Jelly beans and chocolate bunnies might be marked down at the grocery stores right now, but Easter isn’t over by a long shot. We know how to celebrate a feast in the Catholic Church! Easter isn’t a one-day-and-it’s-over thing, it’s an Octave of Easter within the fifty days of the Easter Season or Eastertide. We are a resurrection people and the miracle that happened when Jesus rose from the dead is worth rejoicing in for a long, long time. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Confining the joy of this amazing gift to a single, 24-hour day is just not possible.
Mother Church is wise, and she knows that we need more than Easter Sunday to dwell on the mysteries we know to be true. In her wisdom, the Church gives us forty days of Lent to prepare ourselves through almsgiving, prayer and penances to contemplate the sacrifice of Christ during Holy Week. She then knows we need time to contemplate the graces and the joys of the great feast of Easter in our souls and she gives us Easter Week (the Octave of Easter) and the fifty days of the Easter Season.
Eight days of celebrating Easter start on Easter Sunday and end on Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. We celebrate for eight days because Easter is one of two Solemnities, or high feasts of the Church that merit us wondering in awe at what just happened. At Christmas we wonder in awe at the incarnation of Jesus, becoming a tiny babe to be with us, and we celebrate it for eight days in the Octave of Christmas. At Easter, we wonder in awe at Jesus rising from the dead and defeating death, so we celebrate it for eight days in the Octave of Easter. During the Octave, we treat each Mass as if it were Easter and our readings take us through the resurrected Christ’s appearances to His disciples.
Monday in the Octave of Easter, Mary Magdalene and the women meet Jesus as they run to tell the other disciples of the resurrection. Tuesday, Mary Magdalene meets Jesus in the garden and mistakes Him for the gardener. On the Road to Emmaus on Wednesday of the Octave of Easter, Jesus appears to Cleopas and another disciple and explains the scriptures to them. On Thursday Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room and opens their minds to the scriptures. We find the Apostles fishing on Friday and Jesus meets them on the shore and directs them to a huge catch. Mark’s Gospel, on Saturday of the Octave of Easter, gives a little review of the Resurrection appearances we’ve heard about so far. Then on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Octave of Easter ends as Jesus appears again to the disciples and to a doubting Thomas.
Divine Mercy Sunday doesn’t end the Easter Season, we are just getting warmed up now. Pentecost, this year celebrated on May 31st, ends the fifty days of the Easter Season. Did you notice how that’s ten days longer than Lent? The Paschal Mystery is so essential to our life as Catholics, that Mother Church gives us ten days longer to celebrate than to prepare for it.
In a normal year, the Catechumens and Candidates of RCIA would have been brought into the church during the Easter Vigil and would be living their lives as new Catholics right now. During the Easter season, the first reading of the Mass is from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Stories of conversion, miracles, and the spread of the early Church are meant to help the new Catholics live their lives in the Catholic Church. When we last saw Peter and the disciples on Good Friday, almost all of them had abandoned or denied Christ and Judas betrayed Him. Peter, so confident in his devotion to Christ at the Last Supper, wept bitterly when he realized how quickly he deserted Christ. In Acts of the Apostles we witness Peter’s transformation into a strong and fearless evangelizer. Along with the other disciples, we see how the story of Jesus’ resurrection can’t be contained within them and how our baptism makes us a part of this story.
As we proclaim before the Gospel in Easter Week, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”, let us keep an Easter heart throughout the season and the year.