Celebrating in the Easter Season
In the Passover Seder observed by many Jews there is the particular question by the youngest, "Why is this night different than any other nights?" As a Catholic, I like to shift this question around to apply to the most pivotal weeks of the Church year, Holy Week and the Octave of Easter. "Why are these days so different than any other days of the year?" Starting with Palm Sunday and through the Triduum, the Church commemorates Christ's Passion and Death and Resurrection, observing the Liturgy so unique and special to these days, never to be repeated the rest of the year. Once reaching Easter, celebrating the Solemnity of Solemnities of Christ's triumph over death and sin, the feast extends for an octave, or eight days, celebrated as one continuous solemnity.
Through these two weeks our family was enjoying living through this unique time of the Liturgical Year. My sons kept playing and singing the music from the Triduum, excitedly saying "I love this. We only sing this once a year." We enjoyed listening to the Mass readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Resurrection accounts from the Gospel.
There was so much preparation and anticipation building up to this point in the Liturgical year. Following the Church's pattern in liturgy, the Lenten season provided the time for focus on personal conversion. Ideally, by the end of Lent, there should have been a personal transformation, with hearts open and ready for Easter. The Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday ended the Octave, but the Easter season continues until Pentecost. The higher intensity of Easter is now a bit relaxed and comfortable. One could say the Church is settling into a routine of celebration.
That is a seemingly contradictory statement to celebrate as a routine. When I say "routine" is to mean that the newness is still there, but we are getting comfortable in accepting the changes the resurrection brings. The word "celebrate" conjures up images of feasting and partying, which humanly cannot be sustained in intensity for fifty days. But the definition of celebrate actually has more dimensions:
1. publicly acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event) with a social gathering or enjoyable activity. Synonyms: commemorate, observe, mark, keep, honor, remember, memorialize
2. perform (a religious ceremony) publicly and duly, in particular officiate at (the Eucharist). "he celebrated holy communion"
3. honor or praise publicly. Synonyms: praise, extol, glorify, eulogize, reverence, honor, pay tribute to.
The word is derived from the Latin verb celebrare, to frequent or to honor. The Church is inviting us to gather around and frequent the feasts of the Easter season, marking, praising, honoring and glorifying Christ's resurrection. That doesn't translate into one long party, but remembering and keeping the days of Easter.
Even with that expanded definition, one finds it is harder to establish a pattern of celebration. Human nature usually builds up in anticipation, but it is more difficult to keep up sustained celebration for a prolonged period of time. The Church doesn't leave us hanging, though. There are clues and indications within the Liturgy that illustrate how to "celebrate" during the entire Easter season.
The Acts of the Apostles
The Easter season unfolds the Acts of the Apostles every day as the first reading of the Mass. The Church passes down the recorded stories of the first Christians and proclaims them every Easter season. We listen to the action-packed account beginning with the Ascension of Jesus to heaven. This first-hand account illustrates how the redemption and resurrection of Christ was completely life-altering. The Christians' joy cannot be contained and their lives were transformed. We see through the Acts of the Apostles a pattern of celebration by honoring and praising publicly. The Apostles and first Christians could no longer stay in the Upper Room and keep the Good News to themselves. They had to live out the joy of being brothers and sisters of Christ.
Today's meditation from In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez emphasizes that changed status:
In the life of the first Christians and their witness to the world make known to us their quality and their character. Their norm of conduct was not to take the easy way out, or opt for the more comfortable line, or the more popular decision, but rather did they seek to fulfill completely the will of God. They ignored the danger of death...they forgot how few they were, they never noticed how many were against them, or the power or strength or wisdom of their enemies. Their power was greater than all of that; theirs was the power of him who had died on the Cross and risen again (St. John Chrysostom). They had their gaze riveted on Christ, who gave his life for all men. They were not seeking their own personal glory, nor the applause of their fellow citizens. They always acted with a right intention, because they had their eyes fixed on the Lord.
Transforming Prayers of the Mass
The transformation of the lives of the first Christians should not be isolated in the first century, but it should also be the story of our own transformation. The prayers of the Liturgy reflect that Easter joy, and give us the glimpse of "how" to celebrate in the Church's mind. All the prayers of the Mass include words such as joy, gladness, exult, happiness, and celebrate. It is during this Easter season that we get a glimpse of what heavenly joy will be. A few examples:
Collect, Third Sunday of Easter:
May your people exult for ever, O God,
in renewed youthfulness of spirit,
so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption,
we may look forward in confident hope
to the rejoicing of the day of the resurrection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ..... Amen.
Prayer Over the Offerings, Monday of the 2nd Week of Easter:
Receive, O Lord, we pray,
These offerings of your exultant Church,
and, as you have given her cause for such great gladness,
grant also that the gifts we bring
may bear fruit in perpetual happiness.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preface II of Easter
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation
at all times to acclaim you, O Lord,
but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously,
when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.
Through him the children of light rise to eternal life
and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom
are thrown open to the faithful;
for his Death is our ransom from death,
and in his rising the life of all has risen.
Therefore, overcome with paschal joy,
every land, every people exults in your praise
and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts,
sing together the unending hymn of your glory,
as they acclaim: Holy, holy, holy....
The beginning and final paragraphs are included in every Easter preface. Of particular note are the phrases "but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously," and "overcome with paschal joy."
Celebration takes on a dignified and other-worldly context. It's not just about the party to "celebrate good times." We are commemorating our redemption, and Christ's triumph over sin and death. The Church provides the examples of Easter celebration, a transformed Christian, "overcome" with the joy of the Gospel. This is a taste of heaven on earth, rejoicing with all of heaven our Easter joy. Our eyes are fixed on Christ.
This season we are reminded to frequently gather around the Good News of Christ's resurrection and share it with the world by our lives. Let us celebrate our Easter joy during this Easter season, and each and every Sunday, another little Easter.
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