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Thursday, 09 April 2015 11:11

Easter lasts for 50 days

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Sr Ilsa Neicinieks rsm150To remind us that Easter lasts more than a day, the Sundays that follow Easter Sunday are called the Sundays of Easter - with lots of alleluias, writes Mercy Sister Ilsa Neicinieks.

Given the importance that Easter holds over all other feasts of the year, it is celebrated not just for one day, but for fifty! Those fifty days are like “one great Sunday,” ending with the feast of Pentecost.

To remind us that Easter lasts more than a day, the Sundays that follow Easter Sunday are called the Sundays of Easter (e.g. Second Sunday of Easter, Third Sunday of Easter etc.) rather than Sundays after Easter.

The first week of Easter forms the Octave of Easter. These days count among the highest feast days of the Church’s year. In the early Church the newly baptised would come to the church every day of the octave dressed in their baptismal robes and the bishop would speak to them about the new life they received at the Easter Vigil and its meaning for them and for the faith community into which they had been initiated.

For example, in 4th century Jerusalem:
“During Easter week the bishop gave daily explanations of the mysteries (what had taken place in baptism) in the Anastasis (i.e. Church of the Holy Sepulchre/Resurrection) to the newly baptised and any of the faithful who wished to hear, but with the doors closed to keep out the catechumens (those not yet baptized). The five days of instruction would correspond to the five Lectures on the Mysteries from Cyril (of Jerusalem). The bishop spoke in Greek but interpreters translated into Syriac or Latin as needed.” (Baptism in the Early Church by Everett Ferguson, p 488).

Today, the RCIA asks that during Easter Time our neophytes (newly baptised) and the parish community be helped to reflect on the significance of what took place in the Easter Vigil, and its implications for both the newly baptised and the faithful. One obvious source for this is the homilies of Easter Time. This period of the RCIA is called the Period of Post-Baptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy (i.e. reflection on the Mysteries).

What are some other liturgical practices specific to Easter Time? First and foremost, the Paschal Candle, symbol of Christ risen and present with us, stands in a prominent place until Pentecost and should be lit for all liturgical celebrations in this season. Whenever incense is used, the Easter candle too, should be incensed.
If the size of the sanctuary permits, the cross used on Good Friday could remain there, draped with a white cloth – the liturgical colour for Easter.

All penitential elements in the Eucharist should be eliminated in Easter Time. (There was a time in the early Church when both kneeling and fasting were prohibited during this joyful season.) In place of the Penitential Act in the first part of the Mass, the revised Missal says:

“On Sundays, especially in Easter Time, the blessing and sprinkling of water (over the people) as a memorial of baptism may take place… in all churches and chapels. 

... If this rite is celebrated during Mass, it takes the place of the Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass.”

Replacing the Penitential Act with a sprinkling rite helps to remind us of the baptism promises we renewed at the Easter Vigil.

Given the baptismal focus of Easter, these weeks are very appropriate for parents to present infants for baptism and for older baptised children to complete their initiation with confirmation and first reception of holy communion.

Musically, we should sing lots of alleluias during Easter Time. An addition specific to Easter Time is a sung dismissal with a double alleluia, found in the missal at the close of the Easter Vigil. It is to be used again at Masses on Easter Sunday and throughout the Octave of Easter (including the Second Sunday of Easter). This dismissal is to be finally sung on Pentecost Sunday as requested in the Missal.

With the “one great Sunday” of fifty days now ended, the paschal candle is not lit again except for baptisms and funerals.

Sr Ilsa Neicinieks rsm is a liturgical educator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide's Office for Worship.

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of The Southern Cross, the official publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.