Treasures of the Liturgy: Eastertide

From Liturgical Catechism by Rev. M. S. Canon McMahon (1930).


Over what period of time does Eastertide extend?

It lasts 56 days, from Easter Saturday till first Vespers of the Saturday of Pentecost Quarter Tense, that is, the Saturday before Trinity Sunday.

Into what three sections may it be divided?

1. From Easter to the Feast of the Ascension, which we may call the period of the Resurrection, the forty days during which Christ lived on earth after the Resurrection.

2. From the Feast of the Ascension to the Vigil of Pentecost—the period of the Ascension.

3. The Vigil of Pentecost, the Feast of Pentecost and its Octave.

What is the chief characteristic of Eastertide?

It is a time of spiritual joy. It symbolises the joys of Heaven. The joy of Eastertide is a foretaste of eternal happiness.

What is the source of that joy?

Christ's victory in His Resurrection over sin and death and hell:

To Thee, Who died, again dost live.

All glory, Lord, Thy people give.

And our triumph in Christ:

Thy captive people are set free,

And endless life restored in Thee.

(Vesper Hymn of Eastertide.)

The Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith, and with Christ we are all risen.

How was that joy exemplified in early Christian practice?

Easter with its Octave was one long holiday of obligation, during which no servile work was allowed. Prisoners were pardoned, slaves were granted their freedom, and the rich gave bounteous alms to the poor, so that Easter joy was in the “widest commonality spread.”

How does this joy find expression in the Masses of Eastertide?

In the ever-recurring Alleluia, an echo, like the Sanctus, of the Angels’ song. Two Alleluias are added to each Introit and one to each Offertory and Communio, and the Alleluiatic verse after Easter Octave replaces the Gradual. The Gloria in excelsis is said at the ferial Masses of the period, and white vestments are worn, the symbol of joy.

When were the great feasts of Eastertide established?

The feasts of Easter and Pentecost were well established by the second century, the Octave of Easter in the fourth century, the Octave of Pentecost in the ninth century, and the Feast of the Ascension in the fourth century.

Easter and its Octave

What is the origin of our word Easter?

It is derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Eostra, the goddess of the dawn and of spring, in whose honour in pagan times fires of joy were lighted at about the spring equinox.

What is its liturgical name?

The Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

How is it described in the liturgical book called the Martyrology?

This is the day which the Lord hath made. This day is the most solemn of all solemnities. This day is our Pasch. Upon this day did Our Saviour Jesus Christ, according to the flesh, rise again from the dead.

What is the meaning of the word Pasch?

It comes from the Greek word pascha, which is derived from the Hebrew pesach, meaning "Passover". The Jewish people celebrated the passing over of the destroying angel and their rescue from the slavery of Egypt, while the Christian Pasch celebrates the rescue of the human race from the slavery of Satan and of sin, and of its restoration to the freedom of the children of God. “Christ is the true lamb Who hath taken away the sins of the world; Who, by dying, hath overcome our death, and by rising again hath restored our life ” (Easter Preface).

How is the date of Easter Sunday calculated?

It is the Sunday which follows the full Paschal moon, that is, the Sunday which occurs after the full moon following the 21 March, the date of the spring equinox. Therefore it cannot fall earlier than the 22nd March nor later than the 25th April.

What is to be noted about the Masses of this week?

They bear numerous reference to the neophytes or newly-baptised, who, clad in their white garments, put on them in baptism, attended all the Station Masses of this week. Cf. the Introit of Monday and Tuesday, the Collect of Tuesday and of Thursday, the Offertory of Wednesday, and the many references to the passage of the Red Sea (symbolic of Baptism), the manna, the Paschal Lamb, the land flowing with milk and honey.

What is the origin of the present Easter Sunday Mass?

It occupies the place of the former second Mass of Easter day. The first Mass at midnight or early dawn, which is now the Mass of Holy Saturday, was intended for the neophytes, the second Mass in broad daylight applied rather to the general faithful.

Is there any special feature in the Mass and the Mass of the Octave?

The Sequence, the Victima Paschali—one of five preserved in the Roman Missal.

Who is the author of this Sequence?

The authorship, which is not quite definitely established, is generally attributed to Wipo (☩1050), court chaplain to the Emperors Conrad II and Henry III.

What important truth does it imply?

What is so much insisted upon—that the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Saviour constitute one whole—the Christian Pasch:

Together death and life in a strange conflict strive;

The Prince of life, Who died now lives and reigns.

What is to be noted about the Post-communion of the Easter Sunday Mass?

During the whole of Eastertide it replaces the “Deus qui nobis sub sacratmento mirabili” when Holy Communion is administered in the church outside the Mass.

What is the lesson to be learned from it?

That the active participation in the Mass effects the loving communion of all the faithful in Christ and with one another.

When does the Octave end?

It ends with the canonical hour of None on Saturday.

Enumerate some of the popular practices adopted at Easter time.

The Blessing of meat and of eggs, which were forbidden during the Lent. The Blessing of the Paschal Lamb is the most familiar example.

What is the liturgical name for the First Sunday after Easter?

Dominica in Albis (depositis), i.e. the Sunday on which the white garments were discarded. The Neophytes doffed their white garments on Saturday at the close of the Octave and appeared in church on Low Sunday in their ordinary dress. It is also called Quasimodo Sunday from the first two words of the Introit.

What is its most familiar name?

Low Sunday. The word “low”—arrived at by the clipping of the initial letter of the word “close" comes from the Latin clausum in the phrase Pascha clausum ("the close of the Pasch"). But it is more likely that the popular name has arisen from the contrast between the joys of Easter and the first return to ordinary Sunday services.

How is the Second Sunday after Easter called?

It is called “Good Shepherd Sunday " from the Gospel of the day. In the early centuries before the Crucifix became the favourite symbol of our faith, the Christians of the Catacombs loved to depict Our Lord as the Good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep bearing a lamb upon His shoulders. It made a tender appeal to their trusting hearts.



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