings.

The rubrics specify that the Deacon (that is the liturgical Deacon, which can be a priest) sings the Exsultet. Though it gives the option to appoint a cantor. Where there is a deacon or priest that can sing, this is preferred. One does not have to be able to read music or have a professional voice, but it will take some practice. I worked for weeks to practice singing it (video below). I “can” sing, but I have never been trained nor do I read music or chant well. But I memorized it from recordings and can follow chant settings enough to be able to do it. I’d encourage clergy to try. However, a trained cantor would be much more edifying to the people than a deacon or priest who cannot hold a tune. 

The Exsultet is normally sung standing behind the Paschal Candle facing the nave and the Candle, essentially singing to it (as a representation of the Lord). Standing with a nice folder behind the candle would also be seemlier than using a music stand. Some prefer to sing from a lectern.  Review the note about book lights. A tuning fork can be used to get a starting pitch, or a very soft key from the organ or other instrument may be used. 

The Lessons

Generally, I believe that the public reading of Scripture is one of the most important parts of the service.   Though my observation is that many churches no longer properly train gifted people to read in public liturgies.  For most of history, lectors were official minor holy orders.  More modernly, even today in England, they must be trained and licensed by the diocese.  Sadly, for many churchgoers, the only Scripture they are getting is on Sunday morning.  It should be read well.  Select the best readers for Easter Vigil, assign them well ahead of time, and have them rehearse.

Honestly, I did feel rather funny asking clergy and well-trained readers to practice their readings in front of me and each other before the Vigil, but it paid off.   Inflection, pace, narration vs dialogue, and clarity (especially in larger space) are all very important when reading Scripture.  Pause after the introduction and before ending with “The Word of the Lord”.   Have them know where they will sit, when to walk to the lectern, who will turn the page (previous reader or the next).  Practice reading in the same lighting as will be at the Vigil as well.  I required all my new lectors watch these videos

In our modern age, church leaders are much more sensitive to the length of services.  As rather a traditionalist, I’d rather see the entire set of readings read.  Though the only such Vigil I have attended was at a Roman Catholic church (and it included Confirmation and Baptism), which lasted about three hours.  The Exodus and the post Acclamation Epistle and Gospel readings are the only required readings. Further, the rubrics don’t mandate a Psalm/Canticle/song or Collect be said after each reading (though preferred).  A good compromise could be using all the Lessons and Collects, but using a Collect, Psalm, or song only after every other reading.   Unlike Advent Lessons and Carols, it may be better to avoid congregational hymns (where everyone stands and sings) in favor of choral or soloist pieces, in order to preserve the meditative atmosphere and because the low light and candle holding will make it hard to see and balance a bulletin/hymnal and candle.  

Baptisms and Confirmations

The Prayer book requires either Baptism, Confirmation, or Renewal of Baptismal Vows at the Vigil. They all can be done before the Acclamation or after the Sermon.   I prefer the former, as there is something symbolically and aesthetically beautiful about a candlelight a Baptism right before the Acclamation and joyful celebrations of Christ’s resurrection begin.  When the font is located at the West end (entrance) of the Church, or in a separate baptistry, a procession will be needed.   A hymn, Canticle, or Psalm can be chanted or organ voluntary played. As mentioned in lighting, resist the temptation to turn up electric lights so people can see the Baptism better.  Instead, keeping congregational candles lit and using torches and candelabra will be far more beautiful.  This, as in everything else, should be rehearsed with the family, acolytes, clergy, and audio/visual team.    The Deacon will process the Paschal Candle, which can be preceded by Verger or Cross.   The candidates and their sponsors can process back from the front pews, or meet the procession at the font.  I always love to invite young children to come to sit nearby to watch as well.   The ministers should stand across the font from the people, in order to give a clear view.  Families and others should stand off to the side.  A verger to direct people here will be helpful. 

There is a tradition of the Celebrant dipping the Paschal Candle into the Baptismal font water (see Michno’s “Priests Handbook”).

At the conclusion of the Baptism, one might hold off on any bid to clap and welcome the newly Baptized until the Peace.  At the procession back, the Celebrant (with the help of other clergy) can use an aspergillum to bless the people with holy water from the font.  Alternately, bowls with fingers or larger bowls with small palm fronds could be used to cast the holy water.   

If the Baptism is done near the front or a Baptism at all, the Celebrant can still walk around with holy water.  Alternately, the sprinkling of the people could happen after the Acclamation, during the Gloria.  However, if censing the altar at that point…the Celebrant, Deacon, and Subdeacon will be needed at the altar during the Gloria.  

Confirmations are done from the front, just as any other confirmation.  The same principles about minimal lighting should apply.  If needed, it may be more appropriate to move Confirmation to after the sermon (rather than Baptism).

The Easter Acclamation

Even if there is no procession, having a selected hymn or song prior to the Acclamation is very helpful.  This is the last song of Lent.  It should be powerful, relevant, and help build the anticipation for the Easter Acclamation.  It should also be long enough to allow the clergy, acolytes, and other key leaders to prepare for the Acclamation, the lighting of candles, turning on of lights, censing of the altar, etc.   Some congregations add a long musical build-up prior to the Acclamation and Canticle.  The organist at Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Tallahassee played a long rumbling sound on the organ (mimicking the stone being rolled away).  At the Episcopal Cathedral in Orlando, a chauffeur (ram’s horn) was trumpeted to herald in the moment. 

The Celebrant sings or says (in a cheerful and loud voice) “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” and the congregation responds “The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!”. If there is a buildup portion, the Acclamation can be said or sung during the music (this must be rehearsed with the Celebrant and musicians) so that music flows directly into the Canticle. Note that the Prayer Book only stipulates the Acclamation to be said once, not three times as is done in some places. Immediately the organ or other musicians should begin playing with a powerful “joyful fanfare” introduction to the Canticle or other song of praise. The lights should be turned on, the rubrics infer it after the Acclamation is said. An acolyte should light the altar candles from the Paschal Candle. If using incense, the altar should be censed by the Celebrant (with Deacon and Subdeacon) as one would at the start of a normal liturgy, stopping to cense the Paschal Candle as it is passed by.

The fanfare introduction may be accompanied by bells, horns and trumpets, tambourines, timpani, and other “joyful” (i.e. not air horns) noisemakers that the congregation is encouraged to bring. Experience shows that this should be stressed several times before Easter Vigil, lest people forget. Some bells and chimes could be handed out by the church as well. Car keys can be rung in lieu of. Choir members and altar services can set the example with their own noisemakers. Tower bells, sanctus bells, and other bells and chimes in the church can be rung as well (allowing an older child to ring one of these bells will make their night!). This is called the “Great Noise” or “Holy Noise” in some places. The introduction fanfare before the start of the Canticle can be several minutes long, before the start of the first verse. People can be encouraged to ring their bells a the end of the Canticle as well. Some places might add some visual effects of processing banners, liturgical windsocks, uncovering art that was otherwise covered, etc. On one occasion, tasteful young girl dancers (dressed as ballerinas in white dresses with flowers in their hair) gracefully danced down the aisle. There can be some creativity here, depending on the style of the congregation, to help bring in the joys of Easter.

As far as the Canticle selection, the Prayer Book recommends the Gloria, but also commends the Pascha Nostrum (the traditional Easter Canticle) or the Te Deum. Some traditionalists might insist on the Pascha Nostrum, but this is where I depart from tradition. Most congregations today are accustomed to the “Parish Eucharist”, which is where the service music is sung largely by the people in hymn-like settings. The people-friendly settings of the Gloria are usually well loved and missed during Lent. Most settings of the Pascha Nostrum and Te Deum are either simple chant or complex choral pieces. In these congregations, the joy of the Acclamation and “Great Noise” could be impeded through standing through a long plainchant or choral Pascha Nostrum or Te Deum (with the congregation just listening, not singing along). In churches accustomed to Choral Eucharists or regular use of plainsong, this may not be an issue. Regardless, I’d at least recommend the singing of the Pascha Nostrum or Te Deum at the Offertory Anthem. See the below example from the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando (Episcopal, my church growing up).

Remainder of the Service

The rest of the service should follow the normal rubrics of a Eucharistic liturgy, ensuring to add the proper collects, Easter hymnody, and dismissal. A large feast or reception together with the congregation would be a great way to end the night!

Further Example Videos

The below are further examples of Easter Vigils and music selections. I don’t necessarily endorse some of the churches and cathedrals theologically, but hold up portions of their liturgies as good video examples.

Full 2019 BCP Easter Vigil, Saint Peter’s Cathedral (2020-no congregation due to COVID)
Full 1979 BCP Easter Vigil, Washington National Cathedral
Pascha Nostrum- setting by MacFarlain
Paschan Nostrum- setting by Dirksen
Te Deum- Setting by Stanford


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: