GIVE TIME TO EVERY SEASON
The consumer-led identification of the days of Easter is at odds with the Church calendar and interferes with our celebrations. Parishes should think and plan with a view to the 90 days from Lent to Pentecost.
A challenge: on a day in the Easter Octave, say Easter Wednesday, try to buy an Easter egg, either in your local hypermarket or at a corner shop in your vicinity. I bet you won’t be able to find one on sale: even though Easter eggs have been present in the shops at least since the start of spring and have filled the supermarket shelves to overflowing since about Ash Wednesday. Once the actual day is past, Easter is presumed to be over and done with.
It is a strange feature of those who control the consumer calendar, that every feast is celebrated to the full beforehand rather than on the day itself or indeed on any day in its immediate aftermath. Christmas and Easter share a common fate in this regard. Even the Cadbury’s creme eggs that seemed to appear on the shelves the day after Christmas head for hibernation once Holy Week is over.
This approach to the calendar poses problems for those who plan the Easter liturgies. Secular Easter celebrations dominate Holy Week to the extent that its very title is lost to Easter – and then those days after Easter Monday, when the Church pulls out all the bells and whistles of celebratory liturgies, are lost to title-less weekdays, dedicated to whichever is the next feast of the consumer calendar (Father’s Day perhaps?).
An interesting challenge for a parish liturgy group, or indeed a parish communications group, would be to assemble in hard copy a full consumer calendar of the year, giving special emphasis to Christmas (when does that begin?) – and Easter, and then compare and contrast it with the calendar that Catholic Christians follow. While the highpoints would be similar, the build-up and follow-on would differ markedly. Therein lies the challenge.
Take Easter. For Christians, the Easter Vigil and Easter Day make up the climax of our whole year, for if Christ has not been raised, our faith is vain. But the Church, in beautifully poetic terms, believes the joy of the feast overflows firstly to the week that follows it, with every day in the octave being as if another Easter Day, and then further on to the whole 50-day-long Easter season – the perfect antidote to the 40-day time of fasting (and, witty preachers will point out, a great example of what “balance” really means for the Christian, being always weighted in favour of joy).
Yet this message is hard to get across. In one parish in which I ministered, I was confronted with a sinking feeling when, having returned after a few days away recovering from the Easter Triduum (an exhausting time for priests generally), I came back to a church denuded of flowers, Easter water drained away, Easter garden in mothballs and Easter candle bare and returned to its Ordinary-Time location. This failure to get the reality of Easter joy across has stayed with me, so even when Lent is beginning, I mention the hope of Easter joy as sustenance and reward for those who fast, a joy that overflows for an even longer time than that of privation. It is an important perspective to keep in mind, as there is always a temptation to over-hype the Easter Triduum, as if what follows fades into insignificance – and the second climax of the whole season, Pentecost, stands on its own as if unconnected to what went before.
How does one respond to the challenge of sustaining Easter joy over its full season? Communication is the Church’s primary tool. Perhaps instead of making so much of the 40 days of Lent on their own, the 90 days of Lent/Easter should in their entirety comprise the annual springtime renewal for Christians, with 40 days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving followed by 50 days of feasting, prayer and celebration (a time to honour those in parish ministries with social time together, perhaps).
The wider Church, too, should reflect on its unwitting contribution to the undermining of the Easter season. Eastertide should surely above all be the time of Christian Initiation – Baptism, Communion and Confirmation. But while the second of these events happens most often in May, the first and third are evenly spread throughout the whole year: indeed Confirmations here in Cork seem to happen mostly in Lent. Even the Sacrament of Marriage, an excellent Easter celebration for joy and feasting, can as easily happen in the bleak days of Lent as in the joyous days of Easter, so blind have we become to the difference between the tone of the seasons. If Easter became the time for these four sacraments, Christians would have reason to find out more about the days within which the season falls, and might be more minded to celebrate it in its fullness accordingly.
The local church can help in communicating the eminence of the Lent/Easter season. Ash Wednesday and Pentecost can be emphasised as the book-ends of this 90-day season, the entrance and exit days to the annual springtime of renewal in the Church’s life.
The climax that is Easter should not be presented in isolation but as at the heart of that great season, with 40 days of preparing beforehand and 40 days of reflecting on it afterwards till Ascension Day. The colours and other elements of the liturgical environment will reinforce these messages, with the bare church of Lent, with its purple tones, contrasting with the flower-filled Easter following on alive with the sound of water in the Easter garden and glowing in tones of white and yellow and gold. Creative people working with the parish’s communicators will help bring this message out in all the parish’s media.
A pre-Lenten formation session for people in the parish’s ministries will alert them to the coming themes, so that all who play significant roles in the church are singing from the same hymn sheet (and it will help if those in music ministry are doing this as well). An Irish priest’s imaginative rendering of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at a wedding celebration led to a viral video on YouTube — with few enough noticing that the original celebration took place on the Saturday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The few liturgy-inspired comments on the video noted that some could not decide if they were more upset by the reordering of Cohen’s words for a particular marriage or by the intrusion of such an obvious Alleluia in a liturgy held in Lent. Perhaps they also illustrate how far we as Catholics have to travel before all are “on the same page”.
Fr Bernard Cotter is priest of Newcestown, Co Cork, Ireland (firstname.lastname@example.org) and author with Diana Klein of “How to Survive Working in a Catholic Parish”, published by Redemptorist Publications.
This article entitled “Give time to every season”, was published in The Tablet of 15 April 2017. The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly. Reproduced with permission of the Publisher” www.thetablet.co.uk
GIVE TIME TO EVERY SEASON