The Easter Vigil is the "mother of all vigils" (Saint Augustine), because on this night the Church awaits, watching over, the resurrection of Christ and celebrates it in the Sacraments.
This celebration represents the central moment of the Easter Triduum and of the entire liturgical year. Despite the similarity with the Roman Rite scheme, the Church of Milan - and in particular the liturgy of the Duomo - has maintained a series of particularities. In fact, the Ambrosian liturgy has reinterpreted the lucernal part of the Vigil ina unique way, provides its own biblical catechesis and has preserved, similarly to what happens for Holy Thursday at the Mass "in the Lord's Supper", also the ancient Eucharistic Canon proper to this night.
The Easter Vigil opens with the liturgy of light: in fact from the previous day, as a sign of mourning, all the lights have been turned off. Under the blessed light - once coming from the nearby Church of San Sepolcro, a Milanese memory of the holy places of the Lord's Passion - the Archbishop lights the large Paschal candle, placed next to the ambo, while a first and progressive illumination of the Cathedral takes place.
From the pulpit, the Preconio is then intoned (the "Exúltet", from the incipit of the Latin text sung by the deacon), an ancient liturgical hymn which, in the typical version of the Ambrosian tradition (also characterized by its own melody), dates back to the 5th century. The Preconio, in which the different images of the lamb, the shepherd, the water and the bread find their perfect fulfillment in Jesus risen from the dead, represents ina certain way the "synthesis" of the entire celebration. The Ambrosian text, interpreting ina unique way the image of the light coming from the Easter candle (compared to the "pillar of fire" of the Exodus and the guiding "star" of the Magi), describes Easter night as the one in which "they come true foretells and prophetic facts of various millennia"and presents the Sacraments as a sign of participation in the Lord's Passover. During the singing of the Preconio, according to the liturgy of the Cathedral, in various moments related to the text of the Hymn, the lighting of the lights of the Cathedral and of the altar lights is completed, drawing on the flame of the Paschal Candle. From its beginning, the celebration is characterized by a particular spiritual tension towards the encounter with the risen Lord: "Tonight - the Exúltet still sings - we must wait in vigil for our Savior to rise again. Let us therefore keep the torches alight as did the prudent virgins; delay could delay the encounter with the Lord who comes. It will certainly come and in the blink of an eye, like the sudden lightning flashing from one end of the sky to the other. "
The long biblical catechesis follows, consisting of nine Readings, taken from the two Testaments, in which all the fundamental events of the history of salvation are retraced, starting from creation to the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. At the end of the six Readings of the First Testament, the solemn announcement of the Resurrection sounds. The Archbishop, with the miter on his head and the crosier, sings "Christus Dóminus resurréxit!" (Christ the Lord is risen) and immediately the bells are rung - which had remained "bound" at the moment of the announcement of the Lord's death - and the organ, as a sign of celebration. Therefore, not the song of the Gloria, as occurs in the corresponding celebration of the Roman Rite, but the triple announcement of the Resurrection marks the culmination of the Ambrosian Easter Vigil. A peculiarity, which has a strong parallelism with the Byzantine liturgy, borrowed from an ancient tradition in use in Jerusalem, already in the fifth and sixth centuries.
The third part of the Vigil includes the administration of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist). Every year, in the Cathedral, some adult Catechumens receive the Sacraments from the Archbishop on this very night and are dressed in the white robe, a sign of the new life of grace, which springs from baptismal regeneration. As if to make visible the image - recalled by the Preconio - of the "column of fire that shines and guides the redeemed to the waters that give salvation", the procession of the Catechumens to the baptismal font from the Borromaic period, located at the entrance to the Cathedral, is guided proper to the Paschal Candle.
The celebration of the Easter Vigil ends and takes place with the Eucharistic liturgy. The words of the song to the breaking of the bread (composed by St. John Damascene: 650c-750c) summarize well the meaning of our participation in the Passover of the Lord Jesus: «I was dying with you on the cross, today I live again with you. I shared the tomb with you, today I rise again with you. Give me the joy of the kingdom, Christ, my Savior. Alleluia, alleluia».