By David Philippart
Sunday, April 23, 2017
What in your life do you truly savor? Think sensually—literally. What sights and sounds, smells and tastes and feelings do you relish, deeply appreciate while and shortly after you have experienced them, and desire to re-live later?
We live in a dominant culture much like fish swim in water. (Do they know they swim in water? How aware are we of how the dominant culture shapes our experiences and interpretations of those experiences in our lives, minute by minute?) That dominant culture favors anticipation and preparation over celebration and contemplation. This is why you can buy a bathing suit in May, when the average surface water temperature in Lake Michigan is about 41 degrees Fahrenheit, but not in August, when the Lake can reach a bath-tub temperature of 71 degrees! Or why you are sick of hearing Silent Night by December 15th each year but you can’t hear it during the Twelve Days of Christmas unless it’s on your playlist.
The dominant culture’s emphasis on anticipation over and against celebration, savoring and contemplation explains why we Catholics are better at Lent than Easter, Advent than the whole Christmas Season. Mass attendance booms during Lent and then falls off after Easter. (I say this not to induce guilt. We are at our best when we are all here for Sunday eucharist. I miss you when you are not here!) We (myself included) are good at “giving up” things for Lent, sticking to the plan of repenting for the season, and yet somewhat at a loss for how to sustain a high-pitched celebrating of Easter once the chocolate marshmallow bunnies are gone, or the lilies in church have wilted. Yet the Easter Season lasts for 50 days!
The wisdom of our Catholic tradition suggests that the important relationships and events in life require time to appreciate, to sufficiently digest, to celebrate and to enjoy. This happened first with the Three Day celebration of Easter. Immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, people were initiated (baptized, confirmed, and welcomed to eucharist) on the Sunday closest to the day when they were discerned to be ready to be earnest disciples of the Risen Lord. But within the first 100 years of the Church, it was decided that perhaps baptism, confirmation and “first communion” should be celebrated once a year, on a “super-Sunday” we now know as Easter Sunday. That one day celebration soon became a three day celebration (the Latin “Triduum” meaning “of three days”). The best things in life take time! Then, what was, in the year 70 in Syria a one-day preparation for initiation, by the fifth century in Europe became the 40 days of penance we call in English “Lent.” And even earlier, by the mid-second century in the Mediterranean world, the one-day celebration of Easter became a season of fifty days of celebration. And so it is today. The Season of Easter this year lasts until the sun sets on Sunday, June 4th.
Why fifty days? There’s meaning in the number. Seven in the Bible represents the fullness of time—there are seven days in the week. So seven times seven means “fullness times fullness,” or “the fullest”. Yet that’s only 49. With the Living God, there is always more. So 50 is “fullness times fullness” plus one more. God is so good to us. (And notice that where we did penance for 40 days, God invites us to party for 50!)
How will we savor Easter? One way: Each of the eight next Sundays we will begin Mass not with the usual penitential act, but with a joyous singing of the Glory to God, during which we will all be sprinkled with holy water—the same water that drowned the Adam and Eve in the 13 people who died in our church building on Easter Eve and were raised from the dead as Christians, “other Christs.” How will you savor Easter? What great things did you experience last Sunday that you desire to ponder and re-live?
David Philippart is the liturgy director at Old St. Patrick’s. Do you wonder why we did what we did during the Three Days? E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org