Dear Friends in Christ,
Last night, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, priests all over the world prepared the Paschal Candle which will burn before every altar of the Church throughout Eastertide and at every font during each Baptism in the coming year. In preparation for the lighting of the Paschal Candle, a symbol of Christ the light of the world, a fire was kindled in the dark night and then blessed with these words, “O God, who through your Son bestowed upon the faithful the fire of your glory, sanctify this new fire, we pray, and grant that, by these paschal celebrations, we may be so inflamed with heavenly desires, that with minds made pure we may attain festivities of unending splendor.”
From this new fire, the Paschal Candle in each church was lit and then carried in solemn procession into the midst of the congregation, but before being lit, each Paschal Candle was inscribed with a cross, with the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and with the date of this year of grace. And as these forms were being inscribed in the candle, the priest spoke these words of faith, “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.” Once this action was completed, five grains of incense incased in wax were inserted into the candle, representing the wounds our Savior received on the Cross in his hands, feet, and side. As the nails on which the grains are mounted were driven into the candle, the priest said, “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen.” Finally, the Paschal Candle was lit from the new fire, and as the flame flickered to life the priest said, “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”
This rite of blessing the new fire and lighting the Paschal Candle is seen by very few Catholics, both because it takes place outside of the church in the darkness and because most Catholics celebrate Easter on Sunday morning rather than in the Vigil. But this brief and simple rite casts light on the meaning of everything we celebrate today and on the symbolism of the Paschal Candle, the placing of which in the sanctuary is accompanied by an ancient and extraordinary prayer called the Easter Proclamation or Exsultet which is sung only at the Vigil. As the children of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt by the Passover of the Lord and were led to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea by a pillar of fire, so we Christians are freed from the slavery of sin and death by the Passover of the Lord and are led to freedom through the waters of Baptism by a pillar of fire — the Paschal Candle. Jesus Christ is our Passover, our Paschal Lamb, and the Lamb once slain who is risen and lives forever.
Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast. Alleluia!