Easter Vigil and High Mass

On Easter Sunday I went with a few friends to the 5am service at Old St.Paul’s, an Episcopal church here in Edinburgh.

From their website:

The service starts in quiet and darkness. A fire is lit, from which the great Easter candle – symbol of the light of the risen Christ – is lit and carried to its stand at the front of the church. An ancient hymn in praise of the Resurrection, the Exsultet, is sung, before we hear accounts from the Old Testament of God’s acts of salavation through history. The singing of the Gloria is greeted with a fanfare of bells and organ, and then we go the font where we renew the vows of our Baptism and are sprinkled with newly blessed baptismal water. The service continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and ends with the joyous Easter form of the dismissal.

It was really quite something.

I’ve never attended a “high” anglican/episcopal service like that before and I thought it was just beautiful.

The solemnity and reverence for the occasion was infectious but it was still joy filled and hopeful.

I particularly liked it when the fire was lit at the back of the sanctuary and from that the Paschal candle was lit. Then, from that, some of the individual candles of the congregation were lit and we passed the flames between us, each person to their neighbour. I thought it was a brilliant image of the unity of the people there, of the manner in which the light of Christ can spread from person to person.

The first time we knelt, as the candle was processed, I was a bit like, “Oh, okay, this is odd…” but actually there’s a lot of power in that action and it quickly felt perfectly normal and appropriate. To kneel before the King on the day of his resurrection, to acknowledge his greatness and remind oneself of your humble position before him was really compelling.

I also liked the way that the readings began in Genesis and worked through the Scriptures, conveying God’s salvation history and plan for his people from the beginning.

After the readings and sermon we began the liturgy of Baptism where we remade our baptismal vows:

The Christian life means turning from evil and turning to Christ.

Standing  now with Christ, do you renounce evil?
I renounce evil.

Do you repent of sin?
I repent of sin.

Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.

Will you follow Christ?
I will follow Christ.

And renewed a commitment to the Christian life, which was very similar to the promises I made at my profession of faith:

As a disciple of Christ, will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you work for justice and peace, honouring God in all creation?
With the help of God, I will.

After this the rector (vicar/priest guy) went through the church sprinkling everyone with water. I got a full facefull but I don’t think it quite counts as baptism number 3!

After this we partook of the Eucharist (aka. communion). It’s the first time I’ve ever approached an altar to receive it from a member of the clergy and, again, it was a little odd – I was certain I’d mess it up some how but it was fine and another beautifully reflective part of the service.

And to finish we sang Thine be the Glory, which I was especially pleased about because I’m not certain it’s ever really Easter without it.

I don’t think I could worship like this all the time. There’s a lot of theology behind it all that I don’t agree with: a lack of congregational participation for one thing. Some of the history and symbolism behind it all is, however, fascinating and it brought to life my liturgy and theology classes from earlier in the semester. I think I might return if in the mood for something more reflective or passive but you can’t just belt out a tune at the top of your lungs and jump around a little which I’d miss.

So, 5am next year anybody?


One thought on “Easter Vigil and High Mass

  1. Worship, I agree should be reverent and in the beauty of holiness; however I simply cannot square any of this quasi Romish ritualism with the simple New Testament worship that is gloriously freed from the weak and beggarly elements of the old ceremonials. I am also very queamish at the idea of jumping about in worship.
    And if they ARE serious about calling this service a ‘mass’ in its fullest sense then I’d avoid it like the plague. Christ is not offered continually for sacrifice but is now ascended on high. This makes me realise just where we can end up if the Regulative Principle of worship is despised and ditched.

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