The Easter Vigil has often been held at 8pm on Holy Saturday night here at St. Anselm’s, a widespread practice throughout the West. However this year, after prayerful consideration, it is moving to 5am on Easter Sunday- just before the dawn. Better get the alarm clock ready- after all few can have good reason not to make it at this hour!
The vigil was originally celebrated throughout the entire night of Holy Saturday lasting until dawn. The modern rubrics do not stipulate a set time but simply state that it must be held “after sunset on Holy Saturday and before sunrise on Easter day”. (cf. Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year). Thus we are able to make this move in obedience to canon law.
I believe the move will work really well liturgically having experienced a pre-dawn Mass during my days as an Anglican curate in Brentwood, Essex. There is something deeply symbolic about entering the church in total darkness and leaving it just as the sun is rising on a new Easter morn. It contrasts nicely with Midnight Mass happening in the middle of the darkest night- now the hope that promised is being realised.
Furthermore the liturgy then chimes with the biblical narratives. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the third day- according to our own experience of a Western Calendar not by the Jewish rhythm that runs from dusk till dusk. And so as we gather by the fire pre-dawn we resonate with news that the first disciples too discovered the wonderful news ‘on the first day of the week, at early dawn…”
And finally I rather warm to the change because we can then offer bacon rolls and fizz for breakfast in the hall once the celebration is over! And that sounds like enormous fun to me. The 10am Easter day Mass will continue to be celebrated as normal and all other services remain untouched. I urge you to make the effort to rise early and behave like an ancient disciple…
“At early dawn they went to the tomb”