Between crowded churches, family gatherings, and baskets of colored eggs and candy, Easter can be treated as a one-day event that disappears as abruptly as Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail.
Yet for Catholics, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection should be just beginning. In terms of time elapsed, Easter Sunday constitutes a mere 2 percent of the entire Easter season.
“The 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better as one ‘great Sunday,'” states No. 22 of the Vatican’s General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, issued in 1969.
The Easter season continues from Easter Sunday, April 8, until Pentecost Sunday, May 27, three days after the Feast of the Ascension. A special emphasis is put on Sunday liturgies throughout this period.
“The Gospels of those Sundays gradually move from the appearances of the risen Christ to waiting for his gift of the Holy Spirit. So, there is a definite forward thrust to this liturgical season,” observed Father Thomas Nellis, pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Gates.
These weeks are marked by baptisms, first Communions, confirmations, praises of “Alleluia” and such celebratory church displays as special banners and flower arrangements. Not until after Pentecost does the church return to ordinary time for the first time since Lent began.
“By trying to keep the floral displays fresh, wearing festive vestments, singing triumphant music and using the sprinkling rite at the beginning of Mass, etc., we attempt to keep the joy of Easter alive throughout the 50 days,” Father Nellis said.
“In Lent we emphasized the desert experience and emptiness. The sanctuaries were simple and bare. In Easter they will reflect color and new growth in abundance to represent the new life of Easter,” added Father Patrick Connor, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in western Livingston County.
Joyful look, sound
A popular way to symbolize this new life is for the celebrant to walk through the church aisles during the opening rites each Sunday, sprinkling the faithful with holy water. At St. Joseph Parish in Penfield, the ritual serves “to connect us to those catechumens and also those being baptized throughout the year,” said Nancy Veronesi, liturgical coordinator.
Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons, issued by Liturgical Training Publications, notes that the primary liturgical areas of attention and concern during the Easter season are the baptismal font and holy water; the paschal candle; and the altar. White or gold banners and other hangings can greatly add to the building’s interior, as can wreaths and streamers outside the church.
At Holy Ghost, Father Nellis said, “we have a beautiful banner of the risen/ascending Christ that will hang on the back wall, behind the large crucifix suspended over the altar. When seen together from the main body of the church, these two elements clearly portray the whole paschal mystery: that Christ — and we — pass through suffering and death to a new life in God.”
Meanwhile, Veronesi said St. Joseph Parish has developed a “spectacular” large mosaic in the front of the worship space with a new crucifix, which was to be affixed in time for Holy Week.
“This will certainly be the highlight of our Easter-season environment,” Veronesi said, also pointing out the parish environment-and-art team’s “careful placement of the Easter lilies as well as various beautiful spring arrangements of flowers and greens.” This is in keeping with the season’s emphasis on fresh flowers, rather than artificial, in order to maintain the Easter theme of life and living things.
Upbeat liturgical music, as well, is the rule throughout the 50 days.
“These above all are the days for the singing of the Alleluia,” according to No. 22 of the church’s General Norms. Hence, all entrance antiphons and Communion antiphons during the Easter season end with Alleluia. In addition, the sourcebook notes that “during the Liturgy of the Word throughout the Easter season, the singing of the Alleluia may replace any of the proper responses for the psalm.”
At Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Celtic Alleluia is sung during the Gospel Acclamation, noted Ginny Miller, associate diocesan director of liturgy. This is kept up during the 50 days of Easter but not done at any other time of year, “so as to create a ‘sound of Easter,'” said Miller, who also is the cathedral’s music coordinator.
Miller noted that the Easter season also is an ideal time for specialized musicians to lend their skills. Last year, for instance, instrumentalists and choirs from neighboring parishes were featured at Sacred Heart for each 5 p.m. Sunday Mass during Easter. Meanwhile, Nancy DeRycke, pastoral administrator of Church of the Resurrection in Fairport, said plans are in place at her parish to have liturgical dance on Pentecost Sunday as well as other weekends of Easter.
Extended focus needed
Staying in the season also is accomplished by continuing what was begun during Lent. For the past three years, Veronesi said, St. Joseph Parish has emphasized Lenten small-group ministry and that “sometime in the Easter season, we will celebrate together as we end that program with a gathering and small-group sharing along with a meal.” DeRycke said Church of the Resurrection invites people from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults “to share their journey at liturgies” during Easter.
Yet despite the many efforts to prioritize the 50 days of Easter, Father Nellis said he believes the need exists for “a lot of catechesis to help the majority of the faithful be aware of the (50-day) Easter season as an important period of time in the church’s calendar.” In his “Along the Way” column in the Catholic Courierof May 2006, Bishop Matthew H. Clark likewise emphasized that the Easter experience is ongoing.
“On Easter Sunday … you received the Bread of Life, renewed your baptismal promises and, in return, received God’s promise of eternal life,” the bishop wrote. “It was not an offer that expired at midnight Easter night.”
Bishop Clark stressed that the celebration of Easter — not to mention the disciplines of sacrifice and prayer developed over the 44-day Lenten season — should have long-lasting effects even beyond Easter’s 50-day period.
“Don’t let those feelings wane and disappear until the next big church holiday comes along,” he advised.