Celebrating the Easter Season
March 23, 2009
The Easter Season begins with the Easter vigil and continues for fifty days until Pentecost. Why fifty days? God created the world in seven days (thus we have a seven day week); seven is representative of fullness and completion. With fifty we have seven times seven plus one – perfection plus!
This is the time we celebrate the paschal mystery, Christ’s victory over sin and death and that is a joyous celebration. While it lasts for fifty days it is actually one feast – one “great Sunday.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, n. 22.) The first eight days of Easter make up an octave and are celebrated as solemnities. (Ibid., n. 24.)
It can be a real challenge for us to celebrate this entire season properly. Liturgy committees can put so much effort into Lent and the Triduum that they are quite exhausted when the Easter Season arrives. Plus, sometimes it can be difficult to sustain a celebration over seven weeks.
Improving the Liturgical Environment for the Easter Season
The most important decorations within our worship space are our key symbols and our strongest liturgical symbol is always the community that gathers together to pray. During the Easter Season one of the strongest Easter symbols we have is the newly baptised. It would be great if throughout this season they could occupy primary seats within the assembly.
At the Easter Vigil the paschal candle is lit from the fire with the words “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” It then leads the community into a dark church. This candle is one of our principal decorations for the Easter Season. It should be placed near the ambo and nothing should compete with it or subtract from it.
The candle should be alight each time people gather during the Easter Season, and after it is lit at the Easter Vigil, it should never be publicly extinguished. Also take care that it is lit at times when you have visiting presiders, such as at weddings. Having reserved seats for the neophytes and their sponsors near the candle and the ambo would be excellent.
Another key symbol is water. If many of the neophytes have been baptised by immersion, it might be a good idea to empty the font completely during Easter week and then refill it. This fresh water could then be blessed during the blessing and sprinkling rite on the following Sunday.
When you use water for the sprinkling rite, rather than having a smaller bowl of water placed near the paschal candle, focus people’s attention on the font, even if it’s not readily visible. Do this by drawing your water for sprinkling from the font and then carrying it into the assembly for the prayer of thanksgiving. Also ensure that the font is completely filled for the Fifty Days.
If a community doesn’t already have a flowing font to emphasise the biblical expression “living water,” some parishes will place a mechanism that creates movement in the water of the font for the Easter Season. If this is done, ensure that any electrical equipment you put into the water is very safe and that the sound level does not distract the assembly during the liturgy.
Often it can be good to highlight the oils near the font by placing lights or greenery around the ambry.
The cross is one of our most powerful symbols. Hopefully, it was used well during Lent and the Triduum and now can be highlighted in a way that emphasises the new life of resurrection. A white shroud, representing the discarded burial shroud of our Lord, or victory wreath might be placed around it.
Colour is a very strong and powerful tool that we use in our worship environment. The colour of our Easter Season is white, representing resurrection, purity and joy. It can be enhanced with gold.
As this season lasts for fifty days, but it is really one celebration, the presiders’ vestments ought to express this. Avoid one set of vestments for Sunday and another set for the rest of the season. Rather, have one set for the entire season, weekdays as well as Sundays. There would be exceptions, of course, such as special feast days where red would be worn – martyrs feast days and the Pentecost.
You might consider inviting the neophytes of the parish to wear their white baptismal garments for each Sunday of the season. Further, invite the whole assembly to wear something red for Pentecost.
It is also important that the space is not overdone with flowers and greenery on the first weekend of the season. Instead, try to make your floral budget stretch and last for the full seven weeks. Perhaps you can investigate whether parishioners would be willing to contribute flowers from their own gardens. If so, a sign-up a roster can be generated for the season.
During the Easter Season, incense is a wonderful way of engaging the senses both visually and aromatically. I am a bad asthmatic but never have a problem if good incense is used and there is adequate ventilation in the room. Most of all make sure you use quality incense; buy it from a church distributor or go to an authentic Mid-Eastern supplier.
While it’s good to offer hospitality on special feasts, it’s great to offer it throughout the Easter Season. Having refreshments after Mass is fabulous. It is an excellent time for the neophytes to meet the parishioners. You can also have them share something of themselves through the parish bulletin or noticeboard.
Just as there is the Nativity scene at Christmas, some parishes also display an empty tomb for the Easter Season. This can be very effective, and a powerful tool for the catechesis of our children. However, this must not interfere with the worship experience and should be placed away from the central worship area.
Banners should grace the assembly’s space and provide a sense of unity and cohesion to the whole worship area. When they are used, it is not good to double up on images that already lie before us, such as the Cup, candle, font, or Book of the Gospels. Rather, it would be good to use some artistic symbols or some of the images given to us in the Scriptures of the season.
Any large scale decoration should draw attention to, and not away from, the altar, ambo, font, presider’s chair, paschal candle and cross. However, most should be away from the altar, such as above the assembly or along the walls.
The walls, interior floors, exterior walls and walkways are often ignored, yet they are all excellent places for artwork that will unify the assembly and the space and draw the assembly into the celebration.
Wishing you a most wonderful Fifty Days. Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Photos provided by Julie Moran.
Julie Moran, MA (Theology (Liturgy), University of Notre Dame in Indiana) is a liturgist in Brisbane, Australia.