Commentaries by Dom GuerangerBlessing the New Fire
The first ceremony consists in the blessing of the new fire, which is to furnish light for the whole service. Our Lord said of Himself, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8: 12). Light, then, is an image of the Son of God. Stone, also, is one of the types under which the Scriptures speak to us of the Messiah. St. Peter, and St. Paul, quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, speak of Jesus as the Corner-Stone. The spark which is struck from the flint (stone) represents our Lord rising from His rock-hewn Sepulchre, through the stone that had been rolled against it.
Let us also notice, that the putting out of all the lights in the church is a symbol of the abrogation of the old Law, which ended with the rending of the veil of the Temple; and that the new fire represents the preaching of the new Law, whereby our Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, fulfilled all the figures of the ancient Covenant.
The Church also blesses the five grains of incense, which are to be used in the Service. They represent the perfumes prepared by Magdalene and her holy companions for embalming the Body of Jesus, as well as the five Wounds received by our Lord upon the Cross.
The Paschal Candle
The Church has provided a torch, which is to spread its light upon us during the whole of this long vigil. It is of an unusual size. It stands alone, and is of a pillar-like form. It is the symbol of Christ. Before being lighted, its scriptural type is the pillar of a cloud, which hid the Israelites when they went out from Egypt; under this form, it is the figure of our Lord, when lying lifeless in the tomb. When lighted, we must see in it both the pillar of fire which guided the people of God, and the glory of our Jesus risen from His grave.
The candles are lit from the Paschal candle, to signify that Jesus’ Resurrection was made known gradually. It also tells us that our resurrection is to be a consequence and a likeness of that of our Savior, Who opens to us the way, whereby, after having, like Him, passed through the tomb, we shall enter into life everlasting. Thus begins the singing of the Exultet, from which we learn the joys that await us on this wonderful night.
This first lesson speaks to us of the Creation, of the Spirit of God moving over the waters, of the separation of light from darkness, and of man’s being made to the likeness of his God. This work of the Creator had been deranged and spoiled by Satan’s malice. The time has come, when it is to recover all its beauty. The Holy Ghost is about to effect this regeneration by water; Christ, our Light, is going to rise from the darkness of the tomb; the image of God is to reappear in man, for he is to be cleansed by the Blood of his Redeemer, who is the new Adam, come down from Heaven, in order to reinstate in all his rights, the old and earthly Adam.
Here we have the great type of Baptism. The people of God, delivered from Pharaoh's tyranny, are saved by the very water that destroys the Egyptian. The catechumens will come forth from the baptismal font freed from satan’s sway; their sins will perish for ever in its saving waters.
Canticle (Ex. 15:1, 2)
Here the Church sings the canticle of Moses. His sister Mary and the daughters of Israel sang it on the shore of the Red Sea, as they looked upon the dead bodies of the Egyptians.
Isaiah, the most sublime of the prophets, here invites our catechumens to come to the waters, that their thirst may be quenched; he tells them of the inheritance which God has in store for them; they need not fear their poverty, for the infinitely rich God will overwhelm them with good things.
Canticle (Is. 5: 1, 2, 7)
The Canticle is taken from the same prophet Isaiah, wherein he foretells the favors to be lavished by Christ on His Church, the vineyard, the object of His loving and ceaseless care.
The Holy Church instructs the catechumens, by this lesson, upon the obligation they are about to contract with God. The grace of regeneration is not to be conferred upon them, until they have made a solemn promise that they renounce satan, the enemy of their God. Let them be faithful to their promise, and remember that God is the avenger of every infringement of so solemn a vow.
Canticle (Deut. 32: 1-4)
The Canticle is taken from the sublime canticle sung by Moses, before quitting this earth. The whole assembly of Israel was present, and he put before them, in words of earnest zeal, the chastisements which God exercises against those who break the Covenant He vouchsafes to make with them.
First Part of the Litanies
Blessing of Holy Water
The blessing of water for Baptism is a reminder that it is from water that we came forth Christians. The early fathers allude to this, when they call Christians the fish of Christ. We cannot be surprised, after this, that the sight of the element that gave us our Spiritual Life should excite us to joy, or that we should pay to this element an honor, which is referred to the Author of all the graces about to be bestowed.
Psalm (Ps. 41: 2-4)
Following the Prophecies and the blessing of the Baptismal Water, the night is far advanced. The stars are brightly shining in the canopy of Heaven, and the air resounds with the melodious chanting. They are singing those verses of the psalm, in which David compares his soul’s pining after God, to the panting of a stag that thirsts for a fount of water. The stag is a figure of the catechumen who longs for Baptism.
Second part of the Litanies
Oh, Glorious Triumph of our Risen Jesus! The hitherto silent bells peal to the glad angelic hymn. The enthusiasm of our Holy Faith has mastered every heart, making it beat with emotion. The choir takes up the heavenly canticle.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
At this moment all mournfulness is at an end. One feels that God has accepted the expiatory works of our Lent; and that, by the merits of His Son now risen from the grave, He pardons our earth, since He permits us to hear once more the song of Heaven.
But something is still wanting to the joy of our Easter. Jesus has risen from the tomb; but, so far, He has not shown Himself to all. His Blessed Mother, Magdalene, and the other holy women, are the only ones who have as yet seen Him; it is not till the evening, that He will appear to His Apostles.
While the choir is singing the Psalm to a melody which has something of a mournfulness about it, the priest goes to the ambo, from which he is to chant the Gospel. The acolytes do not accompany him with their torches, but the thurifer goes with him, as usual, with the incense. Here again we have an allusion to the events which took place on this great morning; the women went to the Sepulchre, carrying sweet spices with them, but the light of Faith in the Resurrection was not as yet in their hearts. The incense signifies their spices; the absence of light signifies their want of Faith.