Easter evening in Chartres Cathedral includes the Liturgy of The Light, the symbolic re-enactment of Christ’s resurrection and mission to the world. The chairs that cover the labyrinth are removed, special lighting highlighting the architectural features of the cathedral is installed, candles and chairs are placed around the large circular feature that covers the floor of the nave, and a large candle stand for the Paschal candle is set up in the center.
The service, a tradition now for three years, is well attended, with many people arriving as early as an hour before the liturgy.
The bishop, Monseigneur Michel Pansard, opens the liturgy with an invitation to pray for God’s presence and blessing of Christ’s resurrection power, “…that God will allow us to take part in the triumph over death and eternal life.”
Then, a child inquires, “Why is this night different from all others?”
An adult answers, “Today Christ is risen. Tonight we celebrate the victory of Jesus over death.”
“What does that change for us?” The boy asks.
“You see, it’s like this labyrinth, this path in front of us is like the path of our lives. It ends in death.” The dialogues continues, “Scripture tells us that we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each following our own path.”
“What does that mean for us?” Asks the child.
“God sent his son to save us. He died on the cross, but God raised him from the dead. Today Christ has broken all the chains of death. Coming up from hell, Christ is victorious. He covers us with his light and peace.”
“What should we do now?”
“Now, we are going to pray for the light of Christ to illumine the eyes of our hearts, that God will overcome all death, that God will open all the paths that are closed, that God will make of us new men and women, and that God will allow us to join in the joy of his resurrection.”
Then, the paschal candle, symbolizing the risen Christ, Light of the World, makes a processional journey from the entrance of the labyrinth in the west to the center, as all sing, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Jesus, the Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia! Alleluia! He gives us his life.”
Once the candle, symbol of Christ’s radiating light, is in place high above all gathered in the nave, singers chant Victimae Paschali Laudes. This Gregorian hymn of praise for the Risen Christ served from the 14th to 16th century during Easter-eve liturgies using the labyrinth. A translation follows:
To the Paschal Victim, Christians, offer a sacrifice of praise.
The lamb has redeemed the sheep; The innocent Christ has reconciled sinful humanity with the Father.
Death and life confronted each other in an enormous duel. The Master of life died, now living, he reigns.
Mary Magdalene, what did you see on path?
I saw the tomb of the Living Christ, I saw the glory of the One who is resurrected. I saw the angels, his witnesses, the shroud and the clothing. The Christ, my hope is resurrected! He has gone before us to Galilee.
We know it: Christ has truly risen from the dead. Victorious King, have pity on us! Amen.
The twenty-first century celebratory dance on the labyrinth included festive explosions of gold confetti, children carrying sparklers, and the sharing of the Paschal Candle with the congregation.
While following the Paschal candle in procession to the altar, the congregation sang, “Here they are, the friends of the Lamb, here they are, full of life, they have gone towards the well (source), they have drawn out the light, alleluia, alleluia!
The service continued as the Pascal candle was placed on the altar. A reading of Revelation 21:1-22:5 which speaks of the New Jerusalem at the end of time followed. It concludes with, “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” After two more songs of praise to the Risen Christ, and the Lord’s Prayer, a final benediction was given.
The rejoicing continued as some walked the labyrinth while others cleaned it.