At St Philip's, the Easter Vigil is held at 6am on Easter Day, about dawn. There are three parts: the Service of Light, the Exultet, and the Service of the Word.
Once the sanctuary candles are lit from the new Paschal candle, the light is passed through the congregation from one person to the next, so that everyone has a small candle each. Then the deacon sings the Exultet.
The Exultet is a proclamation of joy and salvation and has roots in the first centuries of Christianity. Its language is ancient, its theology embedded in the world though of the time. It strongly emphasizes salvation from sin and the new life in Christ. In form, it is a thanksgiving, a cousin to the Eucharistic prayer. It recalls the greatness of God, includes a dialogue with the assembly that is like a preface, and it concludes with an offering — an offering of the candle to God.
The text expresses the meaning of Easter. It invites heaven, earth and the church to rejoice ('exult') in this feast. It recalls Israel's Exodus and proclaims a new 'exodus'. New Christians cross through water from slavery to freedom and all the church shares in the rising of Christ. Easter is the most blessed of festivals, the festival of Passover, baptism, resurrection, and redemption. In joy we offer God our Easter candle, a pillar of fire, mingling with the lights of heaven, a candle which will meet Christ, the Morning Star, whose resurrection forever dispels darkness.
The Exultet is a glorious proclamation, and the early church wrapped it in a cloak of melodious chant, then entrusted it to the deacon, whose ministry added to its dignity. It is a powerful beginning to the Easter feast, a rich proclamation of salvation, sung in gorgeous chant by a minister ordained to proclaim the Gospel.
The glorious music is here (pdf)
Here it is sung by Geoff Losee of the Choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Wilmington, North Carlina.
Rejoice, heavenly powers!
The Lord be with you.
It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices we should praise the unseen God,
"The Light of Christ!"
"Thanks be to God!"