Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is one of the most important services of the year. Almost everything done in the church year is based upon this service. It is also perhaps the most painful, because of all its intricacies – and since Bruton typically begins at 5:30 in the morning.

Liturgy Committee Duties

The first thing to do is schedule people to serve. The Easter Vigil can become very complex, with a double procession, a portion outside, and even baptisms some years. Try to schedule people at least two weeks in advance. It may help to use the same people as acolytes from Palm Sunday the week before, particularly if people are not accustomed to their roles. The double procession means everything except for the Gospel Book Holder is doubled. The extra two torches are in the sacristy; the extra cross is in the bell tower. Make sure each person scheduled for the service is confirmed. Obviously, it becomes very difficult to replace people at 5 AM.

Always synchronize with the choir. Whenever possible, allow for the choir to stay at its maximum size. If a choir member must also fill another duty, keep this at a minimum and use the bulletin to confirm that their roles will not interfere with their choir duties. For example, a choir member could not feasibly double as a reader, as this would require a large amount of walking to both read and sing between readings.

Setup should begin an hour and a half before the service is to begin. Make sure to retrieve keys to the church several days beforehand so the church can be unlocked. Call security immediately upon entering the church.


The Easter Vigil also includes up to nine readings in the first part of the service, though this number is often trimmed down. To reduce the number of people needed, only two readers can be used, switching off between readings, though more may be used as available. Readers may be robed in cassocks. Additional readers may be used here or for the readings later in the service.


Typically ushers wear academic robes for this service. Ushers should be ready fifteen minutes before the service at the latest. Doors should be closed at this point with all lights off. Parishioners unable to stand for the service may wait in the church, as is done for Palm Sunday, but the church should remain dark. Ushers hand out bulletins and tapers and direct people to the semicircle for the beginning of the service. Time is a factor; ushers should move the offertory and communion along efficiently and be prepared to extinguish and change out candles immediately after the service so candles are all the same heights for the following services.


One set of torches and crucifer is assigned to the semicircle, and the other set should stand by the entrance to the church. All torches should be unlit, and servers should be in place ten minutes before the service. The torches by the fire basket will be lit during the service, and at the conclusion of this part of the service all servers will process towards the door. These torchbearers will light the two torches by the door, and proceed into the church. The two torches will help light the congregant’s tapers.

One server should be in charge of the Paschal Candle. This should be in the basement of the church. A small bag of red “nails” should be found with the candle and is needed for the service. The server should be prepared to hold the candle while it is lit and give the priest the nails to place into the candle. This server should also coordinate how the candle is to be lit; a bare taper can be used for this purpose.

The procession takes the following order: thurifer, boat boy, cantor, first processional set, choir, Eucharistic ministers, second processional set, preacher, and priests.

Have all servers not involved in the Eucharist assist in keeping communion flowing quickly.

Other Roles

The Easter Vigil also usually includes a thurifer. Make sure to fill this role with someone with sufficient training. The thurifer wears a black cassock. The thurible should be lit fifteen minutes before the service is to begin. For more instructions for the thurifer, please see the section in this guide. In addition, a cantor may also be supplied to chant the Exsultet, though this is usually done by a priest. The Exsultet is found in the Altar Book, so this needs to be in the hands of the cantor and then be returned to the altar for the Eucharist. If possible, two separate chalice bearers may also be assigned to the service, though it is easiest simply to assign two acolytes – but never the thurifer – to these roles. The choir should stand by the priests for the start of the service and will process into the church.

The Fire Basket

The Easter Vigil begins outside the church around a fire basket. The fire basket itself is kept in storage, and arrangements must be made with the facilities manager to have it placed in the church basement before the service. A pipe has been drilled into the ground at the semicircle on the north side of the church to hold the fire basket.

Purchase a large starter log rated to last two or three hours in addition to small kindling, matches, and lighter fluid. All of these items may be found at a place such as Food Lion. Place the starter log in the center of the fire basket and neatly pile small kindling on top. Use a small amount of lighter fluid to help spread the flame, but do not soak the kindling. Light the fire basket about a half hour before the service. The fire should be sufficient to last throughout the service and should be extinguished after the service. Have a gallon jug of water handy in case of sparks and to help extinguish the flame. Pour water over the entire basket, then take the basket into the churchyard and dump out the ashes. Spread them out and pour more water over them to extinguish any hot spots.


If a baptism is to occur, prepare the large pitcher full of fairly hot water – hotter than would be desired, because by the time the service reaches the baptism, it will have cooled off. The pitcher, towels, and chrism oil should be placed near the baptismal font. Check with the celebrant well in advance to coordinate the baptisms. In lieu of any baptisms, the service will include The Renewal of Baptismal Vows.

The Service

The service itself is not too dissimilar to a regular Sunday Service. Everyone begins outside in the churchyard for the lighting of the Paschal Candle. One set of unlit torches and crucifer stands by the priests no later than ten minutes before the service is to begin, while the second set stands by the doors to the bell tower. Ushers hand out tapers and bulletins to the congregants and instruct them to gather around the fire basket. This should begin no later than fifteen minutes before the service. The outdoor portion of the service lasts approximately 30 minutes, so any congregants unable to stand or be outdoors for this portion of the service should be allowed to sit in the church. All others are to be kept out. The church itself is entirely dark.

Once the Paschal Candle has been lit and blessed, the processional torches are lit from the Paschal Candle. Note that, whenever possible, candles and other objects should be lit directly from the Paschal Candle, though this of course is impractical for lighting all of the tapers. The two processional torches, crucifer, and thurifer move through the congregation to begin the procession. When they get to the bell tower, the two torchbearers light the other two processional torches standing there. It will be these second torchbearers who will light the congregant’s tapers. Once the procession into the church begins, the celebrant begins chanting, and the cantor will chant the Exsultet. Some method of lighting candles at the lectern must be employed. The Paschal Candle will be placed in its holder in the Governor’s Box by the baptismal font. At the conclusion, the service continues with readings and the renewal of baptismal vows, or with any baptisms. At this point, the celebrant announces the rising of Christ. Ushers need to be ready to light candles around the church as soon as the Gloria begins. Two torchbearers will be responsible for lighting the two candles on the altar and two candles next to the altar. As long as it is sufficiently light out, only the pulpit candles should be lit.

From this point forward, the service is essentially a normal Sunday service. As there is a 7:30 morning Easter service in the church, time may become an issue. Always move with reverence and purpose, but do not dawdle. Ushers and acolytes assigned to direct congregants to and from the altar during communion should ensure an efficient flow. If time is an issue, do not extinguish altar candles.

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