September 20, 2017

Easter

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The Easter Season

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The Easter season is the “Great Fifty Days” from Easter to Pentecost. It is a week of weeks — seven sevens, 49 days, plus a 50th. The first 40 days commemorate the time between Jesus’ Resurrection and the Ascension (see Acts 1:3), and the last 10 days commemorate the time from the Ascension to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

The first week after Easter is called the Octave of Easter.  It is the eight-day period from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter. Each day is considered a solemnity, and all eight are celebrated together as a unity as if it were one great day.

The resurrection is the single greatest Christian feast, and our entire faith hinges on this mystery as St. Paul so eloquently explained: “If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

But Jesus has been raised! This makes Easter our preeminent time of jubilant exultation — so tremendous that it cannot be adequately observed in a single day.

The octave is a time of intense rejoicing, followed by six more weeks of continuing festivity.

Symbols of Easter

The Easter, Paschal or Christ candle is moved to a prominent place in the church for the entire Easter season, usually somewhere in the sanctuary, as a sign of the risen Christ. The vestments are white, sometimes accented with gold trim, symbols of victory and joy. The Gloria or Glory to God and the Gospel Alleluia, which were suspended during Lent, are restored.

The Creed may be replaced with the renewal of baptismal promises. There may be a sprinkling rite to recall the sacrament of baptism. A double Alleluia is added to the dismissal for Easter Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter and Pentecost.

Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are the featured sacraments of the Easter season. It is the preferred time to celebrate first holy Communion and the time in the Diocese of Memphis when the bishop celebrates Confirmation.

The first reading for every Sunday and weekday Mass throughout the Easter season is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, a forceful statement that Jesus, raised and ascended to heaven, continues to be present and is powerfully active within the community of believers.

The second reading on Easter Sundays is taken from the New Testament, in Year A from the First Letter of Peter, in Year B from the First Letter of John and in Year C from the Book of Revelation. All of the Gospel texts for the Easter Season are taken from John except for the Third Sunday of Years A and B, and the Ascension.

Time to rejoice

The Lenten fast is over, so rejoice with special meals or treats. The purple or violet of Lent is replaced by the white and gold of Easter, so wear brightly colored clothing to show your joyful spirit, and decorate with lilies and other flowers.

The somber readings of Lent that dwell on penance and the Passion are over, so rejoice by reading the scriptural accounts of the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, as well as the founding of the early Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles.

Those who were candidates for the Easter sacraments have been welcomed into the Church, so maintain contact with them and help them strengthen their bond with the parish community.

Jesus demonstrated in his post-resurrection appearances at Emmaus (Luke 24:30) and along the Sea of Galilee (John 21:9,13) that he is present in the breaking of the bread, so in order to experience the risen Christ we should attend Mass each Sunday, and if possible, some weekdays, too, to receive our risen Lord in the Eucharist.

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The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord, which occurred 40 days after Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter, is the final act of our redemption that Christ began on Good Friday. On this day, the risen Christ, in the sight of His apostles, ascended bodily into Heaven (Luke 24:51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:9-11).  Formerly celebrated on the Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity has now been transferred in this ecclesiastical province to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

The reality of Christ’s Ascension is so important that the creeds (the basic statements of belief) of Christianity all affirm, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, that “He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” The denial of the Ascension is as grave a departure from Christian teaching as is denial of Christ’s Resurrection.

Christ’s bodily Ascension foreshadows our own entrance into Heaven not simply as souls, after our death, but as glorified bodies, after the resurrection of the dead at the Final Judgment. In redeeming mankind, Christ not only offered salvation to our souls but began the restoration of the material world itself to the glory that God intended before Adam’s fall.

 

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The Solemnity of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated early enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (16:8). It is the 50th day after Easter (if we count both Easter and Pentecost), and it supplants the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after the Passover and celebrated the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai.

The Acts of the Apostles recounts the story of the original Pentecost (Acts 2). Jews from all over were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast. On that Sunday, ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord, the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary were gathered in the Upper Room, where they had seen Christ after His Resurrection:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with diverse tongues, according as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak. [Acts 2:2-4]

Christ had promised His Apostles that He would sent His Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost, they were granted the gifts of the Spirit. The Apostles began to preach the Gospel in all of the languages that the Jews who were gathered there spoke, and about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day.

That is why Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the Church.” On this day, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated. It’s interesting to note that St. Peter, the first pope, was already the leader and spokesman for the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday (see Acts 2:14ff).

In years past, Pentecost was celebrated with greater solemnity than it is today. In fact, the entire period between Easter and Pentecost Sunday was known as Pentecost (and it still is called Pentecost in the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox). During those 50 days, both fasting and kneeling were strictly forbidden, because this period was supposed to give us a foretaste of the life of Heaven.