By Steve Raml, Director of Liturgy & Music
Easter – One Day = 50 Days
No day of the year inspires so much joy and hope than Easter Sunday. No other day offers the incredible good news that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead!
When the disciples went to the tomb early in the morning, they could hardly believe what they found! Yet, their experience began for all of us the great unfolding of our salvation in the Risen Lord.
Unfortunately, the huge crowds of Easter Sunday morning disappear as quickly as a Christmas carol on the radio on December 26, we know and believe that glory of the Resurrection cannot be contained in a 24 hour period!
We live in a culture that puts more emphasis on anticipating holidays than celebrating them. Just think of those Christmas shopping displays that now appear in early October. It seems that the preparations for an event like Christmas or Easter far outpace the event itself.
But in the Catholic imagination, the celebration of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are just the beginning of a full season of joy. For Easter is not one day or one solemnity—it is a 50 day celebration, and the fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday together comprise what the Church calls “the great Sunday”. In a symbol as subtle as numbers, we see that the 50 days of celebration for Easter outdoes the 40 days spent in Lenten preparation.
“The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better as one ‘great Sunday.’ These above all others are the days for the singing of the Alleluia.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, # 22)
So, Easter is at once 50 days and one day. Why 50? Just as the date for celebrating Easter Sunday is tied to the ancient timing of the Jewish feast of Passover, so the timing of Pentecost comes from a Jewish festival called the Feast of Weeks, calculated as 50 days from the start of Passover and celebrating the first fruits, or gifts, of the early spring harvest. The word Pentecost is Greek for “the fiftieth” and since the third century has celebrated the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But why call these weeks one day? Jesuit Fr. Bruce Merrill points once again to the symbolism. He explains that on the evening of the resurrection, the risen Christ breathes the gift of the Holy Spirit into his disciples (John 20: 22) and on the fiftieth day, the Pentecost, Luke describes the gift of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples (Acts 2: 1-4). Therefore, we connect the life in the Spirit with the new life of the risen Christ.
We used to call these the Sundays “after” Easter. Lent was seen as the time “before” the feast to prepare, so the time “after” was needed to complete the celebration. The Sundays following Easter are no longer termed “after” — for they are the Sundays “of” Easter. This emphasized that they are a complete unit, forming one season of exaltation at the triumph of Jesus over sin and death. Showcasing Easter as the great feast of 50 days confirms the Paschal Mystery as the center of our Christian year.
The Easter Season Begins at Night
We mark this important season in many ways, showing in symbol the reality of the Resurrection. Our Easter candle, the Light of Christ that is ignited for the first time from the new fire of that night, burns bright for all our liturgical services and stands near our Baptismal font to welcome us to the celebration. The color of the vestments for the season is white, and our environment of bright flowers reflects this season of new life, fulfillment, rejoicing and joy. Our music for this season is powerful, full of “Alleluias”, and images of water and light.
The Scripture readings of these seven weeks reflect the excitement of the early Church. Unlike most of the year, when our first readings come from the Old Testament, during the Easter Season we proclaim from the Acts of the Apostles and hear how the early Church spread the word of the resurrection and built a community of believers. Gospel readings recount the appearances of the Risen Lord and depict Jesus as a Good Shepherd who would not leave us orphans, but prepare a place for us with him in heaven. Thus, the Liturgy of the Word shows us that God’s raising Jesus from the dead in the power of the Spirit and the gift of the Spirit of the Risen Christ to the church are one and the same event.
The Easter Vigil that begins this season is a night of new birth and new beginnings, as we welcome new members to our community through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Those who entered the Church that night are called “neophytes”. They are now invited into a period of “mystagogy” during the Easter season. Whether we just joined the Church or celebrated our 100th Easter as Catholics, we, too, are invited to the gift of mystagogy during this time. For indeed it is a gift to deepen into the mystery of our faith. We know our God is a loving God, who gave us the gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ, who has conquered death through His glorious resurrection. What a mystery, what a gift to behold.
Every Sunday is Easter Sunday
Above, I referred to the Church teaching that Easter Season is both 50 days and one day. That’s because we celebrate every Sunday as the commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection, and thus we have become a year-round Easter People. Many people live out their Baptismal call as witnesses through service to all of us in the liturgy.
Consider all the people that work together for our celebrations at St. Elizabeth Seton: Fr. Kilian, Fr John and our other retired priests lead our worship, inviting us into full, conscious and active participation. They, along with our Deacons, break open God’s word in their engaging and challenging homilies. Our lectors also study the Scriptures, so that each of them can bring the Word of God alive through their proclamation.
Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharistic share more than the Body and Blood of Christ – they share themselves, as members of the Body of Christ. Altar Servers assist the priests and deacons at the altar to make our celebrations prayerful. Ushers, that first line of hospitality when you enter the church doors, are always happy to assist with directions and emergency care.
Music ministers, from cantors to choir members to instrumentalists, all help us to (in the words of St. Augustine) “pray twice”. Our song is our prayer, and our music enhances all that is proclaimed in both word and action.
There are many people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help our celebrations come alive – from those who decorate our worship space, to those Sacristans who set up for each mass, to those who run our sound.
Most importantly, we have you – the members of the assembly. Your participation in the liturgy is essential. By your presence, you proclaim to all those around you that you truly believe in the fullness of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.
So, during this Easter Season, open your hearts and lives to experience this fullness of our Risen Lord, and allow the energy of this great celebration to create within you a new, vibrant and committed disciple of the One who walks and journeys with us as Easter People!