Yes, you can take your kids to the Easter Vigil, the high point of the Church’s liturgical year. Here’s how, plus eight cool things for your kids to spot.
- Strategies for Making the Vigil Work with Kids
- Seven Things for Your Kids to Spot at the Easter Vigil
- More resources
If you can make it to your parish’s Easter Vigil service, do—it is the high point of the entire liturgical year, and much different from the Easter morning services. The service is longer than a typical Mass; expect it to run between one and a half and two and a half hours, depending on how elaborate the liturgy is and whether your parish will be receiving people into the Church.
The length of the service is off-putting for some people, especially those with babies on a schedule or wiggly kids. On the other hand, the liturgy is so beautiful, so unique, and so rich with symbolism, it’s worth trying to attend—even with little kids.
Use good judgment about skipping this service in favor of the shorter Easter Sunday service. If you have a colicky newborn who has been keeping you up, or toddlers who melt down in spectacular fashion before they go down for the night, you probably want to wait a year or two. There’s no point in attending a two-hour service that you just can’t participate in because you’re managing kids.
Strategies for Making the Vigil Work with Kids
If you decide to “go for it,” though, try these strategies:
- If you have very young children, consider getting a babysitter so you can go with the older kids (or by yourselves—a liturgical date night!). Babysitters can be hard to find on Easter weekend, though.
- If very young children will be joining you, bring a small pillow and blanket for them to sleep in the pew.
- Do you occasionally use liquid melatonin to help your young ones get to sleep? Then you might consider using it to help toddlers fall asleep. If you haven’t used it before, though, you’ll want to do some research to decide whether it’s something you’re comfortable using. Here’s a good article from Boston Children’s Hospital.
- The usual Mass activity bag can be helpful for younger kids. Fill it with religious picture books, plush toys, laminated holy cards, and other quiet activities. If you have a decent children’s Bible or Bible storybooks, bookmark in advance the stories that correspond to the many readings (see below).
- With older children and teens, preview what to expect at the service, and the symbolic significance of each element of the liturgy. (See the list and resources below for a primer.) Understanding what’s going on will increase their interest and help them participate more meaningfully.
- Keep kids engaged in what’s going on! Sit where they can see, and (quietly) narrate or explain what’s happening as you go along. Prompt participation in kids ages 5-12.
- The promise of cake! In some places, the Easter Vigil is followed by a festive celebration; but if this isn’t the tradition in your parish, you can celebrate in your own way at home…or just collapse into bed and celebrate the next morning!
Keep in mind that at the vast majority of parishes, people are very tolerant of the behavior of babies and little kids. Most folks would rather see your kids at the Vigil service than not, even if they’re a little distracting. Parents are often more worried about their kids’ behavior than anyone else! Having said that, if your child goes into full-on meltdown mode, it’s good etiquette to remove them to the cry room.
Seven Things for Your Kids to Spot at the Easter Vigil
Give your kids a heads-up about these elements of the Easter Vigil:
- The dark. The Easter Vigil takes place after sunset on Holy Saturday, to highlight the Church’s vigil, or waiting, for the resurrection of the Lord. The darkness of the night and of the church symbolizes sin and death, and echoes the Hebrews’ night time waiting for the passover of the Lord on the eve of their liberation from slavery in Egypt.
- The fire. In most places, there will be a large fire burning outside the doors of the church. The service begins with the blessing of this paschal fire and the lighting of the paschal candle from the fire. (Paschal is a Latin word meaning “Easter.”)
- The procession of the paschal candle. The paschal candle, representing the light of Christ rising from the tomb, is brought into the darkened church. The smaller candles held by the assembly are lit from the paschal candle as it makes its way into the Church, symbolizing the new life each of us receives from Christ. This makes a great allegory for kids: Point out to them that just as the church brightens as the light of Christ spreads from person to person, so too is the world transformed when we spread the light of Christ in it.
- The Exsultet. Once the church has been fully lit, the deacon intones the Exsultet, an ancient hymn of praise for God’s saving work in human history, culminating in the resurrection of Christ. (If there is no deacon present, the priest or a cantor sings the Exsultet.) You can preview the text of the Exsultet with your kids, or learn more about theorigins and significance of this hymn from Fr. Michael Flynn.
- The Liturgy of the Word: Lots of readings! The Easter Vigil normally includes seven readings, five from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, each interspersed with a sung psalm. That’s a lot of readings! In some places, the number of readings is shortened to five; other places do all nine readings. Point out to your children that each of the readings relates to another stage of salvation history…that is, the history of God’s saving work among his people. You can preview the readings of the Easter Vigil and the prayers between the readings at this page from Creighton University.
- The blessing of the baptismal waters. The waters of baptism are blessed and sprinkled on the assembly.
- Rites of initiation. Those who have been preparing to enter the Church (catechumens) usually do so at the Easter Vigil, so your kids may also get to witness the baptism and.or confirmation of one or more children or adults. The whole season of Lent had its origins around the preparation of catechumens for reception into the Church.
- The U.S. Catholic bishops offer a detailed overview of the Easter Vigil in The Roman Missal and the Easter Vigil.
- Creighton University offers the full text of the Exsultet at The Exultet: The Exultant Praise of the Easter Proclamation.
- The Easter Vigil article at Wikipedia covers in detail the liturgies of various religious traditions, including the Roman Catholic vigil service.
And finally, here’s a short video summary of the Easter Vigil: