Stepping into the new life of Eastertide

Stepping into the  new life of Eastertide
Christ is risen, and this should be reflected in our daily life and activities, writes Jason Osborne

Christ is risen! Oftentimes we partake in the Lenten preparation and the drama of Holy Week but forget about it all as soon as Easter Sunday turns to Easter Monday. As Catholics however, not only are we obliged to remain in the spirit of Easter, it’s in our best interests. This is because the rising of Christ raises us to new life too, and it’s this that we’re celebrating and focusing on throughout the season of Easter.

Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is the beginning of the Easter season proper, with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday being the pinnacle of the Liturgical year. It is the marking of a new creation, a new birth – or a re-birth – the culmination of Christ’s salvific action during his time on earth before the Ascension.

The Vigil has always been understood as the end of the paschal season, the end of repentance and sorrow, and the end of the Lenten conversion we were undertaking in preparation for Easter. Rather than viewing it purely as an end, though, it ought to be viewed as a beginning. It is the beginning of a celebration, and is a major season of grace, joy and thanksgiving. Again, we often think of Easter as a once-off celebration, but it is the ‘party to end all parties’ – a 50 day celebration from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.

An entire season

Since the very beginning of the Church’s life, the feasts of Easter and Pentecost were considered primary, with the paschal mystery being the first celebration to have both a time before the feast (of preparation) and a time afterwards of pure celebration.

The former understanding of the feast of Pentecost saw it being set off, as it had its own octave. In the new, reformed calendar, this situation is fixed as the solemnity of the Ascension does not end the season of Easter – it is one more, special day within an entire season of celebration.

The Easter candle is no longer extinguished on the Ascension, but remains in a place of prominence until Pentecost, as the feast of Pentecost now concludes the Easter season. These days, the time between the Ascension and Pentecost (a single week) should be spent as a time of preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit – just as Our Lady and the apostles spent the week.

The principle behind the reform of the calendar is made obvious when the emphasis on Easter as a fifty-day celebration is considered.

Church dressings

The Easter candle, lit for the first time from the fire of the Easter Vigil, is generally placed in a significant place between Easter and Pentecost and relit for all liturgical services throughout the season, and should be incensed whenever incense is used in the fifty days of Easter.

All liturgical decoration, from the altar cloth to the hangings and banners should be white with contrasting colours, to raise the mind to the season of new life, fulfilment and joy”

The colour of the vestments for the season is white, and the cloth covering the altar is white as well, symbolising the newfound purity won for us by Christ in his victory over sin and its “sting” – death. In fact, all liturgical decoration, from the altar cloth to the hangings and banners should be white with contrasting colours, to raise the mind to the season of new life, fulfilment and joy.

A final, significant liturgical aspect of the Eastertide celebrations is that all penitential elements of the Eucharist are eliminated, replaced by alleluias and exclamations of triumph and joy.

Incorporating Easter joy into family life

So that’s the liturgical background to Easter as a 50-day season of celebration and joy, but what about the effect it ought to have on us and those around us? How do we adjust from the penitent scarcity and asceticism of Lent to the abundance of Easter? There are a couple of ways to centre yourself and your loved ones on the special season through which we journey.

Respecting Sundays

A renewed attention to ‘Sunday rest’ ought to be considered. This is all the more important in the context of the ongoing lockdown, as the distinction between work and leisure has grown increasingly blurred over the past year. I know I’ve often found the ‘work’ aspects of my life bleeding into the time I really ought to be using to switch off, and this is good for no one. God knows us better than we know ourselves; if we don’t rest properly, we grow steadily more agitated until we boil over or meltdown, which often impacts on our families and friends.

It is essential to set aside the weekend, but Sunday most importantly, for your loved ones (and yourself). Christ didn’t die and rise again to have us buzzing around in a state of constant stress and anxiety, and it is a lesson that requires constant re-learning. Worship God as best you can, take a walk, read a book, watch a movie, eat your favourite food, and spend time with those God has placed you with – you’ll never regret having forced yourself to slow down.

Reinstating the family meal

This may not be possible every day throughout the Easter season, but it is a fitting thing to strive for each and every Sunday. Christ’s rising offered us, God’s children, a seat at the eternal banquet in Heaven, and there are few better ways to instil this in the mind than simply gathering together as a family to eat together.

The symbolism of a family meal is all the more potent after Mass (in normal times!) as in Mass, God gathers us around his table, sending us forth to establish communities and fellowship in our own homes and families.

Social isolation is an enormous problem today, even in our homes, as each person spends much of their time in their own room, often leaving only for the essentials of eating and using the bathroom. Preparing a meal together, and sitting down to enjoy it together, is a concrete antidote to the distance that is growing between people in many homes around the country.

Praying together

Just as Our Lady and the apostles gathered in the upper room in order to receive God’s spirit upon them, so too will we receive it if we gather together in prayer. Fr Patrick Peyton, “The Rosary Priest”, used to say, “the family that prays together stays together,” and he wasn’t wrong.

As difficult a thing as it may be to do, inviting the family together to pray is a healthy, edifying practice that helps bring the Easter season to life, just as respecting Sundays and gathering together for meals does.

The rosary is an ideal communal prayer, but it is certainly not the only one. Other countries have traditions of reading the day’s Gospel before the family meal, or reading and discussing it together at some other point throughout the day. It’s a good way to get the family on the same page for the journey through Easter from Resurrection to Pentecost.

These are surely simple steps, but simple is often best, and these few steps will help us to live out the Easter events.