HOPE ... Easter Sunday just the beginning
The day after Easter Sunday – for many people it’s back to work or back to school.
Easter joy can quickly be swallowed up by the busyness of daily life. But the Easter season is a 50-day period of celebration that is the pinnacle of the church year, said two priests of the archdiocese and an archdiocesan director.
"It’s the Great Fifty Days," said Father John Broheimer, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Omaha and spiritual director of the Legion of Mary Curia.
The season includes celebrating Christ’s ascension into heaven on Ascension Thursday and concludes with Pentecost.
"Easter Sunday is the greatest Sunday of the year," Father Broheimer said. "All other Sundays are modeled on Easter Sunday."
"When we get to Easter, we tend to think, ‘it’s all over,’ but we’ve really just gotten started," he said.
Celebrating the Easter season should be built upon the sacrifices and prayers of Lent, he said. "Did you give to the poor, did you read more Scripture, did you pray better? Now keep those things going.
"Through those wonderful acts of penance," he said, "you’ve allowed God to build your life up in holiness. Do these things now with joy, not as a penance."
The Easter season also gives the faithful time to reflect on the missionary efforts and evangelization process of the church, said Father David Liewer, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Coleridge, St. Anne Parish in Dixon and St. Mary Parish in Laurel.
"After Easter, the first readings at Mass are often from the Acts of the Apostles, beginning with the Resurrection story and how the church starts to spread the news about Jesus," he said.
The "Living Faith" booklets that many parishes make available to their members also provide some very fine daily meditations for the season, Father Liewer said.
And, it’s fitting that Easter happens during the spring, he said.
"That’s a time of new life, new growth – a time of spring cleaning and people being recharged and ready to take on the world," Father Liewer said. "The season has a flavor of rebirth, so it’s in sync with what the church is celebrating."
Opening the 50 days of Easter is an octave – an eight-day period of special celebration that begins with Easter Sunday, said Bill Beckman, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the archdiocese.
"The morning prayer (in the Liturgy of the Hours) is celebrated each day in the church with the same psalms, because each day is Easter.
"This is a sign to us that at a certain level, once Easter, always Easter," Beckman said. "Easter’s the day that never ends. Jesus Christ is truly risen; he doesn’t go back into the tomb."
Each of those days is celebrated just as much as Easter Sunday, Father Broheimer said. "Whenever we have a great feast in the church, we can’t celebrate it for just one day."
The octave also serves another role. In church tradition, an octave connects significant feasts, he said, and eight days after Easter Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.
"St. John Paul saw fit in 2000 to declare that the second Sunday of Easter would be called Divine Mercy Sunday, which in a great way brings the octave to a conclusion," Father Broheimer said. "The whole point of Easter is that God’s mercy is available to us."
The Easter season nears its end with Ascension Thursday – a holy day of obligation – and draws to a close 10 days later with the feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.
"Pentecost is the third greatest feast in the church, after Easter and Christmas," Father Broheimer said.
With the great feasts on Easter Sunday and Pentecost marking the beginning and end of the Easter season, he said, it makes sense to celebrate that whole period.