The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil is the first service of Easter Day and is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning. Its origins date back to the mid-7th century.

The service consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light.

  2. The Service of Lessons.

  3. Christian Initiation, or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.

  4. The Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion.

The service is characterized by the lighting of the new flame, the presentation of the Paschal candle and singing of the Exsultet, and the acclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

Service Preparations

High Altar

The high altar is fully-adorned in flowers and festive appointments prior to the start of service, however the altar is dark until the Easter Acclamation. All other normal preparations for Holy Communion are made by the Altar Guild.

All veils are removed from crosses and stored away in the sacristy.


The color of the day is white/gold. Clergy are attired in black cassock, alb, and gold stole. The gold chasuble is laid out for the celebration of Holy Communion. The celebrant wears the gold cope for the start of the service.

The choir is attired in black cassock and surplice. All other servers are attired in black cassock and surplice. The lectors do not vest.


Incense is offered during the entering procession and singing of the Exsultet, and during the Easter Acclamation, and during the Offertory. The thurifer should prepare the thurible and boat and ensure that these items along with coals and tongs, are ready in the rear of the church near the fire pit for the new fire. Coals are to remain unlit until the new fire is ignited.

The New Fire

The fire pit should be set up in the rear of the center aisle and readied with fuel for the flame. Flint and steel, as well as matches, are set up on a small table near the fire pit for ease of access. A taper is also present on this table to use for lighting the Paschal candle.


No candles on either altar are lit for the start of this service. The lectern candles also remain dark for the start of the service. Acolytes and torchbearers should bring their candles to the rear of the church for the entering procession and leave them unlit until they receive the new fire.

Lucifers should be placed in their stands in the usual places, where they can be retrieved easily at the Easter Acclamation.

Hand-held candles for the congregation are prepared in advance and available in baskets at all entrances to the church. They remain unlit until the entering procession.

Paschal Candle

The new Paschal candle is prepared by the Altar Guild and ready for the entering procession. The stand for the candle is placed in the crossing and empty at the start of the service.


Preparations for Holy Baptism are made at the baptismal font, including a ewer of warm water, cloths, chrism, and tapers.

Other Preparations

The wooden lectern from the chapel should be placed on the Epistle side of and slightly behind the Paschal candle, facing the nave. A binder with the Exsultet and a book light is set up on that lectern.

The eagle lectern is set up with the readings as well as a book light. The stands for the processional torches are placed on either side of the eagle lectern.

The Lighting of the Paschal Candle

The church is in near darkness, with only minimal illumination to avoid safety concerns. The altar party, weather permitting, exits from the parking lot door and moves to the West door around the building.

Note: The choir is in place in the stalls prior to the start of the service and does not process. Chalicists are requested to be seated the the rear row of the choir stalls with handheld candles to avoid crowding.

The ushers close the Great Doors to the nave of the church.

At the direction of the celebrant, the celebrant or verger knocks on the door three times with the butt of the virge. The doors are opened and the ministers of the service move into the nave surrounding the fire pit. The configuration should look like this:

[Great Doors]

Torchbearer   Acolyte Crucifer Acolyte    Torchbearer

Deacon    Celebrant   Subdeacon

[Fire Pit]

Verger     Thurifer                     MC

[Rear Pews]==================          ==================[Rear Pews]

At the direction of the celebrant, the minister of ceremonies or other designee uses flint and steel (or matches if necessary) to ignite the new flame.

The thurifer opens the thurible for the deacon, who uses tongs to grasp the coal, igniting it in the new flame and then placing it back inside the thurible.

The celebrant lays on incense, and then incenses the new fire with three double-swings and hands the thurible back to the thurifer.

The celebrant addresses the people and prays.

The deacon presents the Paschal candle to be lit, which the celebrant does from a taper provided by the subdeacon. When lighting the Paschal candle, the celebrant speaks these words, “May the light of Christ, gloriously rising, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”

The subdeacon then lights the candles held by the acolytes and/or torchbearers using the taper.

The procession forms, in this order:


Deacon with Paschal candle



Acolyte Crucifer Acolyte

Subdeacon Celebrant MC

Torchbearer Torchbearer


The deacon leads the procession into the center aisle.

As the acolytes reach the pews, they begin to light the candles of members of the congregation sitting closests to the aisle. Those congregants then pass the flame to their neighbor.

After a time, the deacon stops the procession, lifts the Paschal candle, and sings, “The Light of Christ,” to which the people reply, “Thanks be to God.”

This is repeated twice more as the procession moves from the West door to the crossing.

Upon reaching the crossing, the deacon places the Paschal candle in its stand (with assistance from the minister of ceremonies as needed). The deacon proceeds to the lectern, with the rest of the processional party arranged as follows:


[Paschal Candle]



Acolyte Crucifer  Acolyte MC  Celebrant  Subdeacon

Thurifer Verger


The thurifer presents the thurible to the celebrant, who incenses the Paschal candle, with the minister of ceremonies and subdeacon assisting with the celebrant’s cope as needed.

After the candle is incensed, the deacon sings the Exsultet. All respond in the appropriate places per the instructions in the leaflet.

The Liturgy of the Word

After the Amen is sung in the Exsultet, the celebrant says, “Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.”

With the the thurifer leading, the procession forms up in usual order and moves into the quire. Before processing, the torchbearers place their torches in the stands at the eagle lectern to provide light to the lectors.

The celebrant is seated in the second row, Gospel side, the deacon in the second row, Epistle side, and the subdeacon back row, Gospel side. The other ministers are seated in the rear row of the choir stalls on the Gospel side.

The verger moves to escort the first reader to the eagle lectern.

Following the leaflet, the service proceeds with the sequence of five lessons, each followed by a motet and a collect prayed by the celebrant.

Holy Baptism

After the final collect of the Liturgy of the Word, and at the cue of the minister of ceremonies, the crucifer and acolytes lead a procession of the sacred ministers and other ministers of the service to the baptistery. The crucifer pauses at the foot of the quire steps to allow the acolytes to retrieve the torches from the lectern.

After the newly baptized are welcomed, the crucifer and acolytes lead the sacred ministers back. All other ministers of the service exit the baptistery through the side door and use the sacristy passageway to return to the quire. The sacred ministers will stop at the top of the quire steps for the Easter Acclamation.

The crucifer and acolytes continue to the altar rail. The crucifer returns the processional cross to its place and the acolytes place the torches in their stands at the altar and begin to light the altar candles, lighting the lucifers from the processional torches.

The First Eucharist of Easter

The Easter Acclamation

The celebrant makes the Easter Acclamation from the top of the quire steps. As soon as the acclamation is over, the acolytes begin lighting the altar and any other candles or torches there as the organ and brass introduces the hymn. After lighting the high altar, the acolytes exit to the chapel and light the candles there.

All who are able ring bells through the entirety of the hymn.

Once the altar candles have been lit, the thurifer presents the thurible to the celebrant to have incense laid on and blessed. The celebrant incenses the altar. After receiving the thurible back from the celebrant, the thurifer departs to the sacristy.

The service proceeds as normal with some notes as included below. Note that this service excludes the Creed and Confession and Absolution.

The Holy Communion

Holy Communion proceeds as normal with the Offertory, during which incense is offered. After the celebrant incense the altar, he/she incenses the thurifer, and hands the thurible back.

The thurifer then incenses clergy, servers, choir, and congregation in the customary order, and then departs.

The remainder of the service proceeds as usual, with double alleluias added at the Dismissal.