The Much Misunderstood Season of Easter

The Much Misunderstood Season of Easter

In early February, I conducted two workshops for members of parish liturgy committees. The flyer for the workshop read:
“The Easter Season: Fifty Great Days of Celebration. The liturgy documents say that the fifty days of the Easter Season are celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better as one great Sunday. What can liturgy committees and liturgical ministers do to help make this a reality?”

At the beginning of the two workshops, I asked those who hoped to get some new ideas for Good Friday music or Easter Vigil symbols to raise their hands. I was extremely surprised when a large number of participants did so, among them people who had been involved in liturgy planning for many years.

As I explained in last week’s column, our annual celebration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection that begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and concludes on the evening of Easter Sunday is called the Easter Triduum, the “Three Days”. The Easter Season begins immediately after that, on the evening of Easter Sunday, and runs for 7 weeks (a week of weeks) and one day (a total of 50 days), culminating with the feast of Pentecost.

It seems that the Season of Easter is widely unknown or misunderstood, yet it was the first liturgical season celebrated by the Christian Church. It had its origins in a Jewish feast that began at Passover and concluded with a celebration of the end of harvest and the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. Because it was 50 days in length, this period was given the name “Pentecost” which is Greek for “50 days”.

The Christian community developed a parallel celebration that began with their own celebration of “Passover”, our passing over from death to life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and culminating with the commemoration of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the early church, Pentecost was the name given to the whole of the period of great rejoicing following Easter, during which no fasting was allowed, prayers were always said while standing (kneeling was forbidden), and “Alleluia” was sung frequently. Only later did this one feast become divided into separate celebrations of the resurrection, ascension and coming of the Holy Spirit.

The 50 days of Pentecost was a very important time for those who had been baptised at the Easter Vigil. For them it was a time of “mystagogy” or on-going catechesis (instruction). Some of the most interesting early theological writings we have are the catechetical lectures given to the newly initiated in the fourth century by bishops such as Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chryostom.

Still today, the period after the celebration of the sacraments at the Easter Vigil is the time when the newly initiated reflect on their experience of the rituals, explore the meaning of initiation and come to a fuller understanding of the mysteries of the faith.

Finally, I wonder if you could answer these questions about the Easter Season that I asked participants at the workshop: 1. Name three key liturgical symbols of the Easter season. 2. What is different about the scripture readings during the season of Easter? (Answers next week)

Elizabeth Harrington