Originally published at Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Happy Easter! Christ is risen, alleluia!
Does this time still feel like Easter? Hopefully Sunday Mass, at least, still does. Yet outside of that weekly hour, how often do we remember what season we are in? Many Catholics have prepared fervently for this holy time during the six weeks of Lent, giving up their favorite foods or activities, adding various solemn devotions, finding ways to help the needy and suffering. On the other hand, once the Easter season arrives, it often ends up neglected. After Divine Mercy Sunday, it’s easy to forget that a holy season is still going on.
To some degree, this imbalance is understandable. The need for Lenten penance, for a season of cleansing and purification, is obvious enough; our souls need Lent much as our bodies need medicine or exercise. On the other hand, the Easter season, a time of celebration — is that as spiritually necessary for us?
If the practice of Easter joy were simply about returning to chocolate, coffee, Facebook, or whatever we gave up for Lent, the answer would clearly be no. Note the emphasis on practice: We know why we celebrate Easter (the Resurrection of Jesus); but what does that celebration look like in practical terms? Does it do something important for us?
First, on the question of importance. The short answer, as best I can discern it, is that Jesus’s Resurrection is what changes everything for us, the reason we live in hope and are freed from our sins;(1.) therefore, the remembrance of that transforming event must also be an important part of our liturgical and spiritual lives.
Regarding this preeminence of Easter, the Church leaves no doubt. She proclaims clearly that Easter is the greatest of holy days, the climax of the year, as Christ’s Resurrection is the climax of history:
Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the “Feast of feasts,” the “Solemnity of solemnities,” just as the Eucharist is the “Sacrament of sacraments” (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter “the Great Sunday” and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week “the Great Week.” The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him. (CCC §1169)
This last line indicates why the Resurrection is the high point: Jesus has “crushed death.” He has taken our poor nature and raised it to a new, immortal glory; he is our new Adam, and “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). As humanity, and all of creation, fell with the first Adam, with the new Adam they are lifted up and redeemed. The transforming effect of the Resurrection on the whole world is further detailed in the lyrics of the Exsultet, the great chant of the Easter Vigil Mass on the night of Holy Saturday:
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
In addition, the sheer length of the Easter season speaks to the importance of the celebration; the glory of the great day trails on like a comet’s tail for an octave after Easter Sunday, and the entire season is seven weeks, the longest in the liturgical calendar. For that matter, the length of the Lenten preparation, significantly longer even than the weeks of Advent that precede Christmas, also attests to the importance of Easter. The whole purpose of these six weeks of penance has been to prepare our hearts to properly receive the splendor of the Resurrection.
A joy of such magnitude and significance calls for some sort of outward expression. The active celebration of great events is an essential part of human life: birthday parties, graduations, wedding receptions, etc. We recognize and express our joy by means of ceremony, so much so that to omit the festivity, assuming it can be had, often suggests some indifference or disrespect. We would all pity a child who never got a birthday cake, not so much for the sake of the cake as because, evidently, this child had grown up either in grinding poverty or with parents who didn’t care enough to acknowledge his or her birthday. The cake is a means for the family to say, essentially, “How wonderful that you were born, that you exist!” The same principle is at work in every celebration: We recognize the importance of the event, and respond to it, by means of some outward sign.(2.)
This need to celebrate is all the greater for us Christians, bearers of the “good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Luke 2:10). We are entrusted with the gospel, “good news,” that the Lord has conquered death and the world has been redeemed, the shining truth that can never be eclipsed by all the evils that plague us. This does not mean that we don’t also suffer and sorrow, but that sorrow, along with everything else, is transfigured for us. One powerful help for that transfiguration is to participate wholeheartedly in the Church’s times of rejoicing and contemplate what they mean.
This practice of holy joy may be all the more vital for Christians today, since our present world’s atmosphere is so marked by anxiety and pessimism. The doom-and-gloom nature of daily news reports has become proverbial. Even among those who know the Gospel well, the temptation to sink into attitudes of despondency, apathy, or bitterness can become strong. If we become preoccupied with these, we can lose sight of the light that is our Lord, like St. Peter turning from Jesus to the windblown sea and sinking in it. Renewing our joyful hope in the risen Christ is a spiritual tonic against such tendencies. He wants to give each of us the same flame of love and confidence that He kindled in the hearts of Mary Magdalene and the apostles, to illumine our lives and spread through us to others.
So the celebration of Easter is important; what about the other question, the concrete practice of that celebration? How, specifically, can we live this holy joy? Undoubtedly there are as many ways of living the spiritual life as there are people who practice faith. What follow are some suggestions from what I have found helpful over the years.
The heart of any liturgical season is the Mass. Daily Mass, often advocated for Lent, is an excellent way to absorb the spirit of any holy time, including Easter. It’s at the Mass that the Church speaks most to her children, that the Scriptures of each day are heard, that the prayers reflect the themes of the season. Little phrases exude the spirit of Easter; I always find myself struck by the repetition of “overcome with paschal joy” just before the Sanctus.
If you’re not able to attend Mass during the week, perhaps you can still follow the prayers and readings at home. Some handy cellphone apps have been developed for this purpose. The Liturgy of the Hours is also an effective way to incorporate the season into one’s prayer life. The “hours” ring with alleluias during the seven weeks of Easter. Lauds, or morning prayer, typically takes about fifteen minutes; Compline, or night prayer, as little as ten. Apps are also available for these prayers (e.g. iBreviary).
If you pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, consider a very small addition. (There are already so many pious extensions to this prayer; if Our Lord and St. Faustina don’t mind these, they’re not likely to mind one more.) This one adds three words to the first half of the ejaculation: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion and glorious Resurrection, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” This practice has been particularly helpful for me when praying the Divine Mercy novena over the Easter Octave.
Find the way of bringing Easter into your prayer life that fits you best, whether meditating on Scriptures or other texts, singing hymns, just reflecting in quiet, or whatever it may be. Even simply taking a few minutes to pray a decade of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary can enhance the light of the Resurrection in our minds and hearts.
Sensory aids can also make a great difference, as Catholic tradition has often emphasized. If you can, find an icon or other image of the risen Christ, and put it in your place of prayer or some prominent spot. If you like to decorate, you may enjoy keeping a candle or even flowers by the image. Other displays in the home can also make a difference, just as we put up a Nativity set and lights at Christmastime. Growing up, my siblings and I looked forward to having the table decked all through Easter with a set of little figures — the three women, two apostles, an angel, and Jesus standing before an empty tomb — along with an assortment of glass eggs, and hanging above them, a trio of colorful, egg-shaped Japanese lanterns! The point is not that one must go to great lengths, but that tangible signs seen daily can remind us that we are in a sacred time of joy, and move us to give thanks to our Lord.
Another kind of tangible sign, and one that’s more accessible now than ever, is music. After the deep, somber quiet of Lent and Triduum, Easter is a time of song. A good deal of music has been written, in both sacred and popular styles, that celebrates the Resurrection in one way or another and can help lift our spirits into the season’s joy.
Immersing ourselves in this spirit of holy rejoicing naturally flows out into efforts to share this joy with those around us, particularly those who are in some special need, the lonely, discouraged, or other suffering souls. Not that we are obliged to be all smiles everywhere — indeed, in some contexts that would be counterproductive — but the more we absorb this perspective of hope and joy, the hope and joy that can never be taken away, the more we can gently and lovingly share that understanding. Christ knows all the griefs and evils we face. He came and faced them too; He endured them all in His life and death; and He has conquered them in His Resurrection. This is the consolation of Easter, the consolation that we receive from Him and offer to each other and the world.
A simple, practical starting point might be to make a habit, when tempted to discouragement over troubles of any kind, to remember the all-conquering power of the risen Lord and pray, “Jesus, I trust in You.” We may not be able to feel the prayer at the time it’s made; it may be only a sheer act of will. He understands that. The disposition, the choice, is what matters in the end; and the repetition of that choice — which is, after all, a response to His grace calling and helping us — will bring change and growth in us, even if we don’t see it. What better time than Easter to focus on learning this lesson of hope and trust, trust in Him who told His disciples, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10); “Peace be with you” (John 20:19); and “Do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27)?
We have passed through the desert of Lent, learning to detach our hearts from all sorts of things that don’t ultimately bring joy. Now we are in the spring garden of Easter. It’s time to discover — or rather, rediscover, a constant process — the One Who does bring joy, and rejoice in Him with all our hearts.
1. See 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” For more on this line of thought, see my article “The Necessity of the Resurrection,” www.gildedweavings.com/the-necessity-of-the-resurrection/.
2. I would be remiss not to credit Thomas Howard’s Chance or the Dance for this line of thought.