As Christianity became the norm in Europe, adult conversions dropped off — and in some places vanished altogether. If everyone was already Christian, there were no adults left to convert.
And so dwindled the sense of drama in the rite. Gradually, the celebration moved earlier in the day. By the first half of the 20th century, it was typically celebrated on the morning of Holy Saturday.
In the 1950s, Pope Pius XII mandated that the celebration should be returned to Saturday evening after sunset. In 1972, with the establishment of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the Catholic Church restored the ancient methods of preparing and catechizing converts.
The Easter Vigil became, once again, the normal time for adult converts to receive the sacraments of initiation.
Catholics belonging to the Neocatechumenal Way, an itinerary of post-baptismal Christian initiation born out of the Second Vatican Council, celebrate the vigil overnight after fasting during Holy Saturday.
In most parishes, the Easter Vigil tends to run later now, though not all night. But every moment is glorious.
Mike Aquilina is a contributing editor to Angelus and the author of many books, including “The Fathers of the Church” (Our Sunday Visitor, $24).
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