"Haec nox est."
This is the night.
Jesus Christ died, was buried and resurrected from the dead.
This is what we celebrate on Easter. The solemnity of solemnities!
Imagine what it was like to stand at the cross, watching Jesus die. Imagine watching him buried in a tomb, a stone rolled across the front. Now imagine, days later, discovering that Jesus Christ stood up and left that tomb. That he was alive, and walking among the living.
At times, we are so accustomed to the Easter story that we cannot sense how truly miraculous it was. We take the Resurrection in stride. It’s hard to really fathom what Jesus Christ has done for us.
The Resurrection sets us free from sin and death. It opens up for us eternal joy and happiness.
To remember that freedom, the Church gives us the liturgy of the Easter Vigil.
The Easter Vigil is the first celebration of the Resurrection - which turns darkness into light and which brings forth the water of life.
The Easter Vigil proclaims the paschal mystery, the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, in the rich symbols of fire and water, in the proclamation of God’s word and in the celebration of the eucharistic Jesus.
Pope Benedict XVI explains:
"The Easter Vigil makes use of two eloquent signs. First there is the fire that becomes light. As the procession makes its way through the church, shrouded in the darkness of the night, the light of the paschal candle becomes a wave of lights, and it speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets - the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness.
"The second sign is water. On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."
"Christ is our Light!" the Easter Vigil proclaims. And Christ is our light. He guides us. He draws us from the darkness of sin. Of confusion. Of doubt. Encountering Jesus Christ is like opening our eyes for the first time and discovering that everything we see in his light points us to truth, goodness and beauty.
"Christ is the Water of Life!" the Easter Vigil tells us. He nourishes us. He quenches our deep desires. At the Easter Vigil we witness baptisms in which Jesus Christ, the Water of Life, cleanses us of sin, making us pure, holy and renewed.
Thousands of souls, here and throughout the world, will experience this for the first time.
But the Easter Vigil is more than those rich symbols. It is the proclamation of the history of our salvation. A reminder, in nine readings from Scripture and the beautiful Exsultet hymn, that God has been preparing us to come to know Jesus Christ - to know him intimately and deeply, from the beginning of creation. The Easter Vigil recounts for us that God has a plan for us, and that he works through us and along with us to bring all men to salvation.
Finally, the Easter Vigil is the joyful celebration of Jesus Christ present in the holy Eucharist. The Resurrection means that we who partake in the Eucharist are drawn up into God’s eternity. Nothing is more important than that.
I encourage each of you and your families to consider attending the Easter Vigil Mass this year. It is a Mass of transformation - of remembering that we can be washed clean and that we can journey from darkness to light. It is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
As Pope Benedict says, we celebrate Easter "as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death."
May each of us come to new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.
Easter Vigil: This is the night to rejoice
"Haec nox est."